Looking back on past reviews of anime movies released here that I have covered, I noticed that I can be a bit of a sucker when it comes to high school drama, whether I like it or not. That’s not to say that we don’t get our share of other kinds of movies though; we’ve had the more recent My Hero Academia movie air here after all. But I know nothing about that franchise, and have only ever seen the first episode so I didn’t see any point in watching it. Sing a Bit of Harmony though, kind of appeared out of nowhere, much like Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop did on Netflix last summer – another movie I highly recommend by the way.
I missed out on last year’s Scotland Loves Anime event, where this movie had its overseas premiere. Stuff like this is becoming more of a big deal here now; before we in the UK would have to wait months, sometimes years, for anime movies to make it this way. So the fact that this one particular movie was able to get its international premiere at this event just goes to show how the anime community here is starting to be taken more seriously now.
I went into this movie pretty much blind, but this time it was intentional. I had kind of guessed that melodrama would end up playing a part, and truth be told, I’ve not really been one for musicals either. But despite all that, I thought I’d give this one a go.
Sing a Bit of Harmony centers around Shion, a transfer student in Keibu High School where she becomes extremely popular in a very short amount of time. Meanwhile Satomi is the chronic loner in the class, which immediately makes them the ideal MC for a show about optimism and lifting spirits. Even with the class loving her, Shion turns straight to Satomi, making out that she already knows her and that it is her mission to lift her own spirits and make her a more hopeful and optimistic student…even if it means breaking out into song in the middle of the classroom.
Then the bombshell comes out: Shion is in fact a highly advanced AI made to look human. This is something Satomi finds out by accident, and not just this; Shion is the project of her workaholic single mother, who works for the advanced AI company in town (that nearly every adult in the area works for). So discovering this, Satomi decides to keep it a secret so she doesn’t jeopardize her mother’s career, easier said than done, considering how chipper and upbeat Shion is. She behaves like a young puppy in school, still learning their new surroundings and still unaware of the rules of life. A lot of the comedy in the first half of the movie comes from her trying to fit into human society and developing the concept of what a person should and shouldn’t do. Shion is an untested AI who has been sent to live in human society, and around a bunch of naïve and curious high school children as well, so it’s no wonder that it all comes out eventually, making Satomi have to swear the people around her to secrecy.
It is Shion’s chipper optimism that becomes the central part of this movie though, and not the sci-fi world around it. I liked that the writers made sure to let us realize this too. In all the time that she spends in the high school in this testing phase (if you can call it that), Shion brightens the lives of many of the kids in her class, by song or otherwise. She builds self-confidence in some moments, while rebuilding former close friendships in others. Then there is Shion’s relationship with Satomi herself. Due to a past incident that we aren’t really told much about, Satomi decides to close herself off from the rest of the class, but it is through Shion that she is able to reach out to others again. We get the idea from the start that Shion was specifically designed to help Satomi get out of the rut she is currently in. All of this makes for a great musical, and that is precisely what this movie is.
The songs come and hit us hard, but in a good kind of way. We see a lot of shows and movies that go on the road of cliched melodrama, so I’m glad that we didn’t really get much of that here. A little fact here; the movie’s director, Yasuhiro Yoshiura, is also responsible for the 2013 sci-fi movie Patema Inverted. That movie received some mixed reception however; it was applauded for its ambitious world building but was kind of lacking when it came to pacing. The world we see here in Sing a Bit of Harmony is a world that viewers can actually picture in years to come. As I mentioned earlier though, all of this sci-fi takes more of a back seat in the first half, with the heart-warming songs and Shion’s interpersonal relationship-building being more visible.
If there is one thing I can say about Sing a Bit of Harmony though, it is the fact that outside of the music and the sci-fi, there isn’t much that we haven’t seen many times before. Teenage anime dramas set in high schools are often filled to the brim with writing that can feel cliched and melodramatic. But even so, I thought that the idea of bringing in the story of an advanced AI created to brighten the lives of others was an interesting one. It actually makes me think of the sci-fi show Plastic Memories, where robots with finite lifespans are brought into peoples’ lives to make them better. It isn’t like this movie is trying to create anything innovative though. Sing a Bit of Harmony knows exactly what it is, and isn’t really trying too hard to be anything else. We are drawn to both the emotional and heart-warming songs that Shion sings to help the people around her, and we are also drawn to the science fiction in this ‘not-too-distant’ future that is something we can see actually happen in many years to come.
Calling this a saccharine Disney-esque musical would be extremely cruel, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other viewers might see it that way. Sweet and uplifting movies with awesome soundtracks are things we could really use right now in these trying times. Sing a Bit of Harmony may have some traits of a predictable high school drama, but it is the music that makes it stand out 100%. Having only seen the subbed version of this, I can’t comment on how well the movie was translated into English sadly, although I don’t doubt for one moment that it would have the same impact on audiences that this sub lover got when I watched it.
Interesting though that the subbed and dubbed versions were released simultaneously overseas – something that hasn’t really been done before. Maybe this could be something that we might see in the foreseeable future for anime movies.
Sing a Bit of Harmony had its international premiere at the Scotland Loves Anime event in Glasgow on October. 22. 2021. It was available to watch in theaters in the US and Canada on January. 23. 2022, with a general release in the UK and Ireland on January. 28.