Saturday, April 4, 2020

How One Line Made Me Fall Out of Love with Dimitri (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)

This post will contain spoilers for

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

You have been warned.

One single line completely shook my choice of love interest in Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, it wasn’t like that was the only small thing that made a big decision for me. Like how the deciding factor on which plot thread to follow boiled down to which guy I thought had the nicer hair. Sorry, Claude (Yes, a controversial decision, I know. I tell you, I never even noticed Dimitri’s bangs were ready for a McDonald’s ad until long into my playthrough).

Pictured: Claude (left) and my husband of choice, Dimitri (right) / Nintendo 2019

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a turn-based strategy game, with combat that resembles a board game more often than it does a traditional RPG. Arguably, Three Houses is one of the most story-driven entries in the series recently: your character is roped into teaching at an officer’s academy for young nobles and gifted commoner students. Once you arrive at the school, you’re immediately thrust into choosing one of three branching paths in the form of the three school House leaders (think Hogwarts) vying for your approval. And the right for you to be their exclusive instructor.

This decision not only affects the overarching story but also what characters you’ll likely bond most with—and who you can romance. You can only romance someone within your house, and while you can eventually recruit virtually any character, the three House leaders will remain in their respective houses no matter what.

Meaning when I had to choose between the knight in shining armor Dimitri or the suave and charming Claude, I knew that I had to choose my prospective husband NOW. And since it was such a close race (and because I knew both of them about as well as any stranger off the street), it came down to whose hair I liked better.

But oh my gosh, I didn’t regret my choice. Because despite it initially being absolutely superficial, as I got to know Dimitri and his Blue Lion House, I knew Dimitri was the absolute Best Boy.

Dimitri / Nintendo 2019
Call me old-fashioned; call me crazy, but I’m a sucker for the handsome prince. The goody-goody. The Captain Americas. The Just Incredibly Nice Good Boys. Dimitri checked all those wholesome boxes. He was charming, gentle, compassionate, selfless: a leader who inspired his comrades to give it their all. My gosh, part of his storyline involved him patiently teaching a bunch of orphans!

But better yet, he wasn’t just a sugary sweet rainbow of pillow-candies. Dimitri had the added bonus of a mysterious, tragic past. A sweet and handsome prince with a backstory fraught with sorrow? I didn’t think it could get any better.

Well, admittedly, it took a while for things to get good. While Dimitri had a healthy sense of humor and a deep concern for the Lions (and myself, his professor), his affections for me never seemed to go beyond his care for anyone else in the Blue Lions House. We spent time together, but as comrades on the battlefield, not date-worthy material at candlelight dinners.

So it was with teenage-levels of trepidation and excitement that I awaited the White Heron Ball: the hotly-anticipated school dance. It was an important event, a chance to spend an evening with the man of my choice. But would Dimitri reciprocate my affections, or would I be cruelly rejected?

I watched Dimitri dance with Edelgard (Edelgard!), but no dance for me with the handsome prince. Claude offered to take me on the dance floor though, and suddenly I began to question whether I’d made the wrong choice all those moons ago.

I may not have gotten a dance, but my hopes weren’t crushed just yet. I still had one last chance at a tender moment with my potential true love. You see, there was a legend surrounding the White Heron Ball: that if a man and woman made their way to the top of the tower and made a wish, it would come true. You couldn’t get much more romantic than that, right?

I found Dimitri alone outside the ballroom; he felt stifled by the stuffy atmosphere and was looking to clear his head. And where did we decide to go?

The tower!

My heart hammered as Dimitri and I discussed our sincerest desires, what we would wish for if we could. I gave my generic answer (the dialogue options aren’t always fantastic in this game), and Dimitri found it charming. He chuckled.

“Perhaps it would make more sense for me to wish that we’ll be together forever,” he said in his buttery-smooth voice.


And then he broke into laugh. “I’ve been working on my jokes. Pretty good, eh, Professor?”

You nasty, heartless, cruel man! Delight turned to disappointment in an instant.

(I can hear you laughing at the anticlimactic end to this short article—until you realize you’re still scrolling down. You know this was not the line that made me fall out of love with this romantically-clueless dork of a prince…)

No, I knew Dimitri hadn’t meant to break my heart. Especially after hearing his response when I called him out on his cruel reply. Immediately he apologized, realizing he had genuinely hurt my feelings. He then turned the conversation onto better things, urging us both to make our wishes. Even if neither of us really believed in the legend, we may as well wish while we were here.

