Guest post by Christian Flores, founder of The Anime Historian.
Fireworks is a movie that made me lose 2 days’ worth of sleep because of all the hype before watching it in the theater. It was so anticipated and I was very excited, but now that I’ve finally watched it, I kind of wish I didn’t. I entered like an 8-year-old giggling school girl and when I left I felt like I had just gone through a midlife crisis.
The day before the screening I was standing outside our front door fresh from an all-nighter, ready to make the 2 hour trip to the noisy, chaotic city, slipping through the sweaty, smelly crowd that’s all fighting like madmen just to get into the train. I’ve endured the long lines of the Jeepney transit, I was nearly hit by a car when crossing the road, and I feel dizzy because of too much coffee but I feel like a zombie without it so I have to keep drinking it.
I had to wait in line for about half an hour just to get the ticket, then I have to wait another half an hour just to get inside the cinema while 2 dudes in high school girl uniforms cosplaying Senjōgahara from the Monogatari series, using the words “Kawaii” and “Baka” like it was their native language when in reality they just look like idiots. There are kids in that mall, and they have to witness 2 grown men in high school girl outfits. I feel bad for them. They are too young to witness such an atrocity.
And I just stood there like a zombie, experiencing every type of migraine. But then it happened.
After the long, hard wait, I was finally inside the cinema. Inside there, it was pure bliss, it’s like home whenever I’m in there. It was an agonizing experience but it was worth it, I hoped.
Then the movie ended and I felt like a complete idiot, just like those 2 guys I’ve seen. They too were disappointed, so much that they left the theater before the movie ended.
I wasn’t angry, no, I was too tired to do that. I was just disappointed. I have to save 2 weeks’ worth of money and have to skip some meals just to see the film thinking that it’d be the greatest movie ever since Children Who Chase Lost Voices but no, it was anything but that.
I think I just felt disappointed.
When I left the theater I felt confused what is even going on in that movie? It was a feeling that everyone in the theater shared other than the crippling depression from the fact that we just wasted our hard-earned money on such a movie. I didn’t even want to think about it for a long time because every time I do, it just hurts me.
But fast forward to 4 years later, it is now 2021 and I have nothing else better to do so why not re-open some old scars and watch it again? Wouldn’t that be a good idea? Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.
At least for the first 3 re-watchings.
That’s right for the FIRST 3. It took me 6 re-watches to get my head around the movie and create a clear structure of what the hell went on. That’s probably an exaggeration since I have to take a couple of breaks whenever someone talked about Miura sensei’s oppai or whenever Norimichi is having interactions with his friends, and it was very hard to get through that train scene with the flying horses and stuff, even thinking about it right now is making me stare in the empty wall in front of me and rethink my life choices. But I’ve constantly reminded myself that as a reviewer I should give this movie a chance because it is impossible for a film to be just BAD, there has to be something good about it otherwise the money spent on making would’ve been better off feeding the homeless.
After 6 re-watches, 15 breaks, 2 tubs of popcorn, and about 8 hours spent watching it alone, I have finally seen through the veil and understood Fireworks and it did nothing but made me even more disappointed.
Because it has the potential to be better than Your Name, it can be really good, if it wasn’t so bad.
The entire movie revolves around the concept of time travel via throwing a magical ball, really, really hard. This concept is dumb but so is every other thing in this movie. There’s also the thing where the argument of whether or not the firework is round or does not play a big role in the plot of the movie. This is not bad in itself if only the execution wouldn’t be so awful.
The movie is comprehensible and can still be followed up until the last 20 minutes of it where the sky suddenly looked like the inside of the magical ball, and somehow, got magical properties into it. Why is this so? We’ll talk about it later but for now, here’s the story itself so that you can understand things better.
The story starts with Shimada and the girl in the water, this is a reference to the last scene in the ending where they make their life’s decisions at the age of 15.
Then we cut into Norimichi going to school while his mom reminds him that they’re trying to sell fishing equipment at the fireworks festival for reasons God only knows, and then he’s going to school with his friends in a bicycle scene that’s very reminiscent of that downhill bicycle ride from Up From Poppy Hill and every single high-school rom-com from America.
If your film is set in a high school and it’s a rom-com and you happen to work for Hollywood. You just have to do that bicycle montage, it’s a requirement.
Norimichi, on the way to school, saw the girl beside the shore who just happens to pick up a shiny ball in the shore. Which will lay age pat in the story.
Later on, when they finally arrived at the school, they do the usual greeting but this is the most uncanny and very—I’m sorry, I need to use this word—cringe. His friends meet the teacher and they all talk about the oppai of their teacher in front of all her students.
