Review: Hotarubi no Mori e

Don't let this image fool you--- this movie is completely devoid of mystique.

Lost in the woods and crying desperately for help, 6-year old Takegawa Hotaru is saved by Gin, a mysterious “spirit of the forest.” Gin tells Hotaru that he will disappear if she touches him. Despite this, Hotaru and Gin become friends, spending their time together summer after summer. Hotarubi no Mori e is a story about their love and the distance between them.

Hotarubi no Mori e takes a rather cliched premise (forbidden love) and does absolutely nothing new with it. The result is a slow, uninspiring movie devoid of merit. The characters are uncompelling and shallow, and their relationship is most notable for its lack of intimacy. It is surprising how long this movie takes to say so little.

Hotarubi no Mori e is a relationship piece with two characters, Hotaru and Gin. This makes the movie’s lack of character development particularly frustrating. Hotaru and Gin’s relationship does not really evolve. Clearly, the director thought that everyone watching Hotarubi no Mori e would simply assume that Hotaru and Gin would eventually fall in love with each other. The movie spends zero time describing how Hotaru comes to love Gin, or vice versa.

In fact, character development is so poor that I can only think of one adjective (flat) to describe either character. Neither Gin nor Hotaru have personalities. Hotaru spends time with Gin every summer because that’s just what she does— I never quite got the sense that she strongly desired to be with him. There is no passion and no affection in their relationship with each other. Gin is merely an object, a plot device to create conflict.

With characters as flat as Gin and Hotaru, it’s no surprise that their relationship is equally bland. The only notable aspect of their relationship is a complete lack of physical intimacy. Not the worst of premises, but the movie only manages to beat viewers’ over the head with this contrived “NO TOUCHING” rule. Neither character seems particularly bothered by the lack of intimacy— one would think that death by touching would be a slightly bigger source of stress and strain in any kind of relationship. Instead, there is a near-complete lack of anxiety or despair, and the ultimate resolution of Hotarubi no Mori e‘s central conflict is frustratingly meaningless.

With bland characters and an incredibly shallow main conflict, I found it difficult to emotionally invest in this movie. The film also suffered from a lack of visual beauty, which further exacerbated by disinterest. Character designs were uninspiring and generic, and the forests of Hotarubi no Mori e are shockingly bland, especially when compared to similar works about forest spirits (Princess Mononoke, Mushishi, even Oji-san no Lamp). Its shrines are devoid of sanctity or dignity— they’re simply old.

Ultimately, Hotarubi no Mori e is simply uninspiring. Its character designs and art direction are incredibly bland, its characters shallow and its plot virtually nonexistent. Hotarubi no Mori e may have tried to create a sense of fragility and subtlety, yet ironically, it is so subtle that its themes and ultimate message (if one can even call it that) are glaringly obvious. Its unwillingness to say anything significant or meaningful dooms it to complete mediocrity.

Disagree? Let me know @Akirascuro on Twitter. 

9 responses to “Review: Hotarubi no Mori e

  1. You contrarian! ;)

    This does bring up something interesting: Is Gin just a “Manic Pixie Dream Boy,” a wildcard to make Hotaru into a full person, then conveniently die before the problems of their relationship begin to surface?

    Possibly. But attraction is mysterious, too. I thought it captured that rather well.

    • If attraction is mysterious, then why is it predestined? One can’t simply say “oooh, mystery!” and use that as an excuse to not develop characters.

  2. Tbh, I think you massively missed the point of the movie. If you only view it through the lens of a romantic relationship, sure you’ll view it as horribly shallow. After all, it is only a 40 minute movie, not too much time to develop that sort of story. But, imo, the story was about so much more than a simple romantic relationship, and I’m not that sure if you understood this or you simply glossed over it because you do not find those themes, symbols, and meanings interesting.

    So yes, I disagree vehemently with your assessment.

    (Sorry for the typos in the previous post)

    • Well, please elaborate on what you think the themes and symbols of the movie were. I personally found its depiction of the supernatural rather bland and uninspiring as well. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      The problem with Hotarubi no Mori e, in my view, is that its main plot (the romance) was uninspiring, AND its visual direction bland enough that it does not draw attention to itself, which is also problematic.

    • I have to agree with Taara x1,000,000. And to the OP, you can’t explain the feel of something you touched, to someone who’s never touched it. I guess that’s how you can explain it. Well, in my random words maybe ; )

      • I study/work with primates, and I can tell you that we are all very tactile in our relationships. That’s what I found so touching about this movie–the development of first a friendship and then a romance while being denied something so vital to us. Maybe in a world where people are increasingly disconnected through the use of technology (Facebook, texting, etc.), some people have grown so cold that they can no longer appreciate this.

  3. I have just recently found your blog and hove been devouring your insightful and intriguing analysises. This post specifically caused me to go and watch the movie for myself despite my hatred of “forbidden romances”. I loved it. Forbidden romance is usually marked as tragic and fated for a bad end due to conflict stemming from outside the relationship’s power. This seems to cue lamentation and grief from the protagonists. That is what always gets me. However, this OVA never pushed it. They both have an understanding of the confines of their relationship and enjoying within those means. Hotaru and Gin both talk about concepts of “wanting” and “longing”, but it never seemed forced or annoying. I agree that both characters are flat. Hotaru is the average shojo protagonist, and Gin is some random ass pretty boy. In that, it was almost as if they became archetypes to further a story about holding precious memories, which seemed to be it overall message. The movie appeals in that it demonstrates a very universal human concept of connecting with other, and that even when lost, those memories continue to effect and fuel us for the rest of our lives.

    Also, is it the scene cuts that are lacking in visual flair? When I watched it I was like “The grass is so sexy”, “Damn, look at those mountains”.

  4. Pingback: Debate between positive and negative persona of Canne: Hotarubi no Mori e -anime review | Canne's anime review blog·

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