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ANIME REVIEW: “The Anthem of the Heart”

ANIME REVIEW: "The Anthem of the Heart"

The Anthem of the
also known as Beautiful Word,
Beautiful World
 (2015) plays like an extended version of one
of the more emotional episodes of Glee.

As a little girl, Naruse was a chatterbox, talking constantly
about her daydreams of princes and princesses and palace balls, many of them inspired
by a love hotel built to look like a medieval castle on the hill overlooking her
home town. One day, she sees her father leaving the castle with a woman who’s
not her mother. Naruse cheerfully blabs this news, which precipitates a
divorce. When she tries to say good-bye to him, her father cruelly  tells her the divorce is all her fault.

An anthropomorphic magical egg appears before Naruse, who
zips her mouth shut in a gesture a little too reminiscent of Yubaba in Spirited Away. He also curses her:
Because her words have caused so many people so much trouble, she will suffer terrible
stomach cramps whenever she tries to speak. Naruse grows up a lonely, silent
girl, until her high school home room teacher chooses her for the committee
charged with organizing the annual Community Outreach event. Also on the
committee are Natsuki, a pretty cheerleader; Takumi, a pleasant guy who
conceals his considerable musical talent behind a bland façade; and sulky
Daiki, the school baseball star who’s suffering through an elbow injury that
keeps him from playing.

During some fairly standard high school contretemps, Takumi
discovers Naruse is a talented writer. She channels her childhood fantasies
into a scenario for an original musical that parallels her enforced isolation.
Takumi doesn’t write music, but he sets some of Naruse’s words to popular
Western songs, including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Around the World in 80
Days,” “Greensleeves,” et al. As
Takumi urges her on, Naruse discovers that although she can’t talk, she can
sing—and very well.

As Naruse finds her voice (literally and figuratively), she
writes her heart out for Takumi and falls for him. As they watch her struggle,
Takumi grows impatient with disguising his feelings; Daiki learns humility and
the importance of trying your best. Director 
Tatsuyuki Nagai and screenwriter Mari Okada, who collaborated on “The
Anohana Movie” in 2013, avoid the most obvious ending. Takumi really loves Natsuki,
reviving an old affection that goes back to their shared experiences in junior
high. When Naruse finds this out, she gets upset and almost derails the show. But
Daiki declares his affection for her, so everything ends happily.

Most of film has a live action feel, except for a series of fantasy
sequences involving the Egg and the fantasy princesses, done in a colored pencil/water
color style that looks a bit like Ernest
and Celestine

The Anthem of the
will appeal most strongly to teen-age girls, who will identify with Naruse’s
crisis-ridden view of the world. Others may find the film a bit saccharine.  The Japanese lyrics to the old songs sound almost
as incongruous as the Japanese version of John Denver’s “Country Road” in Whisper of the Heart, but the scenes lack
the same emotional punch.

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