A Return to the Orange Road

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“I Want to Return to That Day” may have been the ending to the series, but it was not the final installment in the Kimagure Orange Road story.  Eight years later, a second movie came out, entitled New Kimagure Orange Road – Summer’s Beginning.

The first movie is a masterpiece, so I was hoping the second film, at the very least, wasn’t an embarrassment.  It isn’t.  Much like Before Sunset finds a way to continue Jesse and Celine’s story without ruining the first film, Summer’s Beginning finds a way to continue the Kyosuke-Madoka-Hikaru story in a way that honors their first film.  In fact, what surprised me most is that, great as the series is, the two movies are better, as they peer deeper into the hearts of their protagonists.

The plot of the second film is that a future Kyosuke, shooting photos during the Balkan War, “time slips” at the same moment that his younger self “time slips” when hit by a car.  The younger Kyosuke’s soul wakes up three years later, in the world of the older Kyosuke.  Meanwhile, his 19-year-old body cannot wake until its soul is returned, but that requires finding out where the soul of the 22-year-old Kyosuke is hiding and returning it to its body, for only the older Kyosuke can send the younger Kyosuke back.

While wandering around the city, 19-year-old Kyosuke runs into Hikaru.  Hikaru asks him a question lost in the noise of traffic.  When he incorrectly guesses what the question was and answers accordingly, it leads Hikaru to think things are not going well between Madoka and himself.

Like the first film (not to mention the TV series and OVAs), the music is excellent, despite being composed by Kajiura Yuki this time, as opposed to Sagisu Shirō.  Unlike the first film, we witness the use of Kyosuke’s power (and the appearance of his grandparents, though still no Yuusaku or Kazuya) and the return of some of the humor and light-heartedness from the TV series.  It even includes a character introduced in the two OVA episodes titled “Stage of Love=Heart on Fire!”: former teen idol Hayakawa Mitsuru.

The most welcome development in this film, however, is the return of Hikaru.  Though she still loves Kyosuke, she has learned to accept that he is now Madoka’s boyfriend.  And yes, because of her misunderstanding there is a scene where both of them come dangerously close to ignoring that fact, but it is handled in a way that does credit to Hikaru, and reveals Kyosuke’s true feelings, as well.

There are moments reminiscent of the best moments in the first film.  Madoka playing the piano alone as Kyosuke watches from a tree.  Hikaru and Madoka meeting after a long absence.  Madoka playing the same song after Grandpa and 19-year-old Kyosuke unsuccessfully try to retrieve the older Kyosuke (she tells them the piece is called “Kyosuke Number 1”).  And, perhaps the most poignant moment of all, Kyosuke sleeping with Madoka for the first time.  He’s his usual bumbling self, but then he gives a speech to Madoka that is beautiful — not because it’s a great speech, but because it’s honest in conveying what he feels about her at that moment, and authentic in the way he fumbles for the right words.

And yet, it falls short of the first film in a few ways.  Here, the Power seems to work (or not work) as a deus ex machina for the plot.  In addition, because it’s a gentler film, there’s no amazing Hara Eriko performance (though all the voice actors — who are the same ones who did the voices from the TV series through the OVAs — do great work).  The first film also pays more attention to emotions portrayed through small details, such as Kyosuke removing the wind chime that Hikaru gave him, and feels tighter in its construction.

Still, there’s a lot to admire about this film.  While not the masterpiece that “I Want to Return to That Day” is, Summer’s Beginning is better than it has any right to be.

Note: Since the second movie was released by ADV Films, instead of AnimEigo, you can watch it dubbed or subtitled.  Do not watch the dubbed version.  Just watching a few seconds of it, I noticed two things: the voice-acting isn’t as good, and the translations are different from the original Japanese, while the subtitles are more accurate.

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