Needless to say, despite Dimitri’s attempts to console me, hope was quickly dying in my heart for this little romance. How foolish I’d been! After all, it wasn’t as if Dimitri’s heart was his own. He was the heir apparent, about to become king when he came of age at the end of this year. He didn’t get to choose who to marry, even if he had been interested in me.

Well… as I soon found out, ruling wasn’t exactly the main thing on Dimitri’s mind. Slowly but surely, I began to learn the true nature of Dimitri’s tale.

It began innocently enough—a few stray derogatory comments thrown Dimitri’s way by another Blue Lion, a young noble named Felix who had once been good friends with Dimitri. That is, until he saw “Dimitri’s true nature,” as he called it. “Less of a man and more of a monster. You’re nothing but a wild boar,” Felix spat.

Well this was uncouth and out of absolute nowhere, and it made me peg Felix for an ornery cynic. But Dimitri, intriguingly, didn’t dispute it. Maybe he just didn’t want to pick a fight with Felix; it seemed clear Felix harbored some deep bitterness against Dimitri.

I had no idea the insidiousness that dwelt deep within.

Bit by bit, I began to learn more about Dimitri and his occasionally-referenced tragic backstory. His parents and almost all their loyal retainers had been brutally murdered, an attack that had shaken his kingdom—and himself—to the very core. Dimitri had grown up largely alone: an only child bereft of friends and justice.

No one had ever determined who was behind the assassinations. It’d been pinned on a nation the kingdom had subdued in the recent past. But Dimitri had seen the attackers; none of them were of that particular nation. Someone had framed them. And Dimitri was determined to find out who.

In fact, Dimitri confided in me that this was his sole reason for attending the academy: to uncover his parents’ murderer and exact his revenge.

This seemed like a completely different Dimitri than the one I knew. But the conviction with which he spoke—the tormented way his voice growled like a monster as he spoke of destroying the one who had killed his family… It was clear this was no act. He had been suffering under a false smile for years, burdened by an unbearable loneliness and an even heavier guilt and shame. Dimitri suffered heavily from survivor’s guilt, feeling he was at fault… and that every day his parents’ killers walked the earth, he was letting them down even further.

He had to put them to rest. He had to kill the ones who had taken everything from him. But as he ranted and raved, claiming it was for justice, it was clear this was far less about justice and far more of him being drunk on the idea of revenge.

I finally understood what Felix had meant by the “wild boar.”

Or so I thought.

Edelgard / Nintendo 2019
Dimitri eventually did confront the killer—or at least, who he thought was the killer: Edelgard—his classmate, his childhood friend… and his step-sister. But not even fond memories could hold Dimitri back. Without hesitation, Dimitri attacked Edelgard. She managed to escape, but Dimitri swore he wouldn’t rest until she was dead.

He was a different person entirely, absolutely mad with bloodlust. The wild boar had come out at last.

His confrontation with Edelgard was the spark that began five years of flame and war. All the while, Dimitri cut down swaths of Edelgard’s troops down in wanton violence, hungry for her head. Try as he might, however, there was little he could do without an army at his back: Edelgard’s empire had marched across Dimitri’s kingdom, forced him off the throne, and threatened to take over the rest of the continent.

In addition to that, he lost me, his professor, after his initial dramatic confrontation with Edelgard. During the battle, I fell into a bottomless chasm, where I slept an enchanted sleep for five long years.

I woke to a world much-changed by the war, but nothing brought its tragedy and repercussions to light quite like finding Dimitri again.

The years had changed him, utterly broken him. I found him crouching in the shadows of the ruined academy, alone, beaten down, missing an eye, hair long and unkempt, dressed in furs instead of the well-groomed uniform I knew so well. He snarled and growled like a wounded beast, still thirsty for blood.

But there was also a glimmer as he looked up at me: a hint of the gentle Dimitri, the hurting prince I’d fallen in love with all those years ago, before he’d allowed revenge to take over his soul. It was in his eyes, in his voice as he asked, bewildered and almost afraid, what I was doing here. He thought I was another ghost from his past, and he grumbled, asking whether I was here to haunt him too.

But no. I was really here. I was here, and I was here to stay!

My heart melted. I wanted to reach out and cradle his head in my hands. “I’m so sorry for leaving you alone so long,” I wanted to whisper to him, to tell him everything would be all right now.

Because at last, I was here again. And I would set this right. I would bring his heart back from the brink. I had to. I knew that even though his loneliness and guilt had boiled into hatred and violence, deep down that gentleness and kindness I’d loved him for was still there—even if it, like me, had been asleep for these five long years.

