Review by Sean Boelman
Many of the Japanese animated movies that receive the world spotlight are the big and flashy ones that appeal to the mainstream anime fanbase. However, there are some wonderful independent animated films like Kenji Iwaisawa’s On-Gaku: Our Sound that are absolutely charming and deserve attention too.
The movie follows a trio of delinquent school kids who decide to form a band to impress their friend despite not having the experience or money to do so properly. Based on a manga by Hiroyuki Ohashi, the film has a really simple story, and Iwaisawa doesn’t stretch it out beyond the seventy minutes it needs to get the job done.
Admittedly, this brevity does come at the expense of some of the subplots being rather straightforward. The main band storyline works quite well, but the romantic subplot and the rival gang subplot end up feeling more like ways to introduce additional conflict rather than a developed storyline in and of itself.
The themes of the movie are also quite direct. It’s clear that the message here is that anyone can redeem themselves if they set their mind to it and commit to becoming a better person. And while there have been plenty of love letters to forming a band in high school, it’s a story that a lot of people can relate to, and it’s mostly moving as a result.
One of the things that is missing from the film is more of an investment in the friendship between the three main guys. In a buddy movie, the dynamic between the characters is very important, and here, it’s really conventional. And for a movie about people challenging expectations, that’s a bit disappointing.
The first half of the film doesn’t feature a whole lot of music, and that can be a bit frustrating, but there are a few good musical gags sprinkled throughout culminating in a finale that is really fun. Even though there definitely could have spared to be a few more songs, the ones that are there are mostly memorable.
Iwaisawa’s animation style is also quite good. The character design, for the most part, is pretty basic, but it is the intense level of detail that he put into the backgrounds that is impressive. There are some really gorgeous frames, and even some sequences that temporarily change up the style to interesting effect.
On-Gaku: Our Sound is a quaint but enjoyable Japanese animated comedy. It’s a lot quieter and more restrained than one expects of the medium, but it’s also refreshing to see such an intimate story told in a unique and artistic way.
On-Gaku: Our Sound opens in theaters on December 11.