Sometimes, working in a coming-of-age story can be a good thing for a director. Due to their prevalence, the audience awareness of a tale allows for some simple shorthand. More impressive directors may use the opportunity to subvert the genre. Yet others allow the shorthand to speak for itself, instead opting to design a visual splendor on the back of these stories. In the case of Goodbye, Don Glees!, director Atsuko Ishizuka chooses to craft a gorgeous film around a simple story. While this helps the film, it also makes the lack of innovation in the story obvious compared to the visual storytelling.
The story for Goodbye, Don Glees! picks up as two boys ride their bikes through the mountains of their hometown. They arrive at an airport just in time for a few flashbacks to contextualize their hurry. Over the past year, Roma and Toto have grown apart. Roma remains on his family’s farm, tending to their old clubhouse Don Glees. Toto continues his road to becoming a doctor, going to school in the city. Their lack of time together has caused them to change their appearance and find new friends. Most notably, Roma has brought his new friend Drop to the Don Glees, making him an unofficial third member of the group. When the three are accused of setting a fire during the yearly fireworks celebration in town, they must go on an adventure to recover a drone that will prove their innocence.
The coming-of-age nature to Goodbye, Don Glees! may be helpful in cutting corners in the story, but it struggles to hold this story. Some aspects toward at the end of the film feel like they are in the film solely to emotionally manipulate the audience. It’s a shame, as the natural moments created in the storytelling already tell an emotional tale.
One can make the argument that Ishizuka’s visual splendor is an important aspect in the storytelling as a whole. There’s a grandiosity to the images that cannot be denied. Yet our three boys are still teens. Of course, every surprise, every joyous moment, and every heartbreak will feel earth-shattering. The maximalist visuals help Goodbye, Don Glees! differentiate itself from others in the genre, but the actual story remains light.
Ishizuka pushes the boundaries of CG and hand-drawn blended environments. The images are simply glorious, integrating unique camera angles and visuals in the medium. She seemingly recreates drone shots with intense precision, making a firework show even more exciting for audiences than the already gorgeous firework imagery.
Additionally, Ishizuka hammers home her points with an excellent soundtrack. The sounds feel unique to teenage music today, but this also infuses the soundscape with a timeless environment. Ishizuka realizes the easiest way to make us believe the teenage romp through the woods is to help us connect with their actions. Playing pop punk from 2006 is so in my personal wheelhouse, I’m a little shocked I didn’t fall over. It’s the ultimate “boys are weird and have trouble expressing their emotions,” but in the context of the film, it gives audiences a few minutes to listen to good, upbeat music.
The final issue with Don Glees is the length of the film. While 90 minutes is not a long time in the animation world, an 80-minute version of this film would be more concise and less ethereal. While I traditionally suggest both of these to be good qualities of a film, Don Glees relies too heavily on a common story for any of it to feel innovative.
Overall, Goodbye, Don Glees struggles with pacing and the traditional aspects of the film. While there’s plenty to like about Don Glees, it is not much more than the traditional concepts of the coming-of-age tale to help it spread its wings. This makes the fairly basic story its most frustrating aspect. With a few touches, this might have been one of the very best of the year.