Friday, April 19, 2019

Liz and the Blue Bird is a soft quiet delicate and surprisingly deep movie (Anime Review)

Liz and the Blue Bird - 7.5/10

For no apparent reason this time, I've decided to review the movie Liz and the Blue Bird in the form of an acrostic poem. It's probably because my early notes were more a list of experiences than my normal more narrative notes (which fits the ethereal nature of the film). I've never seen the show that this movie was spun off from, so I went into it totally blind and with no real expectations (other than hearing it had yuri elements). I hope you enjoy:

Lots of character nuance, and even some change, but little plot. That's not a bad thing.
Interesting lack of any exploration of the characters broader lives.
Zoom in on the movie and you'll realize it basically all takes place within the school.

Amazingly quiet for an animated film, there is almost no dialogue at all, and the whole thing moves at such a slow, but lovely and delicate pace.
Notable for how the entire media industry in Japan seems more willing to make a wide range of movies, and isn't limited to just big blockbuster-type storytelling, especially in animation. I really appreciate that.
Don't know whether I really find the main character believable, as she's so quiet and withdrawn, but not in a way like any real person I've met, more in a 'this is what I think internalizing girls are like' sort of way. But that doesn't make her less engaging as a character, and could provide a mirror for some young women's internal feelings rather than needing to be an authentic representation of an actual person. So it works in animation, in a way it wouldn't in a live action film, which is why animation is such a vital medium.

The basic story is of two bandmates in high-school as they work through a piece of music, their relationship, and their future while also reading and thinking through the story in a picture book.
How they bring the children's book into this, when I think back, seems pretty arbitrary. I'm not sure I really buy that a highschooler would carry a children's book around, then loan it to a friend, but the contents of that book form an important metaphor for the leads' story, more on that to come...
Even though I praised the diversity of stories and story-telling approaches in Japanese animation (and I am glad that this was released in the US), I'm still never-the-less reminded how many great manga never got translated into English or turned into anime.  I recognize that an unusually soft and subtle film like this only got a US release (and maybe only got made) largely because of the reception and popularity of Sound! Euphonium (the original show).

Broad sense of time, starting in the middle of their story and ending still in the middle of their story, so we know there was so much before and so much still to come, that nothing is fully resolved, with leaps of time throughout from hours to days to even months that pass between scenes.
Lots of room to add your own yuri vibes, it hints at some of the purest forms of yuri (the intimacy of close relationships) without ever reducing it to sexuality, service, or even necessarily romance.
Understated use of dialogue, it's has some of the least of any film in recent memory, and leaves us without any internal dialogue either, so we are left to scan faces, look at lighting, read timing, and subtle gestures to understand their inner thoughts, there is no exposition at all.
Excellent, even if you don't know or haven't watched the series it's spun off from (and I hadn't).

Blends several styles of animation pretty seamlessly, especially the art on the internal storybook which reminds me of how Chica Umino draws faces (Honey and Clover) and has a lovely crayon-like quality which is so different than the animation and character designs for the main story.
It doesn't completely resolve anything, but hey, that's life, and I like hopefully melancholy endings!
Respectfully kept the feeling small and didn't try to make it a giant epic just because it was a full-length movie rather than a 20 minute episode.
Deceptively rich, the metaphor of the storybook within the story seems to parallel the characters in one way early one, but it's actually not what you might think. The "flip" in our expectations (how the book relates to the main story) as we move to the later parts of the movie makes both so much more rewarding. We're like: "oh, I didn't see that coming, but it makes so much more sense" and adds a real richness and depth to the character's inner lives. I can't tell you what that flip is without giving away the magic of the final parts of the movie.

So there you have it. Basically, I really liked it because it was a delicate story of the relationship between two young women, told mostly without words, at a lovely, slow pace, with no real plot, drama, or much of anything you could easily grab at, with no pandering or service.

However, it didn't make as immediate and indelible an impact on me as some other recent anime films have, and it's not going to go down in the pantheon as a classic, I may not ever rewatch it (I probably will), but it's still important because of just how different it is for a full-length anime. It's perhaps overly sentimental in ways, and with some unrealistic depictions of teen angst (maybe teen angst is always unrealisticly real?), but it is a beautiful watch if you're in the right mood. I'm giving Liz and the Blue Bird a strong 7.5/10 (I really struggled not giving it an 8/10, so YMMV).



  1. Oh, neat! It seems like an acrostic presentation is perfect for this movie, as it really seems to stand out apart from other anime. I will keep an eye out for this one, it sounds right up my alley!

    1. Yeah, I think you might really really like this. It's different as a film, with amazing pacing, and a rich, nuanced story that nails it at the end. Very cool to have something so different and delicate.


Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3