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Anime / Liz and the Blue Bird

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"I thought we would be together forever and always."note 

Liz and the Blue Bird (リズと青い鳥, Liz to Aoi Tori) is a movie directed by Naoko Yamada and released by Kyoto Animation to Japanese theaters in 2018. It is a spin-off of the novel and anime series Sound! Euphonium, but it still functions as an independent work that can be enjoyed without prior knowledge of the original story (although some of the in-jokes may be lost on the uninitiated). It wonderfully captures the emotional bustle of adolescence by linking it to the classical piece played by the main characters, and the animated sequences representing said piece interspersed throughout the movie.

Mizore Yoroizuka is a shy and withdrawn high school student at Kitauji High, who spends her days minding her own business while not interacting much with the other students. Her only friend is Nozomi Kasaki, who broke through to her in middle school by asking her to join band. Mizore is immediately taken by Nozomi's outgoing and cheery personality, and soon finds herself playing the oboe, a difficult instrument for beginners, but one for which she appears to possess an extraordinary amount of talent.

Mizore starts spending a lot of time trying to master her instrument, driven not only by her desire to become a better musician, but also as a way of connecting with Nozomi, to whom she becomes ever more emotionally attached as time passes. Nozomi, herself a proficient concert flutist, ends up quitting in her first year of high school without telling Mizore; the two reconcile after she rejoins the band, but their relationship is on fragile footing as a result.

Now in their third and final year of high school, the two girls find themselves preparing an oboe-flute duet in a tone poem based on the children's story "Liz and the Blue Bird," about a lonely girl named Liz who befriends and lives with a blue bird turned into a human girl, until the two are suddenly forced to part ways. As Mizore and Nozomi try to get to grips with the work, they realize that their relationship resembles the one in the story, and soon they find themselves in the turmoil of trying to work out what music means to each of them, and especially what they mean to each other.

For character tropes on Nozomi and Mizore, see the Sound! Euphonium character sheet.

This movie provides examples of:

