A diffident high schooler finds a new sense of confidence after a poignant summer adventure in Atsuko Ishizuka’s heartfelt coming-of-age anime, Goodbye, Don Glees! (グッバイ、ドン・グリーズ！). In many ways about finding direction in life, learning to live with grief, and making the moment count, the film is also a paean to male friendship as the trio at its centre develop new senses of security through mutual support while beginning to figure out what treasure it is they’re seeking in the further course of their lives.
For Roma (Natsuki Hanae), a farm boy largely rejected by the other kids in the village, this summer is a little different. Not only is it his first as a high schooler, it’s also the first since his best and only friend Toto (Yuki Kaji) moved to Tokyo for high school and despite their previously close relationship it’s clear there’s a minor awkwardness in the distance that’s arisen between them since they’ve been apart while Roma has also added a third boy, Drop (Ayumu Murase), to their secret Don Glees friendship group. Now that he’s been living in the city, Toto finds the whole Don Glees thing childish and decidedly uncool while Roma is obviously keen to hang on to their shared history and childhood friendship.
Their dilemmas may seem opposed but are in actuality very similar. Toto resents Roma for not having the courage to come with him to study in Tokyo where there are more academic high schools, choosing instead the safe option of attending a vocational school with a focus on agricultural education implying that he plans to stay in his hometown and take over the family farm. It isn’t immediately clear if it’s because this is what he wants to do with his life or if he is simply too afraid to strike out and try something different. Roma does indeed seem to lack confidence often remarking that he feels he’s not enough in some way or doesn’t have the right to chase after the things he wants. Unable to face his inability to tell his middle school crush Tivoli, who has since travelled to Ireland to study abroad, how he feels he ends up deleting his Instagram account to avoid being confronted with pictures of her exciting international life. Toto meanwhile is stressed out by his cram school lifestyle and newly uncertain in his decision making realising that he’s just been following the path his parents set out for him and wondering if he really wants to become a doctor after all.
The mysterious Drop makes constant suggestions that he can’t really afford to think about the future and is living intensely in the moment. He is insistent on finding some kind of treasure, afraid of ending his life without resolving this one mystery and keen to ask both boys what it is they’d regret if the world were to end tomorrow. The quest takes on literal dimensions when the boys are accused (falsely) of starting a forest fire and set out in search of a drone they were using, technically illegally, to capture a local fireworks display hoping it will contain footage to verify their innocence but getting lost along the way and eventually sharing their fears and anxieties alone together under the night sky. It seems this new friendship is destined to end in unexpected tragedy, but as Drop is fond of saying sometimes all it takes is a little courage to make a jump and see things from a different perspective allowing Roma to gain the confidence in himself he’d been lacking to chase the things he really wants.
A teen summer adventure movie, Goodbye, Don Glees! features lush animation of the Japanese countryside along with some enhanced CGI of nature in bloom captured forever via photograph which as Tivoli points out is like a freeze-frame in time trapping both the image and its accompanying emotions. That is perhaps what Roma learns, to make memories he can treasure when the moment ends while saying goodbye to something doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, it just exists in a different form. A warm and heartfelt tale of teenage male friendship and summer’s end, Goodbye, Don Glees! discovers a sense of the serene in the face of life’s futility through connections both momentary and eternal.
US release trailer (Japanese with English subtitles)