I’d wake it up again. But I knew it’d take time. Like a pet that’d gone feral, Dimitri had wandered close to the brink of losing himself completely. He’d certainly forgotten how to be with people; his first response upon realizing I had really come back was to turn us onto a bandit outpost and drive the thugs out.

Not exactly my idea of a great way to start his redemption, but he insisted these bandits needed to be dealt with or else they’d hurt the nearby townsfolk. Surely those people had been through enough given the war. I couldn’t exactly say no to that.

During the raid, we reunited with some unexpected familiar faces, allies who arrived just in time to help us fight the bandits who badly outnumbered us: our Blue Lions, now five years older and wiser. I was thrilled to see everyone safe; Dimitri just growled and insisted we had to hunt down Edelgard, as if his friends were only stepping-stones for his revenge. Even after we’d settled into the ruins of the academy, Dimitri talked to no one, associated with no one—just stood there brooding in the ruins of the school cathedral, arms crossed. He’d barely say a word to me. He hardly paid attention to his former mentors, who also found us among the ruins.

I wanted to hold out hope. I wanted to keep believing maybe, just maybe, there was a way I could bring him back from the brink.

But every time his tongue would wag, it was to cut someone down. It was to reiterate his hatred. It was to gloat in the killing of another of Edelgard’s soldiers. It was to rant and rave that we had to be rid of her for good.

I began to wonder… Perhaps the Dimitri I knew and fell in love with had been a lie all along. Or maybe he really had died at the hands of Edelgard’s puppet regime in the Kingdom, as Empire propaganda loudly proclaimed.

It certainly seemed like it. My Dimitri was gone, replaced by this cold and cruel imitation who was trying even my patience. He couldn’t say one nice word to the Lions, who still showed him nothing but concern and support—even Felix pulled me aside, asking me to keep an eye on Dimitri. “If anyone can knock some sense into him, I know you can, Professor.”

But could I? I… almost didn’t want to dare hope.

But I did. I kept hoping, just a little bit longer.

I’d visit Dimitri every second I could. Even though I knew he’d stay silent or growl something unpleasant to me about how he wanted to be alone or how he needed to kill Edelgard. But no, I wouldn’t leave him alone. I still kept talking to him. If I could just break through… If I could just show him that no matter what happened, I’d still be there for him, there to talk when he finally opened up… If only… If only… If only…

And then the day came.

I wish I could say I marched up to Dimitri to cheerfully wish him good morning. But no. By this point, I was tired. Hurt. Scarred. I walked up to Dimitri… almost afraid. Fearful what cold thing he’d say to me today. Afraid how much it would sting to hear another reminder that the prince I loved was gone.

But… I’d talk to him anyway! I’d keep talking to him until he couldn’t stand me anymore. I’d never give up! I’d—

He was muttering to himself about killing Edelgard again. But this time, he turned to me and said, “I’ll kill anyone who gets in my way… even you.”

It stopped me in my tracks.

It broke my heart.

I knew he’d become a violent man. A man consumed with rage. A man who saw himself and everyone else as less than human.

But this…

He had threatened and ranted and raved. But never at me. Not like that.

I was shocked. And thoroughly broken.

No apology. No “Good joke, eh, Professor?”

Those wouldn’t have been able to mend this hurt anyway. Not this time. That was too far. Too much.

Yes, it was just a game. A fantasy. But that comment had genuinely hurt my heart.

Dimitri went on to suffer even more, lose even more. Finally pushed to his breaking point, he turned to me as we stood in the rain, asking what he was supposed to do. He felt hopeless, helpless, and lost.

I still cradled his face in my hands. I still told him I’d be there for him, to help guide his way back.

That moment began to change him. Bit by bit, he started returning to some semblance of the way he was before. He apologized to the Lions. He began to lead them again. He chose battles not to kill Edelgard’s men but to fight for the Kingdom.

But he’ll never be the same.

I think, that day he turned on me… I fell out of love with Dimitri.

I don’t know what to do. My heart belonged to Dimitri. I liked many of the other Lions, but none quite compared to the handsome prince with a heart of gold… at least not until he broke mine.

I’ve considered marrying one of the other men. Dedue is stalwart and tender-hearted, sturdy as stone. Felix is brutally honest but refreshingly clever and insightful. Even the flirtatious Sylvain has shown he’s more than meets the eye if a girl he can trust comes along.

But turning to any of them for comfort feels wrong. They all deserve better than to be the rebound guy for a broken heart. And if I wasn’t really interested in them before, why should I believe that anything has changed now?

Dimitri was the only one for me… until he wasn’t.

And now… I don’t really know where to go from here.

