Anime likes to explore the human psyche, and because it’s such a visual medium, it often does that in out-of-the-box ways since the only limitations are what you can draw on paper (and occasionally augment with some special effects). Things that might look silly when using real people can pass as totally believable in anime (such as a talking egg dressed like a prince). Anthem of the Heart does a good job incorporating those elements of fantasy without going over the top. Spoilers ahead.
Naruse, Jun is the rambunctious sort of child who spends her days with her head in the clouds, imagining stories of great banquets and fancy ballroom dances at the local castle in town (spoiler alert: it’s a castle themed love hotel). She’s often described as a child who doesn’t know when to stop talking, eagerly searching for any ear willing to listen. Unfortunately for Jun, this will lead to a lot of future heartache.
One day she sees her father in a car leaving the magical castle, but she doesn’t recognize the woman with him. Jun’s innocence simply leaves her to imagine that her dad was a prince and the woman his princess who were enjoying a perfectly normal innocent time at the castle. She rushes home to tell her mother all about it in her excitement. As you can imagine, this leads to the end of her parents marriage.
As the last of her father’s things are packed into a moving truck, Jun tries to stop him, not understanding why he was leaving them forever. He simply looks back at Jun and tells her that it’s all her fault for not knowing when to stop talking. Complaints about how much she talked were not unusual for Jun, but this is the first time one has been attached to something so significantly painful for her.
Jun’s young mind goes into panic mode, and her overactive imagination begins to compensate for the pain. An egg prince appears before her, explaining that her voice is the cause of her pain, so in order to protect her from ever experiencing that pain again, he will remove her ability to speak. Should she speak anyway, she will be given a harsh reminder as punishment. And just as the egg in her imagination said, her life was altered. Any words she speaks now give her extreme abdominal nausea and pain. The once talkative child will now live a morose and cowardly existence. Where before she was eager for anyone who would stop and talk with her, now she actively avoids them out of embarrassment because she cannot communicate back.
Flash forward to high school. Jun, the loner who never talks, is paired with three other classmates to form a committee in charge of their class contribution to a local community talent show. Originally, they’re all resistant to the idea, but each of them slowly opens up until they present the idea of an original musical to the class. As it turns out, while Jun can’t talk, she can sing, and she uses that ability to shock her classmates into agreeing to the idea.
Each of the four main cast of characters are dealing with some sort of loss or problem, from absent parents to reputation damaging injury, but the majority of the movie focuses on Jun and her journey. Ultimately, the idea for the musical comes from Jun’s past with the castle and the egg prince that steals her voice. The songs are new words put to classic musical scores like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
That musical becomes a gateway for healing Jun in multiple ways. It helps her understand and forgive herself for a problem that wasn’t really caused by her to begin with. It also serves as a bridge between her a her mother, an unfortunately tumultuous relationship (problems caused by the stress and chaos of a single mother trying to raise a daughter who no longer speaks). It also helps Jun understand the value of herself as an individual, instilling the needed confidence to know that she is allowed to love and accept herself rather than only look for outward validation.
And the musical does more than just help Jun. Each of the other three characters also find that they themselves are growing as they work through both Jun’s and their personal problems to create their musical. Old friendships are repaired and new bonds formed as each of them learn what it is to depend on outsiders for help.
The main theme of this movie seems to be the idea of self acceptance. You cannot learn and grow without first accepting yourself for who you are. For some, this will mean learning to forgive yourself for pain you caused in the past; for others, it’s simply acknowledging your own weakness and need to depend on others. But this idea of self acceptance is weaved into each and every character in one form or another. Never underestimate the impact you could have on your own life by simply acknowledging and accepting who you are. Nobody is perfect, but before you can make real changes, you have to face your skeletons and accept and love who you are at the moment, skeletons and all.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The music is entertaining and fun since it uses familiar tunes (and there aren’t a lot of musical numbers by any means), the characters feel realistic and easy to identify with, and the art and story stop just short of a fairy tale (probably their intention). I would say almost anyone could find value in the story of this movie, and I encourage you to try it if you get the chance.