Kimagure Orange Road: I want to Return to That Day Anime Review
Kimagure Orange Road: Ano Hi ni Kaeritai
US Release By
Young Romantic Drama
It is the last summer before Kyosuke and Madoka enter college. As he walks toward the entrance exam scores, Kyosuke remembers the days leading up to the exams. This is the summer when Kyosuke finally had to make that inevitable choice between Madoka and Hikaru. Even if he can make his true feelings known, how will either of the girls react to his decision?
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In I want to Return to That Day, the characters of Kimagure Orange Road are about to make the jump to college and the implied plunge into adulthood that accompanies it. The feel and theme has abruptly grown up with them, addressing the end of innocent romance in a raw, unflinching manner. The psychic shenanigans and humor of the series are completely absent, as are all of the characters save the main trio; while a huge change of pace, this is a suitable finale since what made the KOR series memorable was the hints of realism. Realistically, the breakup would be painful, and this movie captures that exquisitely, and excruciatingly, with the point driven home since they are characters we have come to know as being "fun."
Another significant change is that Kyosuke's narration is sparse; we are moved to the perspective of bystander to interpret his actions--which are realistic given his age and inexperience--though our own eyes rather than his. The cast is up to the added drama, in particular Eriko Hara (Hikaru), who turns in an impressive performance without changing Hikaru's personality or distinctive voice. Aside from the slow pace--evocative of the lazy days of summer and awkward silences of the characters--the movie's only flaw is that its treatment of Hikaru and Madoka's friendship, as well as the future of the supporting cast, are not addressed, but the second movie covers that territory.
I Want to Return to That Day is one of the finest anime character dramas ever made. While it won't appeal to many, and might not even appeal to some fans of the series, no punches are pulled in the breakup of the Kimagure Orange Road love triangle and the young love it embodies. Fans of the series will find it painful to watch, but it comes highly recommended. The second KOR movie, however, is a required follow up to this one; it simply isn't complete without it.
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The ongoing theme of the Kimagure Orange Road series had always been the trials of youth, but most of us eventually grow up, and what happens to those innocent childhood relationships when that happens? In I Want to Return to That Day, the characters are about to make the jump to college and the implied plunge into adulthood that accompanies it. The feel and theme has abruptly grown up with them, addressing the end of innocent romance in a raw, unflinching manner.
The Kimagure Orange Road Movie is an unexpected experience in a number of ways. Throughout the series, even though its eventual outcome was inevitable, the love triangle between Kyosuke, Madoka, and Hikaru had that TV feeling of something that would go on forever. But what happens to a romantic comedy when the time comes to break up the triangle? What if, instead of being neatly tied up at the end, things didn't go smoothly? What if the participants acted like, well, real people? Those are the questions this film addresses. As a fan of the rest of the series, I'm not joking when I say that this was one of the most difficult to watch anime movies I've seen, since it addresses the emotional pain of the situation in a straightforward and surprisingly realistic manner.
If you're wondering whether the whimsical, psychic-tinged comedy that this movie concludes could really turn out as serious as I'm making it sound, it does. There is absolutely no humor in the film; all the lighter supporting cast are completely absent, and Kyosuke's psychic powers aren't even mentioned. This might seem a little odd, but with the decision to treat the final breakup of the love triangle not as a farce or a simple happy ending but as a real drama, dropping any pretense of comedy was necessary to make it work. As in the OAVs, Yuusaku remains absent, another understandable decision--he isn't there to provide a convenient out for Hikaru, although that seemed to be his reason for existing in the TV series.
This change in theme will definitely put off some fans of the series, and even I was a little annoyed by the complete avoidance of Kyosuke's paranormal abilities, but the result is undeniably powerful. The fact that the movie follows a long, light-hearted series is a big part of why it is as affecting as it is. These are characters that we've come to know and love, and we're used to seeing them happily going about their business, so the contrast drives the heartache home. I'll also venture that this is a very suitable finale; part of what made the KOR series so memorable was the hints of realism in the main characters. To complete that, you can't have the eventual breakup be avoided or glossed over--it would be painful, and this movie captures that exquisitely, and excruciatingly.
I won't go into details of the story to avoid spoiling it, but the general feel is quiet and introspective. The pacing is quite slow, and while it drags at times, this perfectly captures the lazy days of summer as they creep up to the exams and the awkward moments between the characters. There isn't much of Kyosuke's narrating, and we've almost been moved to the position of bystander: Where before we were inside Kyosuke's head, we're now just following him around and watching the consequences of his actions. This has the interesting effect of leaving the interpretation up to the viewer. Whether his actions are the only way to handle the situation or a product of his not knowing how to handle being decisive is up to you.
I'll step aside for a moment to highlight something: When I first watched the movie I was around the same age as the characters, and took the former perspective; when I saw it again years later, I took the latter. That, at least to me, indicates that while the viewer may be able to see the mistakes in how he's handled things, his actions are believable given his age and inexperience.