By anime standards, this should be common, since if you’ve watched your fair share of anime then you’ll be immune to this now but even by anime standards, it just feels weird calling a teacher and telling them that they have huge oppai in front of all her students. I mean I know that they need to establish the fact that they are carefree young children going about their youth without a care in the world but it feels very forced and out of a place of the entire 6 times I’ve watched this movie, I had to skip this part. Every. Single. Time. It’s that bad. This opinion of mine might just be the result of me holding the positions of teachers in high standards because they played such a huge part in my life but I think it’s more on the side of this doesn’t serve the plot even in the slightest bit.
Throughout the entire movie never have I ever seen the importance of teasing her about her oppai—they’re not even that big, to be honest—it might be some sort of a light-hearted gag but it is in the least bit funny.
OK now that I’ve ranted, let’s move on.
After this, they’re in the classroom where the teacher is having a lecture, and once again, someone teases her about her oppai and not only that but even standing in the chair while doing it. This is just too much for me the writers tried so hard to portray the childhood innocence that the characters have that it becomes a pain to watch. Like an alien trying to assimilate into society by watching hundreds of high school rom-com.
After this, Norimichi and his friend Yusuke, the biggest jerk of all time, were tasked to clean the pool. They talked about how Yusuke likes Nazuna but he takes too long to confess to her. Why did you say that? Because he’s a pussy why? We’re gonna get into that later.
When they’re in the pool, they meet Nazuna and they betted on who wins the race first, Nasuna will ask a favor and they can’t refuse. Norimichi got starstruck by her while underwater and ended up hitting his foot on the floor. Yosuke eventually finished first and Nasuna asked her to come with him to the festival and that she’d come by his house at 5 p.m.
Cut back to the classroom, it is now afternoon and the characters are having a conversation in desperation to bring some meaning to the movie. They are arguing —of all things—whether or not a firework is round or not, in desperation to have any kind of plot device the writers decided to make them go out of their way to a lighthouse just to see if this is true. They also betted with it with—of course—panty pictures of Miss Miura.
Fast forward to Norimichi’s house where he finds Yusuke in his room playing games. Norimichi asks him about the meet-up with Nazuna but he says that he doesn’t want to go because his entire crush on her is a joke. What a way to give false hope to a girl. That’s just a lack of common decency but as much as I’d like to talk about this asshole, let’s do it later.
Sasuna later goes to the hospital of his father and asks for Norimichi but the receptionist says that he isn’t there, so she decides to wait for him.
Shiramada went to the Hospital too after Yusuke said that he should go see his dad to check his foot because it might have tetanus. There he meets Nazuna where he informs her that if she’s waiting for him, he won’t come.
Disappointed, Nazuna went away but Shiramada catches up to her and asks her where she was going, she said that if he won, she would’ve asked her instead. It turns out that she is planning to go away and leave home. Moments later her mom drags her back.
Yusuke and friends suddenly appear to get Normichi on their way to the lighthouse, where Norimichi satisfyingly punches Yusuke for leaving her alone and throws the shiny little ball that Nazuna found on the shore. He has this brilliant idea of throwing it really hard in hope that it might do something magical.
And it did!
We go back to the time when he is back in the race, he wins this time and he was the one that Nazuna got to ask out this time. Fast forward to his house where he sneaks out to not get noticed by Yusuke. This time they end up at the train where Nazuna explains the situation with her mother. It turns out that her mother will be having her 3rd man now. The first one was her original husband but she decided to elope with another one, Nazuna being the love child of 2 eloping adults, unfortunately, her father died but moments later her mother got another man in a rather short period. This led to Nazuna being very upset and making a huge decision to flee the town, according to her, “Girls can find work anywhere.”
Saying that she can just tell everyone that she’s 16 and try out show business and become an idol or become a hostess, a very daring notion from a 15-year-old. Eventually, her parents found her, and in a struggle against Norimichi wanting to take back Nazuna he tries to free her from her dad but ends up getting punched. He then went with his friends to the lighthouse and upon noticing that the entrance is open, decided to climb up the lighthouse, when the fireworks were shot he then noticed that the fireworks were flat and immediately knew that something was wrong. He threw the magical ball, wishing that he had another chance to escape with Nazuna.
He reverses time again but this time he manages to elude Nazuna’s parents by boarding the train, in there we got the good old exposition rant followed by the only argument you’ll ever need to convince someone why CGI most often doesn’t work in anime. Seriously, it looks like Barbie and the Nutcracker all over again.
