The Other Side of Animation 138: Flavors of Youth Review

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In general, a problem I keep seeing within the animation scene is that twitch reaction to when something like a film or show hits it big, and then everyone and their long dead grandma wants to jump in on the hype. It leads to a profitable, but artistically limited batch of shows or films that want to be like that one popular thing, but only go so far. Sure, some films or shows break out and form their own bit of popularity and greatness, and this is nothing new, but you would think studios would make sure to play the long game, and keep doing what makes them great. For example, due to the success of Your Name, we are getting a slew of teen romance films with fantastical quirks. We already had A Silent Voice, which was pretty good, Fireworks, which was not, and now we have a studio that pretty much asked the studio that made Your Name to make a movie that is essentially a Makoto Shinkai film, Flavors of Youth. This is a Chinese/Japanese collaboration with the Japanese animation studio, CoMix Wave Films. It was put together by Li Haoling, who was inspired by Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters Per Second. It was then distributed by Netflix here in the states recently, but, thanks to Netflix, I don’t really hear anyone talk about it. Let’s see if this anthology rises above as its own thing, or falls flat as it tries to be like Makoto Shinkai’s other work.

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The first short is called Rice Noodles, and is directed by Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing. It’s about a young man named Xiao Ming, dubbed by Crispin Freeman, who reminisces about his love for a rice noodle dish he would get in his childhood. It brings back loving memories of him and his grandmother, a girl he had a crush on, and his youth.

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The second short is called A Little Fashion Show, and is directed by the lone Japanese director of the group, Yoshitaka Takeuchi. It’s about a fashion model named Yi Lin, dubbed by Evan Rachel Wood. She lives with her younger sister, and is going through the typical trials of being a fashion model, like age, personal life ordeals, and the ever-growing competition for younger models.

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The final short is directed by Li Haoling, the creator of the overall project, and the story is called Shanghai Love. It follows a young man named Limo, dubbed by Ross Butler. He is moving into a new downtown apartment that is near a couple of old buildings that hold nostalgic memories of his childhood friendship, his crush, and the changing landscape of Shanghai. He does this by listening to some old cassette tapes.

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So, what does this anthology get right? Well, I found two out of the three stories to be very interesting. The Rice Noodles story was probably my favorite out of the three, because I think everyone can connect a piece of their childhood to a dish, and how the unfortunate constant movement of time will cause things to change. Sure, not being able to regain that feeling of the past can feel soul crushing, but it’s never truly gone from you. The three stories revolve around a Chinese idiom, that translates to “clothing, food, housing, and transport”. I can definitely see how some of that idiom is used, as in the Rice Noodles short. There are also themes of dealing with regrets, as the second and third short have more plot elements dealing with actions from the past, and somehow making amends with said actions to make a better future. I think there will definitely be something for everyone to connect to within these three stories.

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Animation-wise, it looks pretty good from what you can expect from a Chinese/Japanese co-production. I have my issues with certain elements of its appearance, but only because I hold the animation studio, CoMix Waves to a high standard, due to their more recent work being downright beautiful. It still looks good, and has more polish than most anime films. I also enjoyed the music for the three shorts. It was mostly very calming, and set more in the background, but it fit the mood that the three shorts were going for. The dub is a mixed bag, but overall, it’s more good than bad. I liked Crispin Freeman in the first short, and how he captured the somber, but uplifting tone found in the main character during the Rice Noodles short.

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I think the biggest problem with Flavors of Youth is that while it can definitely be called its own thing in a lot of areas, like the story and setting, it never got rid of that feeling that this did feel like another Makoto Shinkai film. I get that the chief director/person in charge of this project was inspired by one of Shinkai’s first films, but I didn’t see unique visions. I saw directors trying to copy what Makoto Shinkai does. I know I can dish out some tough criticisms towards Shinkai, but at least when I was watching a film of his, I knew that it was his work. The art also isn’t as good as Shinkai’s other films. Sure, they look prettier than most series, but you get the feeling that they missed out on Shinkai’s little touches and bits of flair. I found the animation to also be stiffer. While the studio’s usual designs were not always the most interesting or memorable, they moved beautifully. The overall feel of the stories felt like they needed some more time to be fleshed out. The middle one with the fashion model feels the longest, due to how bored I got. It was a story with no real twists or turns with some rather generic story bits that come with the storyline. The first short also relies too much on the narration. It makes you wonder if the short would have been better if you didn’t have it, and expressed everything through music and the visuals. I also know that the voice actor, Ross Butler’s first role was in this film in the third story, but I found it to be the worst part of the English dub. He sounds so bored and disinterested. Even in the most emotional moments, he sounded wooden. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and maybe he will improve, but either he wasn’t putting in his all, or the director didn’t tell him that we weren’t in the 90s anime dub scene, and people need to start, well, emoting.