And it was all thanks to one little line. One line the writers likely thought was just a throwaway comment. But to me, it changed how I saw Dimitri forever.

And unfortunately, it wasn’t for the better.
All photos taken from Nintendo's official page for Fire Emblem: Three Houses unless otherwise specified. All images are property of their respective owners and are used under US “Fair Use” laws.

Fire Emblem and all related terms are the property of Nintendo and KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD. And I am not affiliated with them.

From Him, To Him

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Movie Review Collab: In This Corner of the World (Feat. C. M. B. Bell of Iridium Eye)

This post will contain some spoilers for

In This Corner of the World

You have been warned.

Warning: This film contains scenes of graphic war violence, drinking, and smoking. This post will include some images of injuries from war. Viewer/reader discretion is advised.

Jeannette (Fantasy and Fiction): I'm here today for a special anime collaboration review with my good friend, fellow blogger and author C. M. B. Bell! Many of you may remember C. M. B. from the interviews I've done with him about his Hollandus Landing series and Revezia Electrum trilogy. He’s the creative mastermind behind many other projects and blogs, including Iridium Eye, where he reviews a medley of foreign-made and lesser-known films.

Thanks for coming by, C. M. B.!

C. M. B.: What’s good, Jeannette?

Jeannette: I’m doing great! Thanks again for inviting me to collaborate with you. Dear readers, this post is actually part of a series of collab posts C. M. B. has invited myself and several other bloggers on his site Iridium Eye. Be sure to check them out!

And now, on with the show! You know, C. M. B., I may specialize in Fiction and Fantasy (ohoho), but this historical fiction animated film was too beautiful to pass up. Today we'll be reviewing the historical fiction animated film In This Corner of the World!

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016

Genre: Historical Fiction, War Docudrama
Year Released: 2016
Studio: MAPPA
Licensed By: Shout! Factory/Funimation Films
Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Running Time: 129 minutes (regular version), 159 minutes (extended version)
Rating: PG-13

Jeannette: I confess, I watched the dub of this film to contrast C. M. B.'s experience with the Japanese voice track.

C. M. B.: GASP! How could you, Jeannette? Hahaha!

Jeannette: I’m a rebel like that. Hee hee!

C. M. B.: Let’s get started talking about this animated feature from Mappa.

Jeannette: Sounds great, C. M. B.! Would you do the honors?

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
C. M. B.: In This Corner of the World takes place in Japan during the 1930’s and 40’s. The story revolves around a highly-imaginative girl named Suzu Urano (voiced by Rena N┼Źnen in the Japanese version/Laura Post in English) who’s from Hiroshima. She spends her time drawing, storytelling (often involving said drawings), and working at the family’s nori (edible seaweed) business. Once she turns eighteen, Suzu is arranged to be married to named Shusaku Hojo (Yoshimasa Hosoya/Todd Haberkorn), a naval officer who works a desk job at a military court. After the wedding, Suzu moves to her husband’s tiny hometown of Kure. Things aren’t perfect despite them having a stable marriage: Suzu's frustrated sister-in-law Keiko (Minori Omi/Kira Buckland) gives her grief, food and supplies are rationed, and air raid alerts get only more frequent over the years. How will this city girl adjust to WWII Japan in the countryside of Kure City?

Jeannette: How indeed! Let’s take a look at some of the things this film did well.

The Good: Overall

Jeannette: Overall, I have to say, I really enjoyed the film, and the dub was quite good. I had a lot of fun recognizing some lesser-sung dub actors I’ve heard before (including Laura Post, perhaps most known recently for her role as Catherine from Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Todd Haberkorn, voice of the intense but taciturn inspector Tosaki from AJIN: Demi-Human).

Because the film plays out more like a memoir following our protagonist Suzu’s life, we do get a couple child actors and, bless their hearts, they do the best they can to varying degrees of success (though I have to add that the actress playing Suzu’s niece Harumi, Kenna Pickard, is absolutely fantastic and immediately endeared me to her character). At any rate, I’d rather have a real kid voiceacting at an okay level than an adult trying way too hard to sound like a child!

C. M. B.: Whew! At least it was a good dub though. I certainly don’t swear off dubs since I do like Shinesman and Yugo the Negotiator for example. Shoot, there are some anime projects that I like both language tracks for such as Haibane Renmei, Jungle Emperor Leo (1997), and Gankutsuou.

Jeannette: Yeah, there are lots of solid English dubs out there!

I think what I like most about this film, however, is how every element is minimalistic—consciously understated.

