After the success of Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You, anime continues its big film splash (literally) in America with Masaaki Yuasa’s newest project, the supernatural rom-com Ride Your Wave.
In 2020, it’s hardly accurate to call anime a “niche” interest anymore, much less in the United States. From the wave of Studio Ghibli films that continue to play to filled auditoriums in America to the various shows like Dragon Ball, My Hero Academia, and Attack on Titan that continue to receive rabid fanfare across the world, anime has crossed over from Japan to become a beloved art form on an international level.
The crossover has extended to films outside of Studio Ghibli over the past decade, with films like Your Name, Wolf Children, and Mirai transcending Japan to become huge international successes, the latter even earning a rare Oscar nomination for the art form. Of the crop of directors to pop up from this New Anime Wave, Masaaki Yuasa has stood out as among the most unique of the bunch.
Director of such films as Lu Over the Wall and Night is Short, Walk On Girl, Yuasa’s bizarre surrealist art films have made themselves a home in the flexible style of anime, complimenting his unusual stories and visuals. The success has led him to having his newest feature, Ride Your Wave, receive a limited release in the United States akin to several other recent anime films like Promare, Weathering With You, and Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
Ride Your Wave is among the latest in a series of high-profile anime releases in the States, further adding to the anime wave that has led to the success of anime films in America. Though not as well-known as the other films mentioned, Masaaki Yuasa’s surreal supernatural romance tale was still popular enough to be granted such a big release, even amidst stiff competition like Sonic, Birds of Prey, and other limited releases like Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Spoiler for the main conflict ahead.
Ride Your Wave is centered on a happy-go-lucky surfer named Mukaimizu who, after meeting and falling in love with a brave firefighter, has her world turned upside down when her boyfriend dies in a surfing accident. Depressed after the fact, she begins to find comfort in the world of water, where his form suddenly appears to her, comforting her while the world around her begins to wonder if she’s truly gone insane or not.
The film’s unusual premise allows for her to think up of crazy ways to bring his water form with her at all times, such as in water canteens, puddles, and a water-filled toy animal she drags by the hand like a kid with their favorite toy. Like many anime premises, Ride Your Wave requires some suspension of disbelief regarding the supernatural rules in its universe.
Rather than go with a completely straightforward film on grief, Yuasa takes the chance to add in his trademark quirkiness to the film, complete with unique and incredibly watchable characters, expressive animation to bring out the characteristics of our main characters more clearly (even down to the big, almost-puppy dog eyes), an effective use of montage, with one sequence mirroring the famous ‘City of Stars’ montage in La La Land.
Much like La La Land, Ride Your Wave focuses less on the romantic aspect of its story (though it’s certainly a big presence nonetheless) and sharpens its gaze on the individual, specifically Mukaimizu and her journey towards recovery and purpose. The incident leaves her feeling destroyed, as expected, but the film doesn’t play around in how grief can possibly permanently strain your connections with the outside world.
Despite its generally light tone, Ride Your Wave also functions as an intriguing study of death and how we can come from it stronger and more determined. Death is not sugarcoated in the film; once someone’s dead, there’s no way to officially bring them back. but this revelation is meant to be the best of outcomes, letting the dead rest while the living can continue to keep each other safe in the future.
Yuasa’s penchant for surreal storytelling may mostly take a backseat in Ride Your Wave, but that doesn’t stop him from using gorgeous and occasionally off-kilter animation to communicate this message, finding the beauty in just about every frame of the film to depict the living world as something to cherish while still living. Even the chaos of a busy restaurant looks utterly stunning when animated like this.
I’m saying all of this because I know there will be some of you who may not be entirely convinced to watch an anime film about a surfer girl and her ghost water boyfriend. The animation may look a little too out-there to invest in, but once you stay for the story, the hope is that you can find something to take away from the sad water boyfriend tale of grief. Despite its outlandish premise, its implications are about as real as it can get.
But with the Anime New Wave hitting the States hard over the past decade, it’s hard to argue that Ride Your Wave won’t get a sizable fan following in the US. Mirai‘s success led it to the Oscars, Your Name became one of the most bankable anime films in history, and Dragon Ball Super: Broly showed its strength with a Top 10 domestic box office debut early last year.
There’s clearly a sizable audience for the art form and Ride Your Wave serves as another solid addition to the art form, taking the romantic comedy genre by storm and giving audiences a new way to look at a traditional love story. Perhaps it’ll be too weird for you and that is totally fine, but Ride Your Wave is still emotionally potent enough to at least give anime a try if you don’t consider yourself to be into it all too much. You might just love it!
Ride Your Wave is playing in select theaters now! Will you go see it? Are there other anime films coming out that you’re looking forward to? Sound off in the comments below!