The Anthem of the Heart (Review)

anthemJun Naruse is a happy, normal, chatty little girl, who is unlucky enough to witness her father cheating one day.  Not realising the implications, she blurts out what she has seen to her mother, resulting in her parents divorcing.  Her monster of a father blames his daughter for what has happened.  Then things get a bit bizarre with a talking egg creature placing a curse on Naruse, causing her to remain silent in future.

Flash forward to high school, and Naruse is a child who never speaks, isolated and alone.  An inspirational teacher puts her in a group with three other children who all have issues of some kind, and asks them to organise a community performance.

Firstly, if the egg thing puts you off then don’t worry about that.  It is a tiny part of the film and it is open to interpretation.  My conclusion was that it is little more than a dream sequence, a figment on Naruse’s imagination, a way of her rationalising what has happened to her.  No, it’s pretty clear that Naruse is suffering from an extreme form of anxiety caused by her childhood issues, and the film explores this in depth.  For example, if Naruse tries to speak she experiences physical pain, which is an indicator of anxiety as she blurts things out in a panic and doesn’t breathe properly, but she discovers that she can sing her feelings instead, and that is when the group decide to put on a musical.

The other children in the group have their own issues to overcome as well, and a love triangle square soon springs up.  The film doesn’t go down the obvious soppy romance route with the “prince” ending up with the “princess”, which this old romantic wasn’t keen on at first, but the slightly bittersweet ending does somehow seem like the right thing to happen when you get to it, and the seeds of the ending are sewn carefully throughout the film.

In any case, who ends up with who is not really important.  What matters are the themes the film explores and the way it explores them.  There is a very neat parallel between the issues faced by the children and the creation of the musical.  For example, they cannot decide whether to go with a happy ending, to appeal to their demographic, or an unhappy ending for the sake of realism.  In parallel to the film itself they do both, harmonising two pieces of music together and singing out the emotions of both conclusions at the same time.  It works stunningly well, and utilises a piece of classical music and a popular song from a musical that you probably never realised share the same chord structure.  It’s the essence of bittersweet, like the film itself, showing how conflicting emotions can exist in harmony.  Beautiful.

There is no dub for this film, but that’s ok because the Japanese voice artists are brilliant.  In particular, Naruse is played with truth and passion by the impossibly talented Inori Minase, who was familiar to me as the voice of Kimari in A Place Further than the Universe, although her list of credits in just a few years is stellar.  It is also worth mentioning that the creative team behind this film also worked on Anohana, which is an amazing series that I wrote about on the blog a few months ago.  They certainly know how to create an anime with emotional depth.  What’s more, they know how to animate characters who need to convey their emotions to the viewers, and their work with Naruse is stunning.  As her “prince” points out, she doesn’t need to speak because you can always tell what she is thinking.  Her whole body betrays her innermost thoughts, and it makes her an incredibly endearing character.  You’ll see some of that if you take a look at the trailer below.  RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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