After being held exclusively online in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, 2021 saw Scotland Loves Anime return to both the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Filmhouse with an exciting selection of films. In this article, our staff members who attended the festival discuss their personal highlights of those films that weren’t in competition.
Outside of the main in-competition films there were plenty of others to look forward to, and as a fan of children’s anime in particular, I had my eye on Looking for Magical Doremi.
Magical Doremi (or Ojamajo Doremi in Japan) is a popular magical girl franchise produced by Toei, spanning four seasons from 1999 to 2003 (the first of which was adapted for the US by 4Kids in the mid-2000s), a 2004 OVA series and 2 movies, and has recently made a comeback for its twentieth anniversary with a web anime series and this spin-off movie. While I have not seen the series myself as it is difficult to find with it being old and very niche, I had still heard good things, so I was looking forward to getting a taste of it for the first time.
What I got with this film was not quite what I expected, but at the same time I think it works out for the better in the way it is handled within its wider franchise. Set in real-life Japan, the story follows three young women who each find themselves at dead ends. Sora Nagase is a 22-year-old teaching student who has had her confidence shaken after struggling to deal with a boy who is implied to have dyslexia; Mire Yoshizuki is a 27-year-old career woman who feels disillusioned with her job due to her bosses constantly swatting down her ideas; while Reika Kawatani is a 20-year-old part-time worker who finds herself trapped not only by her abusive boyfriend, but also by her feelings for her father who left her and her mother when she was young. The three end up meeting by chance at a building in Kamakura that is rumoured to have been the basis of the Mahodo magic shop in the original series. As they explore the building and reveal their love of Doremi to each other, they become fast friends and resolve to meet up again and spend more time together, time that will ultimately remind them of their childhood dreams and drive each of them forward out of their current rut in life.
As someone who has been involved with various fandoms over the years, this was a very sweet and nostalgic film to watch that really warmed my heart. While it is aimed directly at fans of the original series who grew up with it, no knowledge of it is required as the same feelings that come across here can be applied to literally anything you loved as a child, or even now as an adult. I have had very similar experiences to those shown in this film, such as forming friendships around Aikatsu!, as well as doing the whole anime pilgrimage thing for both The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the Love Live! franchise, and it was nice to revisit those memories in a whole new way.
The main characters in the film are also very relatable, and it is easy to place yourself in their shoes no matter what background you come from. I personally identified strongly with Mire, and I adored her strong and more mature character compared to the other two. She’s smart and relatively well-off, but at the same time very down-to-earth and is very bubbly and excitable about the things she is passionate about. Sora and Reika are well-developed characters too, and their arcs in the story are highly moving as they support each other to resolve their problems.
Some of these can feel a bit forced however, and I found some of the romantic elements later in the film a bit unnecessary, and even though I can see how this sequence came about, it did sit with me more uncomfortably than the rest of the film. That said, I think the story is very well-written and perfectly paced. The ending may be a bit cheesy, and on reflection is a bit out-of-step with the rest of the film, but it still had me in tears because it topped off the film’s core message that magic and miracles are real, and we all have the power inside ourselves to achieve our dreams.
If you want a heart-warming coming-of-age story that relates to being a fan of anything, then don’t miss out on this one if you get a chance to see it. It is pretty adorable and certainly one of my favourites from this year’s festival.
My other main favourite I didn’t get to see in the cinema but caught instead on Scotland Loves Anime’s online service (what used to be Screen Anime). On-Gaku: Our Sound is a hilarious but mesmerising tale of group of delinquents discovering music, forming a band, and playing at a small local rock festival.
This one really caught me by surprise as I didn’t think it was going to be this off-the-wall in both style and substance. It’s produced mostly using rotoscoping, which gives it a unique art style that helps contribute to its weird and offbeat vibe, working brilliantly for the setting of the piece. The time period we are in here isn’t exactly mentioned, but we’re probably in the late 70s or early 80s going off the available technology and the vast array of musical nods it throws in, going all the way from The Beatles (yes, there’s an Abbey Road reference) to Mike Oldfield of all things.
