*Disclaimer: This review is spoiler-free.
Jun Naruse, a talkative, energetic child, accidentally leads to her parents’ divorce due to her loud mouth. On the day of her father’s move, Jun is cursed by a magical egg to experience serious pain if she speaks even a single word. Fast forward several years, and Jun is now a high school student. Still suffering from the curse, Jun must face the challenge of planning a class performance with three other students, each from unique walks of life. However, Jun’s encounter with one student may open her path to recovery…
In preparation for the upcoming movie Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana wo Kazarou – which I am very excited for – I decided to watch every single anime with Mari Okada as the writer. Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda, or Anthem of the Heart, is the first on the list, and needless to say, I was incredibly excited. Mari Okada is one of the more famous directors and writers in the anime industry, and the premise for this film looked so very promising. And after watching the film, unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed, though that was perhaps due to my extremely high expectations.
My disappointments aside, KokoSake, as I’ll call it from now, is still a great film despite for a few issues, so I’ll start by talking about all the great parts of the movie. First and foremost, the best part of the film is easily the animation. The background art is fantastic throughout the runtime of the movie, and the animation itself is consistently fluid and detailed. Certain scenes switch art styles quite drastically to fit our protagonist’s perspective and storytelling, yet they are never jarring and effectively elevate the narration. Above all else, however, the character animation is simply exceptional, especially for the main character, Jun. Since Jun is prevented from talking for a large portion of the movie, her movements and animation are incredibly detailed to make up for her lack of speech. Her lively hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language always allowed me to understand her feelings vividly without her actually talking. It’s the best case of “show, don’t tell” I’ve witnessed in anime in a long while.
Outside of animation, the voice acting also deserves tremendous praise, also for the work on Jun. Inori Minase, the voice actress for Jun, adds so much personality to the character; Jun’s words are always packed with intense emotion, which fits perfectly as she is largely suppressed from letting her feelings out in the film. In addition to speech, even when Jun isn’t talking, she expresses her emotions effectively through small, quick noises such as grunts and yelps (they’re cute, too).
The soundtrack is great too, with the vocal pieces that come out in the latter half of the film easily taking the spotlight. The movie has a thematic focus on music, at least partly, and the songs sung by the cast feel sincere and tonally fitting. The ending theme is exceptional too; this theme and one of the last vocal pieces are absolutely gorgeous and still remain in my memories.
Now as for the story and characters, I would say half of it’s great while the other half is… alright. For the first half of the film, the story largely focuses on Jun’s speech impediment, social anxiety, and self-discovery, which is incredibly intriguing thematically. Now, I am a bit biased too, since this section also explores music as a source of recovery, and I simply love that very concept. Anyways, this first half’s exploration of Jun – the most well-developed character in the film – is effective, emotional, and intriguing at all points.
However, the second half starts delving into some of the other characters more, and pushes romance as a more central topic in the story. This is where cracks start to appear. Now, the other characters are all fine in their own right, but some of the characters form an unnecessary love triangle, effectively ruining the focus of the movie. As the theme of the movie starts to run between recovery from anxiety and exploration of youth romance, the story, in my opinion, loses much of its original momentum.
There are also some very, very cliche moments in the second half. Now, cliches aren’t inherently detrimental, but the original and well-paced first half makes the lackluster scenes in the later half all the more obvious. Despite the romance slip-up and the cliches, overall, the second half is still good, and has a great confrontation with Jun’s character that perfectly concludes her character arc.
All in all, KokoSake is an enjoyable emotional ride with a fantastic lead character, great music, and phenomenal character animation. If the story had kept its focus throughout the entire film, and maybe even cut down certain character moments and relationships, I think KokoSake could have easily been one of the best high-school anime films in the market. It tells a lovely story about anxiety that I’m sure many people can relate to (to a certain extent), and despite its several issues, is very much a memorable, heartfelt film.
As for similar shows, Koe no Katachi, like KokoSake, takes place in high school (age-wise), and is a fantastic drama about recovering from social anxiety and depression, as well as the process of coming to love the world. The theme is moderately similar to KokoSake, but Koe no Katachi takes a more mature approach from a different scope.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April) is a great anime series that explores the music-related themes of KokoSake in greater depth, delving into how music can work as a recovery mechanism, and also focusing a bit more on romance. Not incredibly similar to KokoSake in most regards, but similar audiences may enjoy both.
AnoHana is another supposedly great series, also written by Mari Okada. I have yet to see it, but I have heard Okada’s storytelling style is relatively similar to KokoSake in this show (and Macquia). Most people have fond memories of crying oceans while and after viewing, so bring along your tissues for this one.
Lastly, 5 Centimeters per Second is perhaps the least similar anime to KokoSake out of the four listed. It’s a beautiful film, both aesthetically and thematically, by the renowned Makoto Shinkai, and I believe this film has a view on recovery and romance loosely similar to KokoSake. It’s quite unconventional, but a great film to check out nonetheless.
And that concludes my review! Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy KokoSake if you do end up watching it. Just remember not to get too hyped, as it is, as all other films are, an imperfect product. This is my first full anime review, so please be sure to comment on anything I could improve on. One last note: please know that the composite score listed on the graphic is a very blunt summary of my feelings on the film, so please don’t think my entire opinion is summed up by those numbers.
With that said, thank you again, and have a nice day!