Hotarubi no Mori e is a calm story of love, growing up and the passage of time. It will charm you with it’s great visuals and a beautifully composed soundtrack, and that’s pretty much it for me. If this sounds like something you’ll like… good, go watch Natsume’s Book of Friends or Garden of Words, both of them way more worth your time then this.
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS AHEAD NOW!!!] Now for the detail of why I didn’t like this movie:
In this kind of short, emotional movie, the characters have to be easy to get attached to, since the short time of the movies gives no times for the viewer to get accustomed to them and feel empathy towards them, and no snobbish quote about love can change the fact that the characters in the movie have no personality, and are very forgettable. Hotaru the main character has 2 traits to her, she got lost in the forest, and is in love with the other chraracter, Gin. She is as bland as it gets, she boils down to this person saved me thus I have to love them. Maybe she fell in love with Gin because of the time she passed during all her summers with him, but most of the movie is just the writer bashing your head in trying to make SURE your remember that if Gin touches a human he dies. Wow, thanks, after the 4th time you told me I forgot, so thanks for the new heads up random voices from the forest.
This is where my biggest problem comes from, instead of developing a sweet relationship between an almost immortal spirit and an aging young girl, and have the character that was supposed to live on forever die, thus creating a sad and tragic ending, the movie was basically 45 minutes of being reminded that Gin was going to die. Even worst is that that ending came out of nowhere. Not in a good way like I was surprised, like in the sense that I have no idea why he just died when he did. There was no buildup, no emotion, it just happened after a weird festival thing that was frankly pointless.
The more I think about it, this movie is quite pointless, nothing is developed, all you get is a 45 minute movie about a young girl who likes a spirit and how she gets told 10000 times that her lover is basically as good as dead. Thanks, but if you try to hard to make me sad, instead of writing characters I will feel sad about, I’m not going to cry at your super at of nowhere unemotional death scene.
Just like I said, listen to the soundtrack, because it’s probably the only thing I thoroughly enjoyed. From the same writer Nastume Yuujinchou which is miles better. And watch Garden of Words if you want a 45 minutes emotional movie about growing up and impossible love.
Or you could just go watch Train Wars, at least that has the bonus of being entertaining.
"It is sad not to love, but it is much sadder not to be able to love." The words uttered by Miguel de Unamuno become unusually symbolic when we think of them in the context of Hotarubi no Mori e. The romance genre has grown stiff over the centuries - and some may even imply that any originality in that peculiar type of works has depleted, that nothing fresh and original can be created when basically everything is a cliché these days. Well then, I'm truly glad I can say that whoever sports that belief is in the wrong. The evidence: Hotarubi no Mori e.
How much emotion and feelings can be put into a small vessel? As Shakespeare and his cycle of sonnets taught us - you don't need much space (or time) to deliver a powerful blast of vivid emotions. And this film needed circa forty minutes to revive within me certain emotions, which I believed I had managed to cast aside long time ago. In our era, the concept of love seems to be incomplete and - I dare to say - a bit off the mark. Love is now an emotion which is the theme for a vast majority of pop songs - those pseudo-deep lyrics of them, even when combined in a single entity, still won't tell you nearly as much as Hotarubi no Mori e in several lines of dialogue and 40 minutes of animation. It's not overly deep or anything, it doesn't require your utmost attention to get a general gist, no - that's not the case here. It's a simple, effective, well-thought story with a warm sensation lurking behind it; a slow-paced story of love in its truest, platonic form. And now let us take a more detailed view on the whole.
Images are a powerful means of conveying information--and feelings as well. And no major issues can be found in this regard - on the contrary, the visual aspect of this film is praiseworthy, and a few things need to be pointed out. First of all - a genuinely perfect playing with scenery. It refers a tad to the script - but still, presenting the two (Gin and Hotaru) all alone in a forest was a glimpse of genius. The motif is neatly exposed - they are alone with each other, there's no one around them... and yet they're not together. Because touching someone is like confirming their existence - and even that much is not allowed to them. But not to sway of the topic too much - the exceptional words of admiration should be directed at the background scenery. Rich in details, properly animated, not breaking the decorum of the entirety. But only a little less can be said about the character design - rich in expressions, not overly static, presenting the character quite well... to sum it all up, I'll just say that I wasn't left speechless - but what speech was left to me--it was the praising alone.
Sounds are as important as images - if not more - so we should pay a close attention to this aspect of the film as well. Voicing was done fairly well, though there's nothing to cry tears of delight over, so let's just say that it was perfectly fine. But what really caught my attention was music. And goodness me, my ears still are in awe of what they heard an hour ago. Due to the limited time of the film, it's perfectly obvious and natural that the number of songs wouldn't be very impressive. But what matters is their quality - which in this case wouldn't be paid a proper recognition if I didn't call it top-notch. Those few instrumental pieces were enough to build up a desired setting, and reflected what was happening on the screen in a truly illustrative way. Especially the theme of the festival deserves my utmost recognition - it sure did manage to deliver a number of various emotions. All in all, both music and voices in this film aced the test.
Characters are inseparably connected with plot in this very case, so I think that they shouldn't... no, mustn't be regarded as two different aspects. To give a brief summary of events - a young girl meets a boy, who is in fact a spirit dwelling in the forest. The boy, however, mustn't be touched by a human, for it would result in him disappearing for all eternity. They spend the summer days with each other, and when the girl must return to home from her vacation, she promises to visit him again next summer. And that's eactly what she does - for the next few years. During that time she grows up, and her age is slowly getting closer to the age of the boy (who due to being a spirit doesn't age or ages very slowly). And then, one summer, comes the grande finale - he invites her to a spirit festival, during which he touches a human kid who tripped himself and was about to fall. Then, for as much as a few seconds, the two people who loved each other are able to touch, sense, confirm the object of their love. And after what seemed to be a blink of an eye... he's gone. He's not there - his mask left behind as the only proof of his existence. To love, yet not to be able to.
The story itself isn't something unique, or exceptional - as I have already mentioned, everything comes down to emotions. I was also surprised at the existence of a modified hamartia - just by the existence of the flaw, we can reason that there's no happy ending, and the inevitable must happen (unless we would get to see some Deus Ex Machina coming and saving the day).
I'm about to say something seemingly irrelevant, but in fact it will be the most important thing of all what I've said thus far. Whenever the question "why do you watch anime" arises, people and their answers can be divided into 2 groups. Those who claim to watch anime for cute girls doing cute things in a cute way, and those who claim to watch anime for plot. To truly notice the value of Hotarubi no Mori e, you must - like me - belong to neither of them. I watch anime to notice, to perceive, to experience - to get to feel that what I watch is worthwhile. To feel those emotions oozing from a series. And no - it's not the same as watching for plot - there exists a division called "4 levels of meaning". Plot per se, is the first - literal - level, so you could say that albeit important, it doesn't play the main role. And in fact - what matters is emotions, and feelings hidden behind the curtain. And with Hotarubi no Mori e, you are able to tore down the curtain completely, and observe how those emotions start to have an influence on you. It's a beautiful thing, and it alone is of a great value. Because - to quote a recurring sentence from Umineko no Naku Koro ni Chiru, "without love, it cannot be seen."