A university student breaks out of her shell and immediately attempts to fly in Masaki Tachibana’s animated drama.
“This was the moment I fell in love with the sky…”
My favourite thing about Japan’s long history of animated film is that at no point did they ever shoehorn themselves into a single category. Going through Japanese animated films, you’re just as likely to find a romantic drama as you are a sci-fi epic or a fantasy adventure. Such is the case with Blue Thermal. Based on the manga of the same name by Kana Ozawa, Blue Thermal follows the anime film tradition of Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday and The Garden of Words of not necessarily needing to be particularly fantastical to be animated. It is a laid-back, easy going film that never feels the need to ratchet up the tension or drama – for better or worse.
Tamaki Tsuru is a first year university student who dreams of finding new friends and even love on her campus. Looking at activity clubs, her foray into the tennis club goes badly when she causes an accident that damages one of the aviation club’s competition gliders. Unable to afford to pay for the repairs, she joins the club as a helper but the coach, third year student Kuramochi, insists she’ll make a great flyer and trains her to fly for the upcoming rookie flight competition.
I haven’t read the manga, so I won’t do any comparisons to it, but I have to imagine that the story in the source material moves at a better pace. The film tries to cram a fair amount of character development, aviation talk, aviation action, romance and older sisters in a pretty concise 100 minutes. At the same time, it keeps its ambling pace throughout which is something I appreciate, even if it means that the final half hour of the film feels somehow both very relaxed and rushed at the same time.
As a result, the narrative suffers. You’re left with a lot of moments where things just happen and third act dramatics pop up out of nowhere. It’s nothing too egregious, but it’s a far cry from the Miyazaki and Shinkai films it is clearly aspiring to be.
Where it succeeds more is in the film’s visual style. Like Miyazaki’s myriad aviation films before it, Blue Thermal’s aerial shots are more gorgeous than not, emphasising lush Japanese scenery in beautiful scenes of sweeping green fields and endless blue skies. I say “than not” because Blue Thermal does struggle with these occasionally. There are moments when, in an attempt to save time, the backgrounds incorporate some extremely ugly still photographs and CG renders, which are distractingly terrible in their compositing. Contrast this to the ground-level stuff, which has a considerably more consistent visual style, and never fails to look bright, cheerful and aesthetically pleasing.
And while they do distract from the occasionally uninteresting plot and characters (though Tsuru is always a delight throughout), the background work isn’t carrying the whole film. It does have narrative merit in a lot of ways – it could just have been neatened up a bit here and there. For example, there’s a subplot where second year student Sorachi is assigned to be Tsuru’s boyfriend/friend/aviation partner by Kuramochi, which seems like it will lead to a romance – but doesn’t. The same is true for Tsuru’s older half-sister, who has no patience for her sister, right up until she does. Blue Thermal is nevertheless still worth checking out, if you’ve run out of similar animated romantic dramas – but don’t expect it to soar to any great heights.
Verdict: While it might suffer the occasional patch of insufferable dullness, Blue Thermal glides by thanks to its beautiful animation, relaxed vibe and charming leading lady.
Overall entertainment: 6.5/10
Violence: Some serious crashes/10
Sex: Only if you meet the right boy at the right clubs
Closing song: 7/10
Backgrounds: 9/10 most of the time, 0/10 sometimes
Blue Thermal (2022)
Also known as: ブルーサーマル -青凪大学体育会航空部-
Director: Masaki Tachibana
Writers: Masaki Tachibana (screenplay), Natsuko Takahashi (screenplay), Kana Ozawa (manga)
Mayu Hotta – Tamaki Tsuru
Nobunaga Shimazaki – Jun Kuramochi
Junya Enoki – Daisuke Sorachi
Mikako Komatsu – Chizuru Yano
Daisuke Ono – Yo Asashina
Haruka Shiraishi – Yukari Muroi
Yo Taichi – Ayako Maki
Ayumu Murase – Eita Narihara
Makoto Furukawa – Ryohei Nanba
Rie Takahashi – Kaori Mochida
Taku Yashiro – Harukaze Aihara
Kengo Kawanishi – Kaede Hatori