WARNING: there might be minor spoilers!
Being an avid fan of Midorikawa Yuki’s other work, Natsume Yuujinchou, I decided to watch this piece of work after scouring through some spoiler-free reviews online and now I’m here to give my own review. This film was considered to be the author’s stepping stone to her most popular work to date (Natsume!), and true enough, while watching this short film, it gave me the same bittersweet feeling, which is definitely not unwelcome and not surprising as most of the staff such as the director, composer and studio are the same.
When I first heard that this story consisted of romance, I grew a little skeptical as the romance genre has become pretty cliché throughout the years of animation and it became really boring to watch the same things happening over and over again for different shoujo mangas or animes. Let it be known that Hotarubi no Mori e has proved me wrong.
This story centers around a little girl called Hotaru, who got lost in an enchanted forest where spirits reside. A young boy, Gin appeared before her and helped but she cannot touch him in fear of making him disappear. Every summer without fail, she’d visit Gin during her holidays. As the years pass, Hotaru slowly grows into a young lady but Gin remained the same due to the fact that he’s a spirit. So, how would things progress between them?
For such a short 45-minute film, this story definitely packs a punch in terms of emotions. It is a simple, beautiful story which features a slow buildup of their love. It’s a sort of forbidden love, whereby one can’t touch the other. If that happens, Gin will disappear… forever. The plot itself is straightforward, focusing on the relationship between the two main characters. We are given brief exposures of the characters’ daily lives, giving hints of how short the time they spent together every summer is.
The development of their relationship was to be expected, but it wasn’t a turnoff as it was lovely seeing how they went from acquaintances to good friends and in the end, lovers.
The inevitable ending might definitely be a shock to some but it wasn’t for me as I could sense the imminent tragedy lurking behind, the calm before the storm. It made my heart ache as even Hotaru realized that what they had between the both of them could end anytime soon without warning. I was trying my very best to prepare my heart but I still cried my eyes out as it was just too sad but extremely beautiful. Gin’s smile made me so happy but made my heart break at the same time.
The ending was a little abrupt and it made me long for more. 45 minutes just wasn’t enough. I’d like it if they had showed a tiny glimpse of Hotaru’s future without Gin by her side.
Frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed this show as a whole albeit its simplicity. However, if you are searching for an anime with awesome plot with a whole ton of action, this will not be the show for you. You may get disappointed.
On the other hand, if you are someone like me, who watches animes for the experience such as the emotions I feel, then this would be perfect for you as you would be able to appreciate Hotarubi no Mori e for the masterpiece it is.
Art and Animation
In my opinion, the art of Hotarubi was done really well, gentle and simple. If you have read the manga, there are some slight differences, whereby the anime’s art has more clarity and definitely more detailed.
Animation wise, it is rich in details or expressions in terms of the characters, vibrant colours and impressively fluid movements. Character and environment designs were simple yet beautiful, not overly static. You could obviously see the amount of effort put in by Brain’s Base studio to create this short film. The mellow and soft appearance suited the story well, with the studio adding bursts of colours at certain moments, which adds to the beauty of the animation.
TLDR; awesome art and animation.
Sound and Music
The voice actors and actresses did a perfectly fine job. Nothing too impressive but, okay. The music, on the other hand, was brilliant. Due to the length of film, it is obvious that there would not be a huge number of songs but the quality is just superb. The soundtrack fit the setting and enhanced the atmosphere of the show really well.
As the setting was done in a forest, I like how they added some natural sounds such as the chirping of birds and insects, and played it alongside with the music, perfectly harmonized and balanced.
The entire soundtrack gives such a sense of calm and peace that it’s great to listen to them after a long, stressful day. The art and the music worked really well and without both as it is, this show would probably not be as good.
Characterization and Powers
I was actually wondering (and half hoping) that Gin would have some kind of powers as he was a spirit, but sadly he does not have any. Expected it though as most of Midorikawa’s youkai characters do not have any powers except for some with the ability to curse others. In terms of characterization, both of them have their own unique personalities.
As the show begins from when Hotaru was a little girl until she becomes a young lady, it is interesting to see her personality grow and develop. As a young girl, she is naïve and inquisitive. Wanting to do the opposite when told not to do something, I found her to be endearing instead of annoying. It was really nice to see her grow up to be a mature young woman and pretty amazing that her characterization was so consistent even though there were huge age differences.
As for Gin, his presence brings a touch of realism and sadness. He was introduced to us as a mystery, making us puzzled of the reason why he can’t be touched. It is nice to see how he slowly opens up to the viewers throughout the show by occasionally giving us a glimpse of his unmasked face, and his snarky personality. They both change as time goes by after meeting each other and that change was refreshing.
Gin and Hotaru were portrayed as mature adults who have accepted the fact that their relationship had changed and evolved into something deeper and more meaningful. Hotaru’s development was really and truly shown at the ending. It is really not difficult to love them both. Both characters were really well thought of and played their roles perfectly.
Watch Hotarubi no Mori e! You will definitely not regret it. However, you will cry buckets so prepare lots of tissues! This bittersweet vignette filled with nostalgia was a thoroughly enjoyable watch. Short and simple but lacking nothing.
If you’ve ever experienced some sort of forbidden love or an unachieved first love, you would probably be able to relate well to this story. Even if you have not, this show will fill you with inexplicable emotions and leave you longing for more (which happened to me).
This film teaches us that love does not need to be physical. Love is more than that and it is up to both parties as to how they appreciate it and what they do with it.
Even though Gin and Hotaru were not able to touch each other, they made up for that fact by trying their very best to cherish their short-lived moments together and to maintain the relationship they’ve created and developed through summers of spending time together. This slice of life story is definitely a masterpiece that should be treasured.
So, won’t you join us in the forest of fireflies’ light?