Let’s revisit what many people consider to be the best anime movie of 2017 (that actually came out in 2017) in mini-essay format, shall we?
In case you’re not up with your Japanese animation news, Night is Short, Walk on Girl was the recent winner of the Animation of the Year award at the 41st Japan Academy Prize ceremony, further cementing Yuasa’s claims that he feels like he’s at the peak of his career with the creation of his new Science Saru studio. Admittedly, the competition was kind of weak. Detective Conan Movie #342 feels like a last-minute shoehorn, Fireworks was a critical bomb outside of Japan, and Napping Princess/Mary and the Witch’s Flower were very unoriginal in addition to not being good. Even a non-fan like me would have backed Night is Short (yeah I’m just calling it that now to save word space) over any of those since at least it was somewhat original, even if it was borrowing way too much from The Tatami Galaxy. Ironically though, it was when I saw that news that motivated me to give Night is Short another try since as I’ve stated in the Made in Abyss review, first impressions aren’t everything, and the large amount of critical acclaim it got from MAL and other bloggers after it was made more publicly available made me go “well maybe I was missing something again”.
Now that review I did shortly after Animefest is only a few months and I have no intention of doing another one so soon, which is why I’m talking about the show in mini-essay format this time. So if you want my quick updated opinion, here it is: the appeal is growing on me and I’ll probably buy the blu-ray if it comes here, but I’m still leaving it on the disappointing list because I feel like it’s missing some necessary framing to be a great film – framing that wouldn’t have been that hard to add into the movie either. The way it rips off Tatami isn’t as annoying as it was initially, but Night is Short still comes off too much like a series of tech demos the same way Lu Over the Wall did – and considering how well-received that was by the community (i.e. not that great), I think Yuasa needs to realize that while loving life is cool, you also got to confront it too.
But I guess I can’t blame people for falling in love with Night is Short, and not just because I think it’s the best of his three recent anime. Well okay that is the main reason, but we need to look into “why” it’s the best of them: mainly that it comes from a very real place. It’s a movie about two college students having the time of their lives within one night, and even if you couldn’t go to college due to bad circumstances or poor grades, most of us can at least relate to the very idea of just having the time of our lives.
Of course, generally we do this as a temporary means of escape from the daily grind that Ne-Yo sums up in the above music video, whilst the characters in Night is Short are doing it simply for the thrills. Considering how work-intensive a country Japan is, I was pretty disappointed that the movie was mostly just a celebration of its drinking culture whilst conveniently leaving out the negative effects for the sake of pure unbridled joy. But after dwelling on it some more, I realized Night is Short is less about the importance of alcohol to Japanese culture, let alone the dangers of Japan’s drinking problem, and more about being visual alcohol. In short, it already assumes the audience knows that it’s just a fictional/temporary means of escape from reality and understands that rather than give them a lecture, it’s best to let the audience get drunk on life for ninety minutes.
…well yes, but not that lamely.
Night is Short’s plot is technically about a male doofus trying to impress an unnamed party girl voiced by Hanakana through his pursuit of a childhood book of hers, but honestly the scenes that focus on that plot line only make up around 20-30% of the movie. The majority of the film is centered on alcohol and all the partying and connections formed through its consumption. It’s very similar to how Americans portray alcohol, and believe me when I say that Japan loves to indulge in it to the point that they don’t even recognize alcoholism as a real disease. Many Shinto ceremonies and sports tournaments involve having a sip from the old sake cup, and most employees are encouraged to bond over being tipsy to the point that you can book two-hour reservations for the sole purpose of chugging down three bottles.
And it’s through deciding to partake in these drunken endeavors that Hanakana meets all these strange people and partakes in strange setpieces, from doing the monkey dance to participating in a bizarre musical setup by a guy who refuses to change his underwear for a reason that would only make sense to the completely hammered. Since they all look like they’re having fun, the characters are up for having fun, and the audience is up for having fun, then why bother holding back? I’m sure there’s a fair amount of people who are questioning what separates films like Night is Short from other anime that have attempted to do the “set pieces as story” approach and failed miserably. Well…honestly the best I’ve got is that the visuals are sharp, the set pieces are at least something you’re not going to see anywhere else, and the premise of a one-night drinking party with a bit of meta-ness to it given how the movie is also alcohol in a sense kind of justifies it. Because really, what else am I supposed to say?
I mean I could try to pry into why Night is Short works better than Blood Blockade Battlefront in terms of feeling the moment, but that’s like saying why Usher’s “Yeah” sounds better than Michael Jackson’s “Bad”. It’s possible, but so much of the opinion is boiled down to whether one person prefers this sound over that sound, and that either works for you or it doesn’t. So instead, let’s move away from what actually happens in Night is Short and the “why” it’s pure unbridled joy in favor of “what” said joy represents. Right now, we’re living in some pretty rough times. We’re always going through shit after a certain age, but I think most of us can agree that all of the problems John Oliver outlines in his show aren’t making things easier. There are a lot of ways to react to this sort of news, but the one most people seem to agree is the healthiest is to keep living your life and focus on the entertaining parts more than ever. Because if you’re always living in constant fear and gloom, then what’s the point of living in the first place?
