Anthem Of The Heart (Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda)

Japan (2015) Dir. Tatsuyuki Nagai  

Parents can be cruel sometimes. If it isn’t giving their children embarrassing names, ensuring a lifetime of teasing, it’s being either too strict or overprotective to leave them ill prepared to face the real world. Then there are the really self-absorbed ones doing more damage to a young mind than they will ever know.

Jun Naruse is a chirpy, talkative little girl with a fixation on a magical castle at the top of a hill near her house, which she likes to visit from time to time. One day Jun sees her father driving away from the castle with a young woman and thinks this means Jun will become a princess. Jun rushes home to tell her mother but doesn’t receive the expected enthusiastic response.

Shortly after Jun’s parents split up, her father directly blaming it on Jun’s big mouth. Later that day Jun is visited by an egg prince telling her that her words hurt people, so he steals her words and places a curse on her whenever she speaks. Now in high school, Jun is arbitrarily chosen to be on the school committee and chose a project for the upcoming festival – which turns out to be a musical and Jun is to be the lead.

High school life is never easy in anime, something which screenwriter Mari Okada knows all too well and has exploited on many occasion in series such as Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day which was also directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai. Sharing a similar fantasy theme Anthem Of The Heart doesn’t feature any dead characters but does pull at the heartstrings by again exploring communication issues between friends.

Not that Jun has many friends to begin with and her appointment on the school Charity Committee wasn’t warmly received by her classmates either. Also picked at random for the task are musical prodigy Takumi Sakagami, cheerleader Natsuki Nitō and big-headed baseball team captain Daiki Tasaki, the last being the most vocal about Jun’s addition to the team.

However, Daiki isn’t in a position to talk, unaware that his arrogance and bullying ways are alienating him from the rest of the baseball team who are enjoying his current absence due to an injury. Apparently, the tradition is a team captain should hook up with a cheerleader so Daiki sets his sights on Natsuki – except she has eyes for someone else.

Meanwhile Takumi manages to make some leeway with Jun after she hears him singing an extemporaneous song about eggs. Communicating via text messages, Jun reveals her curse and the stomach pains she incurs when speaking, but a singing experiment reveals Jun can express herself without suffering. This begets the proposition of the musical play, from a story Jun writes from her own experiences and Takumi sets to music.

The paucity of an original set-up along with the unfortunate timing of this UK DVD/Blu-ray release coming at the same time as the sublime A Silent Voice, also featuring a mute female protagonist, is likely to be an issue for some fans although it is actually two years old. Yet the derivative nature of the story that often blights anime TV shows shouldn’t be present in theatrical releases which deserve to be big spectacles.

Luckily, there are enough layers to the story and the struggle of Jun provides additional texture to offset accusations of Maki Okada resting on her laurels. Jun’s curse is purely psychological, the foundation of which would be amusing if it didn’t leave such a tragic burden on the young girl. This also paints her parents, her father in particular, as rather monstrous people with questionable moral priorities.

Jun may be the de facto focal point of the story but this pivotal, life changing experience is not hers alone, with her three committee cohorts also learning a lot about themselves. A love quadrangle of sorts develops but doesn’t become a prominent issue until late in the film but does impact the final act, which is resolved in a creative way as part of the musical play.

In helping each other overcome their individual problems the quartet become a curious but ultimately complimentary collective – love issues aside – and in the process discover that Jun isn’t the only one who has trouble communicating. She may be the most traumatised but her resolve in conquering her curse is the catalyst for giving strength to the others in recognising their own flaws and feelings and addressing them accordingly.

Perhaps the most fanciful aspect of this yarn the egg motif, which is either a ridiculously simple metaphor that Jun needs to “come out of her shell” or something deeper which I have missed.  When Jun informs her mother about her father she is silenced with an egg meal; Takumi’s bicycle is almost run off the road by some renegade egg ornaments which he later makes up a song about; and of course, there is the egg prince.

Everything peaks in a typical crescendo of tears, histrionics and emotional revelations that resonates amongst the group and beyond, and laid on pretty thick to boot. Yet we don’t feel manipulated by it because there is a sense of catharsis that engenders a feeling of “I wish I could get away with that” in ourselves. Honesty may be the best policy but holding some things in does have its merits too.

A1 Pictures handle the production which is perfectly fine, boasting deeply detailed and lovingly rendered backgrounds that look stunning in HD, whilst the character designs are rather standard anime types. That said, it doesn’t stand out like a big screen offering, more of a higher quality TV show but does have a pervasive whimsical charm about it nonetheless.

It’s been a big year for anime films with Your Name, A Silent Voice and In This Corner Of The World reaching the mainstream (except in my local cinema) and, despite its familiar blueprint, Anthem Of The Heart is a worthy addition to that list.

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