We all have those wishes which are the culminations of our desires which are tinged with little or more of regrets. If only we can go back to that single moment of the past and correct what we deemed as our blunder, would things have gone for the better, especially if that blunder involved a love story?
That is maybe why we grew attached to the visual novels, because we place ourselves in the shoes of the protagonist of a love story, where we can explore routes, and we can find the happy ending and the forever and ever which we dearly yearn. That is the reason also why, to some extent, we grew envious of those protagonists.
What if we are given that chance?
That is what the animated film 打ち上げ花火、下から見るか? 横から見るか? (Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?) delivers. It centers around the class idol Oikawa Nazuna and Shimada Norimichi whose friends are having an argument on what shape does the fireworks have. Is it round or is it flat? In reality, the shape of the fireworks can be purposely be made. A general tubular firework typically blast off at an elliptical shape, the longer radius indicating the orientation of the tube’s weak axis which is the axis that resist the hoop stresses. The boys even begin proposing dares, such as taking a photo of the underwear of the big-breasted homeroom teacher Miura (HanaKana again; or it is just foam? Miura-sensei, I mean.), who has just received a notice from the mother of Oikawa Nazuna that Nazuna will be transferring schools during the summer break.
Since Oikawa Nazuna is a long-haired heroine with a mature body compared to her age of 14, I am expecting a mature voice like Kayano Ai’s Kasumigaoka Utaha from Saekano. But much to my surprise, she sounds like Anzai Chika’s Yasuraoka Hanabi from Kuzu no Honkai, even though her seiyuu is really the one who played Miyazono Kaori in the live action of KimiUso. (feelsgatsu here again). There she is, enjoying her last day in school at the pool.
The Yusuke and Norimichi, who are on pool duty, challenge themselves on a race, on which Nazuna joins in. During the race, Norimichi injures his foot, while also nudging the orb that Nazuna picked earlier at the beach. Yusuke, upon winning the race, is invited by Nazuna on a date, telling him that she likes him.
Yusuke barges into Norimichi’s house, with the intent of ditching her. He uses Norimichi’s injury on his foot to have him go to his father, who is a doctor, to make him go with her instead. Norimichi finds her there on Yusuke’s clinic and delivers the bad news to her.
Norimichi accompanies her around. Nazuna tells him that he was the one that she wanted to win. But still, Norimichi is reluctant into taking responsibility on her, which leads her being taken away by her mother, who busted her plans into running away. Nazuna pleads Norimichi for help, but he remains immobile and indecisive.
Norimichi then comes across his friends, including Yusuke. ”If only Yusuke had gone with her, it wouldn’t be this way.” That thought snaps Norimichi and he lands some hits on Yusuke. If only he won that race…that was what Norimichi is thinking as he throws the orb in anger, which triggers the filament mechanism that stops time…and much more rewind.
This time, Norimichi swims on smoothly to win the race. But unlike in the first timeline, Nazuna just tells him that she wants the winner to be her date for today, minus the part of telling the winner that she likes him. What caused the difference? Is it because she just don’t like him? Or is it because the truth(Norimichi) is harder to tell than the lie (Yusuke)?
Norimichi manages to stop Nazuna from ringing the doorbell, which would get the attention of Yusuke, whom he knows would be jealous if he were to find out about them. Even so, Yusuke still finds them and fumes in jealousy. Such jealousy, being contrasted to how Yusuke acted at the first timeline, is human. For Yusuke, it does not feel accomplishing if the girl that he was gathering his courage into confess to just gave him the cake that he sought after. He felt that he cheated, thus souring his victory and making him reluctant to even claim his prize, for it would also solicit anger and envy from his classmates. This time, he felt that he was the one being cheated by Norimichi, thus the anger.
Nazuna asks him where they would be going. わからない. Nazuna laughs at the uncertainty of their destination and of their future, as if they were defying certainty of Nazuna’s future of being transferred away.
The two make their way to the train station. While changing into a beautiful white dress, Nazuna reveals that her mother was an adulterer who cheated on her first husband and she was the result of that illicit affair. She begins to draw comparison between her mother and herself, as she declares to Norimichi that they would be eloping, thinking on how she would pretend to be a 16-year old to find ways of living in Tokyo. But they have to be on the train to Tokyo in the first place, which never happened as her mother arrives at the same time as the train and drags Nazuna away. Nazuna begs Norimichi to help her, on which he does, which earned him a punch from Nazuna’s stepfather.
The dejected Norimichi finds Yusuke, who is still fuming in anger, and his friends as they head to the lighthouse to see the fireworks from the side.
Much to their surprise, the fireworks are exploding flat. ちがう. Norimichi is confused. As he gathers his thoughts, he can only think of Nazuna being dragged away…twice. That triggers the hunch in him that the orb is causing all this. He assures Kazuhiro that he is still right about the fireworks not being flat, and throws the orb again with an underlying wish of returning to that time when Nazuna was being dragged away from the train platform, on which he does, as he reflexively dodges Nazuna’s stepfather’s punch, and managed to get into the train just as doors have closed.
Nazuna reiterates that they are not running away, but rather they are eloping, and looks forward into their future in Tokyo, about the things they would be doing, a future that would not be possible if not because of Norimichi’s intervention earlier. As a gesture of gratitude and to show to him that she can be an idol, Nazuna sings to him Ruri–iro no Chikyuu (Ruri-colored World).
