Norimichi and Yusuke are high school friends who both have feelings for the aloof dark-haired girl in their class, Nazuna. One summer’s day before the fireworks festival, the boys have a swimming race with Nazuna, and the ultimate prize for the winning boy is to take her to the festival. However, a simple night of sparklers and romance turns into a complicated journey of firework mysteries, the pains of growing up, and how fate can be altered by the simplest of actions.
Fireworks is actually based upon a live action Japanese drama of the same name, released way back in 1993, originally only 50 minutes in length. Luckily for us, knowledge of the original is not required to understand the new anime spin on the tale. With a huge jump in time between adaptations however, you can see how Fireworks takes visual and story cues from a lot of similar stories that have been released since then. The most notable comparison is The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, especially with the determined Norimichi having a lot of the same drive as Makoto – using a newfound gift to change their current reality for the better without thinking far ahead to consider the consequences. In the case of Norimichi, however, he uses it to change the life of the girl he likes and save her from her suffocating situation, with every instance of him changing reality to get her further away from their small town. However, at first, he doesn’t remember said changes, and instead of turning back time it plays off like ‘multiple realities’, which is similar to the 1998 flick Sliding Doors where one action can splinter off to create a whole new world and have massive consequences. It’s interesting to see how, for example, in one reality where Yusuke is shown to be trying (in his own passive-aggressive way) to set up Norimichi with the girl he likes despite his own feelings, in others he’s much more of a rival and wants her for himself. But it’s the running gag of whether fireworks are round or flat that unexpectedly brings the whole multiple realities concept together into one beautifully animated finale. It’s not a particularly deep look into the notion of different worlds co-existing but the blending of them together and how it emotionally affects the cast is the pay-off that makes the whole short but fun journey worthwhile.
Therefore, it is the emotional aspect of the film that is the main drive of the story; similar to the likes of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves it’s an emotionally fuelled type of film because we’re following teens who are overall immature and refuse to see beyond their small world. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but if you’re an older viewer you’ll most likely find Nazuna’s cold attitude towards her parents overly harsh and Yusuke’s blunt anger hard to accept, considering the stark contrast in other timelines the movie shows. But this film is not driven by logic, it’s following two teens who are youthful, whimsical and attempting to run away because they believe it’ll fix their problems. Even if it’s for one brief moment they feel free, it’s enough for them, and it’s a ride that can sweep you off your feet if you allow yourself to switch your brain off and get carried away with the emotions.
However the biggest flaw of the movie, without question, is in regards to the female teacher Miura. She’s the sole female teacher in the school and one of the two we’re introduced to in the movie, and she’s objectified throughout the entire film. Not visually, luckily for us, despite having massive boobs and one quick shot highlighting them, she’s kept modestly dressed and the camera avoids perving over her. However, the numerous boys that we follow throughout the film talk about her in horribly misogynist ways. This includes one example at the start of the film where the boys have a race to school and they agree that the loser ‘gets to sexually harass Ms. Miura’ – that’s not me exaggerating the situation, that’s actually what’s translated in the subtitles. What’s worst is that they continue to make her uncomfortable in class and yet none of them are punished for it, instead it’s treated like harmless comical antics, ‘boys will be boys’ and all that. This is a huge glaring flaw that almost ruins the dream-like illusion of the film, even though she doesn’t play a major part in the main story. Whether it was in the original story or not, I cannot say, but it really should have not played a part in this film at all; it adds nothing, it only takes away from the experience.
Fireworks utilizes a lot of water, glass and (of course) firework imagery in the movie to help bring out the dream-like escapist tale, from Nazuna’s fairy-tale cutaway during her idol moment to the various times when the fireworks start to actually go off. All of it is used to a stunning degree that the animation becomes the main star of the film. The fireworks are a kaleidoscope of colours that are portrayed differently in each new reality the characters find themselves in, and the blending of 2D and 3D to make the water and glass feel alive on screen is breath-taking. Despite an odd over-use of 3D scattered throughout the film, such as when the students are riding skateboards and bikes, the movie is very beautiful and extra credit also goes to the world designs themselves, especially the school in which the design team goes out of its way to make it look very different to the anime cut-and-paste designs, such as spiral staircases and uniquely laid out classrooms.
Soundtrack is provided by Satoru Kosaki, who’s best known for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star, so he’s no stranger to scoring teen-driven stories; as Fireworks is more emotionally driven, the score complements it from the tender moments between the main couple to the darker moments involving Nazuna, step-father and mother. The vocal tracks are also musically pleasing; the Engrish-heavy ballad ‘Forever Friends’ by DAOKO is the perfect accompaniment to the climax, and the end credit theme named after the movie from DAOKO and Kenshi Yonezu is an uplifting duet that puts a positive spin on the rather abrupt and somewhat downer final scene.
Fireworks is a visually stunning film with an interesting twist on the ‘Groundhog Day’ concept without going too deeply into it. It’s not in the same league as the likes of Your Name or A Silent Voice, but it’s a fun movie that makes another worthy addition to the UK’s most fruitful year of anime cinema releases so far.
Fireworks is in cinemas 15th November by Anime Limited; purchase your tickets here.