Laughing Under the Clouds: Gaiden Part 1 and 2 are sequel movies to the Laughing Under the Clouds anime. The anime aired Fall 2014, and having been a fan of the anime series—so much so that I actually ended up reading the manga too —I jumped at the opportunity to watch the movies, thanks to Eleven Arts.
Laughing under the Clouds is a story about the Kumo brothers whose family had historically protected their hometown from criminals as well as supernatural creatures. Tenka, the eldest son, assumes the caretaker role for his two younger brothers after their parents are tragically murdered by an unknown assailant. Having reached the end of the Meiji era, Japan’s safety had been considerably compromised as people of the olden ways (samurais and ninjas) continued to cause trouble in the public eye. Tenka must do everything he can to keep his family safe and happy all the while confronting a bigger problem – the upcoming reincarnation of Orochi, a mythical snake monster.
The first movie of Gaiden starts off exactly where the anime ended. The surviving characters had moved onto new lives, with some unsure of where they want to go. As Tenka struggles with finding a purpose now that his mission in life had been fulfilled, his old friends come to visit and finally reveal to his younger brothers what Tenka was like in his younger days, which neither brother has many memories of. It is a sequel and a prequel, showing viewers what happened at the end of the anime series and giving background on what had taken place before the series as well.
One thing I remembered when watching the anime series was that the plot was very streamlined. It moves forward without pause, so there isn’t really any divulging of secret information from the past. We take the characters as they have been presented to us, and we don’t really have time to question how or why they became a certain way.
I found Tenka to be a pretty simple character. He’s goofy, he’s relaxed, he’s very powerful, and he’s responsible despite all his jokes. He’s not an unusual protagonist to find in stories, and though he is very likable, there is a lack of depth that comes with his predictability as a character (despite his actions often being unpredictable to the chagrin of his friends and brothers). Laughing Under the Clouds: Gaiden Part 1 finally adds that shade of complexion to his character. Tenka is no longer simply a protagonist; he’s someone who’s very human.
Throughout the film, though the moments where he does show his vulnerability are small and slight, we see him struggle to keep up that smile and laughter, something that he once so effortlessly kept up in the anime. It’s more than just a temporary emotional stage. Tenka is actually lost in life. Having completed what he had promised to do in what he saw as mediocre, the once always-laughing brother suddenly finds his entire emotional state crashing down on him without the stress of saving the future. Much to his displeasure, it was almost as if he had to put his mourning and pain on hold in the series, and only in the movie was able to let his emotions run wild and uncontrolled.
Through the revelation of his past, we are introduced to conflicts through Tenka’s point of view without the filters of being stable and strong. The backstory also explores how Yamainu was created, the Kumo brothers’ deceased parents, and the overall relationship Tenka had with the Yamainu members.
I did think the backstory was a bit longer than necessary. There were funny moments like the Yamainu members in training and their dynamics as teenagers, but it did not really change from how the adult characters interacted. Instead, the real gem of the backstory is near the end where Tenka’s parents had been brutally murdered. You watch him essentially break down from his choice of becoming a responsible older brother instead of a dutiful Yamainu member as he had been trained to become.
The movie could not have ended more beautifully, and Yuuichi Nakamura can act his chops off. Tenka’s abrupt switches between dark and heavy with lightheartedness and jokes feel effortless and smooth. And when the emotions begin to run high, you would’ve never guessed that Tenka was someone who drove people nuts with pranks as a man who held so much pain and insecurity inside. However, this is still a story about the bond and love between three brothers. When Soramaru, the second son, picked Tenka up to run home, bringing laughter back into the jokester brother, I could not have smiled any wider.
Exclusive sneak peak courtesy of ELEVEN ARTS
Throughout the anime series, Shirasu proved to be the most complex and interesting of the characters. So I was more than just a bit pleased to see the second movie dive right into Shirasu’s complicated past and the questionable ways of the Fuma Clan. If only one character was given a backstory to reveal, Shirasu would’ve been the obvious choice.
Part 2 successfully draws out emotions from the start of the movie till the very end. The first few seconds immediately throws the audience into fear and action as we see two black-haired boys running for their lives. One is, unquestionably, Shirasu, famous for his silver-haired look in the anime series due to Takahiro Sakurai’s distinct voice. However, because Shirasu himself is such a mysterious character throughout the entire storyline, it is hard to discuss the movie without spoilers. All I will say is that the exploration of his relationships with his loving parents, his brother, and his entire clan was painful to watch, especially after knowing how his future turned out to be.
I also found the entire concept of how the Fuma Clan operated to be fascinating. Yes, the movie does give an actual explanation as to why the ninjas all have silver hair as they are clearly not born with it. The methodology behind this transformation is cruel and morally questionable, but it fits into the mythology of how the ninjas operate as a clan and as assassins. It answers a lot of questions people had about Shirasu, and it adds even more complexity to his character as he continues forward into the future. One can only hope he finds happiness not only with his people, but with the Kumo brothers once more, who still love him with all their hearts.
Exclusive sneak peak courtesy of ELEVEN ARTS
The movies are impressively well-made. The animation is gorgeous, especially in Part 2 where more action sequences are provided. The soundtrack was something I especially loved, and the insert songs fit the mood and the story extraordinarily well. The voice acting has always been good, but once again, I must really praise Yuuichi Nakamura’s performance as Tenka in Part 1. He wasn’t just acting as Tenka. His voice is Tenka, and that’s something that is very powerful and important to bring a character to life.
I personally found Part 2 to be more riveting because of the character they chose to focus on. At no point in time had I ever felt the movie drag on longer than I’d like, and I was sitting on the edge of my seat, dying to find out what would come next despite knowing the events that would occur in the future. In comparison to Part 1, the pacing was a lot faster and more satisfying to watch from beginning to end.
The only thing I would like to note is that the anime movies do not waste any time. Unlike other anime movies that like to spend a good chunk of the beginning recapping what happened in the anime series, both movies provide only a brief but very artistic beginning character introduction sequence that has no dialogue whatsoever. As a result, it is almost a requirement to have watched the anime series in order to understand these movies as you will likely find yourself more than just a bit confused if you’re going in blind.
Laughing Under the Clouds: Gaiden Part 1 and 2 will start hitting theaters in the US on August 24th. Check out Eleven Arts’ website to see which theater near you is showing.