Monday, January 6, 2020

Missed it Monday - Fireworks (2017) is a gross male fantasy (Anime Review)

A highschool girl and boy at night with exploding fireworks overhead
Missed it Monday is the recurring column where I review manga/anime that I didn't read/watch when they first came out.

Fireworks (2017) - 3.5/10

It turns out I had already tried to watch "Fireworks" once. When I started watching it the other day, the first few minutes seemed familiar. And terrible. I now remember starting it and refusing to finish it because it was so bad. This time I plowed through just in case it got better. It didn't. It got worse. It is an overwrought male fantasy that masquerades as a coming of age, time-travel, love story. "Your Name" or "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" it is not.

In order to do justice to this review, I will be spoiling the whole way through, particularly when talking about the absolutely awful ending. You've been warned. But the movie sucks so bad that at least I'm saving you from needing to watch it.

Nazuna is a 14 or 15-(we know she's not yet 16, due to plot point)-year-old girl. Her mother is marrying a new man and they must move away from her current home town. From here, she begins a sort of listless flirtation with two boys so that at least one of them will run away with her so she doesn't have to move. Umm...okay (sarcasm). She has them do a swim race and decides to ask whomever wins the race to run away with her during the fireworks festival that night. Norimichi (our lead boy) loses and she asks his friend Yusuke instead.

But Yusuke doesn't show to go with her to the festival and so Norimichi (our male "hero"), who bumps into her, walks her home (not sure why home given that she wants to run away) only to watch as her mom drags her inside kicking and screaming to prevent her from running away. Seeing this, Norimichi gets so mad that he throws a crystal orb that Nazuna had picked up at the beach and says something to the effect of "if I had won the swim race, I'd never stand her up." Then the orb magically spins back time to the swim race where he wins and Nazuna asks him to the festival instead of Yusuke.

In this second version of time, Norimichi is "forced" to chose between spending the time with his friends (including Yusuke) and going with Nazuna to the festival. I'll come back to this later, but so much angst is given to not bailing on your male buddies to hang out with a girl. So Norimichi runs off by bike with Nazuna rather than actually telling his friends he has a date, and they head straight to the train station to run away. Yusuke sees them leave together and is pissed.

Nazuna's mom shows up and things go bad and again he makes a wish. In this third version, they get on the train, and his mom and friends see them and they all start chasing them only to catch up with them at the next stop. The couple tries to run from them and ultimately things go bad again, and they do it all over again, but this time the whole world has gotten so warped from the time traveling that they know they can't stay this way. It is in this fourth version that she confesses her love to him and they kiss (underwater naturally) before trying to set things "right." Which leads to a very sucky final scene which I'll come back to.

I've left out a ton, some of which I will discuss below, some of which doesn't really matter (like the ongoing discussion of whether fireworks are round or flat when they explore). But on its surface, the above description could sort of read like a fated love story. But it isn't, not at all. Instead, it is a gross male fantasy with a horrifically created female lead who is a cross between a manic-dream pixie and a girl with borderline personality disorder (which might actually be the same thing).

Now that you have the basic plot, let's pick this damn movie apart.

Starting with our lead boy, Norimichi. The whole construction of his character and the plot in general tries to present him as a sensitive, emotional, kind and caring boy, but he (and the writing) comes off as completely un-genuine.  Nothing about his thoughts or actions seem at all related to how actual boys his age think or act. Drama is created where none should exist (such as why he can't just tell his friends he has a date. It's not a big deal and any real friends would cheer him on).

Further, in the early scenes,  he's depicted as so scared of her because of her beauty and aloof affect that he can't even go near her. Like she's some terrifying thing. Like her beauty is so intense as to be untouchable. There's a distinct object on a pedestal thing happening.

Then there's her character. Nazuna is a real piece of work, also not reminiscent of a whole person, but instead a fantasy doll for Norimichi (and the audience) to pine for. The writers depict her as every awful stereotype men have of women. She's manipulative, she's got no real personality of her own, she's lustful, she's a tease, on and on. We get a little of her and her mom's backstory, but nothing to suggest why she is so unhappy with her mom that she wants to run away.

