‘Ride Your Wave’ anime film pulls on the heartstrings of viewers

Josh Clinton, Contributing Writer

Acclaimed anime director Masaaki Yuasa’s latest feature, “Ride Your Wave” made its U.S. premiere on Wednesday and screened in the Richmond area at the Regal Cinemas at Westchester Commons. The film is a gorgeous tearjerker romance that reminds us of the power of human relationships.

If you’ve seen the popular Netflix anime “Devilman Crybaby,” you’ll be somewhat familiar with Yuasa’s work. He specializes in creating surrealist dreamscapes through his simplistic, hyper-animated character designs and trippy color palettes. For what initially feels like a grounded story, his directorial style fits “Ride Your Wave” quite well. He uses bright colors and gorgeous background art to make the world these characters live in feel unrealistically pristine.

The film focuses on Hinako, a freshman college student that loves the sea and can’t cook to save her life. She’s almost killed in a fire before being rescued by the fire department. Her savior is Minato — the perfect boyfriend. He’s sweet, an incredibly resourceful cook, and he also happens to adore the same manatee mascot character Hinako grew up with. And of course, both sing the theme song associated with the character in perfect sync. As cliche as it may sound, they complete each other.

The atmosphere and chemistry in “Ride Your Wave” are impeccably crafted, which lets the inevitable emotional gut-punch of the story hit as hard as it does. 

“As beautiful as each crashing wave may be, or however tranquil the Tokyo rain showers may feel, they’re ultimately fleeting. Much like the fragility of human life, they can disappear in an instant, like tears in rain.” — Josh Clinton

After a warm montage of the holidays, Minato drowns at sea while attempting to save two surfers. Hinako tries to deal with the bereavement process as best as anyone can by somberly choking out her and Minato’s favorite song. 

This is the point in the film where Yuasa gets to flex his directorial strength: infusing his stories with a trippy magical realism. Minato appears in Hinako’s glass of water and from here on in, she tries to piece her shattered love life back together. 

This scene reflects a trend in anime that’s cropped up in recent years: the use of water as a symbol of separation.

The bulk of “Ride Your Wave” involves Hinako trying to find ways to live with water-bound Minato, ultimately facing the uncrossable gap between them. 

The Western release of this film is hot off the heels of Makoto Shinkai’s “Weathering With You,” another tearjerker romance with a supernatural twist involving a heavy emphasis on rainfall. Rain falls nearly throughout the entire film, and it is used to convey the isolation felt by its protagonist Hodaka as he moves into Tokyo on his own. 

Water has proven itself to be the de facto symbol for separation in anime films. Perhaps this is drawn from real-life experiences. Everyone has had a day where the rain kept them indoors, separate from their friends. The vast oceans that make up most of our planet naturally separate people all over the world. 

As beautiful as each crashing wave may be, or however tranquil the Tokyo rain showers may feel, they’re ultimately fleeting. Much like the fragility of human life, they can disappear in an instant, like tears in rain.

While Hinako desperately tries to continue her life with her water-bound boyfriend in “Ride Your Wave,” it becomes clear that this type of life can’t work. Even if the soul of your dead lover rests within, water bottles aren’t people. Ultimately Hinako learns a type of mature message that more anime should try to express: you can’t rely on someone to complete yourself and must become an independent person on your own.

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