Blu-ray Review: Liz and the Blue Bird | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, May 28th, 2020  

Liz and the Blue Bird

Studio: Shout! Factory

Apr 10, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Naoko Yamada has been a rising force in Japanese anime for the better part of a decade since her directing debut with the K-On! (2009-2010) television serial, and its OVA and theatrical film tie-ins. Her experimental visual style and nuanced girl-and-woman-centric storytelling has elevated her works through the years to stand as some of the most eclectic and emotionally resonant animation currently released. This fact is overtly prevalent in her most recent theatrical film, Liz and the Blue Bird, which has been billed as a spin-off sequel to the Sound! Euphonium animated series (2015-2016), based off the Ayano Takeda novel series of the same name. Taking place within the same universe with many recurring characters, it also functions as a stand-alone story that is not reliant on previous experience with the franchise to make sense of the story’s events. As someone who has not invested any prior time in the Sound! Euphonium property, this was great news to me, and also makes the film much more universally digestible, relying only on elements contextualized in the film.

Mizore (Atsumi Tanezaki) is a highly introverted teen traipsing her final year at high school as oboist in her school’s brass band. She is rehearsing a duet with the popular and outgoing Nozomi (Nao Tōyama), a flutist and Mizore’s only friend, titled “Liz and the Blue Bird,” based on a German fairy tale of the same name that Nozomi adored as a child. Within this story, which is told parallel to the main plot, a woman named Liz and a magical bluebird turned human (both played by Miyu Honda) become best friends and live together, until the bluebird is forced by Liz to leave. As band practice continues and graduation approaches, Mizore isolates herself from her peers, struggling with her emotions for Nozomi, and tries to make sense of the story which inspired the musical duet. Meanwhile, Nozomi struggles with what her life beyond high school will look like, and (eventually) how this unknown element affects her relationship with her friends, teachers, and outlook on adulthood.

Though Liz and the Blue Bird was acclaimed upon release in 2018 for its sublime music, flawless and intricate animation, and stunning character designs, it has been criticized for overly-slow pacing, limited settings, and noticeable lack of “overt drama” within the narrative. These criticisms often have been issued in comparison to the emotional onslaught of Yamada’s previous feature A Silent Voice (2016), but I would wholly disagree with these sentiments. Firstly, while it is true that Liz is much less distraught and borderline-fatalistic with its more dramatic moments, I would argue that it may be the far more personable, poignant, and relatable due to is increased subtleties, and close relationship the story and its characters have with its music. The pacing isn’t slow - it’s deliberate, it’s contemplative, it’s clutching to those last fleeting moments of childhood that defines us for the majority of our early lives while simultaneously serving as highly emblematic of the lead characters’ inabilities to properly voice their feelings.

The film moves like a musical piece, possessing an inherent rhythm and tempo expressed through editing, character quirks, and some of the most delicate emotions I have seen animated on screen in the past few decades. The setting is mainly inside the characters’ high school, but I honestly hardly noticed considering how the setting is so effectively utilized to convey different emotional states and relationships between its cast. Whether confined and caged, or open and colorful, the setting always supplies the correct context for every scene, which rarely ever utilizes a shot more than once, changing and improving on the composition and narrative flow with each step forward. These elements are accentuated by the film’s unbelievable use of diegetic sound and classical musical scores to create a symphony of everyday life and teenaged whimsy that simply doesn’t exist to the same degree in any other anime (that I am aware). While it may not contain so many of the earth-shattering moments that A Silent Voice is so renowned for, Liz and the Blue Bird manages to make its much smaller story all the more potent and powerful - and its combined animation and watercolor artwork could be placed in any gallery on earth and would be admired for its beauty.

Shout! Factory has released a Blu-ray/DVD combo for North American audiences, released with both Japanese and English dubbed tracks. While it possesses English subtitles for the Japanese dub, it does not have closed captions for the English version, which is disappointing. Its static menus offer very little, and no supplemental features come on the disc. However, while ordering copies from, customers will get an exclusive film strip from the movie while supplies last.

Geoff Thew of Mother’s Basement probably summarized the movie best by stating Liz and the Blue Bird is “a tale about two people who care about each other a lot, trying to find the best way to care for each other.” A story so simple in its description manages to be one of the most multifaceted dramas of the last few years, and continues to solidify Yamada as one of the greatest and more exploratory directors in contemporary anime.



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April 12th 2019

As an anime fan, I can’t wait to see this. Thank you for sharing! The art is beautiful and the music sounds great, too.