Summer in Andalusia
This review courtesy of Manifest 2004 (Melbourne Anime Festival). I'd like to personally thank all those involved, a very impressive looking convention. Not that I got to see much of it because I spent all my time in a darkened room watching anime.
The sun is scorching the expansive plains of Andalusia, one of the parts of Spain. And two stories are about to come together, even if only briefly. One of them is a wedding in a small village. On the world stage it counts for nothing, but in the lives of the couple and all the people attending the celebration it's a major event. And it does seem like these people know how to have a good time with the fruits that life offers.
Meanwhile another story is tearing across the plains at all the speed human endurance and engineering can maintain. A major professional bicycle race is scheduled to pass through the village, although admittedly it's not going to take them a whole heap of time to pass through. One of the riders is Pepe, and not only is he a local boy, but it's also his brother who is being married.
Hm, this is a really odd sort of film. On the one hand it's impressively cinematic. It's really nicely animated and uses all sorts of wide shots and long distance expanses, as well as great detail close up, to actually look like a live movie. This is re-inforced because the story, and a lot of the character actions, have a very live feel about them. Minor details and actions are closely depicted so it almost as if it has been taken from life. Even the story flow itself has a very organic feel to it, very human with as much being suggested in expression as in dialog.
However what it gains in atmosphere it sort of loses in story strength. What is the greater meaning behind the events we are seeing? I'm not sure there actually is one. Sure, there's enough going on that you can tell lots of stories in the background. But I sort of came out of it wondering if there was some higher message that I had missed or whether getting to peer into another slice of life was the point.
The most obvious element is that the two brothers have taken quite separate paths. One has become settled, and more comfortable, but at the same time has lost the energy of movement. He's married now, deeply integrated into the community and enjoying simple pleasures. The other, a professional rider, has no such certainty, the bicycle race is a constantly changing landscape, sensitive to even the slightest of events. He can't even truly depend on his sponsors to keep him working, and even if he wins there'll be another race soon after. Although the intensity of the events, and the sweetness of victory, not to mention fame and money have their own attractions.
I will admit that I find cycle races incredibly boring. I realise there's a lot of tactics involved but it doesn't seem that interesting visually. On the positive side this anime is more intriguing because we're not watching the bike race as much as we are the mind of Pepe and the human community that is formed within the race. As pro's they all know one another, all watch one another, and even at times help one another. For example the drink bottles passed out from the support cars can be passed from rider to rider. Competing riders, in a pack, co-operate in order to husband their energy against other packs. That's interesting, and this might be one of the few chances to get a feel for this high speed and intense environment.
The stories don't substantially cross over either. We get some insight into an event that separated to paths of the two brothers, but there is limited communication to explore it. At the end of the day each of them is amongst their own community, and it may be a long time before their paths cross again. As a result it felt a trifle empty to me. And while I enjoyed the ride I can't really see it would be something I'd feel any great need to re-watch.
The production seems clearly built for a big screen and a general audience. There's a polished, cinematic and carefully developed air about the whole thing. Which also means there's a lack of the visual language, and effects, that many associate with anime. The character design is great, the detail in the racing and the culture of Andalusia is sufficient to give a certain depth and reality to the show. The close up racing is fun to watch, but not all that flashy, and the wider shots of the whole race actually look sort of stupid. Not to mention the race finish where the linework goes into a sort of hyper deformed mode to show the intensity of the effort being exerted. The fact that there were quite a few giggles indicates it might not have been entirely successful, it certainly didn't impress me because it broke my sense of immersion. Voices are excellent and the music, including some cultural stuff, works well.
An anime with a very cinematic approach and the money to back it up. One story follows the pressure and speed of a pro bike race. The other the rural and slow moving path through life in the form of a wedding. The two males involved in each are brothers, following very different paths, but here just for a moment they cross. However the focus on the presentation seemed to come at a cost in heart, meaning and actual anime flavor leaving the whole thing feeling a little meaningless at the end.
My regular sources don't seem to have a review of this so far. I suspect it will be a challenge for this film to find a place amongst either the anime fans or the non-anime cinema.