Like its timeskips, for example, which are very subtle. The only thing to indicate the passage of time are characters subtly aging and brief splashes of text with the date that quickly fade away; on occasion, I found myself not even noticing the dates because I was so absorbed in watching Suzu’s life age and evolve. This leaves the film feeling more like a memoir than historical fiction.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
The simple but unique art style emphasizes this minimalism too. The roundness of the characters is unlike any other anime film I’ve seen before. It’s an almost storybook-like art style, which simultaneously softens yet highlights the harsher realities of war this movie dives into near the end. In the same way, the simple character designs also allow the filmmakers to highlight other details that help tell the story and express the characters’ nuances: for instance, I adored how Suzu’s skin became more tan in the summer months and was more pale during winter.

Speaking of visuals, this film did an incredible job using that attention to detail through both its visuals and sound design to convey the atmosphere, tone, and setting/climate of the film. I could feel the beating sun as characters sighed and fanned themselves. I could feel the chill wind on a cold autumn day as it howled and the muted color palette settled on the screen.

Probably my favorite part of the visuals, however, was (spoilers ahead!) how the filmmakers portrayed the air raids that finally hit Suzu’s little village of Kure.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
After multiple scenes of the family scrambling to their underground bunker to the tune of warning air raid sirens—and a medley of false alarms—we get a scene where Suzu dreams about an air raid taking place. It’s amazing how well the film captures how terrifying but also how weirdly dream-like and unnatural traumatizing events can be.

Shrapnel pops on the screen, making it seem like the film’s own painted backgrounds are getting torn apart by bullets. Planes fly overhead, and the clouds of dust and explosions are portrayed as watercolor-like splotches of paint puffing in the sky. It’s a beautiful and otherworldly experience that still manages to remain frightening and unnatural.

We learn only after the scene that this was all just Suzu dreaming, but the film knows how to signal when the real air raids come: no more watercolor splatters in the sky; no more paint. The clever and artistic visuals are gone when planes come to drop real bombs over Kure, reflecting the sobering reality of war.

Minimalism is all about knowing which details to maintain and highlight, and it’s this minimalistic focus that makes every element of this film—from its pacing to its art to its character portrayals—feel unique, cohesive, and quiet. I love that.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
C. M. B.: I feel bad saying this, but this was my first time seeing a MAPPA work. Watch as all the anibloggers flay me for my inexperience with newer anime studios. I will say that this studio delivered more often than not. Like you, I really enjoyed the watercolor palette and textures of this animation. I know it’s not new, and I’ve reviewed other works with similar coloration and textures such as Ernest & Celestine, Song of the Sea, or even The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, but this is still amazing. The dream sequences and the art correlations were creative, especially when one drawing turns the scene into something straight out of a Van Gogh painting for a few seconds.

Jeannette: The changes in art style were very cool. C. M. B., you briefly mentioned Suzu’s drawings earlier—I have to go back to those for a second here too. I really loved how the film portrayed her sketches like that. Especially how they get more detailed and realistic as she ages.

C. M. B.: While most of the scenes aren’t fully Sakuga (Editor's Note: when the animation quality increases noticeably from one scene to another), it’s a movie that doesn’t need extremely fluid animation to get the point across. I did notice that the art style was more simplistic, but I can see how this made the animation better. This was handled decently unlike Saikano where the male characters looked far older and the female characters looked younger than they should. At least In This Corner of the World avoided that unfortunate implication.

Jeannette: Yeah, I don’t think the story and characters would have been nearly as strong had it not been for the accurate portrayals of the characters’ ages. What else did you enjoy about the film?

C. M. B.: The music was an intriguing choice. It did remind me a bit of the aforementioned Ernest & Celestine with the instrumentation, but it was effective. The lighter orchestral pieces were pleasant, and the ambient works were fine in their understatement. If this were John Williams or even Yuki Kajiura in the composer’s chair, it would’ve been overblown for a film like this.

Jeannette: Absolutely. You really want to make sure the characters shine.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
C. M. B.: And how WWII was handled was fascinating. Yes, comparisons to Grave of the Fireflies and Barefoot Gen (the latter more so since both deal with the atomic bombs) will be unavoidable, but In This Corner of the World isn’t a ripoff of those anime movies, so don’t expect me to go into film plagiarism mode here. There was that calmness that affects the characters in the first half of the film until more of those sirens go off. Rations get smaller over the years and actual planes show up. Much like Grave of the Fireflies, you never see any of the faces of the Allies in the planes, and most of the other people who antagonize Suzu are other Japanese people (mainly her sister-in-law Keiko). This was a good touch, as it showed the human nature of these noncombatants. Sure, you do see people in uniform here and there, but you rarely see them do anything military-related. That was great writing on the creator’s part. When the wartime elements do hit, you see the destruction, the violence is NEVER glamorized, and you see the ramifications of the attacks, which is better storytelling than many war-based movies that often make the violence and rampage look cool.

