Does This Hold Up? — Ocean Waves

Sorry for the lack of updates recently. Work and real life has kept me busy.

Welcome to the start of what I hope will be a new recurring post series on the blog, “Does This Hold Up?”. I’m sure a lot of you have noticed that for the most part, and especially as of late, I’ve only really covered current anime on here. There’s been the occasional mini-essay that looked back on anime past, but with the exception of Mob Psycho 100 and My Hero Academia Season 1 (which were only a year old at that time), as well as Mai Mai Miracle due to In This Corner of the World getting a theatrical screening in the US and me wanting to give the film some attention before then, I don’t have anything amongst my reviews whose ending was more than a few weeks/months old when I looked at them.

Generally if an anime of yore comes up, it’s in the form of a reference. Despite bringing up old anime that people remember fondly like Steins;Gate quite a bit on here, I’ve never actually written about it. I do have an old review of the semi-sequel visual novel that’s getting an adaptation next season, but I don’t think said review holds up anymore since my priorities changed quite a bit during the last year. And while I did write quite a bit about old anime during the early years of Standing On My Neck, said posts no longer exist on this blog because I deleted most of my old content in order to indicate that I was starting fresh. Plus, a lot of them were really stupid. Remember when I wrote about Rose of Versailles needed martial arts if it wanted to be interesting? What the fuck was I thinking?

But seriously, there’s a few reasons why I rarely write about old anime. First is how I like staying in the present. It’s just something I prefer. Second, and this ties into the first reason to a degree, I just flat-out hate when people use the past as a crutch in order to mark their place in the fandom. It’s one thing if your blog or such is dedicated to old anime, but not when you’re one of those people who say “anime was great in the 80s/00s and now it’s shit”. There’s a difference between reminiscing the past and just flat-out denying that things have changed, especially when the thing that’s changed most likely isn’t going to hold up by today’s standards. Third, very few anime actually stay in the public mind beyond vague memories after a year or so even when they achieve acclaim, so I doubted most of you would be interested. Remember when Tiger & Bunny was popular? Or Arakawa Under the Bridge? I do, but a lot of fans don’t even know they exist. Hell, I still see Durarara cosplay at conventions, but there are also a large amount of anime peeps who don’t know what that is.

Basically, I’d rather try to extract enjoyment from today’s anime rather than slobber over my old favorites. However, things become problematic when the only anime you’re keeping up with at the moment is Darling in the Booty Booty Butt Cheeks and the new Netflix anime won’t be arriving for another two weeks. I was planning on talking about the latest Mazinger movie, but it bored me so hard with its “only for the fans” attitude that I literally have nothing to say about it. Besides, how many of you even care about Go Nagai, much less want to see me review Baron Ashura’s five minute cameo?

However, watching Mazinger: Infinity got me to thinking about looking back at anime (and some other things, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes) of yore and seeing how they hold up by today’s standards. Because believe me, I have a lot of thoughts on that. I’ve removed so many anime from my favorites list over time that it’s small wonder I like to stay in the present. And while it’s not exactly a prime subject to start this new project since very people actually watched Ocean Waves even after the physical release and it wasn’t exactly well-received back then, I want to talk about this movie because it’s just such a neat time capsule to compare to how anime depicted romance back then to how it does it now, especially to a romance fan like me.

Kimagure Orange Road is so outdated that it makes me want to punch the screen with every word that comes out of the characters’ mouths. Also, 48 episodes and two movies for a love triangle story that’s not really comedy-focused (and let’s not get into how shit the comedy actually is)? It should be obvious from that very format it’s not going to hold up. Besides, the director of that also made Ocean Waves, so it’s not like I’m completely ignoring its legacy. Just going to look at in a product that’s much more tolerable.

Alright, so let’s finally start looking at Ocean Waves. Based on a book by a famous female playwright, this movie is Ghibli’s only direct-to-TV project and was an attempt for the studio to train their younger staff members by giving them something less ambitious than their usual output. Ironically, the film ended up going over budget and over schedule, which just goes to show how seriously Ghibli takes its projects even when they’re smaller-scale. That or the 90s version of Taro fucked up for the tenth time.

The plot is a simple love triangle story centered on two guys and the girl that enters their lives, although to be more accurate, the movie actually starts around a year into the future and is about the main male lead, Taku Morisaki, reminiscing about said love triangle as well as the simpler times when he was just a normal high school student rather than the busy college dude he is now. Similar to Only Yesterday, and Kimagure Orange Road for that matter, the film relies heavily on nostalgia to execute its tale, so you can already see right away why it was doomed to be a hard sell to an overseas audience from the start since Japanese high school life is different from American high school life. Why don’t we get to go to Hawaii for our school vacations, huh? Not to mention, Japanese high school life now is different from Japanese high school life back then, and Ocean Waves was meant to capture the spirit of the era it was produced in – although given how nostalgia-obsessed the world can be these days, that doesn’t automatically date it.

