Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Goodbye, Don Glees!, from GKIDS

Whenever a film invites us to share a group of friends’ last summer together, it is a near certainty we will see the final summer ever for one of them. Roma Kamogawa will definitely have his Big Chill moments, but he does not carry any ex-hippy-boomer baggage, so it is easier to identify with and feel for him in Atsuko Ishizuka’s anime feature Goodbye, Don Glees!, which screens nationwide over the coming days.

Kamogawa’s boyhood friend Toto Mitarai will sort of explain why he named their club of two the “Don Glees,” but it doesn’t really make sense, so don’t worry about it. They had to stick together through middle school, but Mitarai’s domineering father sent him to Tokyo for high school. Now that he is back after freshman year, Mitarai clearly considers Kamogawa a bit of a towny, which makes him embarrassing. He is also more than a little put off by Kamogawa’s new friend.

Shizuku “Drop” Sakuma is somewhat younger than they are, but Kamogawa enjoys his energy and earnestness (whereas Mitarai, not so much). Unfortunately, their private store-bought fireworks ritual goes somewhat awry, especially when their snobby peers point to it, scapegoating them for a freak forest fire. To prove their innocence, the trio sets off on a quest to find an errant drone they hope recorded exculpatory footage.

Nobody does teen angst better than anime filmmakers. This is another good example. Admittedly, Roma and Toto are a bit dense when it comes to picking up on Drop’s fatalistic carpe diem asides, but Ishizuka definitely understands the emotional mindset of young teens. In fact, her story takes on surprising depth and complexity, especially when it reaches the third act (or maybe it is actually a really long epilogue). Regardless, she ties everything together beautifully and even hints at the mildly fantastical.

Honestly, Drop can be a lot to endure, but Kamogawa, who sort of narrates, is achingly sympathetic and realistically down-to-earth. The characters themselves have a traditional anime look, but the natural backdrops are wonderfully lush, ranking alongside some of the finest of recent Japanese animation.

Don Glees
pretty much delivers everything fans would want from a defiantly sentimental anime teen drama and maybe a little extra. The writing is strong and the animation is lovely. Just don’t get upset when you are manipulated out of your emotional socks. Highly recommended for anime connoisseurs, Goodbye, Don Glees screens tomorrow (9/14), Sunday (9/18), and next Tuesday (9/20) at theaters like the Regal E-Walk in New York.