This Week in Anime
Who Keeps Giving Yamakan Money?

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Crunchyroll recently added director Yutaka "Yamakan" Yamamoto's latest film, Hakubo (Twilight). The 45-minute film carries a lot of baggage, thanks mostly to the long history of its director's mean-spirited commentary towards colleagues, otaku, and even assault victims. Nick and Steve try the impossible task of separating the work from the creator.

Honestly, we'll all probably end up blocked on Twitter (if Yamakan isn't booted off the service again).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Steve
Nick, I just heard about an addition to the Crunchyroll catalog that really made me Wake Up! Girls, boys, and everyone in between are going to want to pay at least a Fractale of their attention to this one. In fact, we all better thank our Lucky Stars that we finally have the opportunity to sit down and watch this sure-to-be classic by one of this great medium's true auteurs. Can you guess what I'm talking about?
Nick
Sorry Steve, I don't have time for anime right now. I've been caught up in this cool creative writing exercise where you try to write a scary story in as few words as possible. I've managed to get mine down to just 7, and I think it'll really spook ya.
Well if that's the game we're playing, I think I can do it in one: Yamakan.
No Steve, it's supposed to be a horror story, not a joke!
I'd feel kinda bad continuing to dunk on him before even mentioning the title of this movie, but that's on him at this point. Despite his many vociferous pledges to the contrary, good ol' Yutaka Yamamoto somehow keeps insisting on making anime. Thus, we keep having to talk about him. So let's talk Hakubo.
For folks blessedly ignorant of "Yamakan" and his history, it's probably worth giving a short briefing. After all there are plenty of creators in the industry who have made anime I dislike, even hate! But I don't hold any sort of genuine distaste towards them. Yamakan, on the other hand, has over a decade of making an ass of himself in increasingly insulting ways.
Yeah, I mean, with the obvious caveat that I don't know him personally, the way he's conducted himself professionally in the public space has been pretty terrible! Ever since he got kicked off Lucky Star and out of Kyoto Animation entirely, he's made a habit of expressing nothing but contempt for the anime industry and its fans, and he's said some truly vile stuff.
I encourage anyone who thinks we're being insulting to take a search for his name through the News/Interest tag on ANN because it's a solid decade of burning bridges, insulting fans and coworkers, and blaming an idol for being stabbed by a stalker. In short, he's a real piece of work and for whatever reason Crunchyroll has decided to grace us with his latest, crowdfunded creation. So how'd that turn out?
I can remember a time when a crowdfunding was exciting and full of possibilities. Nowadays, it feels like a vortex of scammers, desperation, and VERY occasionally genuine passion and good planning. I imagine Yamakan's dip into crowdfunding was more of the "desperation" variety, since it's probably hard to acquire funding when you've tongue-lashed a good portion of the industry. And to his credit, he did get Hakubo funded! And to my amusement, he also very much did NOT get this supplemental campaign funded.
It's perhaps a bit reductive to say he was asking for money to pay people to come see his movie, but also it's way funnier that way. Either way, after about a year this thing finally wound up on an official English streaming service, and the result is...well there's a reason we're talking more about the man behind it than the actual film. This thing is DULL.
Dull is definitely a good word for it. "Middling" was the one I kept coming back to when I was collecting my thoughts about it. Like, it's really not outright BAD, but almost every facet of it is underwhelming.
So Hakubo is...basically every anime film that's been released since 2017. It's a romance between 2 Japanese teenagers with a lot of scenes set at Magic Hour. It's also kind of Yamakan's answer to the success of Kyoto Animation's Sound! Euphonium franchise in that it's also got an ancillary B-plot about a string music club.
And while I don't believe it's fair or even constructive to try to psychoanalyze a creator based on their works, in THIS case, it's very hard not to read an embarrassing degree of insecurity into some of the decisions here. For instance, that scene you just referenced, where our protagonist curtly refuses to join the wind and brass ensemble. It feels like a very on-the-nose jab against KyoAni and their success.
And this later scene is even worse. Like, woof.

Oh that's not the only swipe at his former workplaces. If this ain't a swipe at Wake Up, Girls! ditching him I don't know what is.
And two of these jabs happen within the first ten minutes of the film. My dude's got an inferiority complex wide enough to throw a euphonium through.
But ok, enough about Yamakan. It's entirely possible for somebody to be interested/stumble upon this movie on their own. So what's it like? The answer is it's a really, really rote little romance that takes 15 of its 45 minute runtime to even have its 2 leads speak to each other.
On one end we've got the protagonist Sachi, who isn't terribly interesting, but in a way I can get down with in theory. She's got a vague, anti-social teenage malaise that, in the best moments, actually feels genuine in its mundanity.

Sachi is potentially interesting? On paper, anyway? But probably my biggest gripe with the writing is that her character, along with nearly everything else, is just told to us via her inner monologue. Entire sections of the story are just painted over by having her tell us they happened.

