12 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

In the Forest of the Fireflies Light (Hotarubi no Mori E) Review

Hurrah for film festivals, allowing me to watch all the latest anime films before they come out illegally. At last years Leeds Film Festival I got to see Redline and Mardock Scramble, both films I was eagerly anticipating. This year I got to see In the Forest of the Fireflies Light (thank god they gave it an english name, I kept forgetting the Japanese one) and that new Shinkai film Children Who Chase Lost Voices in the Deep. Which, I’ll admit, neither of which were quite high up on my priority list. But whatever, I want them to keep bringing these movies to these sorts of festivals, so I shipped up the money on principle more than anything. Well, actually In the Forest of the Fireflies Light was free to watch because it was such a late announcement, but the intention was there and that’s what counts! Anyway, review time.

From the same mangaka that wrote Natsume Yuujinchou, being adapted by the same animation studio that brought you Natsume Yuujinchou, directed by the same man who directed Natsume Yuujinchou. Would you believe then, that this is nothing like Natsume Yuujinchou? That it is, in fact, a rip-roaring action-packed adventure flick as the main characters ride wave after wave of explosions and cynical social satire? Of course you wouldn’t believe it because you’re not gullible. This is just Natsume Yuujinchou the Rather Short Movie.

The story is very simple, almost refreshingly so compared to the convoluted mess that sometimes invades blockbuster flicks. A little girl gets lost in a forest and befriends a yokai in there who helps her find her way out. From there they establish a friendship and she goes to visit him every summer. The main crux of the story is that this yokai is lonely and has learned to dislike humans, but this girl has eased his loneliness and taught him how to feel love. You know, the exact same story that every single episode of Natsume is based around?

It might sound like I don’t like this movie, but that isn’t the case. Like Natsume, the story is very capably told. It has a knack of hitting you with the emotional core of the story at the right parts, and does just enough characterisation of the lead two to make you care about them. It’s a very short movie, only 45 minutes, so they wisely kept to only two characters. It’s also got this neat way of not showing the characters faces at certain times so you’ve got to figure out for yourself what they’re thinking. The yokai wears a mask throughout the film, but lifts it up every now and then and even puts it on the girl at one point, right at the moment when she (without spoiling) should have had a very…expressive face. It’s a clever little move.

I think my biggest problem with it is I don’t see why it had to be a full movie. The animation looks the exact same as Natsume. Same light toned colours on all the characters. Same watercolour backgrounds. Same bloody sound effects even. Not that it’s a bad look, but it wasn’t even particularly well animated. I’m used to the idea that studios splash out when they go to the big screen. I also didn’t feel like it needed to be 45 minutes. Most of the film was spent on the kid and the yokai playing in the forest. Sure, it as fun to watch the kid being a kid, because there’s something inherently infectious about children’s joy in simply playing. And sure, it was cool to watch the kid grow up slowly over the course of the film from a small girl to a teenager. But you could have easily cut out half that film and it would have still hit the right emotional notes at the right times.

You know what? Take an episode of Natsume Yuujinchou. Have Natsume ask Nyanko has any stories of other yokais to tell him. Stick in a 20 minute version of this movie and have Nyanko occasionally narrate to imply he’s the one telling the story, and it would fit perfectly. Same animation style, same music, same world setting, same essential moral to the story. Nobody watching would be able to tell the difference.

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  1. Posted November 18, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    While the similarities to Nat­sume Yuujin­chou are beyond undeniable (and this is no bad thing), I don’t agree at all with the idea that its running time could have been substantially shorter.

    Squeezing this into an episode of the aforementioned series would have killed its eventual pay-off dead – there’s nothing worse than rushing what should be a slow, careful building of emotions and understanding by turning it into some kind of “love at first sight” story, or not exploring the reason behind those feelings and taking big leaps in narrative terms.

    I’d wager that it’s the exquisite pacing that won Hotarubi the judge’s prize at Scotland Loves Anime this year, and although I wouldn’t have given it that award myself given its competition I think it justly picked up the award for its own overall merits.

    • LordOmnit
      Posted November 18, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

      I’d offer up Natsume Yuujinchou season 3 episode 4 as evidence towards Scamp’s feeling that it could be shortened. Just saying that although I realize they are different from the description I just couldn’t shake that episode from my mind while reading most of this post.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 19, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      I see what you’re saying, and part of the reason I’m suggesting it could be shorter is simply to fit it into a typical episode length. But I do think the story could still have worked with the gradual change of emotions with less time. They spent too much time with her as a child imo

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

        Hotarubi no Mori e can definitely be modified into a Natsume episode but like Hanners, I also feel that the movie choice was a good idea. My worry is that if it ever did become a Natsume episode “Nobody watch­ing would be able to tell the difference” and that itself will make us see Hotarubi no Mori e in a different light. Instead of the slow pacing that allowed us to connect with these characters and remember them for who they are, if it was turned into a Natsume episode. Both Hotaru and Gin and even their story will be knocked off as “just another sweet Natsume episode”.

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        I just realized the time this post was made… OTL

  2. Posted November 19, 2011 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Well, sounds like I will love this movie then.

  3. gw_kimmy
    Posted November 19, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    i read the oneshot manga chapter of this long ago, and remembering it was nice and bittersweet. 45 min does sound a bit much for animating a simple manga oneshot though <_<;; perhaps i'll watch this when it comes out.

    if they wanna start animating manga oneshots, start with nanairo sekai please~

  4. Lolcats
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I actually disagree with you. I think that they spent alot of time showing the child playing and on trivial things to show you the connection between the two characters. In the one-shot manga, they did exactly what you said they should, they cut off many of the trivial scenes where the characters are spending time together, and that changed the ending for me. It did not evoke as much emotion as it did in the film. That’s why I think showing the connwction between the characters is important because if you do not see with your own eyes the relationship between two characters, how am I supposed to feel and relate for them? In that sense, I feel that you are wrong and that 45 minutes was not too long, rather for me it was actually too short. I guess it’s just a matter of opinion.

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