Entranced by surfing and the sea, Hinako Mukaimizu is a spirited girl who attends college in a coastal city with no consideration for her future career. Her life takes an unexpected turn when a fireworks mishap sets the apartment building she lives in ablaze, where she is saved by a talented firefighter named Minato Hinageshi. Upon meeting, the two quickly become acquainted with one another—Hinako is instantly enamored by Minato's reliable personality and passion for saving others, while Minato is intrigued by surfing and is eager to learn how. As Hinako begins to teach Minato about surfing, the pair eventually fall in love and begin a gentle and devoted relationship. However, while surfing may seem fun and carefree, it can still be a dangerous and unpredictable activity. This is what Hinako learns when a surfing incident completely changes her life, leaving her forced to contemplate her undecided future. In search of her own calling, Hinako begins her journey of self-discovery, keeping Minato by her side as she gradually attempts to find her purpose and ride her own wave. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
I picked up this film for no other reason than the fact that it was directed than Masaaki Yuasa. This is a very different type of story than he would typically adapt. It’s a story about love, coming of age and learning to move on from loss. Colorful, vibrant and fairly easygoing, it does away with most of Yuasa’s hallmarks of frantic and wild feverdreams.
Nothing wrong with that, however I don’t think the movie is very successful at giving its lead much of anything to do besides being an absolutely hopeless blubbering mess who comes off as a dysfunctional klutz who needs her hand held by her knight in shining armor.
The film starts off showing Hinako – the female lead – as an elusive, glowing trophy. Two friends, Minato and Wasabi, admire her surfing in the distance. They don’t know her name, and accept that her existence in their lives could be as fleeting. Yet fate has her cross paths with both of them, and in fact Minato ends up saving her from a fire, and the two of them start dating.
It’s then that you learn that Hinako is basically only good at surfing and doesn’t have her life together in any way. She can’t take care of herself, her house is a mess, she can’t cook, she doesn’t have a job – in fact, it’s never quite made clear what exactly she’s doing with her life. Minato, on the other hand, does everything for her and is basically the perfect cookie-cutter boyfriend. She becomes quite reliant on him. The only thing he can’t do is surf, which Hinako teaches him.
This is a spoiler, but you can see it coming a mile away – Minato dies in a tragic surfing accident trying to save someone’s life. Hinako then spends the rest of the film acting like a lunatic when she learns she can sing a song to make Minato appear in water whenever she needs him – which is basically all the time. The problem is, no one else can see him except her. So naturally, everyone around her finds her behavior strange. I can’t tell if these portions of the film are supposed to be funny, or sad, or perhaps even both. It’s a bizarre mix of emotions and it lacks any kind of magic or chemistry. The two only love eachother because of a dependency issue, and Minato is such a flat and uninteresting character that it’s hard to miss him anywhere near as much as Hinako does.
The supporting cast is .. there. The only voice of reason is the stone cold Youko, Minato’s sister. Minato’s friend Wasabi doesn’t do much of note besides live in the shadow of his buddy. And there’s really not much more to it.
As the title suggests, the film is supposed to be about Hinako learning how to “ride the wave” of her life without Minato. But constantly throughout the film she howls and begs for Minato’s help via their goofy water singing manifestation ritual. It’s only at the very tail end of the story that Hinako learns to move on, and only because of Minato’s help. She never once accomplishes anything on her own accord.
It’s an unsatisfying story because of this abrupt end to Hinako’s arc. The ending is bittersweet, as one might imagine, but it lacks any emotional punch. Hinako is hard to care about because she doesn’t grow or change much, and when she does it feels unearned. Minato is hard to care about because he’s basically an ideal and not much of a character. I, personally, only really enjoyed Youko’s brief time on screen, a minor character by all means.
Should you watch “Ride Your Wave”? I’m not sure who I would answer “yes” to. If you like the works of Masaaki Yuasa, you probably are looking in the wrong place. If you like romantic stories, the relationships aren’t fleshed out enough here to give a satisfying romance. Everything that “Ride Your Wave” represents falls flat. Perhaps it could offer some catharsis for those going through the loss of a loved one, but I think there are many other stories out there that do it better. If you are looking for anime in that vein, I might recommend something like “The Wind Rises”, “Shinsekai Yori” or “Katanagatari” instead.