One thing I find very interesting about the romance in this movie is how the “love at first sight” applies only to the best friend. Taku never actually has a face-to-face discussion with the main love interest, Rikako Muto, for several months after she transfers, or even really puts her in his mind for the most part. The only time Rikako is brought up is whenever the best friend wants to brag about taking her to the movies or visiting her house, or when the other boys are admiring her excellent tennis skills from afar. Taku only starts to get to know Rikako when she suddenly decides to ask him for money during a school trip to Hawaii, and when he decides to give it to her, it ends up causing them to stick together for far longer than he intended, which in turn causes him to grow feelings for her. In other words, a complete coincidence that grows into something more.

While a lot of relationships do form through someone finding a person interesting at the start, I feel like that’s the only way romance writers know how to start a story. There aren’t many I can think of where the characters aren’t acquainted for a good chunk of the story (Amelie is the only one I can think of at the moment), and I really like that aspect of Ocean Waves because it gives it a very natural feel, even though it comes with its own set of problems that I’ll get into later. Too often, I become frustrated with how so many romance stories make the plot happen a certain way because the writer said so. Recovery of an MMO Junkie was nothing but a series of contrivances that makes the Star Wars prequel trilogy look like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and don’t get me started on Just Because and even Tsuki ga Kirei at times.

There’s a real organic vibe to Ocean Waves beyond the Ghibli animation and 90s atmosphere, and I think a lot of it has to do with how even though most people can’t fully relate to it anymore, we still understand some of the basics these characters go through in life. Being young and in love. Being reckless. Learning that what was once special then isn’t special now. Reuniting with your classmates after so long and not having it play out like Since You’ve Been Gone. Also, it really helps that multiple chunks of the plot are reminiscent of other more current and more infuriating anime dramas like the infamous rage-inducing Kimi no Iru Machi series, specifically the arc when the main female goes to Tokyo and the male lead follows her. Because guess what? Ocean Waves has that arc too, and yet watching it didn’t make me want to slam the characters’ heads into walls (and that was one of the better arcs from that manga too). Although I will concede the female protagonist involved isn’t much better at being likable.

Maybe something got lost in translation or it’s relying too much on that confusing “man I hated her, but I might have secretly liked her” style of storytelling I’ve found to be fundamentally flawed, especially when physical violence gets involved, but I don’t really understand why Taku would fall for Rikako. She treats him like a nuisance without showing much of a sensitive side anytime throughout the film, let alone when she’s around him. I can understand if he fell for her after high school when all of the students have mellowed out a bit, but it’s established that he liked her ever since they got to know each other. In other words, he fell for her due to Stockholm Syndrome? Which according to the comments on Chris Stuckmann’s review of the movie is actually totally in character for Asian relationships. So I guess Bongo the Bear is a popular cartoon in the East, huh?

But at the same time, I did relate to what I could gather of Rikako’s problems because despite her not dealing with them the best, said problems do come from a real place. And it didn’t do what Kimi no Iru Machi did by fucking up the relatability through introduction of another girl to add to the harem, as well as the issue itself coming from familial love that’s more creepy than endearing. I’m actually pretty impressed with how subtle Ocean Waves is in conveying the important plot details like how Rikako shows up at her father’s place just as he’s about to leave with another woman, indicating she’s interrupting a trip he planned. And the film never clarifies this either. We just see Rikako pouting at how her father was never on her side when her parents split up after he reimburses Taku for the money he lent for the trip as well as the hotel.

I guess you could argue seeing Rikako at her most vulnerable is what sowed the seeds for this relationship, particularly when she admits that Taku was right in calling her a bore. Because it sure as hell wasn’t anything that occurred after the trip, where she antagonizes Taku to the point that he physically hits her and causes his relationship with his best friend to crumble. Seriously China, you consider this sort of stuff as affectionate?

Yeah you could say that she didn’t mean any harm when she openly told the whole school that she went on a trip with our main lead and it’s actually because she likes him that said act occurred in the first place. But when Taku gets mad to the point that he physically hits her, I think it’s become clear that you’re not communicating the message in the right language. Especially when you hit him a second time after he observes your fight with a large group of girls without intervening. And then his best friend kicks him while he’s down because apparently Taku not doing the chivalrous thing indicates to said best friend that he’s in love with the girl who rejected you. But hey, they make up when they’re adults, so that’s cool, right?

Well it might have been if there had been more to the story than this sequence of events. Remember what I said regarding how I liked that Taku and Rikako don’t even interact with each other until a good chunk of the way into the movie because it gives their relationship a more natural feel? Said natural feel has its limits when they continue to hardly interact with each other beyond those key scenes I mentioned above. Yeah, two scenes that end with one party slapping the other is all we get of their relationship after the Tokyo trip where they properly got to know each other. And they’re not even long scenes either. You could drink an entire water bottle in the amount of time it takes for their interactions to come and go, and virgins cum in their pants slower than that.

