Neomo gets the chance to see some work by his favourite studio, SHAFT, on the big screen.

Fireworks rolls off the tongue better for the West than its Japanese title (Uchiage Hanabi, Shita Kara Miru Ka? Yoko Kara Miru Ka?, which translates as ‘Fireworks, Should We See It From The Side Or The Bottom?’). Nonetheless, I’m pretty certain that SHAFT will not really mind.

I had expressed interest in Fireworks around the time it was announced, back in December of last year. Back then, I didn’t expect it to come to the West as soon as it did, and so I was even more ecstatic to see British anime distributor Anime Limited had picked up the rights here. They have built up a lot of respect in the UK anime community in such a short a time and they are also responsible for bringing Your Name, A Silent Voice and Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale to UK screens, among others… I guess I’m just lucky that my local cinema is one of a handful across the country that gets to see it.

Based on the 1993 live-action short film of the same name, Fireworks takes place in a seaside town during the local summer festival. After finding a transparent ball on the beach, aloof class idol Nazuna decides to run away from home, and take the boy she likes with her. When her own family comes and finds her just as she’s ready with her suitcase, the boy she likes (Norimichi) decides to take action, and by using the transparent ball she found, he rewinds time by a few hours and creates an alternate reality.

As I watched each reality being formed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the 1998 German cult film Run Lola Run, which tells the story of a girl who runs around Berlin to find 100,000 Deutschmarks for her boyfriend who needs to pay back his gangster boss. In that, her finding the money is told in real-time (she has 20 minutes to find the money before the boyfriend does something he regrets and ends up being caught by the police). When something disastrous happens to them, time rewinds by 20 minutes, and Lola is given another chance to find the money, only by another means.

As we’ve seen with many many shows and movies dealing with time travel, messing around with time usually leads to bad consequences, and while nothing life-threatening happens to Nazuna and Norimichi, he uses the ball to buy as much time as he can with Nazuna. She knows that she can’t really change her fate, and that she will be leaving town with her mother who is remarrying. Norimichi on the other hand can’t avoid the fact that his friend Yusuke has the biggest crush on Nazuna and would disown him if he found out he took her first.

Directors Akiyuki Shinbou and Nobuyuki Takeuchi have made sure to stamp SHAFT trademarks all over this film, but not so many as to make it too abstract for the viewer to comprehend. This is a romance drama through and through. Each character has been written as if they were plucked straight from any real-life Japanese seaside town. I also want to give special credit to Suzu Hirose who does a great job as the playful yet emotionally troubled Nazuna in this (Hirose plays Chihaya Ayase and Kaori Miyazono in the live-action adaptations of Chihayafuru and Your Lie in April respectively). Each passing scene and shot looks like it was taken straight from a seaside painting or illustration. And as we watch time progress, we get to see Nazuna and Norimichi act out the youthful ‘one-night-we-will-never-forget’ that every young Japanese schoolchild dreams of.

Of course, I chose to play SHAFT bingo whilst watching, and sadly I didn’t get house…I didn’t even get close to halfway, in fact. School setting, check. A plain male protagonist, check. Contrasting art style changes between scenes, check. Head tilts, check. Slow-motion, check. Eyeball shots, check. I know there are plenty of other things that are on that bingo card: 360 degree turns, lesbians, unmoving plaid, baseball…but not this time. Fireworks has been sure to be SHAFT, but not too SHAFT…if that even makes sense for you. Well it makes perfect sense to me, but as a hardcore SHAFT fan, I’m a bit biased.

Fireworks has done extremely well in Japan, being released in time for the summer break, however some critics (both Japanese and Western) have been very quick to comment that its success could be purely down to the studio behind it. SHAFT have had recent international success with the Kizumonogatari trilogy (which I have deliberately avoided until I get the chance to watch them all in one sitting), and with the studio already renowned for innovative animation techniques, it is not difficult to see why they think like that, as Fireworks is more of a muted watch in comparison to the visceral action of the Monogatari series, the blacker-than-black satire of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, or the surreal dark fantasy of Madoka Magica. This is a movie that reminds us that SHAFT can make anime that doesn’t confuse the heck out of us.

I’m making sure not to talk too much about the plot, due to the fact that, as of time of writing, there aren’t any plans to release the movie in North America, although I’m very certain that that will change, and that people in the US and Canada will get around to catching this sometime in 2018. I suppose it just feels a little good (and a little refreshing) that we in Europe managed to get to see it beforehand. It would be too easy to think of one recent anime blockbuster after watching Fireworks. In fact, as I was leaving the theater, Your Name was brought up in conversation quite a few times. I think it’s a little unfair that, because of Your Name‘s critical and commercial success, anime movies having a supernatural theme will immediately be compared to it now, when Fireworks is in a world all of its own. Or several…

Fireworks was released in Japan on August. 18. It was released in Australia and New Zealand on October. 5. It premiered in the United Kingdom on October. 15 at the Scotland Loves Anime festival, and was available in cinemas in the UK & Ireland on November. 15. A release date for North America has not been announced as of time of writing.