Lessons in Boy Adolescence: Goodbye, Don Glees!

I believe that the appeal of anime and manga stems partly from its willingness to tackle a variety of genres and subjects, and “I can’t believe they made an anime out of this!” is an old and common refrain. But just because anime creators are willing to go places doesn’t mean every type of story gets the limelight, even if such stories might be more prominent outside of this particular sphere. Case in point is the animated film Goodbye, Don Glees!, which can best be described as a coming-of-age teen story more akin to the 1986 movie Stand by Me than the kind typically seen in and around anime.

Goodbye, Don Glees! focuses on the lives of three teenage boys in a rural Japanese town who call themselves the Don Glees (the meaning of which is explained late into the film). Roma and Toto have been friends since they were little, bonding over being rejected by their classmates. Shizuku, nicknamed Drop, is a more recent addition, having befriended Roma while Toto was off in Tokyo for middle school. Toto is back home for the summer, and Roma is eager to continue their tradition of having their own fireworks party because the other kids don’t want them around to see the big one everyone else goes to. But when a series of mishaps occur, the Don Glees are wrongfully blamed for a forest fire, leading the trio to take a long journey to retrieve evidence that could prove their innocence.

I don’t know how I would have viewed this movie as a teen, but as an adult, it definitely inspires memories of that time. While I never ventured through forest to find a downed drone only to get chased by a bear and find myself lost, what Goodbye, Don Glees! captures is the way everything feels so eternally consequential as a teenager, as well as the sense of how oxymoronically important and silly it all is. The way each of the three guys have their own perspectives and hang-ups at that pivotal moment in their youth leads to butting of heads, airing of closely guarded feelings, and a closer look at how fleeting life can be.

The director and screenwriter is Ishizuka Atsuko, who is also behind the utterly fantastic and near-flawless A Place Further than the Universe. The two works definitely have their similarities, but come across at two distinct works with their own pacing and priorities. Goodbye, Don Glees! doesn’t quite have the emotional wallop of Ishizuka’s older title nor the wondrous nature of its detailed voyage to and across Antarctica, but it tells a memorable story nevertheless. At times, it can get a bit too cheesy, especially when the music hits and it’s a sappy tune (in English!) that feels like it time-traveled from another period.

Goodbye, Don Glees! provides an experience rarely seen in anime, but rather than trying to imitate contemporary live-action film, it feels like a flesh-and-blood work from a bygone era. It successfully captures the topsy-turvy nature of being a small-town teenager, but it’s also not so generic as to blend in with the rest. This might be the one to show your anime-skeptic friends, but that accessibility isn’t where it derives its strength.

One thought on “Lessons in Boy Adolescence: Goodbye, Don Glees!

  1. Pingback: Spy Season, Chainsaw Season: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for October 2022 | OGIUE MANIAX

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