by Kim Morrissy,

Her Blue Sky

Her Blue Sky
Second-year high school student Aoi is an aspiring musician. Her older sister Akane's ex-boyfriend Shinnosuke Kanomura is a struggling guitarist. Aoi and Akane's parents passed away in an accident 13 years ago, and Akane gave up her ambition of going to Tokyo with Shinnosuke to take care of Aoi. Since then, Aoi has felt indebted to her older sister. One day, she is invited to perform at a music festival as a session musician by a famous enka singer named Dankichi. At the same time, Shinnosuke returns to Aoi and Akane's town after a long time away. Then, Shinno mysteriously appears— who is actually Shinnosuke from 13 years ago who has transcended time—and Aoi falls in love for the first time.

Her Blue Sky is the third anime in what I like to call "the Chichibu trilogy." Like anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day and The Anthem of the Heart before it, the story of Her Blue Sky is credited to the Chouheiwa Busters trio, which consists of writer Mari Okada, director Tatsuyuki Nagai, and character designer Masayoshi Tanaka. Although the stories are not directly related to each other, they're all set in Mari Okada's hometown: the mountain-locked city of Chichibu in the Saitama prefecture. And all three of the anime so far tell an ensemble youth drama story with heavy doses of magical realism.

Superficially, Her Blue Sky bears the most resemblance to anohana's premise. Our characters encounter what appears to be the spirit of Shinnosuke from 13 years ago, who has lingering feelings for his ex-girlfriend Akane after she refused to move with him to Tokyo. He represents a simpler time before the deaths of Akane and Aoi's parents, when the kids could dream innocently of making it big in Tokyo without thinking of real-life commitments. Unlike Menma from anohana, however, Shinnosuke isn't actually dead in the real world. He's just a dead-beat musician now.

If you're an adult who has ever wondered, "What would my younger self think if they saw me now?" then this is the film for you. Although Her Blue Sky has been sold as a spiritual successor to anohana and The Anthem of the Heart, this is just as much a film about adults as it is about teens, which I think makes it broadly relatable in a way those other anime aren't. The adult characters also help ground the emotions expressed by the teen characters. They don't always wear their emotions on their sleeves like the teens do, but that doesn't mean they're completely out of touch with their younger selves. If you're the kind of viewer who can relate to the themes but feels alienated when teens shout their emotions at the sky - a common syndrome among Chouheiwa Busters anime - you might find it easier to get into Her Blue Sky compared to the others.

The other thing I really like about Her Blue Sky is its emphasis on familial relationships over romantic ones. Akane rejects Shinnosuke because she wants to take care of her (then) kid sister Aoi, and this doesn't change even when Shinnosuke shows up in Akane's life again. Throughout the film, a handful of well-meaning people push the idea onto Akane that she couldn't possibly be happy as a single woman taking care of her family in a backwater town, and Akane brushes all of that away with cheerful stoicism. Although she seems like a cipher at first, she deals with a lot of pressure from others that will seem familiar to adult women. Among anime characters, she's unique and refreshing.

Her Blue Sky has one major problem as a film, however. The story is not well-structured for a film, and seems to resemble a TV mini-series more than anything. There are a number of climaxes throughout the film that make you think, "Oh, everything's going to come to a head now," only for things to revert to normal in the next scene. By the end, it gets a little fatiguing to watch. It also doesn't help that this is the Chouheiwa Busters' third time making an anime with a similar concept and appeal, which may weaken its impact.

I also couldn't help but feel let down by the animation in the film's climax. Make no mistake: the animation throughout the film is a solid effort, full of nuanced character expressions and acting. But the climax isn't a particularly strong showcase of the animation qualities, and as a set piece it feels oddly unambitious. On a narrative level, this scene actually comes across as an anticlimax, because the threat of danger was already eliminated before it even happens. It's important for the themes and a feeling of emotional closure, but otherwise it fails to pack a punch.

Overall, Her Blue Sky isn't this team's best work, but I still liked it a lot. For all the supernatural shenanigans, the drama is very grounded in reality. I'd love to see this team take on more projects with a mixed teen and adult main cast, because the result gave Her Blue Sky a unique flavor, even after treading so much familiar ground. Fans of anohana and The Anthem of the Heart will definitely appreciate Her Blue Sky the most, but if you're in the mood for a unique take on the youth coming-of-age story, this film should be up your alley.

Overall : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+

+ Refreshing adult characters, grounded emotional drama
Pacing is unsuited for a film-length story, climax is a little underwhelming

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Production Info:
Director: Tatsuyuki Nagai
Script: Mari Okada
Original Character Design: Masayoshi Tanaka
Chief Animation Director: Masayoshi Tanaka

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