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Goodbye, Don Glees! (2021)

Fans of anime and manga are well used to series and films with strange titles. It's common for Japanese creators to pick English words that they think sound cool, with no consideration to how it might sound to English speakers. In that tradition is Goodbye Don Glees!.

'Don Glees' is not the name of the film's lead character or even of a person at all. Instead, it's the name a trio of kids in a quiet country town chose to call themselves. The three friends spend their free time in their clubhouse or having adventures in the woods. But when they find themselves on the hook for a forest fire, they set off to find a drone that they believe may contain footage that will prove their innocence.

Goodbye, Don Glees is the debut original feature from writer/director Atsuko Ishizuka (A Place Further Than The Universe). It was released in Japanese cinemas in February of 2022, with a US release from GKIDS Films following from September 14. Animation production was by Madhouse.

The coming-of-age story is a genre that anime often does well, and it's true here. The film is extremely effective at recreating the feel of seemingly endless childhood summers and of friendships that feel like everything. The relationship between the three boys is at the very heart of the film, so it's just as well that it is portrayed as well as it is.

In fact, the film is so laser-focused on its protagonists that other characters barely even feature.  Characters such as the boys' parents or classmates only appear briefly. It helps create the impression that the three of them are in a world of their own.

Aged 15 and 16, the boys are standing on a precipice of change. Just around the corner are important decisions about their future as they enter the non-quite-an adult, not-quite-a-child part of the teenage years. It gives their adventure an ephemeral feel, as if it's likely to be their last great adventure together.

For the most part, the film has a fun adventurous feel that reflects the boys' general demeanours. It takes a (not particularly welcome) swerve into melodrama in the third act, but for the majority of the running time, it's a lighthearted and breezy watch. It's refreshing to watch something with relatively low stakes too.

The three leads are a likeable bunch. Although portrayed as misfits who are ostracised by other local kids they are shown to be decent, good-hearted youngsters who really care about each other. That helps ensure that the audience cares about them too.

Visually, the film is a knockout. As you would expect from Madhouse it has slick character animation and pleasing character designs. Best of all though is the beautifully painted backgrounds, especially when it comes to the natural world. The forest where much of the film's action takes place in looks absolutely stunning, feeling almost like a real location you could step inside.

Put it all together and Goodbye Don Glees is an enjoyable way to while away an hour and a half or so. It's not going to change the world (neither is it trying to) but it's a beautifully made love letter to childhood put together with real care. And as the first original feature from Atsuko Ishizuka, it's an undoubtedly impressive start.


IN A NUTSHELL: A Charming, beautifully animated coming-of-age story that's the perfect way to end the summer.