During her song, she reveals that she knows that they can’t run away at all, as she was a princess in a ball that she knew would be ending soon, and just wishes to spend this one special and final day with Norimichi, the person she begin growing her feelings to. And as she finishes her song as the dream-like world and castle vanishes into reality, they are spotted not only by Yusuke and his friends, but also by Nazuna’s mother and her third husband. Both groups begin to chase the two and manage to corner them at the lighthouse station, but Yusuke grabs Nazuna’s hand as they jump off the platform. どこに行くの? They just run, with no destination in mind. わからない...as long as they keep on moving.
横から見るか?. They reach upon the top of the lighthouse to find that the fireworks are different again. ちがう. It is still not the right shape. Norimichi realizes that they are not back in their world yet.
And as Yusuke and the others begin to corner them, Norimichi pleads to the orb to bring them to the world where Yusuke and the others did not find them and throws it at the nick of time as the two of them fall out because of Yusuke’s tackle.
This time, after Nazuna sang Ruri-colored World, Norimichi pins her down at the nick of time before being seen by Yusuke and his friends, leading them to the awkward situation, where Norimichi is on top of Nazuna. The situation is self-explanatory as Nazuna finds her family car tailing the train. Just after both of them understand the situation, the train detours into the sea, finding more situations they can’t understand as Norimichi attempts to explain what was happening.
After that mysterious detour on the train, they disembark on the lighthouse station like before, and instead going for the lighthouse, because Norimichi knew that Yusuke and the others would be heading there, the two went to the beach. The world gets weirder and weirder, as the projections of the sky and things begin to distort into hexagonal meshes. They now both know that none of these aren’t real. They are not in their real world. They go to the jetty where Nazuna found that orb. The weight of the future begin to take its toll on Norimichi’s mind as he is reluctant to follow Nazuna further on the jetty.
下から見るか?. Nazuna invites Norimichi for a swim. As a dark as the sea at night, Norimichi’s anxiety and worries about their future begin to unravel as he pleads her to remain in this strange world or to wish to the orb for a scenario where the two of them can be together in a happy ending. But he remembers what Nazuna told him on the previous timeline… that she knows that this fairy tale with him would still have to end, and that she now only wishes to just have that one day with him… which reiterates in the present timeline. Nazuna mysteriously smiles as a response.
The drunken fireworks guy mistakes the orb as a firework shell and he launches it up to the sky, breaking it apart as it bursts into a specter of colors and broken fragments.
The orb, which represents the what-ifs, upon breaking apart, reveals that what-ifs are not just the countless regrets from the past, but also are endless possibilities in the future. That is the main message of the film, which understandably was overlooked by many of those who watched it because the story has not managed to make them invested in the story.
Before further narration at this point is the right time to share some insights about the movie so far. Understandably, the movie was released on the backdrop that the anime movie industry boomed once more with top-quality films like Kimi no Na wa and Koe no Katachi. The bar and expectations are being raised high. Some may say that it’s now the golden age of anime, with the otaku population growing. The anime film making industry has once again gained worldwide attention.
And… the promoters of Fireworks rode along with it (Toho, hello). Therefore burdening the film with tons of expectations, on which it cannot provide. But the failure to meet those expectations does not make the movie suck at all.
Professional movie critics and also professors from the liberal arts are just like those gourmets and chefs assessing the food. I learned this years ago from my Filipino literature professor. To her, processing the content of the written literature are like churning the food. If there’s no content, then she would say that she can’t churn anything. Even though heart-speak (whether one has liked the movie or not) has weight in the overall evaluation of the film or series, it should not constitute the evaluation entirely, or else, they would be just like the normal movie-goers.
The only weak points of the movie are admittedly the character background and development, sense of attachment, and character emphasis. All of those are crucial in capturing the engagement and attention of those who were watching. I also had a hard time memorizing the names of the characters, even of Nazuna’s and Norimichi’s. The mood at the beginning was more relaxed than with Koe no Katachi, which is pretty out-of-place to set the story up to some tension, so in turn, when the tension was introduced, it was interpreted by many as confusion.
Even so, the strong points eclipse those weak points about right, like the cinematography and the use of surrealism. Undeniably, the strongest point of the movie, which in reality is not entirely a romance story, is its music. Uchiage Hanabi is so catchy. Ruri-iro no Chikyuu is so fairy-tale like. And damn, Forever Friends has so many emotions being portrayed, sad and anxious but reassuring, (別れ) just like when the fragments from the orb begin falling from the sky.
As if things are falling into place, the projections from the falling fragments assure both Norimichi and Nazuna of the future ahead of them, a future of them happy together, a future that seems too good to be true given their current situation. The fireworks, the projections of the future, and the orb’s fragments bring light to the dark seas. The two make their respective confessions and assurances as they share a kiss underwater. With the glimpse of the future laid before them before those lights, Nazuna swims towards the surface, as if she is determined to convert that possibility into a reality. They don’t need that orb to reach that happy ending in the first place. All they have to do is to reach themselves. Norimichi remains underwater for a while to gather his thoughts and resolve, and when that resolve is materialized, he follows her to the surface.
After the fade-to-black comes the epilogue, where Miura-sensei roll-calls the whole class for attendance, finding Norimichi missing, leaving us to an open ending (which many of the viewers also disliked) for us to guess what really is. The logical choice would be Norimichi, upon realizing those infinite possibilities that laid before his and Nazuna’s future, seizing them as an opportunity to grab hold of their fates and future together.
And that thought caused stirrings from the regrets of my past. Maybe if I told her when she was asking for clarity that it is that kind of love where I wanted to get closer to her, that kind of love where I wanted to be by her side, that kind of love where I wanted to make her happy, that kind of love where I wanted to be her significant other, maybe we might be watching this in the theaters together, sharing our thoughts. 一緒に. かのじょの側に? できない. To spend just one day with her…It is too good to be true, right? そうでもか.