Review

by Kim Morrissy,

Sing a Bit of Harmony

Synopsis:
Sing a Bit of Harmony
The beautiful and mysterious Shion transfers to Keibu High School where she quickly becomes popular due to her open-hearted personality and exceptional athletic talent... but she turns out to be an AI in the testing phase. Shion's goal is to bring chronic loner Satomi “happiness.” But her strategy is something no human would expect: she serenades Satomi in the middle of the classroom. After finding out that Shion is an AI, Satomi and her childhood friend, engineering geek Toma, steadily warm up to the new student. They find themselves increasingly moved by Shion's singing voice and earnestness even as her antics bewilder them. But what Shion does for Satomi's sake ends up involving them all in some serious pandemonium.
Review:

In a year with both Mamoru Hosoda's BELLE and Wit Studio's Vivy -Fluorite Eye's Song-, a story about a singing AI robot doesn't seem like much of a novelty. But although Sing a Bit of Harmony might struggle to stand out against its high-concept peers, it's still a sweet and funny movie with a proven record as a crowd-pleaser.

With its sentimental take on human-AI dynamics, Sing a Bit of Harmony takes cues from director Yasuhiro Yoshiura's previous critical success, Time of Eve. There are major differences, of course—in the world of Time of Eve, androids are commonplace, while Sing a Bit of Harmony is about a pioneering AI who is hilariously bad at fitting into human society. The film isn't about closing the gap between humans and AI or exploring the question of what it means to be human so much as it is concerned with the bonds between humans and technology. It posits that If machines like our smartphones were sentient, they would love us as dearly as we love them. This kind of forward-looking and empathetic perspective on technology is something that I really enjoy about Yoshiura's work.

Fittingly, the AI poster girl Shion has an infectious energy from the first moment she appears, prone to bursting into song and turning mundane urban landscapes into musical set pieces. It's notable that she has highly animated expressions, a total inversion of the stereotypical depiction of AIs as logical and matter-of-fact. But this depiction actually feels more realistic in a way. Sing a Bit of Harmony expresses the uncanny valley between humans and robots by emphasizing that robots are never not cheerful. That only makes sense for machines that are designed to make humans happy regardless of context, but Shion's exaggerated displays of happiness come across as distinctly inhuman next to the moody and lonely Satomi.

It's not hard to predict where this plot is heading after just a few minutes into the opening act, but the film manages to have fun even when it's going through a checklist of antics and hijinks. It helps that the dialogue is witty yet down-to-earth, and that there's a general lack of cartoonish facial expressions. When Shion does something ridiculous, the other characters react in a totally believable way; it never feels like the film is patting itself on the back or calling overt attention to what's funny about the situation. On the other hand, it's a little less successful at making the occasional moments of teenage angst land, but those parts are mercifully dealt with quickly, allowing the film to maintain a brisk and infectious energy.

I must admit, however, that the animation and design work isn't quite as memorable as in Yoshiura's previous work. Although there's a certain charm in seeing a sleepy seaside town incorporate the technology of the future in a naturalistic way, I did find myself missing the grand ambition and sweeping vistas displayed in Patema Inverted. The climax tries to go ham to some extent, but it doesn't fully make use of the setting, which I found mildly disappointing. (I really would have liked to see some dancing robots!) Also, as much as I love the vibe in Kanna Kii's character concept drawings, they don't look so memorable in animated form. The character animation doesn't really stand out either outside of some brief segments in the climactic act, meaning that this film's production doesn't quite have the oomph it needs to make a lingering impression.

But in the end, that's simply the difference between a "good" film and a "great" one. Even if Sing a Bit of Harmony doesn't go above and beyond, you won't regret your time watching it. This is ultimately a fun and breezy family-friendly film that's easy to recommend to pretty much anyone.

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

+ Heartwarming take on the relationship between humans and AI
Plot is predictable, animation and designs lack impact

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Production Info:
Director: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Screenplay:
Ichiro Okouchi
Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Storyboard: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Unit Director:
Tetsuro Tanaka
Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Music: Ryō Takahashi
Original creator: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Original Character Design: Kanna Kii
Character Design: Shuichi Shimamura
Art Director: Yūji Kaneko
Chief Animation Director: Shuichi Shimamura
Animation Director:
Haruna Gōzu
Momoko Nagakawa
Yurika Sako
Mechanical design: Mika Akitaka
Sound Director: Yoshikazu Iwanami
Cgi Director: Tetsuro Tanaka
Director of Photography: Yoshio Ookouchi

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Sing a Bit of Harmony (movie)

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