Liz and the Blue Bird, an anime film directed by Naoko Yamada (director of A Silent Voice), is a side story to Sound! Euphonium, focusing on supporting characters Mizore and Nozomi, second-year students. Where Mizore is quiet and withdrawn, Nozomi is energetic and friendly. However, despite being opposites, the two girls have been best friends for the most of their lives and are involved heavily in their school band as the oboist and flautist respectively. As their last high school year starts to wind down and a competition for their school band is around the corner where both girls have a crucial duet to perform, Mizore and Nozomi must face the changing future as well as the uncertainty regarding their relationship.
A quick personal note: I have actually never seen Sound! Euphonium, the anime series. However, with that in mind, I was still able to follow the story without a problem, so I don’t think anyone should feel discouraged from watching the movie just because they haven’t watched the anime series. Liz and the Blue Bird works on its own and is just as enjoyable separately. With that in mind, onwards to my thoughts on the movie!
Good god, the music. It was so good, I had to dedicate a special section to it in this review. It shouldn’t come off as surprising for a movie that centers on two musicians, but the music that accompanies the movie goes above and beyond any soundtrack I have ever heard. Other than the duet between Mizore’s oboe and Nozomi’s flute, the intricate small details like people’s footsteps, the bubbling in the fish tank, and the random sounds inside the music room, which was taken from a real high school, all added to the atmosphere of a real school setting and made the story more relatable.
The piano in the background soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous and inserts something melancholic yet magical into an otherwise realistic story about teenagers facing a future that they cannot see. However, the true masterpiece lies in the duet of the oboe and the flute. It’s constant back and forth communication between the two instruments breathes even greater life into Mizore and Nozomi’s relationship. In a way, as communication has become stilted between the two best friends, it is through the duet the two play where they truly talk to each other and grow to be more mature people. If there is nothing else to be said about Liz and the Blue Bird, the music must be mentioned. It is absolute, utter perfection, and it extends imagination far beyond anyone can dream.
And when the credits rolled, I stayed put in my seat. Because even though there was no animation accompaniment or end credit scene, the music was so beautiful and ethereal that I felt compelled to stay and listen to the entire thing. The music and the soundtrack really were exceptional, and I praise Kensuke Ushio’s genius hand in this matter who I think have outdone his already brilliant work in A Silent Voice.
It has become a giant cliché at this point to say that Kyoto Animation has delivered yet another beautifully animated story, so, once again, it is detailed, seamless, and perfect. However, Kyoto Animation takes it an even step further by providing two different art styles. Within the story of Mizore and Nozomie is the story of Liz and the Blue Bird, a fairytale that their duet is based on. When the movie goes into narration of the fairytale, the art becomes even more hand drawn with strokes of color that seems to have leapt right from a literal picture book. If anyone loves to just watch good animated movies, regardless of the plot or characters, then you need to watch Liz and the Blue Bird as soon as possible.
I especially loved the theme of the story. Coming-of-age and standing at the cusp of maturity can either be handled extremely well or extremely poorly. Luckily, this movie is of the former. I empathize and felt the struggles of Mizore and Nozomi who had spent a good chunk of their lives together as best friends as they struggle in the movie with the idea of facing a future in which they might be apart. I think anyone who has graduated from high school could relate to that feeling of deep sorrow that comes with graduation, especially the idea that once you leave, there is a possibility that you might never see the friends around you again.
Mizore and Nozomi’s confused feelings are reflected directly through their playing during band practice. They are synchronized and considerate of each other, illustrated by their soft-playing during their practices, yet, that does not automatically make them a perfect musical duo as the music is stifled. It isn’t until they both develop and grow, where they learn to not tiptoe around each other’s insecurities, that finally allows the music to truly bloom, paving a road to success for their entire school band.
What makes this film particularly artistic is how interwoven the music, main story, and the fairy tale are with each other. In perfect juxtaposition, the telling of the fairytale, a lonely girl named Liz and her blue bird friend, and Mizore and Nozomi’s relationship flow throughout the movie like music notes floating through the air. Even more genius was that the movie purposefully encourages viewers to associate one character with the lonely girl and the other character with the blue bird. But as the movie continues to unfold before your eyes, the simple children’s story suddenly becomes very complicated as the characters begin to understand more of their own flaws and insecurities, causing the audience to second-guess themselves throughout the whole movie who really personified the lonely Liz and who really was the freedom-seeking blue bird.
However, this movie isn’t without flaws. The middle of the movie starts to drag as we explore Mizore’s interactions with other characters who are cameo appearances from the anime series itself and do not contribute too much to the actual story. Even if those scenes were cut completely, the story still would not have been affected in the end.
I also wished we could’ve seen more of Mizore and Nozomi’s past relationship. Even though the movie does supply the audience with beautifully drawn flashbacks, there were areas where I had to fill in the blanks myself yet was a little unsure of whether I had made the right assumptions until the very end. I think if the movie had just spared a little more time to explore their backstories and their deep friendship would help the audience empathize with the characters and their complicated friendship even more.
I think Liz and the Blue Bird is a movie that is worth investing your time in. It might be imperfect with its slow-paced storytelling, but it is this type of imperfection that nails the humility and realism of a teenager’s changing life. Its emotions are raw, its theme is impactful, and through the illustration of three separate stories that end up interweaving themselves, it paints a complete picture that ends on an extraordinarily satisfying note. I do want to say, however, that if you’re looking for intense action sequences, this is definitely not the movie to search up. This is about time and life, moving forward and never looking back.
If nothing else, just check it out for the sake of the music and the animation.
Liz and the Blue Bird will be hitting US Theaters on November 9th of this year. Check out Eleven Arts’ website for more details about the movie and showings!