Posted by DiGiKerot in One shots at October 15, 2017 on 11:30 pm

It was the final day of the Glasgow leg of Scotland Loves Anime today. I guess the interesting thing that played today was SHAFTs version of Fireworks, or to give it it’s full English title Fireworks, Should We See Them From The Side or The Bottom?

This is mostly a quick post just for me to splatter out a few quick thoughts about it without bombarding Twitter with tweets about a movie which is still largely unavailable for most to see. If you want the quick review, I liked it a lot, but feel free to ignore me posting here even more than usual. Honestly, I feel that I’d probably have needed to see the original TV movie to really write anything worthwhile about it anyway.

As I’ve just implied, though, Fireworks is based on a 1993 TV movie, directed by Shunji Iwai. From an anime fan point of view, Iwai was the writer-director of the 2015 movie The Case of Hana and Alice, a prequel of his earlier live action movie Hana & Alice, and something that I liked an awful lot, although I guess he was also actually the star in Hideaki Anno’s little-seen live action movie Shiki-Jitsu (I’ve seen that once – what is also amusing about that movie was that it was released under a Ghibli imprint on DVD, though it’s probably not what you’d necessarily expect even from live-action Anno). Iwai is actually one of those Japanese directors who is fairly well know amongst the arthouse crowd outside of anime fandom, though, mainly for his well-received 2001 film All About Lily Chou-Chou. Fireworks was one of his significant break-out early works in Japan though, I gather.

The 1993 version of Fireworks was actually broadcast as the sixteenth part of a series of Fuji Television TV movies called If Moshimo, the moshimo part really just being an iteration of the If part. The If Moshimo programs basically posed situation with two outcomes in their titles – things like “If my parents get divorved, do I go with Mom or Dad?” or “This Summer, Should I go with Long Hair or Short Hair” – and then played out both scenarios Sliding Doors-style. This is why Fireworks also has the absurdly long title.

In Fireworks, we basically have a bunch of muppet male school students arguing over the rather ludicrous question as to whether fireworks explode in a flat, 2D-plane, or in all directions. Complicating this situation is the fact that two of the boys, Norimichi Shida and Yusuke Azumi, have a thing for one of their female classmates, Nazuna, who they both circle around the concept of making advances at but don’t actually do so through fear of upsetting their relationship with the other. Whilst the two of them of are on pool cleaning duty, they both end up in a 50 meter race swimming race against Nazuna, the victor of the three getting to make a request of one of the losers.

To wrap back around to the question posed in the movies title, as well as the discussion of whether Fireworks are 2D or 3D, it’s festival night in their town, and the lads agree to meet up to go to the nearby lighthouse so that they can see the fireworks explode from the side to definitively ascertain how they explode. Simultaneously, Nazuna invites whoever between Norimichi and Yusuke comes in second in the 50 meter race to see the Fireworks with her that evening. From what I gather, the branch in both the original TV movie, and in this anime version, jumps off from this point – if Yusuke is first, he ditches Nazuna to hang with his friends, whereas Norimichi ditches his friends instead.

Though the anime version complicates matters from there.

The anime version is actually directed by Takeuchi Nobuyuki, plus Shinbo Akiyuki, as much as he actually directs anything at Shaft (the movie does tend to hue towards the established studio style, at least, maybe more-so than a lot of their other recent works even). That being said, Jonathan Clements, who introduced the movie here at SLA, claims the films opening acts do hue very closely in the way things are shot to the original Iwai movie. Certainly, there’s a pretty clear moment, when the narrative split is revisited, that there is a very marked change in the style of layouts and the scene composition used in the movie – to be entirely reductive about it, it does suddenly get very Shaft, with peculiar dutch angles and odd camera focus.

I gather it’s at this point that the story also gets pretty divergent from the original work as well. Whilst the original work presents two options, the anime feature rather interestingly ultimately ends up playing more like a visual novel. It doesn’t just present one branch, it presents many – it turns out that Nazuna’s mother is about to remarry, and Nazuna is going to have to move out of town as a result. She is actually using her date to see the fireworks as an excuse to try and run away from her mother before this happens. The story repeatedly has Norimichi revisit moments where he feels he can shift the outcome of what Nazuna is trying to do, whilst it progressively delves more and more into the kind of outlandish magical realism that probably wouldn’t be remotely possible in a 1993 Japanese TV program, as Norimichi starts to retain knowledge of the stories prior iterations.

The word Moshimo does appear with increasing frequency in the backgrounds, if you pay close enough attention, coincidentally

It’s kind of the way it ends up feeling like a visual novel that’s kind of what I find interesting about it. Elements of the work are arguably not all that unusual in the context of modern works – there’s echoes of things like Steins;Gate or Madoka to a degree, or even Re;Zero, in it I suppose. The exact implementation here is probably something that’s more interesting for the Japanese audience who are likely to be a little familiar with the original work, as the progressive deviation would come as more of a shock, particularly given how little the trailers and PVs for the movie actually give away in that regard. I think the fact that work isn’t in anyway, unlike something like Steins, presented or promoted as a science fiction story lends it at least some degree surprise to even the Western audience. The steady build of what is going on, the lack of an initial SF conceit, and the fact that the deviation in the actions literally does feel like they are coming purely from binary options, is probably why it ended up feels so much like a visual novel play-through given movie form to me. It’s interesting, but it’s also something that is taking the conceit of the original TV If Moshimo concept as a whole and running with it multiple times across the same film.

From an animation point of view, there’s some pretty ropey CG shots of the characters riding bikes early on, but it’s mostly fine-to-good-looking. The animation feels like it has at least some things in common with Kizumonogatari, as whilst its nowhere near as opulently produced as that, it does quite frequently pull similar tricks with blatantly 3D rendered backgrounds with 2D character animation plastered on-top of it. That might actually just be me having just seen Kizu III for the first time yesterday, though.

The thing that actually amused me the most in the animation is the videogame we see the characters playing in a few scenes in the movie. It’s not something super-famous, but it’s not something that’s just a fake pixel-art game that they made up for the movie either. It’s actually a doujin Famicom game called Kira Kira Star Night DX that was released on cartridge last year, a project led by illustrator, pixel-artist and manga artist RIKI. RIKI has also done some work for Shafts Madogatari exhibition previously, for what it’s worth.

Also, the official subtitles completely omit this even though the artist is mentioned by name in the spoken dialogue, but the idol song that Nazuna sings on the train is a 1986 single called Ruriiro no Chokyu by Matsuda Seiko. I guess the kind of assumption that’d lead you to make is that the song may appear in the original Iwai film, but I gather not so much. The actual music production and soundtrack for the movie, coincidentally, was by my old favourite Kousaki Satoru, whose work can also presently be heard in the new series of WUG.

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