But it's worse than just her mostly non-existent (but highly manipulative) personality. The writers/artists also use her for a ton of seductive fan service (remember, she's a child still). Yes there is some random fan service that isn't part of her personality (but just the sick need for this industry to frame the camera on down-blouse shots or girl's butts), but there are many times where she seems to be driving the service - such as the overtly sensual way she puts on lipstick, or takes off her yukata in public at the train station, or the come-hither mixed with "I'm evil" look in her eyes in the classroom after she asked Norimichi to the festival, and so much more. She's not a real person at all but untouchable beauty, manipulative, seductive.

Then, the whole movie is filled with so much breast humor, mostly directed at their female teacher. We meet her when she's riding her bike to school and all the guys are ogling her and making comments about her giggling breasts. Then they chime in with guessing the bra sizes of all the girls around them. One gets smacked in the face with a ball due to his comments, but the whole scene is played for laughs.

Then the teacher gets harassed by the students in the classroom over her breasts and whether she has a boyfriend. Elsewhere, as part of a bet, the boys talk about getting a picture of her underwear. Then, in a later scene, her own boyfriend makes fun of her chest being bound tight in her yukata asking her if she used to be bigger. He gets slapped, but again, the scene is played for laughs, not critical commentary. With shit like this, it's easy to see why young guys think it's okay to treat women like sex objects.

In another scene, a boy describes the lead girl, Nazuna, as a dog in order to deny his feelings for her. And when a female nurse needs to examine and fix up Norimichi's ankle injury (from the first swim race) the best the writers/artists can do is have her wave a flashlight over it, back and forth, for the entire several minute scene as if they have no idea what a nurse can really do (I'm married to a nurse practitioner so I'm a fierce ally) all the while the male doctor just plays golf in his office.

In the third version on the train (the fourth timeline?) we get lots of shots of just her butt, framed by the camera, as she starts singing, of course - because girls just burst into a'capella song in front of strange boys. There's also a scene in this timeline where she takes off her clothes down to her slip and does goddess posses before falling into the water only to come back out of the water tossing her hair back seductively. Just more male fantasy and female objectification.

In another scene, out of nowhere, Nazuna confesses to Norimichi on the train. But it came out of nowhere. There's nothing in the original timeline to suggest that she cared about him at all. Did her feelings really just develop over the course of their various adventures in the past couple hours? If so, are her feelings just so labile that she can instantly feel that intense for him after a couple hours? Again, nothing to suggest she is a fully realized human being, but instead is a stock character for the boy to lust over and pursue (and save, as we'll see next) and who desperately wants the totally random boy who has no personality himself. But given that the boy is the proxy for the male audience, of course the girl has to be desperately in love with his random ass.

Each of the times that her mom catches up to her, she screams for Norimichi to help her. The way she keeps calling out to him, in pure anguish, the way she needs him to help her run away, she makes it seem like he's the only one who can help her. Again and again, the only way she demonstrates agency is through manipulating the guy to help her (whether it is asking whomever wins the race to the festival and ultimately to run away with her, regardless of who it is; to screaming for help; to asking Norimichi to elope with her - yup, seriously). Norimichi is the one who uses the time-traveling orb each time to try and help her get a better outcome. She doesn't even use the orb she found. The writers couldn't even give her that much agency in her own life. Instead, it's framed as the guy being the savior of this hurting, lost girl. More male fantasy.

Then, in the final scene, after they go back in time one last time, we get the most terribly improbable unresolved ending. BIG SPOILER: we are left to believe that Norimichi is no longer in his hometown. It is unclear whether he has moved with her to her new town or if they've successfully run away together. But either way, we are led to believe that two 14 or 15-year-olds are going to get their way and be together forever and their parents are letting it happen (and like ALL first loves in high-school, they'll be happy together for the rest of their lives - again, sarcasm). Somehow, we're expected to believe that these two kids who have never really talked to each other beyond a half day, are so in love that they both move (or run away?) to be with each other forever, and his family is just as okay with it as hers. Yeah right. And the writers want us to cheer them on!


In the end, neither character grows, changes, or learns anything. Norimichi never learns how to balance his friendships with a new relationship. He's about as immature as it gets. She never gains any perspective on her mother's life up to this point and the solid ways her mother is trying to be good to her (more on that in a moment). She comes across as either a spoiled brat, immature, or mentally ill (or all three).