Jeannette: I found the way they handled the war to be really interesting as well. I was curious what your take would be on it as someone who had seen Grave of the Fireflies. I’ve got lots more to say on the way the war was handled, but I’ll save that for later. For now, I’ll just add that I thought Suzu’s attitude toward the Allied soldiers was really poignant.

C. M. B.: I didn’t even think about Suzu’s attitude about the Allies, but that’s a great point about how she expressed those feelings. Moving on to Suzu and company...

The Good: Characters

Jeannette: As C. M. B. mentioned earlier, Suzu is introduced to us as a daydreamer. She’s an absolute sweetheart, and I found myself relating to her immensely: her daydreams, her indecisiveness, her satisfaction with following where life would take her. I especially empathized with the fact that so few people truly understood her. Her childhood crush, Mizuhara, returns to her life when they’re adults but continually comments on how “ordinary” she is, as if it’s a bad thing to lead a simple life. Her family and extended family constantly tease her for the dissociative episodes she suffers from and her struggle to remember things—none of which are any fault of her own.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
They packed so much depth and subtlety into these characters, and they did so well capturing the uncomfortableness of meeting a stranger but then slowly getting to know them and cherish them for the little things you learn about them. This was the case with many characters, but nowhere more than with Suzu and Shusaku’s quiet and slowly-growing love. I certainly connected most with her and with her sweet but quiet husband Shusaku; my heart absolutely dropped when Shusaku reveals he’s being pulled from his desk job at the naval base to be drafted into the military. Seeing Suzu vocally react in desperation, terrified at the thought of losing him, and then seeing her curl up to hold him just broke my heart.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
C. M. B.: I totally agree that Suzu was such a likable character. The way her imagination plays out in reality and her various daydreams was great. Even her helping out with rationing food and supplies alongside the other women was quite intriguing with how it was a pleasant team effort (despite WWII going on) before it becomes an all-hands-on-deck affair for everyone involved. That scene with the Military Police was intimidating at first until everyone else laughed it off except her. I could relate to that since there have been moments where I don’t find something funny despite everyone else laughing.

Jeannette: That’s not a good feeling!

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
C. M. B.: Keiko was a character who I wanted to write off as some one-note in-law from hell antagonist, but even she had her reasons for acting the way she did. Yes, she is a pain at first, but she had her own hurts given what happened with her family and former business. She was so angry and projected that onto Suzu, but I was glad that she eventually grew out of her spite against the newest member of the Hojo family.

Jeannette: For a film to make me go from “ICK! Hate her! Bad sister-in-law!” to finding her charming and sweet is pretty impressive. She really won me over in the end.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
C. M. B.: In general, these characters felt like real people, which was a huge plus regardless if they were the main characters or supporting ones. I could believe a situation like this happened in 30’s and 40’s Japan. They acted very believable and human even though I was watching an animated piece with minimalist aesthetics and simplistic character designs. It also helped seeing the detail with the culture and how people responded in this wartime state. Them getting certain kinds of foods, Suzu briefly going into a black market of sorts with hyperinflated prices, building bomb shelters near their homes, or even children (notably Harumi, Keiko’s daughter/Suzu’s niece) being able to differentiate between what types of warships and airplanes are around them in the area. That brings a morbid knowledge that someone such as the six-year-old Harumi could mention all the specifics just as much or even more so than memorizing times tables or the planets in the Milky Way.

Jeannette: Despite her having so much knowledge, as a child she can’t fully understand the implication of those sights she found so comforting in their familiarity. It’s a sobering thought.

The Bad

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
Jeannette: One unique element of the film I didn’t care much for was its attempt to get the viewer to feel as if they were dissociating alongside Suzu. Suzu is a dreamer, but she also suffers from dissociative episodes and fantasizing. Especially as a child, Suzu sometimes has trouble differentiating reality from her imagination, which makes for a charming character, but it’s far less charming when the film tries to imitate it. The jarring way the film would portray an event as actually happening only to yank back the curtain and say “It was all a dream!” created some serious points of confusion for me. For instance, I was on the edge of my seat during the entire end scene—not out of enraptured suspense, but out of fear this film had taken a cruel “The good ending you thought you were getting was only a dream” twist!