Then they are caught again by the couple and their friends who join in on the chase. When they’re at the top Yusuke caught them and pushed them off the lighthouse, now you’re getting why I call him an asshole. Whenever I think that there is a timeline where he killed both Nazuna and Normichi because of over-reaction. It’s pretty funny whenever I think about it.
Norimichi throws the ball again and reverses time, this time the train takes a different route leading them to a mysterious town that looks like a glass dome. This is something that I can’t fully wrap my head around no matter how many times I’ve watched this movie.
Why does it look like the inside of a glass dome?
Does this represent the magical ball?
What is the representation of this?
Are these the boundaries of magic? If so then why is it located in another town?
There are so many questions but the movie never provides any information as to what’s this. It’s pretty frustrating really.
Nazuna then decided to jump in the ocean for the sake of doing it, then an old drunk man finds the magical ball on the shore and uses it as a leftover fireworks charge, then he launches it into the sky and launches thousands of shards that we see as representations of the different timelines that are possible including both Nazuna and Norimichi going away and having all the fun in Tokyo and Yusuke and Nazuna having a good time in the fireworks festival/if he didn’t act like such a jerk.
Then Nazuna says “When are we going to meet next?”
Then we go back in time to a sunny day in the classroom where Norimichi didn’t attend class.
To be fair the ending was fairly well made since it leaves a lot of room for thought without revealing the grand conclusion and I think that this is one of the good parts of the movie along with the stellar music and voice acting which I assume were where all the budget went. It’s something that I’d like to call “The fireworks effect” where the soundtrack of an entire show is better than the show itself, this is especially true in works like “Domestic Girlfriend” where the OP outclasses the show.
The big problem here is that in hindsight and on further look this show is very unique in terms of the plot if only it wasn’t written like the way that it was. It almost feels like this is the first draft of an upcoming masterpiece only that some greedy executive rushed the process and decided to go along with it.
I can only imagine the pain that the team went through when this show hit the theaters. It must be absolutely devastating to spend countless hours and your precious time on such widely shunned work. You see everything collapse in front of your eyes, all of that over time, all of it is gone. If only you had more time. But hope is no more, disappointment is the only thing you feel now.
The big selling point of this movie is that it was made by studio Shaft which you can notice in the trademark head tilts and the unusual close-ups and angles during conversations. That being said, the 2d animation is of decent quality but it’s not “Movie” quality, it’s what you’d expect from a TV show instead.
When you say “Movie” what the audience expects is some big blockbuster one-of-a-kind animation but the animation for this is simply not in that standard even with the fact that it was made by one of the most well-known and respected studios in Japan.
The bad animation although decent at most parts, it’s just hard to look at when they try to mix in bad CGI into well-done 2D environments that’s why I find it so hard to sit through that “Idol” scene on the train. I’d hate to say this but it’s just awful.
I understand the appeal of 3D animation. You don’t have to take care of manual drawing the panels and the backgrounds, even if it was made digitally it’s still very tedious to work with but to mix 3D with 2D or better yet make an entire show in 3D you must take some precautions to not fall in the same trap that Berserk 2017 fell on and make a fool outta yourself.
A good example of anime CGI in movies is The Garden of Words although it’s more of a short movie than an actual full-length film it shows a good way of incorporating CGI into anime.
Do you see the raindrops? Those are 3D generated and it looks so seamless, it blends in with the overall artistic style of the movie as well as Shinnkai’s as well.
And that’s the thing, to incorporate CGI with the 2D you have to make it seamless like it was supposed to be there in the first place. I’d argue that what is necessary to make good CGI is to not make it stand out.
Let’s take CGI itself as an example. CGI is supposed to mimic real life -at least to some degree- and to do good CGI, you must do it like it’s seamless. This is why photorealistic graphics from some games like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us 2 and Uncharted 4 are highly regarded as the best of these times. In western movies too like Alita Battle Angel where it’s just absolutely amazing. You have to see the movie to believe it.
What is the movie trying to impart?
This is what I’ve been pondering on for a long time but the answer is not complicated, the movie itself doesn’t have enough depth in it, and it seems like the creators didn’t even bother to give it a deeper meaning because no matter how long I think about it I just can’t find anything other than, it’s a simple story of optimistic, naive young love.
I’ve talked about this in my previous post “An in-depth analysis of Toradora” where I talked about the disillusionment of love and although the cases of Ryuji and Taiga are somewhat similar to this movie, unlike Toradora where the naive actions of taiga and Ryuuji have good explanations, the actions of Norimichi and Nazuna is just plain dumb.
