The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Hotarubi no Mori e

Title: Hotarubi no Mori e
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: Brains Base
Format: Movie; 44 minutes
Dates: 17 Sep 2011

Synopsis: When Hotaru was a young girl, she got lost in a forest where the yokai — spirits — reside. Eventually helped by a mysterious young boy named Gin, she is informed that she cannot touch him, because he will disappear when touched by a human. After forming a friendship that summer, Hotaru returns each year.

The Highlights
Peaceful: A true healing anime; it manages to put the viewer at ease.
Time Well Spent: Only about forty minutes, but an awful lot is accomplished in this small time frame.
Execution: Subdued and understated, but still powerful.
Characters: Easy to empathize with; very natural and pure.

Beautiful and tender, Hotarubi no Mori e is the very embodiment of tranquility. The watercolor backdrop, the light toned colors, and soft piano background music immerse the viewer in a placid world. With the passing seasons throughout the movie, from slumbering winters to shimmering summers, a sense of timelessness pervades the experience. Always close to nature, taking place mostly in a forest, there is a deep calmness and release from worldly woes that is cathartic. Truly, Hotarubi no Mori e does what iyashikei anime do best: it provides an escapist basis for the viewer to enter a comforting state of mind.

There are obvious connections to be made in this movie to the anime series Natsume Yūjinchou. Considering the same mangaka, Midorikawa Yuki, created both, and the same director, Omori Takahiro, worked on both, and that we even have the same studio, Brains Base, for both, this really is no surprise. But even if both are extremely similar in nature, Hotarubi no Mori e fully benefits by being presented as its own story. The beauty of it stems from its simplicity. It managed to connect with me precisely because it has no distractions in its world. There are no set expectations or desires and it allows the story to unfold unfiltered.

At the forefront of this is the relationship between the two main characters, Gin and Hotaru, which I found to be both delightful and endearing. Although their interactions are underlined with a bittersweet melancholy, you never feel manipulated by the emotional swings. It’s striking to me how natural and pure their interplay is. You never get a sense that there is a need for pretense or that anything is forced.  And amazingly enough, even with the short amount of time, their relation is not static. We see it transform steadily from a passing interest to a deep friendship, and eventually to a budding romance.

One of the most attractive features of this short film is its excellent execution. By keeping things subdued and understated, it hits the right marks at the right times without ever feeling hammy.  So even though there is always so much left unsaid between Gin and Hotaru, it does not matter, because a deep smile or a natural laugh speaks more than whole scenes of dialogue can ever express. The movie makes excellent use of pathos and succeeds at being an emotionally powerful piece with an ending far more moving than you could ever expect.

Hotarubi no Mori e is a first class example of an anime that makes optimal use of its time. What it accomplishes in 44 minutes, few anime television series ever accomplish in entire seasons. It makes you care about its characters and draws natural empathy from its audience. Even though it is a quick watch, a lot of passion and emotion is communicated in this work of art. It is short, sweet, and to the point, and for that it deserves many accolades.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Reckoner

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