School children Norimichi, Yuusuke, and Junichi want to know if fireworks look round or flat from the side. They make a plan to find the answer at a fireworks display, while Nazuna schemes to run away with Norimichi or Yuusuke, whoever wins at the pool.
I just finished watching "Uchiage Hanabi" in theaters. It has been out for about two weeks, so the theater was about half full in one of the smaller rooms. To be honest, I am not sure what to think of this movie. While this work is absolutely visually beautiful, there were several sections where CG was used, likely to speed up production (hopefully this will be fixed in the DVD / Blu-ray release). Story-wise, it was pretty slow, but really interesting for me. It was pretty deep, playing with the concept of divergent worlds: how each decision we make can affect the
entire world. This movie give the main character the chance to go back, make different decisions, and see how it plays out. There were several humorous moments to break up the serious atmosphere, and I think they were well timed, and flowed with the story. On the other-hand, the movie ended abruptly. No joke, this was like partial resolution, wake up the next day, end. It feels like it ended two-thirds through the movie. I always want to see more, but this really does just feel unfinished. As I was leaving the theater, many of the other viewer commented that they didn't understand the movie.
In conclusion, while I have major issues with the ending, I would suggest watching it on Hulu or Crunchyroll. I would not recommend paying to see it in theaters, and only buy the movie if you are a major fan.
*Disclaimer: Japanese is not my first language, and while I do speak it conversationally, there could be a lot that I missed. The film was not subtitled in Japanese or English.
I can describe this movie in 2 words: Almost perfect. Why? Because while it had the potential to be great, it had small mishaps that led to its inability to reach perfection.
Before I begin, let me just say that I watched this in the cinemas 3 weeks after its premiere at United Cinemas. And inside the theater, there were only 3 people. And so I began to wonder, "Is the movie not good after all?". My opinion then changed after the movie ended.
So what made it almost perfect? Was it the plot? As far as I can tell, there was nothing wrong with the sequence
of the plot. It's a slice of life romance with a hint of magic. It's a style we're all familiar with, and so it wasn't difficult to follow.
Was it the characters? I don't believe so. The characters were appealing and memorable. Heck, they almost resemble real people. Even the voice acting was so natural that it didn't sound like it was scripted. Perhaps it's because it was based on a live-action drama.
Was it the music? Absolutely not. The BGM and soundtracks were amazing. Without the music, it wouldn't have the dramatic atmosphere during each scene. Also, that ending theme was so good that I ended up listening to it when I got home.
So what was the flaw? The animation. Don't get me wrong. The settings were ridiculously well-made, almost resembling real life locations. The signature Shaft "head turns" were apparent, so you know it didn't come from a panel manga. But what really destroyed my experience was the sudden 2d to 3d transition. I understand that 3d makes everything easier, but they would've at least used it at the appropriate scenes. There was no reason to use 3d for a bike scene or walking scene.Also, the out-of-place exaggerated reactions. I know it's common for anime to add in exaggerated expressions, but the movie didn't need to include it because it was already perfect without it.
So yes, as much as I want to give it a perfect score, these mistakes blew it for me. But in the end, I did enjoy watching the movie. And even if people think the whole movie is flat or round, I'm still glad that I saw a spectacular display: a display of fireworks.
"At that time, if only- if only I had...!" - Norimichi Shimada
In this review, I will make several references to a "gimmick" in this movie. It refers to a surprising element in the film that drives the plot and its core theme. Since the preview does an excellent job of concealing it, I do not want to spoil the gimmick in case people want to experience it for themselves completely blind, but it is difficult to talk about the story without referring to it, and I am sure once the movie hits more western theaters, knowledge of the gimmick will be as much of a
secret as the identity of Saber in Fate/stay night in the English-speaking anime community.
Numbers in brackets refer to information in the spoiler section. The spoiler section contains more commentary related to the gimmick, which would spoil the gimmick if you don't know what it is.
Tags: Drama, coming of age, (slight) romance, 
You might like this movie if you:
+ enjoy drama sprinkled with romance
+ appreciate Shaft-style animation
+ like stories without fanservice
+ enjoy movies that feel like live-action and contain few anime clichés
+ have had something happen in your life you want to change very much
+ are fond of relationships set in high school
You might not like this movie if you:
+ dislike bad CGI
+ hate open endings
+ dislike the concept of the "gimmick"
+ want relationships that develop slowly and organically
+ want to watch a show heavy in romance
+ don't like foreshadowing that is about as subtle as a sledgehammer
Similar anime I would recommend:
- Anything from Makoto Shinkai (esp. Kimi no na wa if you enjoyed the "gimmick")
- ef: a tale of melodies (if you want a more "romantic" dramatic romance)
Despite some key flaws in the plot and character development, Uchiage Hanabi was able to convey to me an enjoyable and interesting story about adolescence.
For the romance fans out there, don't expect the romance of the movie to be the focus. You will probably be a bit disappointed with how little there is.
The following section contains the breakdown of each category and score justifications.
The art of Uchiage Hanabi definitely has a Kizumonogatari-feel to it. The animation is slightly wonky at times, but also I feel like it fits quite well in certain sections of the story. There is plenty of the surreal art that Shaft is known for, and they complement the story quite well, enhancing the impact of some scenes and making it distinct from an "animated live-action movie".
