Produced by Shochiku and Half H.P Studio, The Stranger by the Shore is an anime film adaptation of the boys love manga series Seaside Stranger by Kanna Kii. Both the manga and the anime have received considerable hype recently and the premise is right up my alley, so it didn’t even take watching the trailer to sell me on it. With that said, the preview art I saw was very promising. A BL movie with lovely, polished visuals reflecting an actual budget? Once I saw that the film was available on Funimation, there was no doubt that I would check it out. Now I have, and the question of course is: did it live up to all the hype?
Plot-wise, here’s a summary courtesy of Funimation:
Abandoned after coming out, Shun befriends Mio just before he has to move. Years later, Mio returns with a confession. How will Shun feel?
Structurally, the film isn’t entirely linear. It makes heavy use of flashbacks, cutting to and from Mio and Shun’s present and their younger days when they first met. Rather than disorienting, this storytelling decision is an effective one. Most importantly, it allows the viewer to continually observe changes and similarities in the lead characters and their environment across time.
With regards to environment, The Stranger by the Shore does an excellent job conveying spaces as lived-in settings rather than just replaceable backdrops to the drama. Many of the most recurring visual motifs in the film are of flowering bushes near the couple’s home. Frames will linger on said flowers for a few short seconds between scenes of human interaction, embedding Mio and Shun’s joys and frustrations within the natural atmosphere surrounding them. Across all their time together the pair live surrounded by such touches of nature on the island, thriving examples of life that endure much like their own affections.
This endurance of life isn’t solely separate from the characters, either. Perhaps the most notable example of scenery changing comes in the form of Shun and Mio’s actions reshaping the very setting where they first met. At one point Mio gifts a plant to Shun, who then plants it at the bench where he initially saw Mio sitting by himself back in their younger days. When Mio returns after his time away, he sees that the plant has since grown and thrived, surrounding the bench with colorful flowers. What once was plain has become vibrant and lovely, even if overgrown. In other words, the couple’s meeting place has changed to reflect both the chaos and the promise that their relationship brings to their lives.
With regards to change, it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the younger and older Mios are effectively different people. From his temperament to his physical posture and body language, it’s clear that his time with Shun has dramatically impacted him. Shun, by contrast, remains much the same. That’s not to say that he comes across as a flat character without dimensions so much as his core flaws and anxieties remain relatively consistent across the span of the film. There are some mentions throughout of his difficult history with his family, and these add context to his actions although much remains subtle about the presentation. The film isn’t vague by any means; it certainly gives the viewer the bare minimum information needed— but little beyond it. Your mileage may vary on if this is executed effectively or if Shun’s character could have still used more fleshing out.
Moreso than either individual character’s growth, it’s their arc as a couple that seems most definitively bare-boned. Again, its not an issue of clarity. The characters are written consistently and believably enough that their actions across their confused courtship make sense. With that said, as a viewer it can sometimes feel like one has missed some steps along the way between the pair’s first meeting and their becoming enamored with one another. Despite the frequent flashbacks throughout there’s still a sense that the middle period of the relationship could have still used a tad more screen time. Love is of course largely beyond explanation, but the film prioritizes conflict over joy to the extent that it’s sometimes difficult to actually feel the characters’ affections for one another. Again, subtlety almost becomes an outright absence.
Less ambiguously, the sound design in the film is wonderful. Clips of cats meowing and insects buzzing are frequently utilized, helping to flesh out the setting. The nature visuals in and of themselves may help ground the film, but the accompanying cicada cries really seal the deal. Beyond that all the voice actors do a good job conveying their characters’ full ranges of emotion, and the soundtrack is lovely and tonally appropriate throughout.
All in all, The Stranger by the Shore is an interesting film that grounds its characters and their romance within the minutia of everyday life. From the animal sounds in the background to effectively utilized plant motifs, the characters struggle and flail about within a chaotic, lively world. Though there are moments of confession and passionate embrace, these are by far the exception. Instead, most of the film focuses on thorny between moments in which the characters inflict and receive pain. As such, it ultimately isn’t exactly a feel-good romance so much as a delicate look at love between damaged people. While it borders on incomplete in its depiction of the relationship’s growth at points, it’s nonetheless affecting and well worth watching.
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