While I appreciated the filmmakers’ ability to blur the lines of fiction and reality with this untrustworthy narrator (Suzu), it made the story difficult to follow at certain points of the film—such as during the final scene or when Suzu dreams about the air raids.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
C. M. B.: Yeah, some of the dream/reality aspects got way too confusing, especially during the end. Most of the time, I didn’t have an issue with it because I could tell what was going on and the animation to match her vivid imagination worked very well. Some of the daydreams got way out of hand though, like the monster returning at the end who apparently marries a crocodile of all things. That was a big sack of no, and I don’t need to be reminded of a certain Quack Pack episode (if anyone doesn’t know what I’m referring to, then consider yourself lucky for avoiding that 90’s Disney cartoon) or an unrelated element involving the most inappropriate scene/piece of dialogue in the otherwise G-rated Eleanor’s Secret.

Jeannette: As much as I like dream sequences, I don’t enjoy when I can’t tell what actually happened in a film.

C. M. B.: In the Japanese version, I also found that Suzu’s voice threw me off at the beginning. She has the same voice as a child as she does as an adult, so she sounded way too old unless it involved her growing up or her narrations. It’s a shame, because there was good voice acting in the Japanese version, but her voice actress could’ve at least talked in a higher-pitched voice during the childhood scenes, or the filmmakers could have gotten a child actor to cover the beginning of the movie.

Jeannette: That’s interesting, because the English dub had a problem with the beginning scene as well. Due to some lackluster lip syncing, I found myself confused between what was voiceover from the (older and wiser) Suzu of the future and her younger counterpart speaking during the current events.

One additional problem I had was that I felt the film shifted tone without proper warning. Though I was aware this movie took place during WWII, the majority of the film is spent in absolute calm. As you mentioned earlier, C. M. B., the film focuses a great deal on how the war affects people in indirect ways through food rations and shortages, leading me to believe this was all the film was going to focus on. There seems to be no indication beyond specific dates quickly and quietly splashing across the screen to indicate that the tone of the film is about to take a drastically dark turn (which, for someone who’s bad with dates and historical details like me, was not enough foreshadowing to soften the blow). The film feels like it goes from the protagonist cheerfully figuring out how to make dinner with a handful of rice and local edible plants to her losing her niece and arm to a detonated bomb in the span of a few scenes, leaving me feeling like something was lost in the transition period.

I think this could have been easily alleviated by injecting more foreshadowing into the film through the use of a clearer direction where the story was going in the opening narrator’s monologue and through the use of color and light as events slowly build to the beginning of the air raids.

C. M. B.: There were certainly weird tonal shifts, especially when the war escalates in the Hiroshima Prefecture. While it could’ve lent to some (albeit justified) Cerebus Syndrome (Editor's Note: when a comedic story suddenly shifts into a drama), this felt like it was some bad back and forth tonality much like the scene of the birds singing right after Bambi’s mom dies. Yes, it’s an odd comparison, but that’s what it felt like a bit. Perhaps the extended version avoids that issue when it comes to the pacing, editing, and storytelling.

I really don’t want to keep bringing up Grave of the Fireflies as a comparison with In This Corner of the World, but it still needs to be brought up. There are obvious differences with In This Corner of the World being about Hiroshima while that Ghibli movie is about the firebombing of Kobe and the aftermath of it. However, I felt that this movie from MAPPA had NOWHERE near as much gravitas as that other WWII-based film. Say what you will about Grave of the Fireflies being one of the most depressing movies of all time (animated or live-action), but at least it will affect anyone emotionally; I have rarely heard anyone saying they didn’t cry watching it. In This Corner of the World lacked that emotional punch to really work. I’m not saying it should’ve been this huge tragedy piece (I understand the irony of that sentence when this movie uses the atomic bomb as a legitimate plot point in the final act of the film), but they could’ve at least put more effort into feeling the aftereffects and ramifications of the war, especially during the second half of the film. I felt as though they didn’t put enough heart in the more tragic scenes, which is a shame. They were still sad, but the tonal shifts make it harder to create a lasting effect after the credits roll. There was some decently-handled fridge horror, like showing some of the survivors or how one supporting character is implied to have gotten radiation poisoning despite looking unscathed, but they could have made a bigger impact. It doesn’t have to go full-on Now and Then, Here and There or Barefoot Gen (parts of that movie showing the atomic bomb get VERY disturbing), but there could’ve been something to make the viewer care about the devastation around the characters in Kure and Hiroshima.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
Jeannette: Interestingly enough, I actually felt the opposite. While I haven’t seen Grave of the Fireflies (I know, gasp, another sin!), I felt this film was more impactful than any other wartime film I’ve seen because of the way they portrayed the littler, quieter moments of Suzu’s life during the war. I thought the quiet attention to those elements you mentioned (seeing the survivors clutching Suzu, mistaking her for a lost loved one; radiation poisoning; etc.) worked quite effectively and were in keeping with the film’s minimalistic approach. I think the final nail in the coffin of why it worked for me was seeing the ups and downs this family had gone through: from the quiet before the war to the war efforts they participated in to the war coming to them directly… looping all the way back to them trying to adjust to their lives after the war. The scene that still stands out most to me is when they eat white rice for the first time in ages and remove the curtain they’d placed around the kitchen light to help hide the town from air raids. The sense of relief the family feels, despite their conflicted feelings—about losing the war, losing loved ones, and being under a foreign power’s control—really hit home to me. You can feel their mixed feelings but their overall sense of hope that life has and will go on.

