A Review of Liz and the Blue Bird

One of the earliest scenes in Liz and the Blue Bird depicted the protagonist, Mizore, waiting for someone at the school gate. One girl comes through the school gate, but Mizore is met with disappointment as it is not who she is waiting for. And then, the music swells from a scarce pluck of the string to a delightful melody, as the tapping of one girl’s steps is heard along the pavement.

But it’s not just any girl. It’s THE girl. Like a wind coming from the distance, Mizore and the audience know that someone important is coming before they even see her face. It’s as if hearing the quickening heartbeat of a shy young girl faced with her crush, translated into song.

Liz and the Blue Bird is a love story about two girls named Mizore and Nozomi. They are both in the band club, the former playing Oboe, and the latter playing flute. The next piece the club will be performing is based on a children’s storybook called “Liz and the Blue Bird.”

The book is about a lonely girl named Liz who meets a beautiful bird that turns into a girl. They fall in love, but eventually, they have part ways. As Mizore learns more about the story, she sees Nozomi and herself in the two characters. This makes them fall out of sync in practice, as they are forced to confront their past and question their friendship.

Initially, I expected the story to follow Mizore exclusively, her complex feelings towards her crush, and the dilemma of what she would do with her future. However, I was delighted to find that just as much of the story was tackling those same questions from Nozomi’s perspective as well.

Misunderstanding is the source of so much teen drama and this film nails home how one’s feelings of guilt or anger could be entirely misplaced compared to how another actually feels. They both miss the point until they do what they were always going to do and just talk.

It’s a film about finding one’s self in the stories we empathize with, and even the one’s where we don’t. Mizore can’t conceive why Liz, the girl who she assumes represents her, would let the bluebird free when she loves her so much.

It takes time for her to consider that maybe both her and Nozomi were looking at the story completely wrong. Watching them come to this conclusion was my favorite part and the aspect of the film that speaks the most to my own philosophies.

As a person, I tend to find myself in the media I consume. Before I came out of the closet, I found comfort in watching shows like Free!. The characters were all content with their masculinity and displayed an openness I hadn’t seen in most male characters. For a closeted gay male, this was revolutionary. It’s no wonder people clamor for representation.

It is worth noting that the storybook itself is expressed through its own animated sequences throughout the film. It has its own unique visual style, unlike anything Kyoto Animation has put out previously. In terms of colors and shading, I would compare it to Nichijou, but design-wise, it is very different.

Sadly, while I found these sequences to be beautiful and full of heart, they felt like an afterthought after the movie was finished. It’s not as if the film is split 50/50 between these two halves. It’s more like 25/75, at best.

The parallels to the coinciding real-world story are made apparent through exposition alone, making these scenes seem unnecessary. However, it is worth praising the voice work of 14-year-old actress Miyu Honda, who voiced both Liz and the Blue Bird during these segments.

Blue Bird was directed by Naoko Yamada, the acclaimed director of KyoAni’s last cinematic marvel, Silent Voice. Yamada has been making a name for herself and this film, to some, might just be mildly superior, if in a subtle way. It’s still the slow-burn youth drama that Yamada is known for, but it feels a bit more complete than Silent Voice.

Silent Voice was a masterpiece, but one of few flaws was in how it adapted a manga series into a single movie. In the process, it cut out certain material that would have helped develop the large cast. Here, it is an original story and so Yamada could take as much time as needed to flesh things out.

Although it may take more time than needed. The slow pacing in the first act could turn some viewers off, even with the charming musical accompaniment. Additionally, Mizore doesn’t start becoming an interesting protagonist until the second act, where she starts coming out of her shell.

It bears mentioning that this film takes place in the same universe as Hibike! Euphonium, one of KyoAni’s popular series. However, as one who has not watched the series proper, I can assure you no knowledge of the series is required at all to enjoy this film. It’s very smart of KyoAni to use an existing property to tell an original story so accessible to so many people.

And really, the film takes advantage of the band club aesthetic to the fullest extent. The orchestral pieces, most notably the title track “Liz and the Blue Bird” are beautiful enough, but there is an understated pluckiness added to more casual scenes. The music was done by Kensuke Ushio, who is responsible for the music in Silent Voice, Space Dandy, and even Devilman Crybaby. If you enjoyed any of those for music, you know what to expect.

Finally, there is the art and really, what can I say? It’s Kyoto Animation so it looks gorgeous. Almost entirely hand-drawn save for a couple of cgi fish (what happened to their Coy fish animation budget from Silent Voice?). As stated, the storybook scenes take on a look completely different that I would love to see in more works by the studio.

When it isn’t the photorealistic backgrounds created using photo reference the studio is known for, the character animation is the best. I’ve concluded that what sets KyoAni so high above so many other studios is the subtle, small movements of its characters. It is the facial twitches and changes in body language, turning scenes of dialog into so much more.

Liz and the Blue Bird was sweet and pretty and though it could have done better had the storybook sections been reworked, this film will satisfy anyone looking for teen drama and romance. It’s art, music and sincerity are what you carry you throughout. Beyond that, the messages about stories and finding one’s place is relatable to all. Another masterpiece from the masters themselves

Liz and the Blue Bird was reviewed in theater on November 12th, 2018. A Blu-Ray release date is yet unknown, but keep an eye out.

Other recommendations from Kyoto Animation:

  • A Silent Voice – Also directed by Naoko Yamada, this tale of redemption bombards the audience with messages of depression and suicide but leaves you feeling a sense of hope and a lot of tears.
  • Violet Evergarden (Netflix) – A tale of war and love through the eyes of one who knows the former too well and the latter not nearly enough. An excellent episodic series with many memorable, standalone stories.
  • Beyond the Boundary – A love story in a contemporary setting but with a hidden world of monsters and monster hunters. An emotional love story, beautiful action, and meticulous world building.

I was so happy to see Liz and the Blue Bird in theaters. It was kinda last minute but I managed to get a good review out of it. Looking forward, I have some more analytical essays on the horizon, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, thanks for reading and see you next time.

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