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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was rather detailed, to “recall someone you used to know closely but are no longer in touch with, then a job you used to have but no longer do, and then a piece of art that you saw once and that has stuck with you over time. Finally, close the poem with an unanswerable question.” I decided to adapt the prompt to the viewpoint of a character from this film.)

He made me laugh until the day
He made me cry and went away.
Though where he’s gone I cannot say,
I like to think he rues that day.

My sister worked me to the bone
When she was young and trouble-prone,
But now that she is nearly grown,
I hate to think of her alone.

I still recall the song he played,
And when my sister can be swayed,
She plays and makes me wish he’d stayed.
Why can’t I let the memories fade?
_______________________________

MPA rating:  Not Rated (a tame PG-13)

While modern anime films are dominated by Mamoru Hosoda and Makoto Shinkai (plus the plethora of films based on existing properties), there are some underrated original gems that don’t get as much attention as they should. Her Blue Sky is yet another example of the poignancy so easily captured by writer Mari Okada, known for emotion-heavy tearjerkers like The Anthem of the Heart and Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms. This one doesn’t really aim for tears as those do, but it certainly appeals to one’s sense of nostalgia and the regret that comes with looking back at how much we change over the years.

Set in the mountainous Chichibu area (where Okada was born herself), the film focuses on a young bassist named Aoi and her older sister Akane, who has cared for Aoi alone for the last thirteen years, choosing this responsibility over running off to Tokyo with her musician boyfriend Shinno. As a music festival approaches, Aoi remembers her fondness for Shinno and is shocked when he appears in her shed, looking exactly as he did thirteen years ago. While she suspects he is a ghost, the arrival of a grown, still-living Shinno back to town catches them off-guard, and the difference between his optimistic younger self and jaded older self puts both sisters through the emotional ringer.

While some may be disappointed at the lack of explanation for the supernatural elements, especially during a climactic sequence that is both delightfully touching and a little silly-looking, Shinno’s younger self is supposedly an ikiryō, a Japanese spirit that can manifest from a living person, a bit of interesting folklore I didn’t know, much like the 1970s song “Gondhara,” which features prominently in the film. The animation is a treat, with particular detail afforded to the instrument-playing, which is so often obscured to avoid the effort of animating authentic performances, and I’ve always enjoyed the character designs of this creative team, who previously worked on shows like Toradora.

While Aoi’s moody teenager shell may seem pretentious at first, her relationship with her sister is strained but quite sweet, as are the interactions with Shinno as she questions her feelings toward her sister’s ex. Thankfully, it all wraps up in a satisfying end, which is surprising since much of that end is only suggested in still images during the end credits. Her Blue Sky isn’t very easy to find and doesn’t even have an English dub yet, but it’s a small and tender drama of music and sisterhood that is worth seeking out.

Rank: List Runner-Up

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