When 19-year-old surfer Hinako moved to a seaside town to pursue her passion, she never expected the waves to be this choppy… After a fire in her apartment complex ends with her being saved by handsome firefighter Minato, she soon falls in love, and the two begin an all-too-perfect whirlwind romance that looks like it will last forever. But that is not to be, and before long a tragic accident rips the two young lovers apart, and Hinako is forced to adjust to life without the perfect man that had become such a huge part of her life. Their separation, however, is short lived, as Hinako soon discovers that her beloved Minato appears in the nearest body of water every time she sings a certain song.
For the anime-uninitiated, that last sentence may sound too weird to be true, but no, you did read that right – and not only that, but the general consensus among critics and fans is that Ride Your Wave is actually director Masaaki Yuasa’s most ‘normal’ film to date. Yeah, you heard that right too.
However odd the premise may sound, though, Yuasa’s latest movie takes on something much less fantastical – the nature of loss and the hard process of moving on. The outlandish way Hinako is able to summon her deceased love is simply a frame through which to explore real issues in a way that is honest and emotionally realistic whilst being far enough from reality to prevent the film from ever getting too downbeat.
Anime’s obligatory exaggerated behaviour aside, the characters in Ride Your Wave are believable and engaging, allowing their emotions to feel real even though they themselves are visually so stylised. Minato’s sister Youko is one particularly fun secondary character; full of personality, she is never predictable in her thoughts or actions, but nevertheless always remains consistent in her characterisation. The one exception to this is Minato himself; as he has to meet Hinako, fall in love, and then die before the movie proper can begin, there is little time to develop him as a character, and there is little effort to do so. Perhaps in order to ensure the audience can empathise with Hinako’s loss, Minato is made out to be nothing less than perfect – he has no flaws, and no real personality traits other than that he likes to help others. If there was going to be a character with such a personality deficit, better it be Minato than anyone else: he’s more a plot device than an actual character, and the fact that he is ultimately rather boring does not spoil the film much at all. Nonetheless, it is still disappointing that a major character is this two-dimensional, and though his seeming perfection makes it easy to understand why Hinako misses him so much, it’s not enough to make the audience care.
Despite its believable and largely realistic characters, Ride Your Wave does not fool itself into thinking its initial premise is anything other than ridiculous; but instead of being apologetic, it fully leans into that ridiculousness, poking fun at itself in a way that cleverly ensures that the weirdness is funny rather than alienating to the audience.
The main problem to Ride Your Wave is that it doesn’t end some twenty minutes earlier. The film works best when it is using fantasy to explore the grieving process, but in the final act it takes an unnecessary turn into generic fantasy-action territory, with an action-packed finale that feels out of place in this thoughtful romantic comedy-drama. The animation is on par with what one would expect from anime these days, but neither pushes the envelope for the medium nor showcases any distinctive style for Yuasa’s Science Saru animation studio.
Quirky, fun, and unexpectedly deep, Ride Your Wave is a unique drama that explores loss in the unlikeliest of ways – and somehow, it works.
Ride Your Wave is streaming now.