I did like the one-year reunion between the high school students at the end because even though it felt more like a prototype for a great act rather than something truly impactful, it really does nail what it’s like to meet people you haven’t seen in a while and look back on how things have changed. Also, the final scene that ends with an older Rikako finally being shown to Taku is definitely a great ending to a better developed story. The ending song and credits are good, although I kept getting reminded how you don’t see this sort of wistful singing in today’s anime world, and not in a good way. When you get down to it, I guess I like Ocean Waves more for what it could have been than what it actually is, and I mean that in a positive way.

Some parts of it are dated, but not in a way that really hinders any sense of positive feeling towards the movie. Personally, I think what holds back Ocean Waves is that it needed another half-hour or so to fully develop these ideas without outstaying its welcome like the classic romance anime series of yore do these days. As is, the movie is an interesting pipe dream that will never get fulfilled because the world has moved on from what it set to accomplish. Plus, given the director’s recent resume, it probably never should. Now I can’t seem to find what happened to young Ghibli animators that worked on this film, but suffice to say, the big names that are attached to this project haven’t exactly had a good career as of late. And if any of the lesser names I can’t find have moved on to Ponoc, well I think my reaction to their first big movie should tell you everything.

All in all, Ocean Waves holds up, but only by the standards it set for itself in the 90s, which was never that great. At a length of seventy-two minutes, it was always going to have its limits regarding how great it could possibly be, and the fact that it was mostly a project to test the waters with the newer staff really does show. Having said that, I’ve got to say that it does grow on me every time I watch it, even if we never get to see the sensitive side to Rikako that would allow me to believe that Taku would fall in love with her. There’s an engaging calmness attached to this kind of romance that you don’t see anymore, and looking at a more natural version of all those heavily convoluted dramas we see nowadays can still be refreshing in its own way. It’s not something you need to watch, but I definitely don’t regret my purchase of it. And if the online cult fanbase really considers this to be a nostalgic masterpiece, then who am I to say you won’t agree with them? Check it out at your own leisure.

Ocean Waves is produced by Studio Ghibli and can be purchased from this Amazon link

4 responses to “Does This Hold Up? — Ocean Waves

  1. I would like to make a suggestion. This review has references to at least TWENTY other works in it, including just casually trashing a classic show in Kimagure Orange Road (it’s “dated,” whatever that means – if you’re going to bring it up, why not explain why you think it’s dated, or what about the comedy didn’t work for you?).

    The bottom line is that your readers shouldn’t be required to know or have seen a dozen or more other shows to understand the arguments you’re trying to make.

    I actually tend to agree with a fair number of your opinions, but it’s a trial to read something where the writer is trying to impress the reader with his encyclopedic knowledge rather than simply directly explaining what is good, bad or indifferent about the work itself.

    • Kimagure Orange Road (it’s “dated,” whatever that means – if you’re going to bring it up, why not explain why you think it’s dated).

      You obviously did not read my sentence where I said the series was 48 episodes and two movies long, which is an awfully long length for a love triangle series. Can’t that be enough?

      Also, I brought it up because I foresaw people asking me why I’d favor doing a “Does This Hold Up” for that rather than Ocean Waves because it’s the more popular “old school romance” anime, so I figured I’d shut them down now before anyone thinks of emailing me about it.

      The bottom line is that your readers shouldn’t be required to know or have seen a dozen or more other shows to understand the arguments you’re trying to make.

      You shouldn’t need to know what I’m referencing to understand what points I’m trying to make since most of the name drops I make are superficial or for humor. The only one that’s kinda vital is Kimi no Iru Machi (which I’ll admit was not integrated as well as I’d hoped. I edited that paragraph to make it flow more naturally), but even if you haven’t heard of that manga, you should get what I’m talking about when I said it introduced another girl to the harem. In other words, it ruins sweet moments with contrived bullshit.

      Oh and Bongo. But that’s what the Youtube clip is for.

      it’s a trial to read something where the writer is trying to impress the reader with his encyclopedic knowledge

      Dude, I love that sort of writing in articles and such. I grew up with it and loved seeing my favorite critics call back to a movie or something I never heard of, which promptly made me seek it out. If you HAD to watch something to understand what I was talking about, I might see your point. But for the most part, it’s just flavoring. I’ve never intentionally referenced something without adding a reason regarding why it was brought up unless it’s for a throwaway joke. Also, I’m hoping that if you don’t understand the reference, you’ll look it up and get interested in it like I did when I read reference-heavy reviews, because how else are you going to find out about Arakawa Under the Bridge? Practically no one but Scamp’s audience remembers it exists anymore. At least not until I do a “Does This Hold Up” for that series I mean.

      Now having said all that, I am planning to experiment with a new writing format for my reviews and try to improve the Does This Hold Up format over time. Hopefully they won’t be so reliant on references going forward, but don’t expect me to stop with the reference-based writing anytime soon because I think those sorts of comparisons are great, both to introduce my readers to works they haven’t heard of and to add flavor to my stuff.

  2. I watched this last year, when it got a theatrical run, and I was so excited to finally get to see it (but prepared for the worst), and I totally loved it, I think largely for that authenticity that you described, and also because it was taking a trip back to the 80’s, which is also why I like Kimagure Orange Road!

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