Goodbye, Don Glees! is a surprisingly deep and richly layered journey into the curtain call of teenage youth.
This Goodbye, Don Glees! review contains spoilers. The film was screened during the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.
While exhibiting some typical anime conventions about friendship, the lead up to Goodbye, Don Glees! ending is one of the saddest around. Maybe since Konno Yuuki’s terminal diagnosis/hospice revelation in Sword Art Online Season 2.
Goodbye, Don Glees! starts innocent enough, modest farm boy Roma Kamogawa reunites with best friend, and studious type Hokuto ‘Toto’ Mitarai for the summer. The pair, who were somewhat shunned away as outcasts from the other boys of their class had been split up when Toto moved away to study in Tokyo for high school.
The two, calling themselves ‘Don Glees’ would get together each summer to set off a small amount of fireworks in the outskirts of town… As their other male classmates made them feel unwelcome to watch the town’s main fireworks display.
This year however, would be different as a boy one grade down, Norwegian 15-year old Shizuku ‘Drop’ Sakuma, would alert Roma of a drone they wanted finally being on sale. Roma used all his savings to purchase the drone so they could capture the town’s fireworks closeup… And enjoy them like their other classmates for once.
In an unexpected mishap, they would lose control of the drone in the dead of night. When a fire broke out in a close by forest, their other classmates blamed the Don Glees for setting it on social media. Even though they had done nothing as such.
Thus, the trio would set out on an adventure to locate the drone via mobile GPS, hoping to find video footage to prove their innocence.
What two of the three didn’t know starting out, is that one of them was terminally ill and aware of it. He pushed forward at all costs because he knew it was his final summer and he wanted to have one last adventure to remember before he passed.
The Power of Photography
In a flashback during Goodbye, Don Glees!, Roma Kamogawa is unable to afford a smart phone, so he borrows his father’s camera without permission. The old camera attracts the attention of female classmate Tivoli Urayasu, whose photo capturing showing a red streak in the wind (that of a ladybug) engulfs Roma’s imagination ever after.
Throughout the film, Roma takes as many photos as he can, hoping to impress his crush Tivoli on Instagram.
This later plays a more important part after
MAJOR SPOILER WARNING:
Drop passes away, leaving behind memories only still lived in photos. Never to be experienced again.
From light hearted comedy to Goodbye
The trajectory of Goodbye, Don Glees! is unusual. It starts off pretty light hearted, including a scene where Drop and Toto dress up as girls with balloons under their blouses to walk with Roma and prank the other boys in town. Who then look up to Roma after outcasting him.
The beginning of their trio’s journey also features a bear discovering them in the forest. Roma comedically uses Toto’s hair spray to scare him off.
But the film soon takes a reality based turn the closer the trio gets to the drone. Which ends up having no evidence to prove their innocence but did capture the town’s fireworks it set out for.
Perhaps, no scene more brutal than when Roma gets the call that Drop passed away from Toto. He begins crying uncontrollably and smashes most of their makeshift tent home base on the outskirts of town.
Toto rushes over on his bike to try to calm Roma as they decide to burn down the Don Glees base. Roma later sees that Tivoli went away to New York for college on Instagram, kind of closing the door on a potential relationship. Though not completely, it’s truer to real life. Young romance being separated by great distance.
Finding your treasure
Drop speaks of finding your own treasure in life and the boys decide to go to Norway based on clues he left behind post-death. They discover a beautiful golden waterfall and the animation for this scene is simply astounding. Madhouse is one exceptionally talented animation studio.
At the waterfall Roma and Toto discover a mysterious red phone booth.
They realize they had actually called Drop by accident at the phone-booth before ever meeting. Thinking they were calling Tivoli who was in Ireland at the time.
A wrong area code was the origins of short-lived, forever treasured memory. Showing how much of life is decided simply by chance.
Overall, Goodbye, Don Glees does a great job of world building. Roma and Toto escape from what seemed to be predestined lives by meeting a single person one year younger than they were. One person truly can make a difference.
Film Review Score: 8.2
Learn more about Goodbye, Don Glees at GKIDS. The film was directed by Atsuko Ishizuka, her first original feature film. Atsuko Ishizuka is well known for directing the No Game No Life anime series and has been with the Madhouse animation studio since 2004.
Goodbye, Don Glees was viewed subbed in English with the original Japanese voice cast at Fantasia. A dubbed version is not available as of yet. The film played at Fantasia on July 16, 2022. It has a running time of 95 minutes and was made in Japan.
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