I don’t talk much on Animated Anarchy about anime, but I still watch the most highly recommended shows from the medium on a consistent basis. Anime is still taking risks and coming up with stories beyond what the West could ever hope to make, for better or for worse. Most shows are limited to a 12, 24, or 52 episode runs, but they still manage to create magnificently crafted stories. Two of my favorite shows from 2015 were anime; the genre-skewing brilliance of One Punch Man, and the unironic charming sweetness of My Love Story! (Ore Monogatari!)
Right now in the world of anime, there are some popular tropes going around creating similar shows en mass. From the trapped in an online fantasy from Sword Art Online to the global steampunk threats built in Attack on Titan; the industry is sure to capitalize on whatever trend is out there. Yet lately, we’ve had a resurgence of the teenage melodrama genre that can really hook you in from gripping character stories. And today’s film is all about the impact of singing through the voices of high school students.
The Anthem of the Heart (“kokoro ga sakebitagatterunda“)
I’ll start by saying that I honestly prefer the literal translation of the original Japanese title of ‘The Anthem of the Heart,’ which is ‘The Heart Wants To Shout,’ as it’s a better reflection of the plot and works on several different levels. This anime by Tatsuyuki Nagai is one of those movies made to pull on your heart strings. The story opens with a little girl named Jun Naruse who has a very active imagination. One day, she accidentally discovers her father having an affair that leads to her parents divorcing. As her father leaves her home, he tells Jun that what’s happening is solely her fault. Traumatized, Jun runs away crying and is suddenly visited by an imaginary egg prince, who punishes the girl for her “crime” and curses her to never be able to say a single world again.
In the years since her tragic encounter with the prince, Jun has never spoken a word, and any attempt she makes to say something results in powerful stomachache. Due to her “disability,” she becomes socially awkward and communicates only by texting (with her messages popping out on the screen for comical effect.) Luckily for her, Jun’s classmates are unfazed by her condition, and after getting to know her, they get the idea to tell her story in the form of musical. They encourage Jun that while she can’t talk because of the curse, it doesn’t mention anything about singing.
‘Anthem of the Heart’ is a slice of life story that is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films like ‘Whisper of the Heart’ and ‘Only Yesterday.’ The film spends most of its time exploring the various relationships between the teenage character, and how those relationships often evolve or dissolve over time.
While the movie features a number of sub-plots, the main plotline that follows Jun’s friends trying to help her overcome her disability is the strongest and most consistently interesting. Though her plight is certainly strange and traumatic, it was charming to see so many characters in the film be both respectful and helpful to her.
As with many teen dramas, there are a lot of cute and comical moments, usually resulting from how awkward the situation and the characters get. While Jun condition’s is played for laughs, there is some powerful drama, especially when we see how the entire thing had devastated her mother, who feels responsible for her daughter’s condition. There are a few familiar songs in the film, most notably “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” but it’s brief and didn’t felt overused like “The Rose” in Only Yesterday.
While ‘Anthem of the Heart’ might sound like a silly premise to some, it’s actually a very beautiful story about dealing with trauma. With the exception of the subtitles, which moved far too fast, the film remains charming throughout, has plenty of memorable side characters, and has a very emotional climax.
If the name Tatsuyuki Nagai sounds familiar, he’s the director of several school dramas, including Honey and Clover, Toradora!, and Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. I’ve only watched one of those series, Toradora!, which is perhaps one of the greatest “don’t judge a book by its cover” lessons as one of the strongest romantic comedies in anime. I know Honey and Clover has some pretty hardcore fans but Anohana is viewed as a very transparent type of supernatural melodrama. Just looking at the premise, you can see how this movie is made to play with heart strings.
There’s something that bothers me a lot about the premise of the movie centering around the “egg” that curses Jun to not speak. Nothing else in the movie appears to be supernatural at all…so is there really a point to it? I know you could point out that it is done for the sake of metaphor, but is that necessary? The beginning drama as a very believable amount of trauma I could see in a young girl, something that could actually strengthen the film’s message about such trauma. I’m atleast happy to know that the film takes a very gentle approach to Jun’s disability, because I’ve watched more than my share of anime where characters are simply defined by traumatic quirks or phobias, played entirely for laughs.
That being said, there are lots of glowing reviews of this movie, even including Maciek’s. I have no objection to intense teen drama. Clannad is in my Top 10 of anime in a time when the genre was mired in bizarre and/or sacchrine visual novel adaptations. But to top the emotional drama you get from an entire series in one movie is going to require quite the balancing act.
This’ll be the type of movie I end up seeing when it folds onto streaming like Crunchyroll or Hulu Plus. If you love anime and dramas like this, I say you should listen to the guy who watched the movie and give it your time! Just figure out if you want subtitles or need dubbing, because plots revolved around singing require top tier talent.