So what is the point of this movie? That two young teens can beat the odds to be together forever? No, I don't think that's the point. I think the point is to have an untouchably beautiful girl who represents all the things men are afraid of in women (or that they think women are like) and have the guy save her and fulfill the classic male viewer's fantasy about saving the hurting, lost, beauty.

The one and only good thing that I saw in this entire movie was the depiction of Nazuna's mother. Despite being the ostensible reason Nazuna is unhappy and running away, the mom actually feels like a real person and not a bad one at all. We are told that she left her first husband when she became pregnant with Nazuna by her lover. Then we hear that Nazuna's father eventually left them. Now her mom's remarrying a third man. It would be easy to take Nazuna's side that her mother is a horrible person who made lots of mistakes. Maybe she has.

But she's actually depicted as incredibly devoted to Nazuna. We have no idea what her first husband was like, maybe she had reason to escape him. We also see the new fiance in several scenes, and he's mostly depicted as a fairly decent guy. And to seal the deal, with her mom being the one believable character in this film, each time Nazuna tries to run away her mom relentlessly pursues her, chases her, does anything she can to get her back.

There is no greater fear for a parent than a teen girl running away with a strange boy. No teen can comprehend the fear this creates in a parent. But we can feel every bit of that fear through her mom. It's a very vivid and honest portrayal of a parent. As the parent of a teen girl myself, I know this fear. It's a real shame that Nazuna never realizes just how committed or caring her mother is to her. It makes Nazuna seem that much worse as a person. And when we don't like a main character, it's hard to like the whole movie.

So the mom's commitment to her child is one good thing in this movie. Otherwise, this movie was terrible. And to cap it off, the animation was awful.

There was a really strange mix of 3D GCI and 2D "hand-drawn" aesthetics. There is an early scene of Norimichi and his friends biking and skateboarding that switches to 3D CGI of them and it is so awkward in movement and style as to pull you right out of the moment. The school interiors are also largely 3D CGI and there is a recurring shot of a large spiral staircase with the camera panning around it. It is awful CGI and totally unnecessary. It really seems like the shot gets used again and again only because it probably took so much time to render it once, they wanted to get their money's worth (or it's some lame metaphor for the passing of time, who knows).

There were also totally random directorial choices. We have a strange fantasy train ride with a musical number and a weird dance scene on top of a lighthouse. At one point the art becomes more like colored pencil, but not consistently through that time period. There's also no consistency with the physics of the time travel. It's like they're just making it up as they go.

In the end, this movie is nothing more than what a 12 year old might write as fantasy about what girls are like having never actually spoken to one. It's not self-aware of its male gaze or harmful stereotypes. It does not provide any commentary on itself, it doesn't have redeeming insight or anything to say about the characters' attitudes. Instead, it's just an immature boy and a moody, spoiled brat, borderline personality, beautiful girl (with no actual personality) who somehow fall in love in two hours and get to dictate to others how they will be together and where (forever). Nazuna is a lust toy for the male movie-going audience, not a real person. And neither she nor Norimichi learn or grow or change in any way. This is pure pre-teen lust fantasy.

To wrap up, let's quickly contrast this to a superficially similar, but drastically better film: "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time." In that film, the girl keeps going back in time to do things better, ultimately forming a close relationship along the way, only to learn some powerful and painful lessons about herself, about actions and their repercussions, and emerges a very different person at the end. It too has a slightly ambiguous ending, but a painful and melancholy one that shows the pitfalls of trying to go back and change things. It is a powerful, well written film, with a strong (but realistically imperfect) female lead, who learns and grows as a result of trying to change time. It is the exact opposite of the pile of misogynistic and chauvinist horse shit that is "Fireworks" (2017).

Fireworks (2017) gets a 3.5/10 (and barely that).


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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  1. Why do I agree with this so bad. Currently watching it right now haven't finished yet. I'm so not fond of the mains.. Especially the girl. She is just like what you said... The other characters have more dimension in their personality than hers and the main guy. I don't get why some people like this..

  2. The only good thing I can see is the ending song. Just finished it

    1. I had to go back and listen to it. I'm not sure I found the right song on youtube (I wasn't going to actually pull up the movie), but even that doesn't do it for me LOL. At least you found something salvageable.


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