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Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from Funimation. I got no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you Funimation for this opportunity.
Recently, Funimation has decided to help co-produce a couple of different anime projects that include a few series like Tribe Nine, and this is the topic of this review. It’s safe to assume that they are now doing this because they have the backing of that sweet sweet Sony money to get a few anime shows and films made that they can then keep the rights for their streaming services and catalog of anime titles. This isn’t the first time this has happened either, as there have been a couple of shows or films made due to the helping aid of the US distributor that was interested. It didn’t always deliver success, but if that was the only way the show was going to get made, then so be it. Plus, it could result in something super delightful and visually beautiful like the film we are talking about today, Sing a Bit of Harmony.
This film was directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, who directed the rather impressive Patema Inverted and Time of Eve and its movie counterpart with a script by Yoshiura and Ichiro Okouchi. The story follows isolated loner Satomi, dubbed by Risa Me who is not very popular at school, is considered the teacher’s pet, and a “rat”. Yeah, she’s not very popular. One day at school, a new arrival joins her class named Shion, dubbed by Megan Shipman. It turns out that this new student is actually an AI! Yeah, we got a robot girl walking around, and she makes it her main goal to find a way to make Satomi happy. This gets the two into multiple shenanigans that involve the entanglement of some adjacent students, including tech-savvy Toma, dubbed by Jordan Dash Cruz, popular hunk Gotchan, dubbed by Ian Sinclair, popular girl Aya, dubbed by Alexis Tipon, and Judo student Thunder, dubbed by Kamen Casey. What adventures and stories will unfold, and how will Shion help make everyone happy and in harmony?
Something that has been happening in the animation scene that has come to fruition in 2021 is how studios and teams are crafting films that may not rival the big-budget affairs, but are more committed to just properly executing the project at hand in order to be the best thing it can be. 2021 offered films like Wish Dragon, Words that Bubble Up Like Soda Pop, and Seal Team. This film has a very similar vibe and mood to a fun 80s teen drama/comedy, but without the super problematic parts of said films. It’s a film that’s about the connection that humans share with AI and through scenes that range from small to big, showing the interaction between humans and AI and technology in general. Some treat robots like garbage, some want to use AI and technology to make people smile and be helpful, and some want to use them for undisclosed profit and non-human friendly reasons. What’s rather nice is that the film doesn’t have a large cast for the heck of it. It could have been so easy to just market Shion due to her singing and typical anime beauty and the possible anime statue sales. Luckily, not everyone in the anime industry is that cynical, and everyone in the film has actual character to them. Yes, you have seen these characters before, but the filmmakers do add nuance to them and give them their own little arcs in the film and then watch as they all grow closer as friends. Of course, we will find out why Shion knows our lead and the backstory that the film builds up from the beginning and throughout the first two-thirds, but the time it takes to start and then get to the big reveal is really charming. It’s a very optimistic film about technology, and that’s always fun to see since we have pretty much run the course of “technology bad” narratives. Or, at the very least, we don’t need any more technophobic stories that paint everything technology as bad.
Animation-wise, this is probably where the film falls the flattest. It does look good. It has a vibrant and polished look, and the skyscape scenes are very Makoto Shinkai-inspired, and the overall animation is very fluid. The problem is more that it’s not the most theatrical-looking film, or at the very least, the musical sequences aren’t the flashiest. They definitely saved the best moments for a few of the songs, but when you think of musicals, you want there to be more visually fun dance and musical sequences. Still, the film does look nice, and not every animated film needs to look like Children of the Sea or Belle. Luckily, the voice cast is also stellar with a really good cast for these characters. You’ve got Megan Shipman, Risa Mei, Jordan Dash Cruz, Ian Sinclair, Alexis Tipton, Kamen Casey, David Wald, Laila Berzins, and Richard L. Olsen. The music by Ryo Takahashi is also great. He composed music for shows like SK8 The Infinity, The Vampire Dies in No Time, Skate Leading Stars, and performed the ending theme to the new series Tribe Nine.
It might not be the most groundbreaking animated film to come from Japan, and it might not be as wildly ambitious as the director’s previous work, but you know what? There has always been this pushback from snobbier animation fans and filmgoers that if directors don’t top themselves with every single film or if they regress to make something more approachable and family-friendly, it’s a step backward. Sing a Bit of Harmony is obviously made for a wider audience and it feels more cohesive and better executed than Patema Inverted. Making films solely on passion is good and all, but passion won’t help when the returns aren’t there and it causes the audience interest in your films to dwindle. Not everyone can do big ambitious and experimental films and keep doing so. Sometimes, there is something fun to see someone make a film for a wider appeal, but not feel so studio noted to death. Sing a Bit of Harmony is a fantastic film and an easy frontrunner alongside The House as some of the best animation of 2022 so far. Next time, well, who knows what will come next for this journey of 2022 in animation. Maybe I’ll review a film that came out in January to fill the void before everything else gets released, but it will be something animated!
Rating: Go See It!