Reviewby Richard Eisenbeis,
Liz and the Blue Bird
Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki are a pair of best friends in their final year of high school. Their shared obsession? The school's brass band club. With Mizore on the oboe and Nozomi on the flute, they spend their days in happiness--until the club begins to practice songs inspired by the fairy tale Liz und ein Blauer Vogel (Liz and the Blue Bird). Immersed in this story, Mizore and Nozomi begin to realize that there may be no such thing as being together forever.
Sound! Euphonium began in 2013 as a novel focused on the lives of the newest members of a once prestigious high school brass band club and their subsequent fight to restore it to its former glory. Since then, the franchise has spawned several more novels, a manga, two anime series (along with accompanying OVAs), and a pair of films recapping the TV anime. The newest addition to the franchise is Liz and the Blue Bird, a side story film focusing on two of the anime's most interesting minor characters.
Liz and the Blue Bird was first announced on June 4, 2017 under the working title of “Nozomi and Mizore's Story” (alongside another, yet unnamed, upcoming film following the rest of the TV anime's main characters as they start their lives as second year students). The film got its name, first trailer, and release date announcement at the end of September 2017. Now, just six months later, press screenings have begun in Tokyo leading up to the film's April 21, 2018 release.
Behind the camera on this outing is not Sound! Euphonium director Tatsuya Ishihara. Rather it is Kyoto Animation's other star director: Naoko Yamada--the woman behind such hits as K-On! and 2016's heart-wrenching film, A Silent Voice. She is joined by scriptwriter Reiko Yoshida, who worked with Yamada on both K-On! and A Silent Voice--in addition to being the pen behind both the Violet Evergarden and Girls und Panzer anime. And while Liz and the Blue Bird doesn't reach the heights of A Silent Voice (and honestly, few films even get close), it is still a solid effort from the pair.
Among the decisions made in the creation of this film, the most interesting is right there in the title. It's not “Sound! Euphonium: Liz and the Blue Bird.” Neither is it “Liz and the Blue Bird: Sound! Euphonium.” As connected as it is to Sound! Euphonium--sharing both a cast and setting--it is very much being promoted as a stand-alone film. Even the movie posters plastered across Tokyo announce it as nothing more than “a new work from the makers of Sound! Euphonium.”
And as a stand-alone film, Liz and the Blue Bird works just fine. At its most basic, the movie is centered around a common experience we've all had to face: the end of high school. At this time comes a our first real look to the future--where we must choose what we want to become and how to get there. Alternatively, sometimes we must face the hard truth that some dreams are simply unobtainable, no matter how hard you may try.
In the film, we see how two massively different people react to this situation. Nozomi is your normal, popular high school girl. She's talented, kind, and is constantly swarmed by underclassmen admirers. But what really sets her apart is that she's smart enough to know how to stop and truly listen to people. And this is where Mizore comes in.
Mirzore is a girl who, for better and worse, understands the power of words. Thus even the simplest of questions gets a well thought out--and bluntly truthful--response. Most people read the long pauses between question and answer as disinterest and her bluntness as dismissal. But Nozomi was the first to simply wait and then take Mizore's answers at face value--giving Mizore her first and (for several years) only true friend.
By the time of the film, Mizore is dangerously codependent. Her introduction scene in the film has her come early to school, look around, and then be brought to the edge of tears when she realizes Nozomi hasn't arrived yet. Throughout the film, she literally follows Nozomi around and is thrown into a state of listlessness whenever separated--especially if it's by Nozomi's horde of underclassmen admirers.
At the same time, whether she understands it consciously or not, Nozomi clearly enjoys being the center of Mizore's world. So when witnessing that Mizore has gained her own admirer, Nozomi unexpectedly finds herself in Mizore's shoes for the first time--and starts to reconsider not only her relationship with Mizore, but also who Mizore is becoming as a person. This in turn forces Nozomi to look at herself, her dreams, and her future with pragmatic clarity for the first time.