  • The Ace: Mizore. She is the only one of the girls who gets asked by the woodwind instructor if she is interested in studying music, to Nozomi's visible but unspoken dismay.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Ririka accidentally gives her surname as "Yoroizuka" (Mizore's surname) before correcting herself with "Kenzaki". Later, Niiyama-sensei makes the same mistake.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Liz and the Blue Bird is very loosely based on the two-part novel Sound! Euphonium: The Kitauji High School Concert Band's Second Turbulent Movement, but in expanding Mizore and Nozomi's roles and exploring their relationship, it's effectively an original story set in the same universe and timeframe.
  • Advertised Extra: Since they're main characters in Sound! Euphonium, Kumiko and Reina received a promotional poster and are featured on the film's website. While Reina has a prominent role in one pivotal scene, Kumiko is effectively a background character, and the two act as a Beta Couple. The website also includes Hazuki and Sapphire, who are even less prominent than Kumiko, only speaking in a single scene.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: The high-point of the movie is when Mizore demands a "Love You Hug" from Nozomi, after which she gives a speech that boils down to an awkward love confession.
  • Arc Words:
    • "disjoint," which is the first title card seen in the movie (even before the film's title), and serves as the linking thread for Mizore and Nozomi's unequal relationship. Once they resolve their issues at the very end, the same title card is altered to read "joint".
    • "Happy Ice Cream," which starts as the subject of an inconsequential background event, and then becomes the thing that allows Mizore to break the ice between her and Nozomi in the final scene.
    • The "Love You Hug," which comes up three times after it's introduced; Nozomi rejects Mizore's attempts to initiate the first two times, and Mizore basically forces one to happen during the third.
  • Art Shift: Compared to the desaturated and realistically-painted settings of the "real" world, the sections depicting the in-universe "Liz and the Blue Bird" story are done in a much more vibrant style with watercolor backgrounds, reminiscent of an '80s anime or, indeed, children's book illustrations.
  • Art-Shifted Sequel: Going from the main Sound! Euphonium series, the movie has a very different artstyle, with characters sporting smaller eyes and more realistic body proportions. The colors and shading are significantly more subdued, suiting the film's quieter and introspective tone.
  • Bait-and-Switch Lesbians: The relationship between Mizore and Nozomi is imbued with copious amounts of romantic subtext, but it never gets resolved within the runtime of the movie.
  • Beta Couple: Kumiko and Reina are this to Nozomi and Mizore, in a reversal from the main series. Their duet of "Liz and the Blue Bird," which is depicted more fully in Our Promise ~ A Brand-New Day, demonstrates their stable relationship in contrast to Nozomi and Mizore's fragile one.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The actual "Liz and the Blue Bird" story appears to be written in German (its title is depicted as the mostly-accurate "Liz und ein Blauer Vogel"note ), and text within these storybook segments is written correspondingly.
  • Book Ends: The film begins with Mizore waiting for Nozomi so they can walk to school together, and ends with Nozomi waiting for Mizore so they can walk home from school together. Everything else in the film is set inside the school (excluding the storybook sections). It also begins with a title card reading "disjoint", and ends with the same title card having the "dis-" scribbled out, now reading "joint".
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: Nozomi resorts to mostly ignore Mizore's Love Confession, probably because she recognizes that she's serving as a stopgap for Mizore's emotional and musical well-being and future, thus freeing her from seeing Nozomi as a Living Emotional Crutch. It is never clarified whether this is an outright rejection though.
  • Caged Bird Metaphor: Mizore, when comparing her relationship with Nozomi to that of Liz and the blue bird, sees herself as Liz and Nozomi as the blue bird; imagery of a caged bird is used to represent Mizore's desire not to leave Nozomi. Later on, she comes to the realization that she is the caged blue bird, trapped in her pursuit of Nozomi to the detriment of her own wellbeing. This revelation is accompanied with an animation of a blue bird being released from its cage and flying free.
  • Cathartic Crying: After a long period of struggling, Mizore finally manages to give a soaring performance once she understands her relationship with Nozomi and "Liz and the Blue Bird". Mizore's playing causes Nozomi to begin crying in the middle of rehearsal, since she realizes Mizore was holding back for her sake, and fears Mizore's talent will drive them apart.
  • Character Development: The film serves to take Mizore and Nozomi's simple character arcs in Sound! Euphonium and explore them more deeply, giving them more thorough character development along the way.
    • Mizore's characterization up until this film was an archetypal Shy Blue-Haired Girl, with hints at deeper feelings but nothing more. Here, it's revealed that Mizore has a complex inner world that she doesn't share due to her infatuation with Nozomi and her fear of abandonment, which she slowly learns to overcome with the help of Ririka and Niiyama-sensei.