The characters are all really fun to watch and have a wide variety of funny moments, with the film’s deadpan comedy often sending me into fits of laughter at how absurd they all are. Kenji is the leader of the trio and usually decides what they get up to, but his feelings often change on a whim; as soon as he gets bored of something, he’ll head off to do something else, often with hilarious results. Asakura and Oota make for a good pairing as Kenji’s lackeys, often being the moderators in their friend’s antics, along with long-suffering love interest Aya. You’ve also got the members of the other band in the school (with the same band name) that look suspiciously like our aforementioned Liverpudlian superstars.
The story itself is a bit of a rags-to-riches piece (despite nobody making any money out of these events) and a sort-of coming-of-age story, as it sees our leading trio slowly put their delinquent ways behind them as they worm their way into the local music scene. And if it’s not clear already, the execution is absolutely nuts and takes a wild ride through their initial amusement at making pretty terrible-sounding music, getting bored with it, then coming back in a grand finale that’s certainly a way to get close to an LSD trip without doing anything illegal.
This was definitely one I really enjoyed, and with Anime Limited’s Blu-ray release close on the horizon, one I look forward to going back to again and again.
Josh A. Stevens
By now, I don’t think I need to tell you why last year wasn’t the best for cinema. It seemed like Black Widow and No Time to Die were never going to be released, but eventually they were. Nature was healing, and after a valiant online-only effort last year, the Scotland Loves Anime festival returned with a line-up whose spectacle truly reminded me of why so many have come to love the big screen experience, and fittingly, two films specifically about it: the unabashed love-letter to cinema that is Pompo the Cinéphile, and the long-awaited return of the testament to creative struggles that is Shirobako the Movie.
Adapted from a manga by Shogo Sugitani, the story of Pompo the Cinéphile takes place in Nyallywood, a cheery caricature of tinsel town that’s everything sparkly-eyed hopefuls can only dream its real-world inspiration is: all you need is a love for film, and a good idea. It also helps if you’re a little bit weird like the pint-sized producing prodigy Pompo, who has inherited her legendary grandfather’s talent, but prefers the simplicity of trashy B-Movie flicks. Fortunately, those qualities are also held by Gene Fini, Pompo’s dull-eyed assistant who’s like a walking-and-talking IMDB. Seeing his potential, Pompo places Gene at the helm of her next picture: the ambitious drama Meister. Embarking on his first voyage in the director’s chair, can Gene live up to the expectations and calibre of talent of those around him?
If you’re hoping for a nail-biting exposé about the harsh realities of filmmaking, then you should skip to my segment on Shirobako the Movie. Pompo the Cinéphile knows that it takes a village to make a film, but is fluffier than roasting marshmallows on a cloud. There weren’t a lot of love stories at this year’s festival, but the biggest romance by far was between this film and cinema. Pompo the Cinéphile has a delightful and infectious optimism from start to finish, with a cheerful cast of characters like the sweet, young hopeful Nathalie Woodward, the aura of legendary actor and Marlon Brando caricature Martin Braddock, as well as the energetic Pompo herself. Given the year we’ve all had and how hard the film industry was hit in particular, this unashamed optimism and love for cinema is like a much-needed warm hug. Being on the cusp of finally getting behind a camera for the first time in over a year, Pompo the Cinéphile really felt like a rekindling burst of encouragement and inspiration.
While I enjoyed the original manga, this adaptation really elevates the story by expanding its emphasis on a critical but oft ignored part of filmmaking: editing. Originally little more than a passing mention, Gene’s battle with editing Meister is expanded into one of the film’s most visually striking sequences that really gets across the fun, pain, and dedication of editing. The addition of a related subplot about reshoots also adds some much-needed conflict to the film’s final act. Perhaps the addition of Gene realising that Meister needed another scene to feel complete was director Takayuki Hirao self-inserting his own revelation about adapting this film?
Honestly, Pompo the Cinéphile is just a delight. Like the movies its titular character makes, it never pitches itself as complex art, but just a fun time at the cinema. The real brilliance of Pompo the Cinéphile, though, is how it makes a point about how long films can be, then keeps to its word by having a real-life run-time of 90 minutes. Pompo the Cinéphile is being shown at selected Picturehouse and Showcase Cinemas as part of the We Love Anime touring programme between 4-5 December 2021. If you love cinema, then I can’t recommend Pompo enough.