Intercut with Mizore and Nozomi's drama are excerpts from Liz und ein Blauer Vogel, the story behind the songs the pair are practicing for band. Presented as a classical fairytale, the story follows a lonely (unnamed) girl who, while kind and hardworking, has no friends. The closest she has are the animals she feeds in the woods--most prominently a beautiful bluebird. One day, a mysterious blue-haired girl named Liz appears before her and the two become instant friends--with the girl being the clear center of Liz's world.
Obviously, Liz and the girl's relationship mirrors that of Mizore and Nozomi--a fact not lost on either of the instrument-playing pair. But as the two progress through their senior year and the fairy tale moves towards its end, it becomes less clear who mirrors Liz and who the girl--and if there is a happy ending awaiting any of those involved.
Kyoto Animation has made a name for themselves when it comes to beautifully detailed animation filled with vibrant colors--and Liz and the Blue Bird is no exception. But what sets it apart visually are the scenes taken straight from Liz und ein Blauer Vogel. Instead of the highly detailed style of their current works, the fairy tale is shown in a style more representative of the early 80s, when fairy tale and classic literature adaptations were a mainstay of TV anime. The character designs--namely the eye and face shape--fit this era and are supported by backgrounds comprised of a mixture of color pencil and watercolors. It serves to bring a classic fairytale feel to a modern anime feature.
But the animation in Liz and the Blue Bird isn't just there to look pretty. A large part of the film is told through visual storytelling. As a reserved character, Mizore speaks little--even as one of the two viewpoint characters of the film. However, everything from a tug of the hair to the clench of a fist portray her thoughts just as clearly as any dialogue.
And then there's the music. As an anime about a renowned high school brass band club, the soundtrack is a vital part of Sound! Euphonium--and Liz and the Blue Bird's stands out even against its parent series. Much of the background music (be it the background music in the fairytale scenes or the background music in the school scenes) is the same music the girls are practicing for their Liz und ein Blauer Vogel concert. This makes for an aural connection between the fairytale and school drama scenes--further highlighting the fact that the two stories mirror one another.
The music is also directly linked to the two characters. The pieces in general are heavy in flute and oboe--with the scenes focusing on Nozomi tending to be more flute-based while those following Mizore have a strong oboe. There are scenes where even the sound effects serve as a percussion accompaniment to the soundtrack--showing in a creative way just how intertwined music is with their daily lives and emotional states.
While Liz and the Blue Bird works perfectly fine as a standalone film, that doesn't mean there isn't a fair amount here for fans of Sound! Euphonium. The film grants many brief glances at what life is like in the school with the old third years graduated and a whole new slew of first years entering the club. The first years also work as a plot device to bring about a further resolution to the early season two drama revolving around Mizore and Nozomi--bringing the two back to what they learned from that fiasco, even as they're poised to fall back into the same bad habits.
But the best aspect of the film, in regards to Sound! Euphonium, is that the main pair of that series, Kumiko and Reina are almost completely absent. While they do have a few lines (Reina more than Kumiko) and one excellent dialogue-less scene that shows just how important the pair's friendship is to all those in the club, their interference is kept to a bare minimum. This allows the film to carve an identity all its own. As the most established characters in the franchise, giving Kumiko and Reina even the most token plotline in the film would have risked overshadowing the story the creators were trying to tell. This is one of those times where less truly is more.
In the end, if there is one negative to the film, it is that the plot (both that of the fairytale and that of Nozomi and Mizore) is painfully predictable. There are no surprises to be found here. Every plot point and twist is something you have seen in any number of films before. Likewise the coming-of-age moral is hardly unique--especially for those of us who have lived it. However, while the plot may be far from original, the way in which the story is told is masterfully done. Through a mix of visual storytelling, aural storytelling, metaphor, and symbolism, Liz and the Blue Bird delivers an emotional tale about friendship, dreams, and the final days of childhood. It doesn't matter if you're a Sound! Euphonium fan or a complete newcomer to the franchise, this film will touch you all the same.
Overall : A-
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A+
+ A beautiful-looking, music-filled, slice-of-life tale that stands on its own whether you're a Sound! Euphonium fan or not.
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