Hotarubi no Mori e (蛍火の杜へ) is a movie adaptation of a short manga series, written by the same author behind the Natsume Yuujinchou series. On top of that, the animation studio, director, and even the guy behind the music, have all worked on Natsume Yuujinchou. That being said, my next comment should come as no surprise: this movie felt exactly like any other episode of Natsume Yuujinchou. The movie was nostalgic, bittersweet, mystifying, and simple yet refreshing. The story told a delicately short tale of a young human girl, and her interactions with a lonely youkai she meets in the forest.
The story itself is simple, perhaps even too simple, yet beautiful in it’s simplicity. The story revolves around Hotaru, a young little girl who gets lost in a forest, and befriends a lonely youkai who avoids being touched by humans. The two establish a relationship initially motivated by curiosity, and they play with each other every summer. Long story short, the girl brings out the human qualities in this lonely youkai, and they grow to care for each other over the years.
I oversimplified the movie a bit in my summary, but that does the actual movie no justice. The storytelling is subtle, understated, yet has the right mix of charm and seriousness that makes the cast a joy to watch. The plot centers around Hotaru and her youkai friend, and how their friendship gradually strengthens over the years. Simple little things, such as basking in the sunlight, wandering amongst the trees in the forest, and fishing at a small pond, serve to flesh out the genuinely innocent relationship between Hotaru and the youkai. Their combination of curiosity, playfulness, and seriousness, all mesh together for some excellent character development.
The production values themselves are understated, yet beautiful in their own right. Sure, the art doesn’t necessarily stand out for being spectacular or bold, and animation quality wasn’t exactly superb, but for a simple coming-of-age story such as this there isn’t really a necessity for anything flashy or excessive.
The major flaw to this movie is that, well, it probably shouldn’t have been a “movie” to begin with. The story’s pacing was extremely slow, and while that allowed for a lot of scenes where we simply watch Hotaru and her youkai friend innocently play around, a lot of these scenes could have been condensed without hurting the overall story. This movie felt as if the studio took a regular episode of an anime, and somehow stretched it out and padded the story until it reached 45 minutes of screentime. To put things into perspective, a single episode of an anime tends to be around 23-25 minutes long. This could have been much better OVA material, as opposed to the full movie treatment.
In the end, Hotarubi no Mori e has all the strengths that we’ve seen in the author’s other works, mainly Natsume Yuujinchou. The story is emotional, atmospheric, soft in tone, and bittersweet. The characters are charming to watch, and leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling during many scenes in the movie. The only downside is that the pacing is excruciatingly slow, where it’s quite obvious that the story could have been condensed much more. Nevertheless, for any fan of coming-of-age stories, Hotarubi no Mori e should be quite fitting with it’s charming characters, and it’s excellent storytelling.
Overall Enjoyment: 8.0/10
Screenshots are later in the post. Warning, there are a lot of screenshots.