Dai Miyamoto is a saxophonist with a dream – to become the world’s greatest jazz player. After graduating from high school, he moves to Tokyo to embark on his jazz career. There, he forms a band with talented pianist Yukinori Sawabe, and fledgling drummer Shunji Tamada. Together, the three boys pour their hearts into developing their talents as jazz players, in the hopes of landing a gig.
I’m always up for a good music anime, and so when Blue Giant received a limited run in UK cinemas, I resolved to book myself into a screening. I’m glad I did, as it turned out to be a most enjoyable experience.
On the face of it, Blue Giant is standard stuff. A group of teenagers with a dream work towards achieving it, facing and overcoming adversity on the way. All the narrative beats are pretty much as you’d expect, to the point where I was able to predict a significant twist just from the atmosphere of the scene preceding it.
But to leave it at that is to do the movie an injustice, for Blue Giant is a film filled with personality and heart. At the core of this are the three main characters, each of whom brings something different to the table. Dai is your classic optimistic hero with a large helping of natural talent, but we also see that he’s a hard worker with a steely commitment to his ambitions. Yukinori has great technical ability, but he struggles to connect with the raw emotion needed to produce a truly inspiring performance, Shunji, meanwhile, is a breath of fresh air – although he lacks experience as a drummer, he is swept along by Dai’s sheer enthusiasm for jazz. Yes, he has his own struggles with trying to improve and keep up with the others, but he’s also there just to enjoy himself and have fun. Whether they’re practising, performing or just chilling out, it’s the interaction between these three boys that really makes the film sparkle.
The flip side of this is that everyone else in the movie is relegated to a very literal definition of supporting character – their role is simply whatever they can do to further the jazz ambitions of the heroes. For the most part this is fine; I certainly don’t need to learn about the rich inner lives of every music teacher and jazz club owner who shows up. I would, however, would have liked to have seen more of Akiko, the owner of the bar where the boys spend their time practicing – her own past jazz career is vaguely hinted at, but never explored.
Meanwhile, another character is introduced briefly in flashback as an important motivator for one of the leads, but her sole contribution in the present is to show up as an audience member and clap at a live performance. It’s possible that she has more of a role in the original manga, and certainly a two-hour movie adaptation can’t capture all of its source material, but this was definitely a case where it would have been better to cut the character entirely than make such a half-hearted attempt to include her.
Of course, as this is a jazz movie, it would be remiss of me not to talk about the film’s musical content. Rather than negotiating the licensing nightmare of using too much in the way of existing jazz pieces, most of the works played here are original compositions. The music captures the spirit of jazz, and the love that the main characters have for the genre. A lot of thought has also gone into depicting the band’s improvement – for example, some of Dai’s earlier efforts include notes which are painfully out of tune, but his overall performance still emphasises both the effort he is making and the potential he has to become a great sax player.
When it comes to animation, it’s clear that Blue Giant was working on a budget. The animation style is pretty workmanlike, and there’s plenty of cutting away to still images. Character designs are fairly generic, and it’s possible that the money went into depicting the film’s many meal scenes, as all the food on display looks detailed and delicious.
As with pretty much every other music anime out there, CG animation is heavily used whenever the characters are playing their instruments. It’s something we music anime fans have come to accept, but it never looks particularly good, and in a couple of case the CG models barely resemble the characters they are meant to represent.
That being said, Blue Giant does still manage a bit of visual flourish during its more intense musical performances. The emotional abandon of a piano solo will be accompanied by a sweep of abstract motion. When Dai plays his saxopohone, it glitters as it reflects golden light. Shunji’s anxiety and mistakes on the drums are accompanied by darkness as his grip on the music slides away.
Despite the nitpicks mentioned above, Blue Giant is a truly enjoyable film. With its likeable heroes, lively jazz music, and enthusiastic energy, Blue Giant draws you in, and carries you along for the duration of its runtime. It may not be an outright masterpiece, but it’s definitely a lot of fun.