At the train station, it is said that the reason why Nazuna is going away is because of how quickly her mother abandoned her love for her father by going out with another man and it’s ironic because in comparison to real-life almost all the misguided kids that I’ve met, and yes that includes hookers, are from broken families without any sort of guidance from their parents and more often, divorce is often the bane of a family.
Do you have any idea how much emotional and psychological turmoil that can cause to a child? That is devastating. To deal with such a huge turmoil at such a young age, especially to a developing mind is the cause of mental trauma that will scar the child for years to come.
From my experience whenever I ask some street kids what happened, they all say one thing in common “My parents were divorced”. It’s always divorce, isn’t it?
In the case of Nazuna, one can argue that her decision to move to a city at such a young age and coming from a countryside upbringing is just dumb, a notion as to which I agree with but we must consider that Nazuna is young, and young people do dumb stuff all the time. They’re in the learning process and are still yet to discover their true selves, something that you can only find through experience, something which they’re still in the process of having.
Even with that being said the idea of working as a minor in the big city is a pretty daring one and I assume that this extreme idea turned into such action as a result of frustration. Her mother easily replaced her beloved father in a matter of a year, anybody in her position would be frustrated.
But upon further inspection it is not simply frustration but the loss of value through extended periods of loneliness. We have been constantly reminded throughout the movie that Nazuna doesn’t have any friends or any romantic interests something that a girl of her age should have.
The adolescent period of a human (about 10-19 years old) is a very important time that shapes the person as an adult. Such big events like winning a regional swimming competition, finding his/her first love, divorce, and so on are what can shape the adult mind.
The regional swimming champion might grow up being proud of his achievement and might continue to pursue swimming, leading to a happy-go-lucky personality that might be his defining trait or if he suddenly suffers an injury and is rendered unable to pursue a bright career in swimming at the age of 18, he might be depressed for most of his adult life, he might even come to get easily angry at the people around him as some sort of discharge of his pent up stress, short-tempered and pessimistic.
This is something that I’ve personally seen in a rising athlete that I came to know. Although he is playing basketball, he eventually became very short-tempered after he got in an accident that decreased his performance, although it was a 2-month fracture, it made his team lose the regional finals which made them unable to go through the nationals.
Even seemingly small events like a teacher praising his student for his art project can lead that student to pursue art as a career.
In Nazuna’s case, it was a mix of family problems and loneliness. Without any company available she is dealing with the bulk of the heavy problems and questions of growing up all by herself and she is missing out a lot on the wonderful things about being young. This probably led to the loss of Nazuna’s value to herself. Besides, you’ve got no friends, no supportive family, and no one there to support you through the good times and the bad times. What is there to lose? I can see her as becoming someone like Sayu from Higehiro, except that she’ll probably have no Yoshida to rely on.
Then comes Norimichi, the knight in shining armor ready to protect and put Nazuna on the straight, the person who will make everything alright, at least that’s what he thinks. It’s a bit confusing as well as aggravating how he can leave all of his life behind, his parents, his friends, his home, and his life just to follow a girl that they’ve just met who asked him to go to the fireworks festival to Tokyo.
It’s a wonder how he is willing to do all of that to a girl he just met.
I think this can be correlated to the idea or thought of being 2 against the world. It’s dangerous, it’s dumb, and it’s absolutely risky but it’s this feeling that pushes him to do such things. That’s why so many murderers in prisons keep getting love letters, and gifts from people. There’s a thrill from the danger that keeps him going.
It’s also one of the reasons why so many women are willingly able to abandon their comfortable lives just to live with such “trashy” men. Men of danger and violence, it’s because there is the thrill in it, that’s what makes them chase them to the ends of the world and even if you say that it is dangerous and that they shouldn’t do it, that will only make them fall for them even harder.
Of course, this only happens to a minority but it’s an explanation as to why some people keep choosing trashy people over the nice guys. It’s a sad fact, but it is what it is.
I don’t know if these character traits of Nazuna and Norimichi are intentional, I’m thinking it isn’t because if they put this much thought into the characters then they wouldn’t be able to make such a crap movie anyways.
But still, the plot is very ambitious in the sense that it is ready to delve into such deep matters while having an interesting element to keep things moving, which is the element of time travel.
They could’ve given a better reason for Nazuna and Norimichi eloping rather than just Nazuna escaping her life and Norimichi chasing a false illusion of love at first sight. There could’ve been a much better reason.
The movie has more potential than what it became.
If only the team were allotted more time to explore the movie, and the executives didn’t make all of this happen in the first place then maybe, just maybe, Fireworks wouldn’t have been regarded as one of the biggest disappointments of 2017.
The sequel is looking good though.