These days, live-action adaptations of anime are all the rage in both the West and Japan, but Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom? takes us in the other direction. Based on the 1993 live-action drama of the same name, this animated remake is produced by Shaft and was released in UK cinemas by Anime Limited. I would have liked an opportunity to watch the original for comparison but it’s not available here, which I guess means you probably haven’t seen it either, so we won’t worry too much about it, I suppose. What I can tell you is that the runtime of 90 minutes is nearly double the original’s 49 so there is definitely more to this than it’s source material. Now, I’m a big fan of some of Shaft’s previous projects. Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the Monogatari series are both fantastic works, and the latter of those two is directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, who was on co-directing duty on this movie alongside seasoned animator Nobuyuki Takeuchi. Do those names alone guarantee the same level of quality as those series though? Well…
The story follows a group of school friends who want to answer one question, are fireworks round or flat? So they make plans to go up to the top of a lighthouse and watch the fireworks from the side to finally put this debate to rest. A spanner is thrown in the works however when before that can happen, their classmate Nazuna challenges friends Norimichi and Yusuke to a race, and asks the winner to go to the fireworks display with her. What unfolds from here is a tale of love, escape and time travel. I won’t go into too much detail on the time travel mechanic; one, so as not to spoil anything, but two, because it’s never really fully explained anyway. The basic plot isn’t too difficult to follow, Norimichi finds a way to go back in time and tries to save Nazuna from having to move away with her family, with each leap backwards he corrects small mistakes here and there, in an effort to obtain the perfect outcome for him and the girl he loves. But quite why he can do this, who knows? The origin of the device that allows him to do it is unknown, and I suppose ultimately unimportant, but there are scenes in the movie that appear to put more weight behind it, only to never fully realise that part of the narrative. I think this was my main issue with Fireworks, despite the fact that it seemingly has more detail than its predecessor, I also felt like there were many loose threads. All that aside though, the characters are great, the lads all bounce off each other and their friendship is a believable one. The chemistry between the lovers of the piece feels real, and the family drama has genuine tension. One interesting fact on the production of this piece, many of the VAs, including those of Norimichi and Nazuna, are live-action actors by trade, which may lend to the realism of their performances.
Being a Shaft production, the movie is obviously beautiful. The animation is fluid, and there’s plenty of dutch angles and quirky shot composition to keep your eyes pleased. Also, I did manage to find a couple of clips of the original movie on YouTube and they have very faithfully recreated at least a couple of scenes, and I’d argue they actually look better animated. However, you can tell the movie wasn’t created with the big screen in mind. It’s presented in 16:9 so doesn’t take full advantage of the screen space on offer. Some of the shots of people in the distance lack detail, which wouldn’t really matter on a TV but when blown up don’t look great, and some of the CGI doesn’t blend well. Don’t let these minor complaints put you off though. I mean, you probably won’t get the chance to see it in a cinema now anyway, but it will be worth picking on Blu-ray for the right price. Fireworks is stunning 99% of the time, I would happily get almost any still framed and hang it on my wall, and if you want to see a masterclass on animating physical movement the swimming scene is not to be missed. The music here comes courtesy of Monogatari series maestro Satoru Kosaki, and you can tell. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the adventures of Araragi while listening, and the bouncing rhythms help maintain the aura of innocence and whimsy surrounding the film. The music of Japanese singer Daoko is also featured, and her vocals will be stuck in your head for days, for better or for worse.
Fireworks is certainly not the best anime I’ve seen in the cinema this year, but it has had some tough competition with classics like Ghost in the Shell and Perfect Blue having been shown. It’s also not the best time travel anime I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly no The Girl Who Leapt Through Time or Steins;Gate, but again that’s a high bar. The story is somewhat lacking in areas, but the film’s conclusion is still satisfying in terms of the main character arcs at least. This won’t be a day one purchase for me when it sees a physical release, but it’s the kind of movie that if you see reduced anywhere I’d definitely recommend picking up, if for nothing more than the visual spectacle.
Fireworks perhaps lives up perfectly to its namesake. You may not fully grasp the science behind it, and it’s a bit of a slow burn initially, but once it sparks and finds its pace it captures your gaze and ends with an awe-inspiring explosion of bright colours. If you have 90 minutes free there are certainly worse ways to spend them.