English isn't my native language, so you may find some redaction mistakes; anyway, I'll try to do my best in this review.
- This review contains spoilers -
As you can see, a good part of the reviews (maybe most of them) are negative, and the most prominent criticism is it's lack of originality, that everything you're gonna see here you've already saw it, that is full of clichés and that it's simply generic. Honestly, I have to differ, because I see it in other way; yes, this movie isn't very original, but I think that this movie is a good example of the statement: "It's not about what you do, it's about how you do it".
The movie tells the story of Haruki Shiga, a solitary student which life is shaken by a casual encounter with a classmate, Sakura Yamauchi, a very happy and popular girl, there's where he discovers that she's diagnosed with a terminal illness in her pancreas, apart from her family, Haruki is the only one who knows about her condition; after this encounter, they begin to become closer to each other, and in the process, they start to change throughout the experiences they share.
First thing I though when read the synopsis was about two posible options: it was gonna be a movie where the protagonist suffers along most of the movie for finding a cheerful end after all that he has happened, or it was gonna be a movie where he goes through a cheerful travel of emotions for finishing with a shocking end; surprisingly, it was kind of both, following more the second formula anyway, but instead of a cheerful travel, this is a bittersweet travel. We witness how this pair go through a variety of situations, sharing time as work partners in the library, visiting any kind of restaurants, traveling, playing games, relatively normal things; here we see how their relation grows and how each one of them know more about the other, in that way, they learn about their strenghts but also their weaknesses. That's basically the story around three quarters of the movie, reason for which it borders the narrative of the slice of life genre, where we see an almost quiet story but an constantly moving plot (don't confuse these two terms, if you want to clarify the difference between them, google it); furthermore, something interesting about this film is that it seems to have a different structure, the most common one is the 3 acts structure, but this movie seems to have a 4 acts structure; honestly, this is a superficial impression, I'm not gonna lie, I know some things about writing, enough for perceiving some elements but not enough for ensure that my interpretations are completely rigth, so maybe this appreciation be wrong, or maybe be rigth, so it can be taken more as a perspective than as a truth.
The story is told from Haruki's point of view, anyway, his remembrances are what we see in most of the film, this narrative tool let us know pretty well our main characters, Haruki and Sakura, but limit us from knowing to the small supporting cast, where the only character we get to trully know is Kyoko, which is a blame because we could get deeper treatments for the rest of the characters, instead of the superficial approach we got, but the work done wih the three character before mentioned is really done.
Our protagonist, Haruki, is an unexpressive character, he's pretty silent, quiet and reserved, he doesn't anything that he doesn't consider necessary, and that includes socialization, a person with a cold perspective of the world; all his thoughts are challenged by the colorful personality of his partner, Sakura, and with the time, his way of thinking and his personality begin to change as a consecuence of the experiences with Sakura, till the point where he has becomed into a still quiet person, but much more expressive and with a more optimist perpsective of the world.
The other protagonist is our female lead, Sakura, a happy, energetic and frisky girl, she has no fear of express what she thinks, she shines whenever she is and she's able to transmit all that energy to others, a person with a optimist perspective of the world; but that's one side of her personality, the more open side, that which everyone can see, in the bottom, she's a girl afraid of her inevitable destiny, who just wanna go ahead with a normal life which can maintain her far from that fear, which can give her a break of all that destructive reality, she uses Haruki for this purpose, but with the passage of time, he finishes caring about her, and finish seeing this other side of her personality, this side full of fear; after the half of the movie, she begins to accept her reality and, consequently, begins to leave that fear aside, she begins to change, but is there when she gets stabbed and dies, letting her path of change incomplete by her abrupt finish.
The other character with a development is Kyoko, Sakura's best friend, she seems to be a rude, cold and cruel girl, but she's described by Sakura as someone too emotional, which makes perfect sense with his treat to Haruki; we doesn't see her too much time in screen, for the same reason explained before, besides this, we can see that the motor of her actions is the same than the one from Sakura, the fear, she's aggresive with Haruki because she's afraid that Sakura could get hurt by this cold guy, she may get it too far, but it has a very good motivation; after Sakura's death and after she understand the whole situation which make them be together, she finishes for showing a more kind face to Haruki, still a bit cold but definitely more kind.
One of the central themes of the movie is the fear, and how it can makes people ti take some decisions, questionable or not, but make take decisions; it's the fear to death which motivates Sakura create a facade and don't tell anyone about her illness, it's the fear which motivates to Kyoko to be preventative about Haruki and his relation with Sakura, and it's the fear to losing to her close friend which finally motivates to Haruki to accept to Sakura and begin to change himself. The twist at the last part of the movie where Sakura dies stabbed by a serial killer is pretty divisive, you love it or you hate it, but at the end it is the detonator for Haruki to understand the central message of the film and, in the process, show it to the audience: "You must treasure those moments with those you care, because can be the latest; also, if you have the opportunity to do something today, do it, tomorrow that opportunity may be gone".
This is the first standalone work from Studio VOLN in a movie (or at least that's what I've heard), and it's pretty good for a first attempt, although it's noticeable that this was a risky production for them, there are some scenes where we have one frame per each 3-4 second, and it looks like a budgetary decision more than an artistic one, also, for a production nowadays, the animation is a bit robotic, it has less frames than what we are get used to see in a movie or even in a series; but all the things mentioned are beaten by a very good color palette, an outstanding artistic style, an interesting and attractive character design and a really beautiful cinematography, also, although there's a lot of CGI in this movie, it isn't invasive and it fits pretty good with the other aspects of the movie. At the other side, the music is very well done, even if it shines by its absence, it's predominantly pieces composed by a light melody in piano accompanied by a group of violins, and as mentioned before, it's not as recurrent as expected, but this is an aspect that was a pleasant surprise for me, the musical silence and it's use, mainly for stablish a quiet atmosphere but sometimes for construct tension, a very well used of an element that is very underused nowadays.
This movie was a rollercoaster, from emotions like happiness to rage to sadness, a very entertaining experience with a strong powerful and a nice narrative, I'm surprised for this simple but potent stroy, and as my score says it, I consider it as a very good representative of anime films.