Although anime is its own medium outside of animation in general, it is also split up in various demographic groups such as Shōnen and Seinen. The best way to appreciate anime as a whole is focusing on a particular director who may have a distinct style and is able to broaden his filmmaking in a number of genres. Look no further than the works of Masaaki Yuasa, who is known for his wild, freeform style that spans through TV shows like The Tatami Galaxy and Devilman Crybaby. For his latest feature, Yuasa goes conventional, compared to his other work, with a touching romance.
Ride Your Wave centers on Hinako Mukaimizu (voiced by Rina Kawaei), a nineteen-year-old who moves to an oceanside town to attend college and indulge in her hobby, surfing. When her new apartment catches on fire from fireworks, she is rescued by Minato Hinageshi (Ryota Katayose), a twenty-one-year-old firefighter and soon after, they fall in love. When tragedy strikes, Hinako is left alone, unable to move on, until a mixture of a favorite song of theirs and contact with water, rekindles the romance in the most unusual way.
Usually with Yuasa, his wacky sensibilities are displayed right from the start with his works and you have to quickly tune in with the pace, otherwise you’ll feel lost. What’s surprising here is the level of restraint the director shows. With the first act of Reiko Yoshida’s script focusing on how Hinako and Minato meet and become a couple before the fantasy element. Depicted in a montage with the two lovebirds singing the film’s main theme “Brand New Story” by Generations from Exile Tribe, you see their romance blossom and it’s adorable. Which is why the tragic demise hits so hard.
We have seen this kind of story of young love and loss numerous times. But Yuasa takes his time in investing in our lead heroine’s distraught state before she is reunited with Minato, appearing as a ghost through water. The second act edges closer to Yuasa’s surrealism of his past work with the story mixing tragedy and comedy, whilst setting up the central dilemma of Hinako not moving with the rest of the world. This is said by Minato’s friend Wasabi and his sister Yōko, both of which get their own moments to shine and how they are coping with the loss.
For the most part, drama in anime can be melodramatic. Films such as Your Name and Weathering With You both play with fantasy and have finales that make some big leaps some people may question. Ride Your Wave falls into this same sentimental category with a few too many revelations, whilst setting up an overblown climax.
As the storytelling ranges from romantic intimacy to fire-ridden set-pieces, the animation from the studio Science Saru (co-founded by Yuasa) makes it all work on a visual level. Not as exaggerated in style as many of Yuasa’s past works, there is a fluidity in the movements of humanity, fire and water. The surfing sequences are a sight to behold, signifying Hinako’s grace and movement, whilst the brightening sun shines below her.