I can't believe I never knew of this thing's existence until JUST now! I seriously can't believe it! Where has this movie been all my life?! This thing is just amazing! Wonderful, sublime, awesome, tear-jerking, emotional, beautiful, heartbreaking, I'm running out of adjectives! Worst of all, WHY IS THIS THING NOT SUBBED YET?!? Well, Licca Subs seems to have interest in subbing it, but they better do so once they have time, because this anime movie NEEDS a sub! How did I see this, you ask? Well, the only footage of this movie I could find was from a Russian fansub group, and I don't
understand Russian, but I did manage to understand the core of the story and some of the dialogue (yes, the Japanese version exists). Now, onto reviewing Happy Birthday: Time When Life Shines (or Happy Birthday: Inochi Kagayaku Toki)!
So basically the story's about a sweet but weak-hearted girl named Asuka Fujiwara who goes to a school full of bullies and cowards. Her mother doesn't give her much attention. She seems to favor her big brother, Naoto, over Asuka. Asuka feels better when she befriends a severely disabled girl named Megumi (who I think might have cerebral palsy or something). But when her mother intentionally forgets her birthday and says it'd be better if Asuka didn't exist, Asuka is so traumatized that she loses her voice. Naoto, feeling angry at his selfish mother, decides to send Asuka to her grandparents' for a while. There, she learns everything she needs to know about the beauty of nature, her mother's reasons for being the way she is, and, most importantly, the fact that life is precious.
I'm gonna get to the good parts first, and believe me, there are TONS of good things about this movie. Wanna know the thing about this movie that got my attention the most? The fact that THERE'S ACTUAL DISABLED KIDS IN THIS MOVIE!!! Yes! There are ACTUALLY disabled kids with illnesses like cerebral palsy or something like that! No anime I've seen has ever been gutsy enough to show actual disabled kids before! No wonder this anime is so criminally underrated and under appreciated! Yes, someone gets it! Someone gets that NOT EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN JAPAN is physically and mentally beautiful (no offense intended). Seriously, why are most anime nowadays making all their characters look physically perfect? Jeez! It's like they have a complex against flaws or something! Even most American cartoons acknowledge that not everyone is perfect, both physically and emotionally! Heck, they don't even give their characters braces! Well, I'm glad to say that this beautiful gem not only acknowledges that not everyone is perfect, but acknowledges that that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Bravo!
Now onto the characters! I'm just so happy that this anime portrays all of it's characters realistically and makes them into real, down-to-earth people with flaws and reasons for doing what they do. Asuka's a great lead character. She starts off weak and broken, but thanks to the kindness of her grandparents and other people she meets, she evolves into a bold, warm-hearted, and outspoken young girl who isn't afraid to stand up to bullies who are being mean to her friends. Plus I love the friendship between her and that girl Megumi. They're so cute together! When I first read the plotline of this movie, I thought her brother was going to be just as selfish and cruel as his mom, but when I watched it, I was proven wrong. While he's still kind of a guy, he not only cares for his younger sister, he disapproves of his mom's cruel ways and even berates her at one point! You go, Naoto! Asuka's classmates are awesome too, turning from a bunch of bratty and cowardly kids to kind and respectful people. I found Kobayashi's transformation to be very convincing. I didn't get what happened to him, but he has his reasons for being the way he is, and he changes when he and Asuka get into a fight. The same goes for Asuka's mom, who goes from disliking her daughter to remembering the pain she used to feel when she was a child. I'm glad they didn't make Asuka's mom a totally evil person. But out of all the characters, my favorite has to be Megumi. She is just awesome beyond belief. Just her very presence makes this anime shine. She's pretty much one of the center characters of the story. I wish there were more characters like her in anime nowadays!
As much as I'd love to keep glorifying this movie, I have to admit that yes, like other anime, it has its flaws. For one thing, this anime was made in 1999, so of course the animation is rather dull and a little inconsistent (some faces looked weird at points), but it doesn't try to be anything it's not. Yeah the animation's not stellar, but that doesn't stop the movie from being really good! Plus the footage I found of this anime has REALLY BAD sound quality. At first it nearly turned me off, but I had to convince myself this is better than nothing, so I endured it. Also, the OST isn't really all that memorable, but that's fine.
However, as much as this anime has both flaws and good points, I feel that the single BEST thing about this anime are it's themes and moralistic values. Basically, it's an anime about life and the joy of living, but it has other strong themes too, like undying compassion, true friendship, the fact that supposed evil deeds always have a reason behind them, the beauty of nature, love, social injustice, and the power to heal. Lots of anime touch upon these themes, but they're rather poorly executed. However, HB: IKT does everything right and knows what it is. It's simple, but it definitely strikes an impact. It did on me! I cried at this movie! Twice! At totally different scenes! One of which I absolutely CANNOT spoil because it will ruin the entire movie if I do. But if you don't cry at this movie, then get your eyes and heart checked! In a way, this reminds me of Amuri in Star Ocean (Crazy, right?). Yeah yeah, that's a sci-fi anime while this is slice-of-life, but they actually have a lot more in common than you think. They both focus on social injustice, true friendship, and the power to heal. Seriously, why don't they get more attention?!
Happy Birthday: Time When Life Shines is a wonderful jewel that MUST be in any collector's collection! Come on, people! Sub this thing and give it the attention it deserves already!