If Pompo the Cinéphile is the light side of filmmaking, however, then Shirobako the Movie is the harsh shadow.
It’s hard to believe that seven years have passed since the premiere of Shirobako – probably because I don’t want to admit that my youth is escaping me. P.A. Works’ anime series about making anime followed the newbie production assistant Aoi Miyamori and her four friends as they tried to get their break in the industry that they love. Working for Musashino Animation, Miyamori has to weather the highs and lows of the journey of creating television anime series.
Shirobako was never a mainstream hit like My Hero Academia or Demon Slayer, but it was warmly received and is remembered fondly by a not-insignificant cult audience – mainly those in or interested in the workings of the industry. It was clearly seen as popular enough, however, given that we’re returning to Musashino Animation all these years later.
And what a state it’s in. Shirobako the Movie reunites us with Aoi Miyamori four years after the series’ conclusion, and the once-bustling anime studio is now in a state of ruin – inside and out. Following the sudden cancellation of their Time Hippopotamus series, MusAni has been in a state of limbo and much of its talent has moved on to pastures new. When the studio’s president proposes a theatrical film to try and reverse MusAni’s fortunes, Miyamori must round up and motivate the gang once more.
Shirobako has never pretended to have documentary-level accuracy in its depiction of the anime industry, but it has been said to capture the mood. While Shirobako the Movie doesn’t touch on the controversies that have reached the public eye such as overproduction and workers’ conditions, it certainly paints a harsh reality of how executive meddling can stifle and snuff out creative passions. However, Shirobako the Movie isn’t content with wallowing in that dead-end, and is fundamentally a story about reigniting one’s passion after a major setback.
Despite its bleak set-up, Shirobako the Movie was still a joy to watch, and has everything we’ve come to love from the series. Seeing its charming characters again after so many years filled me with the nostalgia of a true reunion – especially with so many of them in new jobs since we last saw them. The franchise’s flair for imaginative visual metaphor is also nowhere near rusty, with Kinoshita’s legendary cowboy hadou-belly finally surpassed by a similarly ridiculous yet elaborate sequence featuring Miyamori as an old-school gangster. If you’re like me and haven’t revisited the series in some time, then you’ll be delighted to know that Shirobako the Movie opens with the best recap of an anime ever: in chibi form!
Given that the film has to condense the cast of a 24-episode series into a 2-hour movie, it made a valiant effort to give its more prominent characters their own moments to shine, while still anchoring Miyamori as our narrative centre. Many of MusAni’s former staffers have appearances that amount to little more than fun cameos, but together, they help build a mythology around MusAni that makes the anime a studio a character in itself. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I would have liked to see more of Miyamori’s friends. The fledgling screenwriter Midori received a fair amount of attention, but the others felt as though they were given the bare minimum. Even the new character Kaede Miyai, a producer who featured prominently in the film’s marketing, didn’t really add anything to the film. However, that’s the slight niggle of an overly-invested fan. Shirobako the Movie is primarily Miyamori and MusAni’s story, and it tells that well.
One issue that’s particularly ironic, given the content of the film, though, is that the ending felt too abrupt. Although, not as abrupt as when a few audience members were fooled by the credits of the in-universe film and had to quickly silence their applause once they realised that the movie was still going!
While that may sound like I’m being overly negative, don’t get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoyed Shirobako the Movie. The series is one of my all-time favourites, and the film being at this year’s Scotland Loves Anime was actually my main motivation to attend – and it didn’t disappoint. I loved being in that world and seeing those characters again. A future release of the film is currently unknown, especially given how the television series continues to elude a UK release, but if you’re a fan of Shirobako, it’ll be worth the wait.
The scheduling of these two films also curiously invited parallels between the two, with them essentially being shown back-to-back in Edinburgh with Pompo the Cinéphile as Saturday’s late night film, and Shirobako the Movie kicking off Sunday’s lineup. While they each approach film production with wildly different tones, they share one thing: that they’re fuelled by a love of the art, which is why they’re my highlights of Scotland Loves Anime 2021.
The Loves Animation festival has always been one of my favourite times of the year since it started, I’ve been one of those that have managed, somehow, to get to each and every festival since it began and I’ve always loved the variety of films on show, no matter how bad or good they can be. So having that gap in my year last year really took its toll more than I expected it would. Thankfully. this year has been a lot more forgiving in that regard and to have the event return has been a fantastic thing to see.
