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Liz and the Blue Bird (2018)

Mizore Yoroizuka plays the oboe, and Nozomi Kasaki plays the flute in Kita Uji High School concert band. As seniors, this will be their last competition together, and the selected piece  Liz and the Blue Bird features a duet for the oboe and flute.

“This piece reminds me of us,” Nozomi says cheerfully, enjoying the solo, while Mizore’s usual happiness to play with Nozomi is tinged with the dread of their inevitable parting. By all accounts, the girls are best friends, but the oboe and flute duet sounds disjointed as if underscoring a growing distance between them. Talk of college creates a small rift in their relationship, as the story evolves to reveal a shocking and emotional conclusion.

Liz and the Blue Bird is a Japanese animated feature film based on the light novel series written by Ayano Takeda entitled, "Sound! Euphonium". However, while the book features a very large cast, Naoko Yamada's adaptation focuses on the relationship between two characters, Mizore and Nozomi. The film was produced by Kyoto Animation, reuniting the creative staff involved with A Silent Voice. Staff members including  Reiko Yoshida (Screenwriter), Futoshi Nishiya (Character Designer), and Kensuke Ushio (Composer).

Though I had missed out on seeing A Silent Voice, I consider myself fortunate to see a Naoko Yamada feature film. Much like its predecessor, Liz and the Blue Bird focuses less on high stakes drama and more on the smaller moments of life. Such as the ever-present fear of life's changes and how it has the potential to pull apart even long-lasting friendships. Better yet, Naoko communicates this evolving emotional connection more through the visuals than relying on dialogue.

From the moment we meet Mizore and Nozomi, we immediately get a sense of their personalities and dynamic without them uttering a word. Mizore who fidgets nervously on the school stairs, not daring to make eye contact with other students, only to perk up as Nozomi confidently strolls into the schoolyard. Walking up the steps with Mizore quietly falling in line behind her. You are immediately pulled into these girl's daily routine at the beginning, making it all the more satisfying when you see how those routines change by the end of the film.

Occasionally, the film will transition to a softer, almost storybook animation style depicting the tale of Liz and the Blue Bird, as a way to reflect and give the audience context to how the piece reflects the relationship between the film's leads. Though I was initially hesitant at this choice, I was surprised how it lead to a small but nice twist to the overall story.

However, the real star for this film is the character animation. What makes Yamada's style so appealing, at least to me, is the delicate detail in the characters. How you can easily pick up on subtle physical cues that give you a window into what the characters are feeling. Like how Mizore's pulls at her hair when nervous or unsure, or even the slight hop in Nozomi's walk. It's details like this that makes these characters feel more like real people than just characters on the screen and it goes a long way to help us empathize with them as the movie goes on.

Music, of course, plays a huge role in the film as well. You can definitely tell a lot of care went into composing the film's score. Not just in the key moments of the film where the character's play their instruments but also in the quieter moments. I was immediately drawn into the film's atmosphere through both the music and sound design. Especially the scenes set in the music room as the students came and went, chatting with each other and warming up to play. It triggered authentic nostalgia of walking into my high school music room and listening to the hustle and bustle of my fellow students.

Still, if you are looking for an anime that will give you more than high school girls talking about their feelings, then you may need to look elsewhere. Liz and the Blue Bird is distilled slice of life from start to finish and you may be left unsatisfied if you are looking for more than that. And yet, as an anime fan, and as someone who has experienced difficulty coping with changing relationships, I deeply appreciated that Liz and the Blue Bird told its story in the most straightforward way possible.

Despite not having seen A Silent Voice, or having much of a lead up to know what this film was about, I enjoyed it immensely. It was a nice, quiet movie experience that had tons of charm and some of the best animation I have seen in any animated slice of life tale. If you're an anime buff or fans of Naoko Yamada's previous works, you should definitely treat yourself to this film.


IN A NUTSHELL: A potential parting forces two longtime friends to re-evaluate their relationship.

A big thank you to Eleven Arts for providing a screening of this film prior to release for this review.