C. M. B.: I thought the quieter moments were just fine, so I should’ve made that clear. It certainly added insight to the family and what life was like in the earlier parts of WWII Japan. I guess being “spoiled” by that particular Isao Takahata film made me set the bar for wartime stories. War doesn’t look glamorous with In This Corner of the World, which I will give credit for. It’s just that the harsher elements, while handled well, didn’t have as much of a heart-wrenching aural punch to the gut like Grave of the Fireflies did for me. To this film’s credit, there is a better sense of hope that doesn’t feel forced, artificial, or like a "Disney ending," if you will.

Oh, and if you watch Grave of the Fireflies… watch it in Japanese, have a tissue box within arm’s reach, and make sure you’re not depressed before popping in the DVD or streaming. You’ve been warned.

Jeannette: We’d better wrap this up before C. M. B. gets me watching a certain wartime Ghibli movie! Let’s move to our final thoughts on In This Corner of the World.

The Conclusion

Jeannette: This film did a fantastic job showcasing just how difficult war is: financially, physically, emotionally, and mentally. War films always manage to portray some element of how painful the situation is, but seeing characters wounded from the war feels that much more potent when you’ve spent so much of the film seeing them live an everyday life.

This film manages to show how difficult all the different trials of war are and never trivializes any of them. It shows how difficult it is to handle dwindling supplies and to try to provide for a family. It shows how hard losing a family member can be on an entire household. It shows how war leaves conflicted feelings in the people who lose, how it shakes their very identities. Big or small, each struggle is equally hard in different ways—a fact this film never loses sight of.

C. M. B.: In This Corner of the World certainly was a solid effort when it comes to historical and war dramas involving WWII. I did enjoy the characterization and how it shows the aftereffects of the war on people’s psyche in direct and indirect ways. Most other efforts glamorize war, but this film did a great job avoiding it, not making it some propaganda piece for nationalistic thinking.

Shout! Factory / Funimation Films 2016
Jeannette: It reminds the viewer that in war, there are no evil empires that are wholly in the wrong with entire armies of villainous lackeys; real war is two sides of a conflict between human beings, each with their own lives, their own emotions, their own families and loved ones and stories. It shows how losing even one life can make such a huge impact on someone… and how much devastation it causes when hundreds, thousands, millions of lives are taken.

C. M. B.: Exactly. And it shows the internalized conflict of other Japanese people giving the characters a hard time just for trying to live their lives in an area affected by the war as it escalates over the years with the Pacific Theater.

There were issues such as not going all the way with some of the more tragic elements and the tonal whiplash in multiple places in the movie, but it’s certainly better than most WWII-based movies that I’ve seen. If one wants to see a film that doesn’t glorify war, but at the same time not being preachy about it and having good characters, then In This Corner of the World will certainly work for you.

Jeannette: I think the highest praise any film of this nature can receive is that it changed how the viewer thinks. It certainly did that for me.

C. M. B.: Jeannette, thanks for collaborating with me on this review!

Jeannette: Thanks so much for inviting me! Always a pleasure to work with you.

Connect with C. M. B. Bell on his official writer blog C.M. B. Bell's Writing Universe or on TaleHunt @Tocsinchronicle.

C. M. B. is a true Renaissance man and has a list of artistic interests that puts me to shame. Check out his music and poetry at Ospreyshire's Realm, his indie and foreign film reviews on Iridium Eye, or his photography and filmography at Autumn Peal Media.

C. M. B.'s fiction is available for purchase on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Angus & Robertson, and Books2Read.

All photos taken from unless otherwise specified. All images are property of their respective owners and are used under US “Fair Use” laws.

In This Corner of the World and all related terms are the property of Shout! Factory / Funimation. And I am not affiliated with them.

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