Combustible Celluloid
With: Haruka Fukuhara, Tao Tsuchiya, Asuka Kudoh, Kazuyuki Okitsu, Mikako Komatsu, Satoshi Hino, Sayaka Ohara (Japanese voices), Risa Mei, Megan Shipman, Jordan Dash Cruz, Ian Sinclair, Alexis Tipton, Kamen Casey, Laila Berzins (English voices)
Written by: Yasuhiro Yoshiura, Ichirō Ōkouchi
Directed by: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English/Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 108
Date: 01/21/2022

Sing a Bit of Harmony (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Clap Happy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A sweet, big-hearted fantasy/musical full of teen crushes and cool tech, the enjoyable anime Sing a Bit of Harmony moves gorgeously and sounds great, wearing its unflappably positive attitude right on its colorful sleeve.

Teen Satomi (voiced by Haruka Fukuhara and Risa Mei) lives with her mother, Mitsuko (voiced by Sayaka Ohara and Laila Berzins), an AI scientist at the Hoshima corporation, who works all hours. Satomi is an outcast at school, with a reputation as a tattle-tale, though the brilliant, nerdy Toma (voiced by Asuka Kudoh and Jordan Dash Cruz) has a crush on her.

One day, her mother's latest invention, a lifelike AI robot named Shion (voiced by Tao Tsuchiya and Megan Shipman), is field-tested at the school. To succeed, Shion must pass as a student, which becomes difficult when, on her first day, she enthusiastically asks "Are you happy, Satomi?" and breaks into a song from Satomi's favorite movie, Moon Princess.

It's not long before Shion's cover is blown, and so, hoping to protect her mother's job, Satomi urges Toma, handsome Gocchan (voiced by Kazuyuki Okitsu and Ian Sinclair), Gocchan's girlfriend Aya (voiced by Mikako Komatsu and Alexis Tipton), and judo student "Thunder" (voiced by Satoshi Hino and Kamen Casey), to promise to keep the secret. But how long can the ruse last?

Available in both original Japanese (with English subtitles) and in an English-language dub, Sing a Bit of Harmony kicks off with a delightful scene of Satomi waking up and making breakfast with the aid of her AI house (the house bids her "have a wonderful day" when she walks out the door for school). It feels lightly, optimistically futuristic, with an overall peaceful feel; the robots are here to help. Shion's introduction to the students — and her musical number — are meant to feel awkward and embarrassing, but not foreboding.

As with the best teen movies, the characters are portrayed as having identifiable foibles. One teen spends all his time on one hobby, while another one is only "pretty good" at a lot of things. There are tarnished reputations, hurt feelings, quiet longings, misunderstandings, etc., that all feel genuine, and the growing friendships feel genuine too.

Visually, Sing a Bit of Harmony isn't showy, but when one of its polished, sparkling songs kicks in, it goes all the way, including a use of a field of rotating solar panels or a judo match. Logically, Shion is able tap into other AI devices, including pianos and sound systems, so she always has musical accompaniment for her songs. Its clever denouncement, and questions about the meaning of "happiness," leave the movie off with a lovely bittersweet note.

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