'Her Blue Sky' Review: A Thought-Provoking Fantasy Anime About Regret [Sitges 2019]

If you could meet face-to-face with your past self, what would they say? Would they be proud or disappointed? Would you try to fix your past mistakes or accept that they made you who you are? Those are questions at the center of Her Blue Sky, an anime coming-of-age tale of experiencing love for the second time, losing sight of what you once dreamed of and moving on.The Chouheiwa Busters trio – director Tatsuyuki Nagai, screenwriter Mari Okada and character designer Masayoshi Tanaka – have made careers out of telling magical realists young dramas set in Nagai's hometown of Chichibu. Their newest collaboration isn't different, as Her Blue Sky starts with a high-school student named Aoi sitting by a lake, plugging in her earphones to practice her bass. All sound is downed instantly, and we focus on the music and the stunning rotoscope animation that shows Aoi playing the bass with meticulous detail.Then Aoi meets with her older sister Akane, who is driving her home, and the film jumps back in time 13 years to show how we ended up here. We meet younger Aio as she as she marvels at the sounds of Akane's (who is a high-school senior back then) then-boyfriend, Shinnosuke, and his band. He wants to go to Tokyo to pursue music, and wants Akane to join, but when Akane and Aio's parents die in a tragic accident, Akane decides to stay behind to take care of her sister.For the Chouheiwa Busters trio, regret and second chances are at the core of the story. When we flash back to the present, Aoi is now an aspiring musician feeling indebted to her sister, is determined to leave for Tokyo like Shinnosuke – who, after 13 years away just so happens to return to Chichibu to perform at a music festival. Except this isn't the same bright and hopeful Shinnosuke Aoi remembers, but a backup guitarist for a traveling band who has turned into a sullen jerk instead of the rock star he'd imagined. One day, while practicing bass, Aoi suddenly comes face-to-face with Shinno – who is actually Shinnosuke from 13 years ago, a spirit that transcends time and was born from the traumatic moment he and Akane broke up. Shinno still has feelings for Akane and is determined to do anything to get his 31-year-old self back together with the love of his life. The problem is that Aoi is now falling for this otherworldly, high-school version of Shinnosuke.Her Blue Sky manages to perfectly balance its serious themes of regret with a comedic and playful riff on Back to the Future, except with George McFly helping George McFly getting together with Lorraine. Watching younger Shinno marvel at the sight of smartphones and commenting on the appearance of his now-older friends makes for an entertaining side-story, while his deep disappointment in how big of a jerk he turned out is heartbreaking. If you ever wondered what your younger self would think if they saw you now, Her Blue Sky is the film for you. The voice cast is spectacular, especially Ryo Yoshizawa who perfectly embodies both the happy-go-lucky young Shinno and the burnt-out, cynical, older Shinnosuke. Through Shinno/Shinnosuke, the film explores the hard reality that the grand dreams we have when we are teenagers will probably not manifest themselves exactly as we imagine them once we grow up. At the same time, the film has a hopeful tone that relies on the idea that there can be second chances if you just reach out.Her Blue Sky follows a recent trend of mixing the contemporary with the traditional, infusing the story with a magical realism that's based on Japanese spiritual beliefs while confronting them with contemporary values. But the film diverges from other romantic dramas by focusing on the familiar relationships over the romantic ones. We constantly see characters – as well-meaning as they are – asking Akane when she'll settle down (remember, she's 31, apparently elderly in anime terms), pushing the idea that she couldn't possibly be happy as a single woman and surrogate mother. Likewise, Aoi feels guilty for being a burden to her sister, which ends up being expressed through resentment – she's a teenager, after all.  Her Blue Sky then starts developing Akane more and more, making her a refreshing and unique character in anime with an arc and a message that will feel familiar to adult women or anyone who doesn't follow traditional roles by their own will and is happy that way.Her Blue Sky blends magical realism and teenage angst in a story that is a thought-provoking exploration of regret that feels as unique and entertaining as any anime film this year. You will laugh, you will cry, and hopefully you will look at your 13-year-old self and smile, knowing they will be ok growing up into who you are now./Film Rating: 9 out of 10