After the worldwide smash anime romantic movie that was Your Name, the next production for Japanese animation studio CoMix Wave Films is a rather odd one. Choosing to team up with Chinese animation studio, Haoliners Animation League, Flavors of Youth is an anime anthology movie set in China. It comprises three twenty minute segments that explore a general theme of longing, growth, and young love.
Each story features different characters and plotting, but all are intended to tie together with a feeling. To this end we have many young characters making their way in the world. First segment, entitled ‘The Rice Noodles’ explores a young man reminiscing about his childhood and simple pleasures such as food. Not just for the food itself (although many lines of dialogue are lavished upon describing how delicious it was) but also for the memories that his favourite meal conjures. Time spent with his grandmother before her passing. Time spent at a friendly cafe where he would sit at specific times to watch a pretty girl ride past on her bike. A time when life was simple.
Conversely, ‘A Little Fashion Show’ fills its run time with two sisters. One of which is a successful model, partly due to her unusual height. The younger is going through college and learning to make clothes. The pair were separated at the death of their parents but reunited as adults. This segment is perhaps a predictable tale of the older sister succumbing to self-absorbed worry due to her getting older and fending off new and upcoming starlets. She starves herself, overdoes it at the gym, and drives herself to collapse. Of the three segments it probably has the most humour, but it also leaves the least impression.
The last story in Flavors Of Youth is ‘Love In Shanghai’, inarguably the best of the bunch. A trio of childhood friends live in a rundown area of Shanghai. They all goof around but spend their time making cassette tapes. Li Mo and Xiao Yu are attracted to each other and record conversations on tapes, where one will fill in their parts and pass it to the other, for them to record their answers. The concept of conversations by cassette tape lends well to lots of wistful looking out of windows whilst listening to the voice of a crush. But the attraction hits rocks when Xiao Yu is bullied by her father into applying for a prestigious school, leaving Li Mo to feel betrayed. There follows some rather convoluted back and forth in a tale that is told in partial flashbacks. But the final revelation revealed by an adult Li Mo listening to a long forgotten cassette tape certainly made my bottom lip wobble a little with adolescent swelling of the heart.
Flavors of Youth has many problems though. Whilst the film is nearly rescued by ‘Love In Shanghai’, the preceding two segments had sapped my patience. ‘The Rice Noodles’ in particular is almost all told by voiceover narration which makes for an overbearingly earnest feel. The whole bit would probably have worked better virtually silent save for minimal dialogue. And whilst the artwork in the backgrounds are the sort that hitting pause at any moment will make for attractive shots, the character animation is surprisingly poor. Characters merely flap their mouths with speech so what dialogue there is seems to have been glued on afterwards. This is a low standard from a studio otherwise associated with a hit the size of Your Name.
Similarly, many moments of ‘A Little Fashion Show’ choose to frame the shot with a glimmer of soft focus around the edges. This is done often enough to grate and the direction seems at times to be at war with the narrative. This section does well at lightening the mood between the extremely straight laced longing of ‘The Rice Noodles’ and the youthful emotions of ‘Love In Shanghai’. But as ‘A Little Fashion Show’ is focused solely on the elder sister, any attempt by the narrative to give weight to a dramatic reveal about the younger sister falls flat when we, the audience, saw it coming a mile off.
Flavors Of Youth may have a good pedigree and there is certainly talent at work here. The listlessness of reminiscing over loves lost and lives to lead is generally well laid out through the slow pace and omnipresent gentle score. But with weak character animation at times and stories that for the most part lack engagement (until ‘Love In Shanghai’) this movie is not going to pull in anyone other than casual viewers or hardcore fans of Your Name. You'll be better off watching Aggretsuko!
Words by Michael Record