Two common things I hear people asking for when it comes to anime is more easily consumable titles and more titles for women. Back in ye olde golden days (which are never as golden as people member them) it was easier to find short little OVAs. They were often just commercials for much longer manga series but it was nice to be able to sit down and watch a series in a single sitting.
And no matter what the length it seems that while manga has a decently even split between the sexes when it comes to anime the medium always has had a male focused bias when it comes to what shows get made. Shojo anime is just uncommon enough that it is almost always appreciated by its target audience when it is animated.
So Hotarubi no Mori e (Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light) is a wonderful combination of these two somewhat overlooked niches. It is a single stand alone shojo story that requires no outside knowledge and can be watched in a single 44-minute sitting. In that time it tells a simple but bittersweet love story. As the original story of Hotarubi no Mori e was written by Yuki Midorikawa, of Natsume’s Book of Friends fame, you know that you will surround yourself in a relaxing if slightly melancholy story of yokai that pulls on the heartstrings.
I must admit that I’m a total sucker for human-falls-in-love-with-ghost stories. It isn’t too hard to see the beauty of love transcending the bounds of time and death. There is also the romantic yet inevitable melancholy ending that is sure to follow.
I also had a lot of confidence that this move would evoke those wondrous qualities because of Natsume’s Book of Friends similar feeling. Japanese myth and romance come together in perfect harmony in Hotarubi no Mori e.
Hotarubi no Mori e starts with Hotaru Takegawa getting lost in the forest at the age of 6. When she desperately cries out for help a young man named Gin with a fox mask answers her call. He guides her out of the forest but cannot touch her because he will die if that happens due to a spell. Despite their inability to touch they develop a friendship over the years that develops into something more.
Hotaru was a happy, curious child who felt no fear when she encountered masked Gin in the forest. They established a bond as she became acquainted with other spirits in the forest as Gin insisted they not eat her, and they in turn warned Hotaru not to touch Gin. The forest yokai were as protective of Gin as Gin is of Hotaru.
Gin’s story of life as a semi-yokai is one of love, lucky, and loneliness. Hotaru can only meet Gin in the summers so Gin waits patiently each year. After all, time passes much differently for a spirit. The romance feels very summer-y and fleeting.
They found creative ways to touch like each taking one end of a piece of cloth to hold hands or the intimate moments when Hotaru touched Gin’s mask. Their attempts were desperately sweet.
I spent most of the movie in two modes. The first was a relaxed state were I soaked in the gentle story. There is a slowly growing romance as Hotaru’s feelings for Gin grow from a simple friendship when she is younger to a more complex romance as she gets older but he stays the same age. You slowly see their hearts connecting even if they can never touch. But at the same time I knew some sort of sad conclusion was coming. In the back of your head I knew things had to change. There are many bittersweet ways it could have ended but only one happy ending. So part of me was wondering how much cocoa would be the ending of this chocolate story. Would there be the mostly sweet milk chocolate ending or a darker ending that was satisfying but somewhat bitter?
But this is not a Key game. There is no sadness porn. They don’t dwell on the conclusion as the narrative tries to milk the tears from your eyes like a dairy farmer. Most of the movie slowly meditates on the growing bond between Gin and Hotaru as they enrich each others lives. When the end comes it is a natural progression. The resolution is gently presented and any emotional catharsis is well-earned.
Sumptuous forest scenes are the order of the day in this movie. The changing seasons add beauty to the passage of time and the emotional state of the characters. There is an elegance to these wider shots of nature which has a calming effect on the entire film.
The more bombastic event of the yokai festival in the forest is heightened by the generally serene nature of the rest of the film.
As Narutaki mentioned this movie is quite gorgeous. Brain’s Base was originally going to make the series an OVA which would have given it a hefty budget. But after the runaway success of Natsume’s Book of Friends the project was given an additional boost when it was turned into a theatrical movie instead. You can see the it in the detail of the background and the fluidly of the animation that this was given a good deal of love and money.
If you’re looking for a nice little romantic story for couples, anime clubs wanting something romantic, or just a sweet little story you can lose yourself in for an evening than you might want to give Hotarubi no Mori e a go. It has a laughter, sighs, and tears in equal measures.