The Anthem of the Heart -Beautiful Word Beautiful World-
Genre: Anime, Romance, Slice-of-Life
After inadvertently causing the end of her parents’ marriage, the chatty Jun Naruse is cursed by an egg fairy to never speak again. However, years later, she is selected to be a member of a committee at her high school, which aims to formulate ideas for a class performance. Hopelessly succumbed to her inability to speak without getting a stomachache, she quietly refuses responsibility. However, with the help of fellow committee member, Takumi Sakagami, she slowly begins to find her confidence and her voice.
The Anthem of the Heart is produced by A-1 Pictures, created by the same staff that worked on the popular slice-of-life series AnoHana and Toradora. The character designs are reminiscent of AnoHana’s, and the story similarly follows the numerous thematic complexities of friendship, love, loss, and finding one’s self-confidence. It recently began showing in theaters in Japan and other select countries, heavily marketed by its production similarities to AnoHana (Menma even provided her voice for many promotional videos).
I watched Anthem, or Kokosake in Japan, in a movie theater here in Los Angeles. This was the first United States showing of the movie, so I was in the very first North American crowd ever to see the movie. Cool!
Similar to the AnoHana movie showing, it seem as though some staff members came out to the US to greet the crowd. They handed out a cool little poster, which wasn’t as exclusive-looking as the signboards from AnoHana, Madoka, and Love Live, but was covered in a bunch of (printed) cast signatures and some cute artwork.
Characters – 8/10
Anthem of the Heart has a lot of – well – heart. Much of this warmth is provided by the natural writing and performances of the main characters. Even the heroine, Jun, is a relatable character, despite her apparently fantastical ailment. In fact, she is perhaps the character I emphasized most with, since her problems are grounded and realistic at the root. The other three main characters are also strong enough that I found myself genuinely caring for them by the end of the 120 minute runtime.
Takumi, the male lead, is reminiscent of the common “average guy” archetype. He takes the best out of Jintan’s pages, keeping his desire to do the best thing while discarding the pubescent angst and irritability. His fascination and wanting to do the best to help Jun is both believable and dramatic. He almost teeters on the side of romance until his true intentions and wants are revealed.
Daiki is perhaps the most developed in the series apart from Jun herself. He constantly evolves from his stress and the influence of those around him. He’s an utterly unlikeable character at the start, but I found myself caring significantly about his development by the middle of the plot.
Natsuki I found most negligent, but she was still a nice way to keep Takumi grounded. She is very similar to Anaru from AnoHana (It’s hard not to compare Anthem with this). She sees the goodness in Jun and genuinely cares for her, but is caught in the throes of jealousy when Takumi forges a friendship with her. Despite this, I didn’t find her nearly as frustrating as Anaru, as she truly was a victim of Takumi’s archetypical vagueness and idiocy.
The supporting cast was believable and diverse, though there isn’t much to say. With a two-hour story, there isn’t much development to expect, so the rest of the cast did their role: advance the story. I was also pleased by the amount of variety. In terms of character design, I found myself looking at a melting pot of thin characters, fat characters, light-skinned characters, dark-skinned characters, and more. The classroom looked more alive because each student seemed to have a reasonable amount of design behind them.
There isn’t much to say about slice-of-life settings in most cases. Again, design was reminiscent of AnoHana, and excruciating detail could be seen in the buildings, the ground, and the interiors. In general, it’s safe to say that this movie was beautiful in general – contending with the level of crispness and detail seen in Studio Ghibli films. Of course, there’s less to see, as the backdrop of a down-to-earth story like Anthem can’t compare to the riveting fantasy of Miyazaki’s work, but for a canvas of realism, Anthem displays some of the most beautiful background art I’ve seen in this particular genre. Lighting is also always on point: from the orange hues of the setting sun to the pale blue glow of stained glass falling onto the characters’ faces, the mood is set thoroughly with the help of collateral light.
Music and Sound – 8/10
It will be difficult to praise Anthem’s soundtrack until I can hear it fully without the distraction of a pesky plot playing over it, but in general, I felt that it was at home with the rest of the puzzle. I never felt distracted by the music, which is perhaps why I have so little insight into it.
The voice acting is, of course, excellent. In most cases, I have no qualms about casting and the same goes for Anthem. Inori Minase portrays Jun well, despite having to stutter, scream, and sing constantly throughout the film. Kouki Uchiyama, a favorite of mine from Gundam Unicorn, also performs well.
In spite of my low expectations, Anthem doesn’t fail in the plot department. Although I had personal qualms about the direction of the story, objectively I loved it and felt that everything worked out well. The pacing was well-controlled, and the character development was as thorough as it could be with such little time.
Most of the action focused around the interactions between Jun and Takumi, dabbling deeply into parental issues and romance. Although Anthem does spend some concentration on Jun’s developing feelings towards Takumi, it is not necessarily a romance, but more of a coming-of-age story. Jun’s reluctance to talk and eventual ability to overcome her fears and accept that she is her own problem takes center stage, and Takumi’s influence is only a driving force. Their relationship is also a fun factor in the experience. The two simply work together. They aren’t polar opposites like Taiga and Ryuuji, and they aren’t a perfect match either, but they appear natural and have just enough in common to understand one another.
The most poignant theme in the film is Jun’s relationship with her mother and, by extension, her father. Although her mother never blamed her for their separation, her father absolutely did and made sure to let her know. Although Jun’s mother seemed abusive, she is simply the product of depression sprung from the abandonment of her husband. Jun’s condition, in this way, reminded her constantly of the sorrow of her life, having lost her husband and her daughter’s happiness at the same time. It was crushing seeing her break down in tears upon realizing that the play was a parallel for Jun’s own life, and that Jun felt unreasonably responsible for her own misfortune.
On that note, the delivery of the play as a symbol for Jun’s development was intelligent. Without it, what we have is a typical shell of a slice-of-life, of a damsel in distress forever made stronger by a hero. However, the musical as a central plot element ultimately made Jun the machine that changed her own self. She finds inspiration in Takumi and the others, but she specifically chooses her own story to present to the school, in hopes that being able to express herself in that way frees her from her internal prison.
My main gripe with Anthem was the ending of the romantic subplot. I appreciate that it stayed above the norm and concluded in Takumi being unable to return Jun’s feelings, but I couldn’t help but feel that the relationship between the two was built up for nothing but something else that Jun could just “get over”. Takumi was nonetheless instrumental in Jun’s self-redemption, but the ending felt emptier without a sense of strong development between the two. Of course, it isn’t a bad way to end: the heroine doesn’t exactly win, but she grows even when she is defeated. Perhaps a better way to resolve the film’s romantic elements would be to see more at the end. I would have liked a longer epilogue, perhaps showcasing the relationship between Jun and Takumi at least remaining a strong bond. Instead, I was disappointed by the lack of interaction between the two once the dust settled, the writers opting instead for a random curveball in the form of Daiki professing his love for her.
It was a nice sentiment, but there was not nearly enough time in the movie to appreciate this turn of events. In conclusion, I feel as though I would appreciate everything, including both relationships that developed towards the end, if Anthem was a series rather than a film. I could feel that it was strong, and at some points I found myself emotional invested in some of the tenser moments. I could not, however, give it the same credit as AnoHana, KimiUso, or Toradora simply because I felt just barely attached to the characters. With a solid 12 episodes of development, I perhaps would have felt more of a solid fondness (and the characters really are likeable) and even an admiration for the ending.
Overall – 8/10