Fireworks, the newest film animated by acclaimed studio SHAFT (Madoka Magica, Nisekoi) is definitely a mixed bag. It certainly won’t be recognised as an outstanding piece of art by everyone who watches it. There are some beautifully animated scenes and a very fitting soundtrack although the film is let down by an all-round lack of character development and some really bad CG placed throughout.
Fireworks is based on a movie by beloved Japanese director, Shunji Iwai. This film, also known as Fireworks, Should We See it from the Side or the Bottom? (Uchiage Hanabi, Shita kara Miru ka? Yoko kara Miru ka?) is set around the town’s upcoming Fireworks Festival. On the morning of the festival, the main female lead, Nazuna discovers a mysterious glass ball in the sea before school and decides to claim it.
The plot goes on to reveal that Nazuna is going through a difficult time at home. Her mother intends to remarry and would see Nazuna relocated to a new area and school. After finding the glass orb, she decides she is going to run away from home and involves 2 others. It just so happens to be that these 2 are the only other characters in the film that get any character development at all.
Lead character Norimichi and his friend Yosuke both have a crush on Nazuna from a distance, but when asked both deny to each other their true feelings at first. Nazuna ends up challenging them both to a swimming race, where in if she wins she gets to ask second place anything she wants. Yosuke ends up beating Norimichi and as a result gets asked by Nazuna to go to the fireworks festival with her.
Yosuke ends up bailing on the date which causes a downward spiral of bad events over the course of the afternoon for Nazuna. Norimichi witnesses the events first hand and out of pure frustration for not being able to prevent it picks up Nazuna’s dropped orb and throws it towards a wall. Kind of a crappy thing to do to someone else’s property if I do say so, but as it’s thrown, time is frozen and the day is reversed to the point where the boys were back racing each other at the pool.
In a similar fashion to Groundhog Day, time is reversed a number of times throughout the film, back to a point of conflict that had interrupted the overall plan of Nazuna and Norimichi running away together and eloping.
Although when time is reversed the world also changes. Fans of Steins;Gate or multiverse theory’s would best describe it as moving onto a new “world line”. The plot, time-wise has been reversed but it has had numerous affects on the world and even the actions of the supporting characters.
The subplot of the film surrounds a small group of Norimichi’s friends traversing a coastal lighthouse to resolve between themselves if fireworks when viewed from the side are round or flat. This subplot for the most part is unnecessary and only used to throw a number of spanners in the works for the lead characters running away. This group of characters don’t really get any personal development other than each having a name and a bunch of cliche character archetype’s.
The film in some scenes relies heavily on CG. This isn’t a bad thing normally as it assists in faster development of animated films. Although here it often stands out like a sore thumb. At times it looks like a 3D rendered model was just thrown on top of a nicely animated scene with no effort given to make it even try and fit the overall art style of the film.
It’s not always bad though, there are moments in the film where the CG and traditional art blend to create an amazing scene. It’s also quite common for the CG to be retouched before the home release of anime films, so it’s possible that these flaws only affect the cinema screenings. (fingers crossed).
The music throughout the film compliments the scenes it’s used in, whether that be a background tranquil score piece or one of the multiple musical items. There was no point it felt overpowering or distracted a scene. Much of the score promotes a heartwarming, peaceful tone, and that’s what I felt for the majority of the film. Except for scenes that are intentionally meant to boost the heart rate a little.
The biggest flaw in my eyes, which I touched on slightly before, was that there was practically zero character development for anyone. In a film with such as small cast of characters, it made it so difficult to become attached to or relate to any of them. Even the lead characters were under developed. How long have Norimichi and Nazuna been close friends? Why would he agree to run away with a girl within the course of an afternoon? What is his relationship with Yosuke really like? How old are they? There are so many basic questions that could have been fleshed out to make me feel some sense of attachment to any of them. But for the most part it seems like the film is a vertical slice of a day in the life of 2 lead characters and their cliche archetype’d friends. It’s revealed throughout the film that Nazuna is under 16 years old but the true age isn’t revealed. If the characters were a little older, even just by a few years, the idea of two lovers running away to elope would seem a bit more realistic (even though it’s a far-fetched idea to begin with) and had more of an impact.
The ending of the film will be what splits the people that love and hate the movie. It is extremely ambiguous and seems to come out of nowhere. There are no little hints as to what really happened after the credits either, nothing. The more I’ve thought about it after the fact I don’t mind the ending, it really lets you interpret the ending, or the true meaning of the whole film really, the way you want to. It could be done to promote discussion between viewers, but I can see many people just not getting it and coming away wanting a more definitive explanation of what they just spent the last 90 minutes watching.
Overall, I did enjoy Fireworks. It’s always a fun experience seeing an anime film in cinema’s, especially here in Australia. It does have some very noticeable CG issues throughout and a bit of character development would have improved the film by leaps and bounds. But it tells an interesting story, with a time travelling twist and is complimented by SHAFT animation and a fitting background score. It’s only playing in cinema’s for a limited run so catch a screening if you can to make your own opinion on that ending.
All images © 2017 TOHO / Aniplex / SHAFT / KADOKAWA / TOY’S FACTORY / JR Kikaku / Lawson HMV Entertainment / LINE