    • Nozomi's previous characterization is best described as a cheerful, hardworking, popular girl who means more to Mizore than Mizore means to her. This film shows that Nozomi masks her true emotions to fit in with those around her, that she hides her sadness behind a smile, and that Mizore means more to her than she lets on.
    • Taking these deeper emotions to their conclusion leads to the climactic scene of the film, where Nozomi lays bare all of her flaws and admits her self-loathing and envy of Mizore despite her chipper exterior. Mizore responds by telling Nozomi all of the things she loves about her, to which Nozomi can only laugh. The two of them finally realize they need to let each other go to truly be equals.
  • Character Tics: Mizore has a tic of running her hand through a lock of her hair when she's surprised or anxious.
  • Coming of Age Story: The main point of the movie; Mizore and Nozomi are about to graduate from high school and go their separate ways into adulthood, and they need to learn how to cope with their newfound feelings toward life and each other.
  • Continuity Nod: A few to the main Sound! Euphonium series, though none affect the story much.
    • The flashbacks to Mizore and Nozomi in middle school are direct recreations of flashbacks from the main series, redone in the movie's more distinct style.
    • Nozomi compares Yuuko's performance as class president to their senpai, Asuka, who graduated in the previous year.
    • Shuuichi Tsukamoto is mentioned among the students who have yet to pay their band dues.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Ririka, Mizore's kohai and the only other oboe player in their band, tries to get her emotionally-distant senpai to open up a bit. She eventually succeeds, and they play a duet together, to Nozomi's apparent discomfort.
  • Duet Bonding: Playing the oboe-flute duet from the titular music piece makes Mizore and Nozomi realize important things about their relationship.
  • Emotionless Girl: Mizore appears to be one to the point where other students find her cold and distant. As Nozomi explains, it's more that she doesn't easily express emotion and can be hard to read as a result.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Looking carefully at the "Liz and the Blue Bird" storybook reveals the author's name as "Věroslav Chytil", and the illustrator's name as "Věroslav Lovagny", who are presumably Czech (as the book is written in German). The name of the author was based on Věra Chytilová, an avant-garde Czech filmmaker.
  • Genki Girl: Nozomi is very outgoing and chipper, especially in relation to Mizore. It's suggested that this is just a front she puts on to make others happy, seen when Mizore confesses her love and Nozomi replies that she isn't as great as Mizore thinks she is.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: When Ririka doesn't get the oboe solo for "Liz and the Blue Bird", she bursts out in ugly tears about it to Mizore. It's played seriously, and it's what gets Mizore to open up more to Ririka.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Even though Nozomi does reciprocate Mizore's love for her, she has to turn Mizore down for her to advance emotionally and musically, and not jeopardize her future by clinging to her.
  • Leitmotif:
    • The "Liz and the Blue Bird" suite has a very traditional example, with Liz represented by the oboe and the blue bird represented by the flute.
    • The duet's main motif is used in a lot of scenes of Mizore and Nozomi together. At one point it also gets played by Reina and Kumiko, which hints at the nature of their relationship.
    • Ririka also gets her own leitmotif, a chipper little tune played on double reeds.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Mizore pours all of her emotions into being around Nozomi, due to her lack of social skills and Nozomi being the first person to truly open up to her. Mizore only decides to go to music college based on the chance that Nozomi may go to the same school. The movie ends with her taking her first steps past this codependency, pursuing her own path forward in life and making new friends besides Nozomi.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Piano, especially prepared piano, is used throughout the film's soundtrack to create a sense of quiet melancholy. "reflexion,allegretto,you" stands out; it's a bittersweet solo piano piece used to score Mizore's increasing sense of loneliness as she feels herself growing apart from Nozomi.
  • Loving a Shadow: Mizore is infatuated with Nozomi for being, from her perspective, kind, sociable, and popular. When she finally confesses the extent of her feelings, Nozomi replies that she isn't any of those things. Mizore responds that she doesn't care if that's the case, because she's special to her, and that's all that matters.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The blue bird in the story is this to Liz, who frees her from her lonely and mundane life thanks to her cheerfulness and childlike sense of wonder. In turn, Nozomi is this to Mizore, who sees herself as Liz with Nozomi as the blue bird who frees her of her loneliness. Later it appears that the roles are actually reversed, or that they are at least each other's blue bird.