Shaft is known for randomly pasting photos into their anime, and this movie is no exception. Shaft also opted to use some CGI as well, and while some of the CGI is less than stellar, there were some sections where I legitimately could not tell if something was a CGI or a photograph, making it feel like a constant game of "Fake or Foto" (For example, that glass cup. Is the glass cup CGI? I might never know). I do not recommend you watch this anime if you are very sensitive towards CGI, but personally I have a fairly high tolerance towards bad CGI, so this doesn't bother me very much.
Overall, the animation is standard. It is not bad, but it is also not a significant improvement from Kizumonogatari and doesn't experiment with anything revolutionary. Hence, my final score for this section is 9/10.
The music in Uchiage Hanabi is on point. The covers of the originals by DAOKO were really catchy, and I sometimes still catch myself humming the tune randomly. If I only considered music in this section, this would be an extremely easy 10/10. Unfortunately, the voice acting is not quite on the same level as the music. It's rather weird because some of my favorite anime voice actors are in the movie (Kana Hanazawa, Mamoru Miyano), but the voice actors of the main characters are voiced by live-action stars. Perhaps the director was going for a more realistic portrayal in a style similar to Shinkai, but somehow I feel like they missed the mark.
I don't particularly dislike live-action stars voicing anime (I have no issues with the voice actors of Kimi no Na wa), but I personally feel like the voices of the main characters do not fit very well. I can't help but think that a more "traditional" voice actor like Aoi Yuuki (Kayo from ERASED) could pull of a mysterious and conflicted Nazuna more effectively than Hirose Suzu, and I feel like swapping the voice actors of Yuusuke and Norimichi would enhance both characters. Hence, a single point deduction for a score of 9/10 for sound.
If I had to summarize Uchiage Hanabi in two words, the words would be "if only". The entire movie is devoted to answering the question "what if that happened differently?" We have all had our fair share of unfortunate events in our youth. Perhaps it was something out of your control, perhaps it was something you could change. Uchiage Hanabi's message is about how to stop wondering and start doing. This is something I personally strive for, so this premise holds great appeal to me.
I think it's interesting how the portrayal of themes in this animated version of Uchiage Hanabi differs from the original. Although there are some plot-related similarities between these two versions, the message and the themes of the anime are quite different compared to the original. Perhaps the difference is simply due to different directors having different opinions on how to answer the question "if only". However, it could also be due to evolving social views in Japanese society. Who knows...
Curiously enough, the words "if only" not only capture the essence of the story of Uchiage Hanabi, but also the essence of my feelings towards the plot. I hate open endings. I suppose it is personal preference, but the movie just ended out of nowhere. When the credits started rolling I was just like "uhh... that's it?" If only they could have expanded on the ending just a little bit, I would have been able to raise the score up by two points.
The film also felt quite rushed, especially towards the second half. A lot of things happen that are rather confusing. The plot ramps up in speed extremely quickly. I got a bit lost as I was losing track of what was happening. Coupled with a less-than-stellar ending, I cannot give the story more than a 6.
The characters... leave a lot to be desired. Nazuna is pretty distinct and is fleshed out pretty well. On the other hand, the development of every other character seems to be minimal if not nonexistent, including Yuusuke and Norimichi, arguably the two most important characters in the movie after Nazuna. Nazuna has her own interesting personality and quirks that make her pretty enjoyable to watch. Norimichi, on the other hand, you don't exactly know much about him.
Comparing the depth of Nazuna's character development to Norimichi's is like comparing the depth of a book to the synopsis of the book on Wikipedia. It's not that Norimichi has no character development at all, it's just that his character unfortunately a bit plain.
Normally, I do not mind this very much. However, when contrasted with Nazuna's character, Norimichi's lack of development becomes really problematic. This contrast creates some unfortunate side effects when the characters interact, causing the relationships between the characters to appear really shallow. This makes the whole movie basically about Nazuna. Everyone other than Nazuna is rather forgettable.
I watched this movie on August 18th. This review was written about three weeks later, and I have all but forgotten the personality of every character except Nazuna. Granted, three weeks is pretty long, but normally I remember key moments that illustrate personalities of characters for much longer than three weeks. This did not happen with the shallow characters in Uchiage Hanabi.
In addition to an unbalanced allocation of character development, the movie also suffers from having their development happen within a small amount of in-universe, which just exacerbates the existing problems with shallow relationships. Despite all of that though, I can't discount the fact that I really liked learning more about Nazuna. Her development was stellar and deserves credit. Therefore, I have decided to give this section a 6/10.
Despite all the problems with the characters, the ending, the rushed development, etc., I enjoyed it. It was a nice film. It had a premise that was very appealing to me, and it was able to explore that premise in an interesting way. It had a pretty interesting message, and Nazuna's character was interesting. Therefore, 8/10.
Overall Rating: 8/10
I rate anime I watch by enjoyment and nothing else.
******* Spoiler Section Below ********
If you are reading the spoiler section, I assume you know what the gimmick is. Last chance to turn back.
******* Begin Spoiler Section ********
If you are reading the spoiler section, I assume you know what that the gimmick I was referring to the whole time is the glass ball.
 Elements of: magical realism
I understand the presence of the glass ball and why it's there, but I really dislike its treatment as simply a plot device in the film. The movie attempts to portray it as something metaphorical or mystical, but I can't help but feel like the ball just doesn't quite fit in there. It feels a bit out of place. That being said, I don't have a good solution on how the glass ball should be treated.