I don’t know what it is with anime features films and water this year, but the fact that Ride Your Wave is the second anime film from an acclaimed director centered on the importance of water in as many months can’t be a coincidence. Water and animation have always had a tricky relationship, since you can ask anyone who works in the field that animating characters is one thing, but water is a whole other realm. It’s the ultimate challenge to create water that not only looks magical, but also is consistent and never looks unnatural.
While last month Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You brought a supernatural element to depicting water, now we have Masaaki Yuasa’s Ride Your Wave. Most casual anime fans may remember his 2018 slam dunk epic, Devilman Crybaby, which also gave us the GREATEST RUNNING ANIMATION OF ALL TIME, but the man has never once turned in a bad final product. That’s in part due to his stunning animation, but also because he’s just a competent director, and Ride Your Wave is no exception. It doesn’t redefine what it means to be an anime feature film, but man is it just a pleasant experience.
Ride Your Wave
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Release Date: February 19, 2020
Ride Your Wave is an oceanic love story between Hinako (Rina Kawaei), a woman who has always loved surfing and has decided to move to a small oceanside town to be closer to the waves, and Minato (Ryota Katayose), a firefighter who saves Hinako’s life when her apartment catches fire. They fall in love and become inseparable, that is until Minato drowns while trying to practice his surfing skills for Hinako. Hinako immediately becomes depressed and refuses to surf again, but whenever she sings their song, a little ditty called “Brand New Story,” Minato appears in the water and is able to talk to her, allowing Hinako to try and continue their relationship by always keeping him/water around.
As is the case with all of Yuasa’s works, his unique animation style lends itself well to the aquatic aesthetic. Yuasa has always been a director who uses a simple yet fluid line work to bring his characters to life and that is incredibly apparent in Ride Your Wave. The film likes to have sweeping shots of Minato and Hinako either swimming or surfing together, letting Yuasa’s Science Saru production company really flex their muscles. It doesn’t provide the sheer wow factor of something like Weathering With You, but it gives off a comforting and relaxing vibe.
That would actually be the most opportune way to describe Ride Your Wave; comforting. It doesn’t try to be something it isn’t, which is a nice and well intentioned love story. The first half hour is dedicated just to showing Hinako and Minato being a couple and it is so endearing that it’s almost perfect. They surf together, cook together, go camping, and make coffee together. The real highlight was a simple little montage where the two of them horirbly sang “Brand New Day” over each other. No professional singers, just two people in love singing a corny song with each other, even laughing together at certain parts before shakily getting back on track. It’s what a real life couple would do and despite knowing that Minato would die, I was hoping and praying that he wouldn’t because they were just so perfect together.
Seeing Minato return as a water spirit was entertaining since it allowed the dyanmic to continue for a little while longer, but a little something began to happen as it did. Sure, Hinako was overjoyed, but it wasn’t exactly healthy. She never accepted his death and because of that can never move on. She’s so in love with him and refuses to let him go that she even drags around a giant inflatable pool toy filled with water just so that she can always keep him around. No one else can see him, so to the outside world, Hinako is unable to cope with the death of her boyfriend and all of her friends tell her that what she’s doing isn’t healthy.
It’s a smart move on Yuasa’s part to fully show that Hinako’s behavior isn’t healthy. In a lesser movie, everyone would be able to see Minato’s aquatic self and be totally okay with her talking to a water bottle, but here everyone acknowledges it for how unhealthy it is. For its bright and sunny demeanor, Ride Your Wave is a movie about overcoming grief and depression and exploring healthy avenues to do so. Yet the movie never overtly tells us that it’s about grief. No one character talks straight to the camera and says that Hinako can’t cope with his death, instead telling it through actions.
There’s a moment towards the middle of the movie where Hinako decides that she wants to try and help people in the same way that Minato helped others as a firefighter and says that it’s what Minato would have wanted. It’s a touching moment for sure and is never framed as a pity party. The only time where I could tell the movie was stretching to try and force a feeling out of me was during the immediate aftermath of his death, which is justifiable. Nothing felt forced and every character has a logical train of thought.
If I had to pick apart the movie for any criticisms, I do think that the climax is a bit weak. It doesn’t try to force an antagonist into being, instead creating a life-or-death situation for Hinako, but the movie attempts to frame it as being more serious than it actually is. It never felt like I was on the edge of my seat, rather than just waiting for the inevitable conclusion.
As far as love stories go, Ride Your Wave was a very well done one that I’m sure will hit a chord with a very specific fans of anime. With stunning animation and a story filled to the brim with heart, I can safely say that of the two water based anime movies that came out in 2020 so far, Ride Your Wave is easily the superior movie. There’s passion involved and continues to prove that Masaaki Yuasa is a director who really can do no wrong.