Hello everyone. As I have been mainly reading manga for some time and have opted out of weekly reviews, I haven’t been reviewing anime much. It’s not a crime or anything, but it might get boring, especially when you’re not interested in the stuff I’m reading. Plus, for some reason, I came to find review manga a tad easier to put together compared to anime and found myself gravitating toward it more.
But everything changed when the Twitter account randomsakuga attacked. No, they’re a pretty chill account so they haven’t done anything, but a video of an anime character getting his leg massaged caught my attention one day. I was like, I immediately need context for that massage! The setting made it seem like it was sports related, so you can guess my interest instantly tripled. And that’s how I met the movie Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase.
It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mess up somewhere, though. I got overly excited and watched this movie without checking anything out about it, only to realize it was a sequel to the movie Nasu: Summer in Andalusia. While I did sigh in defeat, I never felt like something was missing when I watched A Migratory Bird with Suitcase. There’s nothing to spoil in this movie since it’s more about the experience than finding out “who the killer is” but as always, no hidden twists or turns in the plot were harmed in this review. Time for the brief summary, enjoy.
Things aren’t looking good for Team Pao Pao Beer. Which is usually the case in adulthood, but if this pro-cycling team can’t perform well in the Japan Cup and get at least one point, they’ll be disbanded. These cyclists are aware of how likely that is and on top of the anxiety of an uncertain future, the suicide of a very important cyclist, Marco Rondanini, weighs on the team. He was a hero to Pepe and especially Ciocci, and although Ciocci is excused from the cup, he refuses to sit out of the competition that might be their last.
I wonder if some of you got the same feeling looking at the video, that it’s very… Ghibliesque? For a second I wondered if there was a Ghibli movie I never heard of before. Both Nasu films are MADHOUSE productions and no surprise that production-wise, A Migratory Bird With Suitcase is very, very good. Turns out, Kitarou Kousaka, a significant presence in a lot of Ghibli movies, was heavily involved in the production of Nasu as the character designer/director/scriptwriter. Worth mentioning that he was the key animator for cult movies such as Akira and Metropolis.
Overall, I found Nasu’s quality to be very good. Very dynamic when it needs to be, with interesting camera angles and at times, giving us the front-seat experience of what it would feel like to be personally on that bike, racing, by switching to the first-person view. I had to stop and take short breaks to appreciate those beautiful, snowy mountains or lush greenery that surrounds the racing course. I couldn’t find a specific background artist/concept artist credited here but whoever you people were, bless your hands. The scenery, be it the natural habitat, the shopping district, or historical places, felt like a supporting character that silently set the mood just by being there.
On to the characters and narration. The one, big keyword I noted down for the whole movie is “warm”. And while that warmth can be attributed to a lot of elements, I believe the biggest contribution comes from the movie’s success in characterization and the subtly detailed interactions between the characters. When I praise a series’ characterization, I mean it in a theatrical or acting sense. I’ll briefly explain but if you’d be interested in reading a separate post on what can be learned from acting when it comes to characterization, what to look for, and bits on the history of theatre, let me know in the comments or through my CC. I’ll be happy to oblige.
Good characterization shines best in a crowd, where there’s an ensemble of the cast where you can do comparisons. Or during moments where your attention is on a specific character or conversation while others are there. You look at a room full of people and everyone sits differently, better yet, the way they sit gives you a hint of their character. Body language, quirks, and habits – in short, mannerisms speak volumes about a character. However, these quirks have to be subtle yet noticeable, and consistent throughout the series. One example I can give is Pepe, the man with glasses getting massaged. From the first moments of the series, we see Pepe as a very energetic, loud, competitive but friendly character and this is further supported by his hands always being busy with something. You see him fiddling with a magazine on the plane, spinning an umbrella he sees in front of a shop while walking, or the rest are standing in a store while he’s off looking through packages. He’s listening to the conversation going on and contributes when necessary, but his attention is divided into whatever he’s interested in his surroundings while others are perfectly capable of standing or sitting still.
Another well-thought detail that I adored is that the team is composed of cyclists from different countries. None of them is Japanese and this is incorporated in really funny or sweet ways that poke fun at foreigners’ stereotypes of Japan. At an early stage, when the team is cycling around the city, we see Pepe accidentally cycling on the wrong side of the traffic, or the team talking about wanting to experience geisha. You can see it in their struggle with using chopsticks. A Japanese woman, Hikaru, is assigned to assist the team, and when she bows while introducing herself, the guys want to reciprocate with a Japanese phrase that they seemed to have rehearsed beforehand. All but Regio manage to pull it off, while my guy accidentally thanks for the food. These well-intended little mishaps give Nasu the warmth and the natural air that drew me in instantly.
At its core, it’s a movie about the feeling of frustration and resignment in the face of an unfathomable, almost inhumane talent. Wondering if there’s any merit to all this physical and mental suffering just to keep doing what you’ve been doing, whether giving up is synonymous with running away, no matter the circumstance. The show brings everything together incredibly well, considering the scope of the question the narration tries to tackle in a rather short span of time.
This doesn’t mean that Nasu is a loyally realistic take on cycling, though. Maybe it’s not the most appropriate thing to say about a movie that opens with suicide and two characters trying to come to terms with the loss. However, as a whole, Nasu is very upbeat and lively and has lots of comedic or cartoonish moments that made me affectionately yell “Look at these dorks!”. It was a show I had a great time watching and will surely come back to visit in the future. Another comfort series has been added to the basket!
It’s embarrassing to admit after all this, but I don’t know how to ride a bike. And certainly would have no idea why a team of cyclists would need tactics or how could you even race as a team when everyone basically has themselves to spin those pedals before having met a friend who was passionate about competitive cycling or without the help of Yowamushi Pedal. While we don’t learn a lot about the rules of the competition or rankings, we still get a fair amount of explanation about the division of roles in a team, the inner workings/competitiveness during the race and at times we are shown rather than being told, as in cyclists warning the other competitors about certain dangers who are behind with hand signals.
To sum it all up, I highly recommend Nasu if you’re looking for a short series to watch that asks a question fans of sports anime would be familiar with in an adult setting, that is neatly packaged with good animation, warm characters, good music, and background art. If all else fails, please give it a chance for Pepe.
Have you seen A Migratory Bird with Suitcase? Or its prequel, Summer in Andalusia? Let me know in the comments if you did. If not, I’d like to hear your thoughts on anything I’ve mentioned above, especially the jiggly muscles. As always, thank you so much for reading until the end, and see you soon!
Last minute edit: I noticed I haven’t mentioned the source of the movies. Nasu (eggplant in Japanese) is a collection of short stories by Iou Kuroda, whom you might recognize from Appleseed or Sexy Voice and Robo. Another important bit I didn’t know was that Summer in Andalusia was the very first Japanese animation movie ever to be selected for Cannes Film Festival. Wow!
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