Ride Your Wave Review: Yuasa’s latest is a visually stunning and emotionally enriching take on love and grief
Back in 2018, I was first introduced to works of director Masaaki Yuasa with The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. The chaotic comedy, animation, and characters instantly had my heart and it ended up being one of my favorite films of that year. Now, Yuasa has won my heart again with his latest feature Ride Your Wave as it strikes a significantly different tone and contains all the emotional pieces to make your heart swell.
The film follows Hinako (voiced by Rina Kawaei), a young surfer that moves to an oceanside town to attend college to figure out her indecisive future. She eventually grows a romantic relationship with Minato (voiced by Ryota Katayose), a local fireman who idolizes Hinako’s surfing ability and gets closer to her when he begins to learn how to surf. The two spend a lot of time together having laughs and disgusting Minato’s sister Yoko (voiced by Honoka Matsumoto) with their syrupy love for one another. However, while attempting to rescue someone he hears drowning out in the sea during a storm, Minato drowns leaving Hinako immensely grief-stricken and she refuses to be near the sea and surf again. Vying to have Minato be at her side forever, Hinako finds that by singing a song the two loved she can see him again in the water around her and the two deal with the tragedy that keeps them separate.
Where Night is Short was an all-out comedy with some dramatically romantic undertones, Ride Your Wave is almost the complete opposite. While it has plenty of strongly comedic moments, especially with Hinako carrying around a small Minato in a glass bottle, the film takes on much more serious tones and issues surrounding grief. After Minato’s death, it easy to feel how the news affects Hinako and it takes a heavy toll on her. All the passion and genuine liveliness that viewers are introduced to with Hinako is stripped away making her sadness and distress come off very real. Even when she initially finds that she can reunite with Minato by singing their favorite song, there’re still plenty of issues she still must overcome in order to move on. From her constantly wanting him around and treating him like he’s there by making him appear at specific times to her digging into their past to find unknown connections, it’s a journey that really tugs at viewer’s hearts – especially because of how it makes you grow to love them.
The two have this fated connection that’s hard not to connect and the syrupy sweet montage that showcases their relationship while the two are singing their favorite song is just plain perfect. Even the way the film heavily utilizes the film’s main theme song, “Brand New Story” by Generations of Exile Tribe, to be such a strong component of their love for one another is incredibly sweet and its such a big part of the film I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. Every interaction they have brings you closer to them and breaks your heart with every obstacle and struggle they face. The way they talk about life together and how Minato talks to Hinako about finding her own way without him being there really makes you care about them. Not to mention, some of the final moments of them together and of some reveals about their past are really heart-breaking and writer Reiko Yoshida crafts a strong central relationship that deals with many complex emotions that viewers can attach themselves to.
There’s also a strong theme about what someone passing means and how to remember them as Hinako and other characters go through changes in their lives to live in a way that they can feel like they are making Minato proud. From Hinako attempting to be as heroic as him by going through life-guard training to Yoko taking on a job that Minato always wanted her to, there’s a strong theme about remembrance in death that’s very touching and greatly fleshes out how characters deal with grief. It all ties together really well to give Hinako journey through grief a fitting and fulfilling end that many viewers can relate to and leaves the film on a strongly uplifting and emotional note.
There’re some issues with how the story is told as there’s an overuse of flashbacks and some elements that attempt to add more to the supporting characters that’s don’t always hit their marks in the moment. The film constantly has quick flashes to previous moments as characters discuss them and it can end up being very distracting and unnecessary. It’s almost like the film feels the need to spell things out to viewers that it really doesn’t need to. There’re some points where the flashbacks flesh out certain elements of the story, like Minato and Hinako’s childhood connection, but overall, there’s too much of it. Supporting characters like Yoko and Wasabi (voiced by Kentaro Ito), a fellow fireman whose friends with Minato, are also given some moments to not only flesh out themselves, but also their own grieving of Minato that don’t always hit in the moment. When it comes to the emotions about them dealing with unrequited love, their professing of their emotions is a little forced and kind of odd in grand scheme of things. As a viewer, there’s still a connection you make to it because of how fun they are that makes their end satisfying, but I wish their arcs were built up less subtly so that the turns in their arcs didn’t feel so random. However, it’s easy to look past some of these issues with the great voice cast elevating moments that aren’t as strong on paper.
These characters would be nothing without the voices behind them though and the entire voice cast evokes all the great personality and emotion that comes from Yoshida’s script. Kawaei and Kateyose perfectly bring out their characters’ personalities that instantly have viewer’s hearts. Kawaei greatly evokes a bubbliness and caring personality that’s delightfully infectious and Kateyose does an excellent job bringing out the genuine heroic qualities of Minato that instantly make him an admirable character. Together, they’re just plain perfect and their great chemistry is a strong aspect to what makes Hinako and Minato’s relationship so strong. Matsumoto and Ito are also great as their respective characters and the cynical nature of Yoko and the more timid and unsure personality of Wasabi provide some strong comedic moments. Honestly, like I said before, the film has plenty of strongly comedic moments that stems from great dialogue between characters as well as great moments of visual humor through the film’s stellar animation.
While not as visually ambitious as The Night is Short, Ride Your Wave still has plenty of incredible visuals that create some strong humor and visually stunning action – especially with how it utilizes water. The film’s opening with Hinako’s building catching on fire is actually very tense because of how dramatically dark the visuals are and the same can be said about the film fiery finale. The real visual wonder comes every time water is involved, though, as the scenes of Hinako and Minato riding waves is visually spectacular. There’re even some great visual gags that range from Hinako unsuccessfully trying to make Omurice, her favorite food, to her carrying around a water spirit version of Minato in a tiny water bottle and an inflatable Baluga Whale. Between of the moments that give viewers a heavy-heart, Yuasa adds in plenty of visually light-hearted moments to balance the film’s wide range of emotions and give viewers all different kinds of feels.
While it’s tough for me to decipher whether or not I find The Night is Short or Ride Your Wave to be better than the other, both show that Yuasa is easily one of the strong anime directors working today. It’s beautifully animated and hits a wide range of emotions that makes Hinako and Minato’s journey so emotionally enriching. Ride Your Wave has already wormed its way into my heart that will likely keep me thinking about it for quite sometime and it’s surely one of my early favorites of the year so far.