It's the kind of thing you can probably chalk up to budget constraints (this IS a crowdfunded effort made for less money than a typical episode of TV anime) but it serves to make the entire story feel distant where it needs to be intimate to work.
Oh yeah the script reads like a first draft from a first year creative writing class. It even "Webster's Dictionary defines..." its own dang title.
It's also got a serious case of "Middle aged man writing teenage girls" going on because nobody, NOBODY talks like this at age 16.
On that note, there are a LOT of throwaway lines about how girls/women are/should be. Like, in isolation, they're not that weird, but in aggregate they become a little disquieting.

But I digress. I get it. Hakubo's trying really hard to be this small character piece, and while I respect that with every pretentious bone in my body, you really need a special kind of finesse and clarity of vision to make something like this stand out. And Hakubo by and large ain't got it.
Part of the problem is, while Sachi is at least interesting in theory, her love interest is...I wouldn't even call him a potato? Like a raw potato has more flavor than this boy.
Look, it's hard work maintaining such a dead, wide-eyed stare for the full length of one's screen time, but Yusuke here manages to do it. Give him the respect he deserves.
I mean they try to give him a personality. He's a painter to match Sachi's musical inclination, and there's a whole bit where he took up art to capture the scenery of his new home after being displaced by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which is a pretty compelling setup. But it never goes anywhere and that aspect of his art is dropped immediately afterwards because oh nooooooooo he has a sketch of another girl in his notebook!
Don't worry tho, they make up in the end (i.e. 20 minutes later), and just look how happy he is about it! The sheer emotional range on this absolute lad.
He just seems inexpressive compared to the other characters, who occasionally muster a look of mild constipation when things are serious.
Oh I'm not going to let you get away with forgetting the best character.
Ah yes, the friend whose entire personality is "screeching about being dumped" what a wonderful personality. Yas queen slay.
Am I shallow enough to admit that Hii-chan my favorite because she's the only character to make anything resembling a funny face? Yes. Yes I am. But my second favorite character, and the true intellectual's choice, is definitely the Symbolism Orange.

Ah yes, symbolism orange. There for all of like 2 minutes before we get a super awkward scene of Sachi undressing for some reason. And then commenting about her BO for some reason. It's a weird scene and I don't know why it's here but I'm more than happy to say it's Yama "show the WUG characters' panties when they dance" Kan at it again.
I mean, if I'm being charitable, it's trying to communicate her pubescent frustration and confusion. But like everything else in the movie, it's waaaay too undercooked for the big emotional meat pie that Yamakan is desperately trying to bake.
Just saying, there's some suspect shots in here. including just blatantly cribbing from Euphonium's calf-shots.
smh at Yamakan trying to encroach upon the hallowed ground of the Queen of Legs, Naoko Yamada.
Oh, and on the topic of stealing from massively more successful creators, Shinkai says hi.
Say what you will about the sometimes clumsy metaphors of your name. and Weathering With You, but at least those movies had an identity. They had Things To Say and you sure as hell knew it.
They also had stuff like characters, and conflict, which is more than Hakubo can sport. It spends 30 minutes doing nothing to properly endear us to its lead couple before dropping the weakest "is he still in love with his old crush????" plot on us and resolving it in the most tepid way imaginable.
Dude couldn't even color it for her.
Hakubo is just thoroughly and utterly toothless in all aspects—excluding, arguably, Yamakan's backhanded jabs at his past projects and associates. The closest thing we get to a "hook" are the ties to the Fukushima disaster, but even those are fleeting and muted.
Look I am a SAP when it comes to romance anime. If there's anyone in the world who should be an easy mark for an understated short story about two awkward kids fumbling through first love, it should be me. But there is just nothing to these characters or their story, no matter how much they insist their meeting was a life-changing, revelatory experience.

Why? What about her encouraged you to change? What is it about her that you love? What is it about him that she loves? These are the fundamental questions any love story needs to answer by the time it ends and they just sit there as these two have the world's most uncomfortable looking first kiss.
To be fair, that's exactly what I would've expected their first kiss to look like.
In a better movie that would the cute, endearing conclusion to their relationship. In this movie it just feels like they threw it in because they had no idea how to draw these two looking actually passionate or in love.
And that's emblematic of Hakubo's faults en masse. There's certainly a way you could've made this narrative work, with these characters, with only 45 minutes and a limited budget at your disposal. But Yamakan is neither a strong enough director nor writer to do so.
And I do want to emphasize I tried going into this with an open mind. But even separating any baggage from the guy mainly responsible for it, this just ain't a good movie. For the same amount of time you're better off just watching 5 Centimeters Per Second, and I don't even like that movie very much.
Yeah there's really no reason to recommend it over any Shinkai film, or Whisper of the Heart, or countless other coming-of-age romance anime that do right by their material and aren't tainted by a weird dude's hostile relationship with the industry at large.
There are infinitely better uses of your time and better ways to get a romance fix. Just don't bother, not matter how much Yamakan tries to bribe you.
If Yamakan ever tried to bribe ME, I would simply get on my bike and fly away into the sky.
We should all follow your example next time he shows up.

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