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Your enjoyment of Flavors of Youth will probably vary depending on your standards and hype for this animation studio. As a whole, I think it worked, but the hang-ups for me were really distracting. I definitely recommend checking it out, because unless you can catch the smaller animation releases, this will have to do until Small Foot comes out near the end of September. I respect this production, and I hope more projects come from this collaboration, and we get more anthologies with beautiful animation and interesting stories. Speaking of limited releases, I think it’s time to review one of the two Mamoru Hosoda films I have yet to do with Summer Wars. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

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The Other Side of Animation: The Garden of Words Review

(If you like what you see, go to camseyeview.biz to see the rest of my written work. If you want to, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the article!)

After that grating, obnoxious, and horrible heap of a movie that I previously reviewed, Cool World, it always makes me glad when I get to see something good. Sure, seeing the bad will help improve one’s filmmaking skills and make sure it doesn’t happen again, but sometimes, I just want to watch something that is interesting and something that resonates with me. After watching what the Hollywood entertainment system thinks we like to watch, it’s good to revel in something that at least made you think and be engaged. I just so happened to find a short film that has what I am looking for. Today’s review is of the short film, The Garden of Words. This 48-minute short film was distributed by Toho, and animated by CoMix Wave Films. It was directed by Makoto Shinkai. If Makoto Shinkai sounds familiar, then you have probably seen his films before, since CoMix Wave Films and Makoto have made such well-received films as Voices of a Distant Star, and other films like The Place Promised in Our Early Days, 5 Centimeters Per Second, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices. So, what do I think about this short film? Well, let’s dive in and get started then, shall we?

The Garden of Words centers two humans. The first is a 15-year old male named Takao Akizuki, voiced by Blake Shepard. On a rainy day, he cuts class to go sit in a pavilion in a park to draw shoe designs in his sketch book. One day, he meets an older woman named Yukari Yukino, voiced by Shelley Calene-Black. After a while, they create a bond between one another as friends until they realize that they may have known each other in more ways than one.

So, what is great about this short film? Well, what this film downright immerses you with is its atmosphere. By golly, this film just pulls you into its quiet, wet world. A lot of the time, there is no music or background score playing, and all you hear are the sounds from the areas around the main characters. The many rainy scenes are something right out of a yoga or meditation CD. It also helps that the film is beautifully animated, and while the character designs are, in my opinion, okay, everything else looks amazing. I have read where some people had a problem with how this film was presented and animated, but to me, I wasn’t distracted. While I have some problems with the personalities of the two main characters, I do like the relationship between them. Sometimes, all you need to find is a kindred soul that you can talk to/relate to. Another element that helps pull you into the movie is the beautiful piano score. It’s just gorgeous music to listen to. If you are curious about who wrote the music, it was Daisuke Kashiwa.

With all that said, this film does have problems. The two biggest problems are the character themselves and the running time. The two characters the film follows are not really that interesting, personality-wise. Granted, they are both suffering some form of depression, and you could argue that people display depression in different ways, but I blame the running time for the weak characters. I mean, it’s not like the characters have no personality or interesting things about them, like how the male is a hard worker. But, if the film was a bit longer than 46 minutes, I think we could have gotten more breathing room with the two leads, instead of multiple montages set to the beautiful scenery and musical score. This short film is based off a one-issue manga, but it doesn’t mean they couldn’t flesh things out more. For example, besides the two leads, who are likable in their own ways, everyone else feels petty and mean-spirited. A lot of this comes from the twist in the film, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who may have not seen this short yet. Of course, they could just get curious and look up the plot on Wikipedia. I also found the ending to be rushed and overly dramatic. Not that there isn’t some kind of corny enjoyment out of it, but again, a longer running time and a better-paced ending could have fixed so many problems the short film has.

Overall, after a couple of viewings, I ended up really liking The Garden of Words. I still think Makoto Shinkai could have fixed a few problems, but when he really hits the nail on the head, he is truly one of the best talents that Japanese animation can offer. The film itself is about $20, but if you can find it for cheaper, I would definitely recommend it. It has its issues, but it’s one of the more beautiful and atmospheric movies that I have ever seen. Well, we have seen what good Japanese animation can give us, let’s see what the worst of Japanese animation can give us with OVA, Cybernetics Guardian. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Rating: Go See It!