When I look at my highlights, I didn’t get the opportunity to see as much as I would normally do this year, but there were definitely films that stood out for me. I did discuss one of my main highlights in the previous piece for SLA (Belle) but there was another, not in contention for the coveted Golden Partridge award that left an impression on me as well
It had been shown before at the Edinburgh International Film Festival so it didn’t get a run in contention, but my favourite film from the Festival was The Deer King.
The Deer King is an adaptation of Nahoko Uehashi’s novel series of the same name, which focuses on the character Van, who was once a feared and powerful soldier, now enslaved working in a salt mine. The film starts with the salt mine being attacked by this mysterious pack of wolves. When bitten, these wolves spread what’s called the “Black Wolf Fever” one so potent that it kills any who are bitten. Van and Yuna receive bites yet are surprisingly immune to the effects of the fever. The story really focuses on the two finding their way back into the world smitten by this plague, and others trying to find a cure for the disease to stop it wiping out their people.
For those of you that have maybe heard of the author before, she is more well known for her first and most recognisable novel series, Guardian of the Spirit, which received an anime adaption itself Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit – which, much like The Deer King, plays to folklore and mythology in building its story, but keeps it very grounded and human all the same. You really do see a lot of Moribito in the film too, many of the folklore aspects feel like they tread similar ground, so if you took to that and the fluid action from the series there, you’ll find some of that to enjoy here too.
The Deer King came out at an interesting time, given that we are still very much in the middle of a pandemic, when the film itself really captures a similar situation, just with a mythological twist to it. The disease is seen as a manifestation of a pack of black wolves, the Zoltian are very religious and believe that everything can be cured with faith and any medical practices are deemed very heinous and damaging to one’s body and soul. There are those who use science and understand that there must be a way to cure this as well, and those that believe in it, but just as many that are sceptical and cautious of that which they don’t know. It all sounds very much similar, but again this kind of thought has been ingrained into us for as long as we’ve been alive, and this really does capture it scarily well. The film does well to appeal to the supernatural just enough to make it feel like a fantasy film, but it, like Moribito, keeps itself very grounded to the human issues and lives that are really the centre of what the film is about. And that’s what I really love about this film, it balances the two just enough that one never really imposes on the other, but you can appreciate what both bring to the table. Masashi Ando and Production I.G have made a wonderful vibrant world, capturing the difference between those living more tribal-like lives to those living in towns and cities more akin to a medieval.. I want to say more European-style dwelling?
Beyond the disease and it being extremely central to the film, my enjoyment for this film I think came more from the characters themselves. The world is visually stunning and I can see there is a lot more to really take in from it too that I may have missed on my first watch, but I really got hooked on the way that Van, Yuna and the rest of the cast carried the film. Van, who from what we can tell in flashbacks lost his family prior to the events here, took in Yuna to protect her mostly at first. But you see him really start to come to care for her just like family as it goes on, and that drive to protect your family and save them really drives his motivations clearly as it goes on. It’s a very sweet relationship, both giving Van that second chance at having a family to support, but for Yuna to really get to have a father as well. We do see the introduction of one of the Doctors, Hassal, who learns of Van and Yuna’s immunity to the disease and looks to learn what he can from them to find a cure to save those he can, and a mysterious tracker who is tasked with finding Van and Yuna and bringing them back to study them. The two do well to really help to build on Van’s really stoic character in different ways, one really touching on his fatherly bond to Yuna, and the other still showing his prowess as a solder before he was enslaved.
Not to say it’s without flaws, I did find the third act to be a little rushed for what it wanted to do and did hurt a bit more of the conclusion to the story, but it’s fairly minimal to me when I look at what the film is as a whole, and can’t recommend it enough. If you get an opportunity to see this film in cinemas as well, I would really recommend giving it a chance there; it’s stunning.
The Deer King, Looking for Magical Doremi and Pompo the Cinéphile will be screened as part of Sheffield Loves Anime between 19-21 November, 2021. Looking for Magical Doremi and Pompo the Cinéphile will also be shown in selected Showcase and Picturehouse cinemas between 4-5 December, 2021 as part of the We Love Anime touring program.