Ride Your Wave hits the Australian market in time for our usual toasty summer, with Masaaki Yuasa promising an interesting spin on a modern anime rom com.
Hinako Mukaimizu has moved to a new town by the ocean in an attempt to juggle her love of surfing while studying at university. One night her apartment complex catches fire after some nearby fireworks go astray which sees her rescued by young fireman (and all around perfect bishounen) Minato Hinageshi. The two hit it off after a bit of an awkward start (captured lovingly by the film) before things take a nasty turn which leaves Hinako devastated.
Ride Your Wave’s narrative ultimately creates a clear cut in the film with the second half floating between navigating grief and introducing a refreshing sense of fantastical storytelling. It very much demonstrates the real strength of anime and how it can take the real world and graft on an otherwise believable unreality. While the trailers telegraph the shift in the story, out of respect to those interested I’ll avoid the temptation of going into too much depth on what happens because the journey makes for great viewing.
A better choice is to speak more at length on how Yuasa takes the rom com on a refreshing journey in anime land.
What I love about the story is the overwhelming shoujo/josei vibe to the whole thing. The beachside setting in many other contexts is an excuse to load in fan service and follow the desire of the male gaze. Yuasa and his team do a spectacular job of seeming to avoid these pitfalls – Hinako’s frequent trips to the waves avoid the clichéd wardrobe malfunctions, nosebleeds and submissive poses. Instead she owns the waves with believable confidence and indifference to the world around her. She lives independently, juggles working part-time alongside everything else you do when you’re 19 and remains steadfast in her focus.
Minato’s a genuine, sweet guy whose interest in self-improvement fails to fall afoul of a Gatsby-like mental state of pursuing success for the wrong reasons. He becomes interested in surfing as a way of connecting with Hinako and their love of the waves and being out on the water becomes a foundational bedrock for a relationship based on mutual love and respect. While the progression of their romance comes off a little rushed at times, Yuasa absolutely nails the quiet moments that allow a few things I’d love to see in more anime – a genuine relationship between two characters who don’t rely too hard on romantic comedy tropes, and a relationship between young adults that hint at a more grown up romance beyond the high school bubble.
The second half of Ride Your Wave is an interesting study of grief and fantasy. As an audience we’re frequently put in a position to question whether what’s happening is part of a psychologically fragmented world view as Hinako tries to cope with her feelings of grief or if it’s a manifest reality. Supporting and tertiary characters frequently jump in at precise moments to undercut our read of the situation which help to almost create a sense of self-awareness around some of the things Hinako gets up to. The play between humour and drama is a really clever juxtaposition that really adds to the experience.
The animation production is also stunning. This is my first time with Yuasa’s work at Science Saru and I’m very impressed. The clean, delicate linework for the characters smack of shoujo (or maybe more accurately josei?) styling with long limbs, highly articulated hair and wonderfully detailed facial animation. The colour palette is robust and gorgeous, and those sweeping scenes of Hinako exploring her township feels familial and organic. If you’ve ever been to Japan and gotten out of the city centres you’ll recognise that surreal feeling, and while I’ve never made it to the coastal towns there was something about the world view in Ride Your Wave that took me back to those amazing (if short lived!) moments of idleness last time I visited.
The proverbial food porn is pretty impressive as well. Methinks I need to eat omurice next time I’m in Japan, it’s animated absolutely beautifully in this film, so much so that I think Kichi Kichi Omurice would be pretty impressed!
The Blu-Ray release for Ride Your Wave is also excellent. The encoding is rock solid, it’s bilingual and for the extras we get a great, candid interview with with the film’s producer Eunyoung Choi (who is also the CEO of the studio having co-founded it with Yuasa) let down by burnt-in subtitles (her English is excellent so it comes off as unnecessary). There’s also theatrical trailers, stills gallery and some animated storyboards. It makes for a very tidy package.
Ride Your Wave’s local release on Blu-Ray is very easy to recommend – the josei influence on the rom com storyline adds a touch of maturity to a beautifully animated film that happily injects supernatural fantasy into the daily grind.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.