From the perspective of a fan, there is one major flaw to this movie: It completely fails to address the long-standing and somewhat mysterious friendship between Madoka and Hikaru. It'll also leave you wondering what's to become of these (and all the other) characters once it's over. Fortunately, the second movie, despite being released quite a while later, deals with both of these oversights. I will go so far as to say that this movie doesn't stand on it's own; alone, it doesn't do the characters justice, and the second movie is required to close the story. They're two integral parts of the ongoing story, and it is the same for us and the characters--there needs to be some distance from the pain of the breakup before we can properly look at how life will go on. After seeing this movie you might find it a little hard to believe that a sequel could work (I did), but now I can't see this film as anything but incomplete without it.
Visually, the movie is similar to the OAVs; the art and coloring are similar, although the backgrounds are a little more detailed. The animation is not full theatrical quality, but is noticeably better than the other incarnations. In particular, the improved character animation helps in effectively expressing the emotion of the story. In an interesting side-note, at one point the characters are watching an anime movie, and the clip we see is actually from a different, real anime movie--you don't see that often.
The acting in I want to Return to That Day is, simply put, perfect. There are almost no characters other than the main trio, and each turns in a performance that is above reproach. Madoka, as always, is voiced perfectly by Hiromi Tsuru, and her competent handling of the added drama is no surprise. Tooru Furuya (Kyosuke), had to turn up the drama a notch here, and he, likewise, is up to the challenge; Kyosuke's difficult actions and inner struggle come through. But Hikaru, voiced as before by Eriko Hara, is the surprise. Through the series, her personality was consistent and only rarely did you see a glimpse of anything below the surface. But I always got the feeling that it was there somewhere, and this movie confirms that. Despite her bubblehead persona and perpetually perky voice, Hikaru really does have feelings, desires, and motivations, and the pain she experiences in this movie would seem almost impossible to handle believably without abandoning the old Hikaru completely. But, while she still sounds like Hikaru on the surface, her inner feelings and pain come through. This totally believable development is acted absolutely perfectly, and to powerful effect.
The music is a change of pace from the classic pop of the TV and OAV series--the movie is remarkably quiet, and there is little background score to speak of.
I Want to Return to That Day is one of the finest anime character dramas ever made. While it won't appeal to many, and might not even appeal to some fans of the series, no punches are pulled in the breakup of the Kimagure Orange Road love triangle and the young love it embodies. Fans of the series will find it painful to watch, but it comes highly recommended.
Note that if you haven't seen any of the rest of the series, this is absolutely not the place to start--you won't know the characters, and you'll miss the poignancy of the story. I also repeat that the second KOR movie is a required follow up to this one; it simply isn't complete without it.
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There really isn't anything quite like this, but at least some of the KOR TV and/or OAV series is a required prerequisite, and the second KOR movie is a necessary second part to the story. The closest analogy would be the third Tenchi Muyo movie; it also presents a more mature, introspective take on what had previously been largely comedic characters. Likewise the Rurouni Kenshin OAVs do the same thing with a relatively light series, both in prequel and epilogue format.
Notes and Trivia
This movie hit theaters shortly after the TV series ended and before the OAVs went on sale. Chronologically, however, it takes place after the OAV series (which covers the high school years).
US DVD Review
The DVD is solid but minimal; it includes a decent video transfer and crisp 2-channel Japanese audio. On the down side, the video is interlaced and letterboxed, but since the movie was only filmed in a "slight" widescreen format, you're not losing that much resolution to the black bars. On the positive side, you get your choice of full, partial, or no English subtitles. There are a couple of minor extras: An art gallery, and the trailers that originally advertised a couple of the OAVs. Oh, and for those wondering why the disc comes in a case with the extra flippy thing to hold a second DVD, it's a kindness for fans who bought the set that included two OAV discs, but wanted to save space by compressing it down to two cases instead of three.
Generally mature themes and a lot of raw emotional pain, but nothing overt; AnimEigo calls it 13+, which if anything is rather stiff.
Violence: 1 - A couple of arguments, but most of the "violence" is emotional.
Nudity: 1 - Nothing noteworthy.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - General themes, but little else.
Language: 1 - Nothing in particular.
Formerly available in North America from AnimEigo, most recently on subtitled DVD, which was also available in a box set along with the OVA series. Prior to that was available on subtitled VHS, which served as the fifth tape in the set that included the OVAs, and on a subtitled LD, which was the third disc in the same set on LD. All of the above are now out of print, and the company's license has expired.
At last check there were plenty of new and used copies available on Amazon at a reasonable price, or for quite a bit more if you want the box set that includes the OVAs: Kimagure Orange Road: The Movie, Kimagure Orange Road OVA/Movie Box Set.