Liz and the Blue Bird Review

Originally published on The Fandom Post

What They Say:
Mizore Yoroizuka plays the oboe, and Nozomi Kasaki plays the flute in Kita Uji High School concert band. As seniors, this will be their last competition together, and the selected piece “Liz and the Blue Bird” features a duet for the oboe and flute. “This piece reminds me of us.” Nozomi says cheerfully, enjoying the solo, while Mizore’s usual happiness to play with Nozomi is tinged with the dread of their inevitable parting. By all accounts the girls are best friends, but the oboe and flute duet sounds disjointed, as if underscoring a growing distance between them. Talk of college creates a small rift in their relationship, as the story evolves to reveal a shocking and emotional conclusion.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review)
Though it’s set a year after the end of Sound Euphonium’s second season, calling Liz and the Blue Bird a sequel to Euphonium wouldn’t be completely accurate. Liz follows Mizore and Nozomi, two supporting characters from Euphonium, with only brief appearances by Kumiko and Reina. It occasionally references events from Euphonium, but works just fine as a stand-alone film as well. Above all else, the film lives and dies by Mizore and Nozomi’s relationship. As for how that turns out, it’s complicated.

Perhaps the film’s most distinctive feature is how much it tells its story through the visuals. From the very first scene, we can see Mizore’s shyness and hesitation in the way she seems torn on whether to go to school that day, as well as Nozomi’s outgoing nature from her expression and general style of moving. Every movement Mizore makes seems nervous and slow, like she’s always a little scared to make the next move, while Nozomi is always full of energy and movement, from her lively walk to the way her skirt and ponytail bounce back and forth as she moves. This level of visual storytelling continues through the entire film, imbuing it with personality and detail that few anime can match. Even if there wasn’t any dialogue, most of the story would still be apparent just from the character acting and framing, which emphasizes body language even over faces. Throughout the film, Mizore and Nozomi are regularly shown with some distance between them, whether through shots that don’t fully show both or shots emphasizing physical distance between them, perfectly demonstrating that a visual medium doesn’t need dialogue to communicate. Sometimes visuals can speak far louder than any words could. The film’s level of detail on even the simplest movements make it endlessly fascinating to watch and thing about and also does wonders to flesh out Nozomi and Mizore’s relationship, even in points where the film slows down.

Much of the film’s run is slow and restrained, hinting at a growing distance between Nozomi and Mizore through details like their discomfort around each other and difficulty synching up in their performance. While the overall reason, which we don’t learn until later on in the film, is both believable and compelling, the film itself sometimes moves a little too slowly. Even for it’s biggest dramatic moments, Liz remains quiet and restrained. While admirable, this level of restraint also blunts the impact of its biggest emotions. The way Nozomi and Mizore both look up to each other and somewhat envy each other while still being friends parallels the story of Liz and the Blue Bird (the book) perfectly and makes for a compelling relationship, but it never feels as emotionally effective as it could be. There are some great high points later on, but even these feel just a little too restrained to shine the way they should. This might just be a result of Naoko Yamada’s restrained style of directing-I felt the same way about A Silent Voice-but it’s a shame that the film isn’t quite able to have the impact it wants to have.

Ironically, Liz is at its most effective when it switches focus to the story by the same name that inspired the song Nozomi and Mizore are trying to play. It’s a simple story about a blue bird who takes human form to comfort a lonely woman, only for the woman to learn the truth and set the bird free because she couldn’t keep someone she loved in a metaphorical cage. Simple though it is, the film brings this segment to life with some absolutely gorgeous visuals reminiscent of a storybook or a Ghibli film. The straightforward and earnest emotions we get from Liz and her new friend are simple but powerful, similar to Nozomi and Mizore’s relationship, only more honest. These segments serve as both a parallel for the main story and a strong story in their own right. I’d go as far as to say they’re more engaging than the main story itself.

Another high point comes from the rehearsals where Mizore and Nozomi practice playing Liz and the Blue Bird. The music is able to convey so much emotion and so much detail about their relationship that it could almost take the place of dialogue. The sound design for these moments is impressive, giving every little movement and every small detail a distinctive sound to make the world feel more real. The soundtrack itself consists of soft orchestral music that complements the film’s quiet atmosphere well while never dominating a scene.

As you’d expect from a Kyoto Animation film, Liz is downright gorgeous. It doesn’t have the flashy action of a Gainax/Trigger production or the digital effects of a Ufotable film, but it excels in character acting. Every movement conveys something, from Nozomi’s bouncing ponytail to Mizore’s habit of playing with the ends of her hair, and it’s all animated perfectly. The general look of the film is softer and more gentle compared to Euphonium’s bright and polished look, which fits Liz’s quiet and thoughtful atmosphere

In Summary:
Liz and the Blue Bird is a difficult film to evaluate. On one hand, it’s easy to appreciate Naoko Yamada’s mastery of her craft and just how well put together every aspect of the film is. On the other, the very subtlety and restraint that makes it such an impressive film also keeps it from having the emotional impact it sometimes feels like it should. It’s not emotionless, but it always feels like it’s holding back just a little more than it should. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it-it’s still a very well-made film across the board-but it always feels like it should be better. Fans of Naoko Yamada will absolutely love Liz, and even non-fans should check it out if you have the opportunity. It’s that well-made.

Grade: B+

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