And to a growing number of anime fans, Yuasa is a good escape. I’ve encountered quite a few articles that have compared him to Hayao Miyazaki and how they favor Yuasa due to his bright eccentric style being preferable to Miyazaki’s recent descent into gloomy thought pieces. And I can’t blame people for thinking in those terms of absolutes, because most of them watch anime to be entertained, and even critically acclaimed tragedies like Your Lie in April or hard-hitting western cartoons like Bojack Horseman have a bunch of “wacky” humor thrown in so that there’s some fun to ease you into the feels. Yuasa himself is guilty of this in his serious stuff, and yet even when he’s showing major deaths with people’s heads being graphically shoved on spikes, no one who was into his stuff at that point on time would suddenly turn on him. And it doesn’t help that the increasingly popular Marvel universe is basically championing this train of thought due to how each movie (especially lately) always get critically acclaimed, even when the story is shallow filler like Doctor Strange because the visuals and attitude is just so joyous.
Basically, lots of people don’t watch anime to be reminded of reality. They do it for the same reason they’d go to a club or an anime convention: to forget about the painful future for a moment and live in a fantasy (with ground rules). To temporarily escape into a place where drinking is encouraged and you suddenly feel the urge to set things on fire. Because let’s be honest, all fiction is escapist to some degree, and to deny that would be to deny that fiction should ever exist in the first place – which is obviously not a principle you should ever support. So Night is Short basically goes “why even pretend to be important? I’m an anime. No one’s going to take me 100% seriously”. And it was right to do so, because by throwing away any semblance of plot besides some basic important points (like I said, all fantasies need ground rules), especially compared to Yuasa’s other recent anime, it ended up get the highest ratings.
Lu Over the Wall (and yes, as the above image shows, they main trio from that film do have a cameo appearance in Night is Short) is also mostly about having fun, but it ended up making the mistake of having too many ground rules to the point that its shallow attempt at plot made the set pieces come off as random, and most reasonable anime fans aren’t going to praise randomness no matter how bright and colorful it is. While Night is Short’s plot itself is random in the sense that it’s so paper thin you could put a battle between a dragon and a walrus in the film and it’d make a lot of sense as long as they took a swig beforehand, the way the story is told is mostly controlled and never goes beyond Yuasa’s usual refusal to stick to one visual style. Even if the justifications are mostly arbitrary, everything is connected, and it helps that said connection is based on real feelings as well as real culture. Some people even argue that to show anything else outside of this one night would be detrimental to the film’s plot because they know it’s going to be disappointing and such disappointment doesn’t fit a movie like this.
Who cares if the romantic woes of the Underpants Man is on speed as long as it’s funny and executed through a really creatively made musical? Who cares if we’re never going to remember the party-goers we did the monkey with after said party is over, because we’ll still have some connection no matter how arbitrary it is? Who cares if the senpai is a certified stalker who deserved all the bad shit that happened to him over the course of the night as long as he acts like a normal person when he finally gets the girl attracted to him for reasons that don’t make sense? You can complain about Night is Short’s lifestyle choices, but it’s at least honest about its intentions to throw away sense as long as it makes you feel good. And it doesn’t exactly take an expert to realize that in the majority of situations, when it comes to realism vs fun, you’d be wise to take the second option.
Besides, it’s not like the show is Baccano in that it artificially pads the story with extraneous elements, or even puts on a false facade of having much of a story in the first place. This is an anime version of an Usher song made when he’s at his peak, except with less strippers and the club is outdoors: always upbeat, always flowing, and always making you wish you were participating whilst it’s going on. There are no tragedies in this tale because sorrow isn’t allowed at the party. Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that’s why when daybreak comes, we only see the two lead characters and no one else: because they’re probably suffering from massive hangovers in addition to the sickness they caught in the final act, and who the fuck wants to end the anime version of a drunken party on that? You could even argue that’s why the movie ends with the two meeting for that date: because once they start talking, they’ll probably realize they don’t have much in common and end up breaking up before things can really get started.
Yeah there’s the argument that Night is Short is acting a little irresponsibly by flat-out ignoring the faults of excessive drinking and partying in its tale. At most, Usher’s best songs praised a hot girl ready to get low with him, which is only irresponsible if said girl happens to want to secretly kill you once you’re out of the club and alone, and what exactly are the chances of that happening? And they always had a self-awareness that the party was just a temporary form of release, whereas a lot of what I’ve said and even praised about Night is Short relies entirely on assumptions that don’t have enough justifications, especially when you compare it to Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and its portrayal of drinking culture in the same year – which isn’t even that big a part of the series in the first place.
But it works both ways in that I can’t prove that Night is Short’s intention to “be visual alcohol with the assumption that the audience understands it’s just escapist fiction” is not true either. Especially since I’m not Japanese and am not educated in many forms of Japanese storytelling, so maybe it’s just a cultural thing in the same way a lot of their live-action shows that focus on the minutiae of some profession is something they’re just into. It’s highly discouraged to say the audience of something is wrong, especially when it comes to cartoons, to begin with. But if you can’t prove that something is not true beyond your reasoning having more weight to it, then don’t bother trying to convince the fans to see things your way. Just because one way to look at it is simpler doesn’t mean it’s automatically correct. True contradictions or bust, amirite?
So at the end of the day, regardless of my feelings, I appreciate that Night is Short exists, not just as a good means to temporarily retreat from the world’s problems, but as a reasonable alternative to actually drinking alcohol in the first place. Plus, any comparable dangers to alcoholism you might get from watching it is limited by the fact that it’s only ninety minutes long. As such, you won’t escape reality for long, but you’ll be on the dance floor for just long enough to feel excitement whilst not overstaying your welcome and ending up in a prison cell surrounded by a bunch of other idiots who had the same idea you did. Because as much as it sucks, we’ve got to return to reality sometime.
But until then, let’s dance, dance like it’s the last, last night of your life, life.