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There is something so universal about the thought of flight. Lots of animated films from the likes of DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar, and of course, Studio Ghibli have made use of flight, flying, and soaring through the air to immerse you into the world in which the story is set. Some make you feel like you are flying through the air, feeling the wind and air pressure against you, and having that feeling that you can’t have unless you are flying in a vehicle. There is a reason why a lot of people’s choice of superpower is flight. Who wouldn’t want to fly like Superman or Porco Rosso through the air? Animation is really good at capturing this feeling, which is why it’s such a cool way to tell a story and not have to worry about the live-action stuff unless you are going to pull a Tom Cruise with Top Gun: Maverick. Now it’s time for us to get into the pilot’s seat and check out an animated feature known as Blue Thermal.
This film is co-written and directed by Masaki Tachibana, co-written by Natsuko Takahashi, and produced by Telecom Animation Film. It follows the story of Tamaki Tsuru, voiced by Mayu Hotta. She leaves her hometown to go to college in Tokyo. One day, as she is trying out in the tennis courts to join a club and start a brand new romantic adventure in college, she hits a tennis ball that accidentally causes some shenanigans and ends up with the mascot of another club falling onto the wing of a large glider that was being hauled out of the school. Feeling guilty, she joins the club to try and repay the damage done and ends up being enthralled with the captain, the other members of the club, and of course, finds a love for flight while in a glider.
As much as I enjoyed this film, there are a few issues that we should get out of the way first. The biggest hurdles this film doesn’t quite get around are how it handles its drama and the cast of side characters. While probably more interesting and or fleshed out in the manga, the overall cast is fairly forgettable. Many of them get one single trait to define themselves, and they only help to fill out the roster and make the school and the gliding activity feel more lived in. Some major secondary characters get some mythos and story build-up with personalities, but a majority of the cast won’t leave an impression on the viewer. This film needed a stronger cast of characters because some of them end up with nothing to work with, which is a shame due to how animated everyone is. As for the drama itself, the pacing is what killed it for me since the film does focus a lot on the interpersonal chemistry between our cast of characters, and then drops some fairly blunt hints about why they are as they are, and then either don’t finish the overarching storyline or miss the landing with some beats. This happens many times in the third act, where the twists and turns start to feel mishandled by the way they ramp up the stakes if our lead character doesn’t get first place in the championship. It hurts the emotional punchline of the overarching journey our lead takes, and that’s a shame, but it would have helped if they had more focus on building up her connections with everyone. The issue is overall hurt by how the film is paced. Even if it’s under two hours at about an hour and forty minutes, it takes certain spots in the film to slow the rhythm down a little too much at times.
I know this review came out of the gate hitting on the subjective criticisms about the film, but that’s how honesty and saying what you truly feel about a movie works. You don’t want to lie to your audience or give a rating that contradicts the entire review. Because the opinions might seem critical here, they don’t detract from all of the positives that this film provides. First off, they deliver a creative hook to frame the story of our lead finding what drives her.
You can tell she’s headstrong in wanting to go to Tokyo to start her life and wanting this trope-riddled college school life, but as the saying goes, sometimes what you want isn’t always what you need. She got a college school life, but one that felt more satisfying and fulfilling with friends and a relationship that matters more than just finding the cutest guy or the most artificial friend group to fulfill that fantasy. Being in the air in a glider and feeling the forces of nature around her opened her eyes to what she truly wanted in life. Like a lot of films with flight, Blue Thermal does capture that feeling of being in the air. Seeing the land and lake around you from hundreds of feet in the air is truly something we take for granted and the film captures those moments rather lovingly. The animation is also well done with expressive characters and is able to capture the weight of the gliders and the human movements all the while using more anime-style facial expressions. While the camera work could have given us more interesting shots, there are some moments that would look mighty fine as a poster or desktop wallpaper. It could have gone a little further with capturing the magic and wonder of flight, as in having more creative visuals or more dynamic angles, or more dream-like or magical touches to said flight sequences, but for what they do execute with its mix of cinematography, storyboarding, and high-quality animation, it does a good job. I only got to see the subtitled version, but the Japanese cast does a great job with the characters. The cast includes Mayu Hotta, Nobunaga Shimazaki, Junya Enoki, Mikako Komatsu, and Haruka Shiraishi, to name a few of the individuals in the cast that pull off some good performances. Shōgo Kaida is the composer for the film’s soundtrack and is mostly known for composing music for 91 Days, The Betrayal Knows My Name, and S.A. The film has a solid low-key atmosphere and fanciful tone when the flying sections happen, and while the soundtrack isn’t as memorable as others, it is rewarding enough.
While it suffers from some issues with how it executes its conflict in the third act, and the cast itself might not be all that memorable, Blue Thermal is still a good movie. It has its heart in the right place, and considering that this year has been light in terms of animated fare, and the previous few anime franchise films that have been reviewed were underwhelming, Blue Thermal flies with grace among the films released so far this year. It comes out on Blu-ray on March 14th via Shout! Factory and Elevenarts. If you are looking for a low-key slice-of-life drama this March, then definitely give this film a watch. Well, next up is one of the best films from 2022 with Little Nicholas: Happy as Can Be.
Rating: Go See It!