  • Meaningful Background Event: During a scene of Mizore in math class, her teacher is discussing coprimes, integers which share no factors other than the greatest common denominator. They're also referred to as "disjoint".
  • Minimalism: The real-world scenes have a distinct minimalist feeling to them. The setting takes place entirely in the sterile and barren hallways of the high school, very few characters are given focus or even names, long stretches go without dialogue, and the music often consists of droning or atonal sounds without discernable melodies. The combined effect is an embodiment of Mizore's claustrophobia and dread as she approaches graduation, as well as a contrast with the livelier and more colorful storybook scenes.
  • Mutual Envy: The crux of the film is that Mizore idolizes Nozomi and wishes she had her social skills, while Nozomi envies Mizore's talent and bluffs about her own to avoid letting her down. This is then deconstructed in the climax, where the two of them realize that Mizore's fixation on Nozomi holds her back from realizing her true potential, which Nozomi had been complicit in due to her envy. By the end, both have overcome their envy: Nozomi accepts that she won't be as skilled as Mizore and only asks for "a little time", and Mizore learns to follow her own passion rather than endlessly pursue Nozomi.
  • No Name Given: The blue bird-turned-human is never named, and is listed in the credits as just "Girl".
  • Opposites Attract: Extroverted and cheery Nozomi forms a deep bond with the introverted and somewhat gloomy Mizore.
  • Painting the Medium:
    • In a somewhat literal example of the trope name, the process of decalcomania (painting one half of a picture, then folding the paper so the paint stains the other half, creating an image that's nearly but not quite symmetrical) is used in several scenes — not just in the animation, but in the sheet music of the soundtrack. It illustrates the relationship and disjoint between Mizore and Nozomi, two people who are themselves nearly but not quite symmetrical.
    • To record the film's soundtrack, director Naoko Yamada and composer Kensuke Ushio went to the actual high school Kitauji High was based on and recorded themselves fiddling with things inside the classrooms (such as chairs, desks, music stands, and even beakers in the science labs). These sounds were then incorporated into the music, as if the objects that exist around the characters are the soundtrack.
  • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation:
    • The moment when Mizore and Nozomi both come to the same conclusion about their relationship with "Liz and the Blue Bird", their voices cut to silence.
    • At the very last moment when Nozomi and Mizore leave school, Nozomi faces Mizore and says something that makes Mizore turn all wide-eyed and blushing. Was it a confession? Who knows?
  • Pseudo-Romantic Friendship:
    • This is the main dynamic between Mizore and Nozomi, with plenty of longing stares and "I love you"s to go around. Any further implications to the nature of their relationship are left as subtext.
    • A similar case applies to Liz and the blue bird themselves, due to the story being a variant on the typical Shapeshifting Lover fairy tale. They live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, and are seen doing domestic chores like bathing and cooking together. The movement of the suite that concerns their separation is even titled "The Things We Do for Love."
  • Real-Place Background: Most of the movie takes place at Kitauji High, a fictional high school which is nonetheless based on an actual high school in Uji, a town near Kyoto where Kyoto Animation has its headquarters.
  • The Rival: Curiously, Nozomi confesses to see Mizore this way, saying that she's jealous of Mizore for being so much better at her instrument and that she got picked to go to a music college.
  • Shapeshifting Lover: A (most likely) platonic example with the "Liz and the Blue Bird" story, where a blue bird turns into a human girl so she become friends with Liz. She eventually has to leave Liz and go back to being a bird. The part that isn't said ahead of time is that Liz willingly lets the blue bird go, against the bird's wishes, as she understands keeping the bird as a human will rob her of her freedom to fly.
  • Show Within a Show: The shorts of the "Liz and the Blue Bird" story, which are animated pages of the children's book used as the inspiration for the tone poem played by the wind music club.
  • Theme Naming: All of the songs from the film's soundtrack, besides the orchestral pieces, use all-lowercase phrases describing each scene separated by commas: i.e., "wind,glass,bluebird", "reflexion,allegretto,you", "girls,dance,staircase".
  • Third Time's The Charm: The first two times Mizore attempts the "Love You" hug with Nozomi, she is rejected. She gives an Anguished Declaration of Love the third time.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Mizore and Nozomi's friendship seems to teeter on the edge of a romantic confession throughout the whole film. The ending doesn't give a definitive answer, although there are hints that they may get together.
  • Walking in Rhythm: The first scene of Mizore and Nozomi features this, as does the last. Notably, their footsteps are out of sync, illustrating the "disjoint". The last scene has them in perfect sync.

Alternative Title(s): Liz To Aoi Tori