I realized it was foolish of me to say that I was going to review every OVA and Movie that aired as some of them are really not worth the time watching, not to mention reviewing. Plus I’d read somewhere that Gyo was on the scary side, and I just don’t do scary.
Fortunately, Hotarubi no Mori e is not of the scary genre, and it is definitely worth the time to watch.
Being that it’s only a 45 minute movie (the movie portion itself is actually only about 40 minutes in length, and nothing happens during or after the credits; believe me I checked – not because the ending is unfulfilling but because I’m the kind of crazy that always watches the credits) Hotarubi no Mori e is barely a long sit-through and the story is so well told, the characters so easy to believe in, the time will just fly by.
As a brief synopsis, the story revolves around a growing relationship between Hotaru – a girl from the city who spends her summers in the country-side – and Gin, a Youkai. They meet when Hotaru is only a child and spend every subsequent summer together. I suppose now might be a fair time to warn against spoilers, though the outcome of the story is no surprise. But the greatness of the movie lies not in the end, but all the in-between goodness. As an infant, abandoned by his parents for whatever reason, Gin was taken in by the community of Youkai that lived in the area. The Mountain God gave him the prolonged livelihood of a Youkai but at one cost: he must never come in physical contact with another human. If he did, he would disappear.
At the heart, Hotarubi no Mori e is a love story between Gin watching Hotaru grow from a child into a woman, and Hotaru re-evaluating their relationship as a woman. As a child, she looked forward to summers; as a maturing woman, she could no longer stand the months in between. The difference between the two is so subtle and yet so definitive, and was so well done in the movie.
Plus there was the issue of touch: imagine the difficulty in not touching someone. Not just in one meeting and one interaction, but every day, for entire seasons; year after year, after year. Now add the difficulty of not touching someone you wanted desperately to touch. Gin may have had no interest in making contact with Hotaru when she was little, and found ways around it when they played their games, but as they grew closer, and grew to care for each other (and I don’t even mean specifically in a romantic way; remember when Hotaru fell from the tree? – which I also found hard to believe since it was a pretty thick branch. She either weighed a lot as a child or the tree had a termite problem), it became something they both longed for and had to be extremely conscientious to avoid.
As with any other Youkai romance, the issue of time also comes up. Hotaru notes how she keeps changing year after year, and yet, Gin remains the same. This brings Hotaru to reflect on the fact that one day, they’ll appear to be the same age, but also, eventually, she will become older in appearance than Gin. Even though it isn’t mentioned in the movie, you can’t help but imagine Gin looking quite the same and Hotaru looking like a grandma. It also makes you wonder how many hundreds of years Gin has been around knowing his physical state had been altered by the Mountain God when he was just a baby.
Nearly every love story between a Youkai and human is of a tragic nature, because, despite the similarities that Youkai and human seem to often share, their differences are generally insurmountable. It seems difficult enough to be friends, let alone fall in love. We’ve seen this numerous times in the Natsume Yuujinchou series – which, if you didn’t already know, shares the same original creator (I held out as long as I could without mentioning Natsume Yuujinchou!)
Now I know Hotarubi no Mori e and Natsume Yuujinchou are similar in many ways, and that’s because they share the same roots of creation, but I almost feel it’s unfair to compare the two. Natsume Yuujinchou is a full-blown series meant to explore the various complexities of a human who has deep and constant interactions with Youkai while maintaining his human relationships; Hotarubi no Mori e has a single focus and that is the story of Hotaru and Gin. The movie starts with them, and ends with them.
And I have read some comments about the ending feeling rushed or leaving some people unsatisfied, but the summer festival was going to be the last time Hotaru and Gin saw each other ever again anyway; Hotaru didn’t think Gin was going to meet with her anymore, and his giving her his mask was a sign of that (it was the only thing that set him apart as a “Youkai” and his lack of its need implied that he had no intention of making contact with any human ever again). Time spent together was becoming as painful as the time spent apart, though in a completely different manner, and I suppose Gin thought it was best that he and Hotaru separate; she would have the chance to live her life for herself then.
Hotarubi no Mori e is a movie I whole-heartedly recommend. It’s not hard to follow and its story is really well told. The characters are simple but very easy to believe in and grow attached to. The animation is good and the music is well composed and orchestrated. And for those of you who have Natsume Yuujinchou queued in your “To Watch” list, put aside 40 minutes to watch this movie before you even start with Natsume, please. It’s like an amuse-bouche: well-crafted and just enough to whet your palette, preparing you for a full-course four-season series.
Here are some other reviews if you’d like: