The Joy and Pain of Communication: The Anthem of the Heart Anime Review

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The Anthem of the Heart: Beautiful Word Beautiful World is a story about communication. Directed by Nagai Tatsuyuki (Toradora!, Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans) and  known in Japanese as Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda (“The Heart Wants to Cry Out”), The Anthem of the Heart is a powerful movie that strikes a delicate balance between powerful emotional drama and subtlety. It tugs at the heart strings without yanking them to the floor, and is a stronger film for it.

Naruse Jun is a child with a powerful imagination who loves to talk. However, a pivotal event in her life ends up transforming her from a cheerful young “chatterbox” to a quiet high schooler who finds it excruciatingly painful to utter even a few words. Unable to make friends and at odds with her mother, Jun gets assigned to a community outreach committee at her school despite her protests. However, the unlikely act of putting on a musical seems to be the key to helping not only Jun but her other classmates as well.

The Anthem of the Heart is filled with interesting characters whose small yet significant journeys reflect the complexities of communication. A seemingly boring “normal guy” named Sakagami Takumi, a responsible model student named Nitou Natsuki, and a fierce but injured star baseball player named Tazaki Daiki round out the core cast of characters. The unique challenges each of them face when it comes to speaking their minds fills the film with a pleasant and varied emotionally resonance, a kind of tapestry of different minds, feelings, and words. Though the story takes place in high school, I had no trouble connecting to the characters and their respective plights. I find that the challenges the characters face apply to audiences young and old.

The writer of The Anthem of the Heart, Okada Mari, has a reputation for creating very melodramatic stories that are seen variously as wildly unrealistic and hokey and as powerful expressions of emotional weight and power. The Anthem of the Heart is in many ways no exception. However, when it comes to achieving both a sense of subtlety in its characters’ stories and the near-cathartic nature of Okada’s emotionally-charged scenes, I believe that The Anthem of the Heart hits a near-perfect balance.

In particular, as the characters get to know each other over the course of the story, their growing bonds are shown to develop through their personal unique characteristics interacting with each other. The ways in which the characters speak to each other convey their individual strengths and flaws, and the gradual overcoming of these issues comes across not as contrived but as natural (though not necessarily predictable) developments. Jun’s inability to speak might come across as a vague “anime disease,” but it’s clearly implied to be psychosomatic, and given the circumstances behind why it happens, it’s not unreasonable even if it’s all in Jun’s head.

When the story finally reaches its climax and we get the signature Okada Mari “characters open up and express everything that’s on their minds” scenes, they build off of and encapsulate the themes of The Anthem of the Heart. Rather than coming “out of nowhere,” the seemingly melodramatic exposition of the characters’ feelings makes perfect sense within the context of its story. There’s a particular moment at the end of the film with Jun’s mother that had me on the verge of tears, but it was not about me feeling for the characters. Rather, what hit me so hard was seeing and empathizing with her realization in that instant.

Anthem of the Heart actually has me wondering if the importance of communication is one of the recurring ideas of Okada’s writing. When I think about it, this message can be seen in works including Ano Hana, Aquarion EVOL, Wixoss, and even M3: The Dark Metal. Those scenes when characters just talk about their feelings that are criticized for being unrealistic might just be purposefully so, not because Okada only knows how to bludgeon the viewers with her ideas but because the unabashed expression of how one truly feels might just be what her vision of a better world looks like. Gradually peel away the fears and the awkwardness, and learn to connect without ambiguity or ego. Would it be going too far to say that there’s an interesting idealism to be found here?

If you have the opportunity to watch The Anthem of the Heart, I recommend going out of your way to check it out. That said, don’t be crazy like me: my friends and I braved the worst blizzard in the past 10 years just to get our anime movie. I’m glad the movie turned out to be good because we would have been quite angry otherwise!

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