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Fireworks (2017)

If you were able to go back and change the course of events in your life would you? It's a genre that has been explored from live-action films like Groundhog Day, The Man With Rain in His Shoes to the animated instalment of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

In Fireworks this idea is once again explored during high-school summer holidays. Norimichi is able to relive and alter key events with his friend Yusuke and schoolmate Nazuna. If he is able to change the decisions he makes how will the events play out and will it ultimately work out for the best?

The town of Moshimo is about to have its summer fireworks display. High-school friends Norimichi and Yusuke muse with their other school mates whether fireworks in the sky are round or flat. If they are flat, when viewed from the side you should be able to tell so that night that is just what they plan to do. Later that afternoon whilst on pool cleaning duty Norimichi and Yusuke encounter Nazuna. She is lazing by the pool contemplating a kind of marble she picked up. Keeping away from here Norimichi and Yusuke enter into a swimming race where it seems the prize is to attend the upcoming festival with Nazuna at 17:00. As you expect things don't go quite according to plan and the artefact Nazuna was looking over at the pool appears to bestow the power to go back in time so you can repeat events.

The idea of repeating a day (like Groundhog Day), of a what if this happened? (Sliding Doors) or having the ability to go back in time and change events is quite a familiar premise. It is an interesting question - if you could go back, what event would you change in your life? In anime, perhaps the most obvious example of this is the Girl Who Leapt Through Time directed by Mamoru Hosoda. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (TGWLTT) is a good comparison for Fireworks. We have a teen characters, romance, the recklessness of youth and someone granted the ability to repeat and change an event by an item. We get to see what plays out.

TGWLTT is based on a wider body of work comprising live-action film, TV drama etc. Fireworks is based on a short film called Fireworks, Should We See If From the Side or Bottom written by Shunji Iwai who also wrote the anime. It was aired in 1993 as part of a series of stories that explored the idea of "what if..?". Both the anime and the short film share the same premise, with the anime being bulked out a big for a longer run-time.

This anime is from Shaft and is directed by Akiyuki Shinbo. Shinbo has worked on a wide ans varied set of projects in the past, many of them for Shaft. Of his filmography, I have seen the phenomenal Puellae Magi Madoka Magika (2014) and the quirky Arakawa Under the Bridge (2010), both of which he directed. In many ways, these two titles could not be more different from each other or Fireworks. Madoka was a visual splendour of magical girls fighting witches which seemed to encompass different styles of traditional animation in digital form - I would urge you to check it out. Arakawa was more a sit-com set funnily enough under a bridge and by a river. This setting was used to explore people, relationships and had some great human animation with some crazy camera angles.

Shinbo has a distinctive style so I was interested to see what he would do here. The town of Moshimo is really well conceived. I could easily believe that it existed as it felt lived in and functional. Even as things get a bit strange the town and the world it exists in is completely consistent. The town landmarks like the school, train station and lighthouse, where they view the fireworks from feel like places we've been to.

The titular fireworks are well realised in vibrant colours that contrast both the night sky and also the gentle colour palette the production has. Shinbo and the team also merge 2D and3D animation nicely - nothing stands out and jars. I really liked looking at the film, but whilst it pretty just not very distinctive. It looks like many other high-quality teen anime from recent years like Your Name or A Silent Voice. It's not a bad thing I just kind of wanted something a bit more from Shinbo.

Whilst this is a story we're familiar with I was quite happy to get behind it initially. There was nothing about it that was offensive and it was well paced. I was curious as to how would they show the going back in time and whether the romance element would be engaging.

The time travel device (both physical and how it fitted in the story) and its discovery worked well. I would have liked to see something more interesting (again given Shinbo's other work) as Norimichi replayed a time period or how we were shown that jump backwards. It felt like it just happened and that aside from triggering the shift, it just happened. As for Norimichi's motivations, romantic or otherwise, it felt like there was a disconnect or that I'd missed something. They didn't make much sense to me. To be fair this was true of all the main characters. I found myself a bit infuriated by Norimichi, Yusuke and Nazuna. Whilst I like not being told everything, there was no lead-in or background for us to either want certain outcomes or to understand why anyone would behave that way.

Norimichi and Yusuke are your typical anime high-school buddies. Yusuke is more outgoing, reckless and thoughtless whilst Norimichi is quiet, thoughtful and a bit of a doormat. There is so little about them that it is clear these are the two that the viewer is supposed to take the place of. There is just about enough to identify with or map yourself onto as they are very bland.

As for Nazuna, she didn't fare much better. I found her petulant, selfish and generally unbelievable. She is similar to Rikako Muto from Ocean Waves, but in that case Muto was written as a character with logical, consistent motivations who was still unlikable, but there was a reason for it. I think this lack of logic or reason behind Nazuna's actions bothered me more than anything and because of this she didn't strike me as someone our 2 boys would fight over (another obvious set up).

To go back to the TGWLTT anime, our lead character Makoto replays and tries to rewrite events to her own liking. Only later in does she realise and experience the consequence of her actions. These were both for herself and her friends around her. This is similar to what Norimichi feels and acts out only here it feels a bit ... weightless, as if none of it matters. For me there were two parts as to why it felt like this. The first was that in Hosoda's film we spend time with Makoto and get the measure of her. I liked her and her friend whereas I did not care for Norimichi, Yusuke and Nazuna at all. The other part was that it was obvious that what Motoko was doing was impacting others, she realised it and cared. In Fireworks everyone our main trio come across as selfish and spoilt, but without any logic to underpin it.

Fireworks is a gentle slice of teen life anime. I have yet to meet anyone who, if given the opportunity wouldn't want to change, redo or influence the outcome of an event in their past. Shaft and Shinbo have put together a really pretty feature with the titular fireworks popping off the screen with vivid colours and geometries. The story and how it is represented feel and look too familiar though - we have seen it before in shows like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and even the Tatami Galaxy, which have done it better. In those cases, they build more interesting world, populate them with distinctive well-considered characters and sometimes go a bit crazy with the visuals. I enjoyed Fireworks enough whilst I watched it, but it left no lasting impression.

FORMAT: Blu-Ray and DVD (November 2018) FROM: πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ ANIME LTD πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ GKIDS Films RATING: Not rated RUNNING TIME: 1hr 30 Minutes

IN A NUTSHELL: Like a display on Bonfire Night of the 4th July Fireworks is pretty to look at. You'll ooh and ahh in all the right places but it leaves no lasting impression.