Hotarubi no Mori e – Review
Apparently the creators of animes believe everyone would automatically assume it’s winter as long as there are no cicadas seen on screen… Seriously, why have it to be always the cicadas?! I guess it’s the same with spring and Sakuras, these season-stereotypes are really used far too often.
Hotarubi no Mori e Review – Accidents Can Happen
I wouldn’t wanna call it a Natsume-spinoff but everyone who likes Natsume probably should watch this little movie. It’s only 45 minutes long and I would rather call it longer-than-average OVA than a full-blown movie. It definitely has the feel of a short-story instead of a big story with an epic message. Hotarubi is a rather quiet slice-of-life-movie with a romantic plot. And yeah, it’s good, really good.
Running Time: 45 minutes
Synopsis: When she was young, Hotaru was once lost when she played in the forest near her uncle’s place that she visits every summer. There, she had a fateful encounter with a spirit, who helped her even though he would disappear if a human being touches him. She began to visit him every summer, even as she grows; while he waits for the summer to come, for their time together to flow again.
In the world of Hotarubi spirits not only copy humans’ appearance and their cultural festivals but also their technology. Spirits truly seem to lack the imagination to have a culture of its own seemingly…
With most of the staff of the Natsume-anime-series behind it and Yuki Midorikawa being the original creator of the story Hotarubi no Mori offers a glimpse of what makes Natsume such a great slice-of-life-series. So basically if you liked Natsume or if you like Slice-of-Life with a bit of romance then you should watch this movie.
Hotarubi is a short movie with only 45 minutes but compared to Princess and Pilot this movie is a far more cohesive experience. It’s about Hotaru who meets as a girl this dude who’s a spirit. They meet each summer as Hotaru gets older. Since it’s slightly romantic she of course falls in love with him but there’s a problem: She can’t touch him because if any human would touch him he would disappear. Now this isn’t Romeo and Juliet where the romantic relationship is the centre of a conflict that needs to be resolved during the movie. Instead the moment of them loving each other but being unable to touch one another is only a moment but everything in this movie is building up towards this one moment. In that regard it’s definitely more a narrative resembling a short story since its focus is so small and limited.
The building-up is done in a very quiet manner and the world of Youkai has this peacefulness that you get to see in Natsume in its friendlier episodes (there are darker ones too in that series but overall it features the same atmosphere as this series). Character-wise you basically only get to see Gin and Hotaru talking to each other and sometimes you hear Hotaru’s thoughts. And this way of telling the story works because there aren’t any unnecessary distractions. All the story cares about is the relationship of the two so that’s all that matters.
You know from the very beginning that they can’t touch each other and it’s really well done how this story-element is used to show the two character’s relationship without being blunt and cheesy like most romance-animes do. Their relationship is basically founded on the development on how they both treat this limitation. Hotaru starts as this naïve child not really understanding the consequences of when she’s unthinkingly tries to touch him but that changes then to her fearing to touch him since she begins to care for him and in the end it closes off with her wanting to touch him since she fell in love with him. It’s also well represented from a directorial standpoint as each time Hotaru touches someone the camera focuses on that while in Gin’s case it’s shown how they avoid touching each other in the same kind of situation. That’s the kind of simple but subtle storytelling I would like to see more often in animes.
Like the ending the entire movie is rather quiet and laid-back in its atmosphere and lacks any real emotional drama. So it largely depends on what you expect this movie’s story to deliver whether you like the ending or not.
The only thing I didn’t like completely was the ending, not because it’s bad or anything but because I think this could’ve been a real movie of roughly ninety minutes long. The potential is there in the story. Also, I think the ending was far too simple and “nice” for the development to ever become truly dramatic instead of being just a little tension unseen under the surface. Naturally the style of the narrative was also far too quiet for this and it would’ve become quite a different experience and that’s why I don’t think it’s a flaw per se that I didn’t like the ending as much as I loved the build-up to it. What I would’ve liked to see would’ve been a more active decision on the part of Hotaru. Because she never had to deal with the problem after Gin confessed his frustration with the situation. And it’s there where the true dramatic final could’ve been found since the question is now: What will Hotaru do? She can give to his and her desire but make him disappear forever or she could grow old alongside him while never touching him. That’s the kind of romantic drama that could’ve made this a truly exceptional story, I think. Instead it’s just a very good little story.
Hotarubi no Mori e is a great little movie which is strongly reminiscent of the Natsume-series in terms of atmosphere and setting. Due to the shortness of the movie the focus rightfully lies on the two main-characters and their developing relationship. Thanks to a good direction and good storytelling this is a rather punctuated experience of a good slice-of-life story.