Uchiage Hanabi, Shita kara Miru ka? Yoko kara Miru ka?, also known as Fireworks, is a 2017 film produced by Studio Shaft. It is based on a 1993 live-action TV episode of the same name. The reception has been mixed, with many criticisms of the 3DCG (3D computer graphics) and the confusing plotline. Personally, as a Shaft fan, I enjoyed the show, and I believe there is much more to appreciate in Shaft shows then most people realize. In this article, I briefly recap the story, followed by a quick review of the show, and then I make a deep exploration into an interesting aspect of the time-traveling in the show, which most viewers of the show fail to recognize.
To briefly recap the story, Nazuna finds the time-traveling sphere at the beginning of the movie. After a swimming race between Norimichi, Yuusuke and Nazuna, Nazuna asks Yuusuke out for the fireworks festival later that night. Yuusuke stood her up, and Norimichi runs into her instead. Norimichi finds out that Nazuna wants to leave her home, but at this point, Nazuna’s mother turns up to drag her back home. After seeing the struggle which Nazuna puts up, Norimichi gets emotionally charged and throws the time-traveling sphere, inadvertently reversing time back to the swimming race.
In this new timeline, Norimichi gets asked out by Nazuna instead. Norimichi eventually ends up with Nazuna at the train station. Here, Nazuna’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend show up to retrieve Nazuna. Norimichi tries to fight back to no avail. Left alone, he leaves the train station, and bumps into his friends, joining them to go to the observatory to watch the fireworks. As the fireworks start, Norimichi sees that the fireworks were flat, and recalls the previous timelines, and realizes that it is possible to change the timeline once again. He throws the time-traveling sphere, wishing that he and Nazuna would have gotten on the train. Time reverses once again, and this time, the two of them manage to get on the train.
At this point, there is a dialogue scene where we learn about Nazuna’s family background and her plans to leave home. The show goes into a insert song with trippy visuals to match. As the insert song ends, the train passes Norimichi’s friends and the car Nazuna’s mother is in, with the two parties catching them in sight. This leads to a chase scene to the next station, and then all the way to the top of the lighthouse. Yuusuke charges at them, accidentally knocking them off the lighthouse. While falling, Norimichi throws the time-traveling sphere, wishing that they weren’t caught by either parties.
In the fourth timeline, they avoid the train windows and hid themselves. In addition, the train diverts to an alternate track towards the sea, and they end up in an alternate reality town. The time-traveling sphere was discovered by a drunk fireworks technician, who launches the sphere into the sky and shatters it. The many shards of the sphere, reflecting the many possibilities of reality within them, fall from the sky, as the characters catch glimpses of their alternate timelines. In the final scene, the homeroom teacher calls for attendance, and both Norimichi and Nazuna are absent.
One often criticism of the show is of the visuals, especially of the times where 3DCG was used. I like to think that it is a cost-cutting measure to use 3DCG, and where it looks decent enough, and used for unimportant scenes, I don’t have any objections to it.
I do agree that the scene where it cuts away to the princess in a fantasy glass tower world looked out of place and was pretty insane. But the same insanity also gave rise to unimaginably awesome fireworks animation.
Other than the visuals, Studio Shaft is also strong in their storytelling, where they often insert deeper meanings that are not easily understood when watched the first time round. This show is no exception, and when I watched it in theater, there was a gasp of surprise from the audience when the show ended. This was due to the lack of a clear conclusion as the movie cuts to the credits. The audience is left to figure out how the story ended and what conclusions to draw from it.
Exploration of the time-traveling in the show
Besides the unclear conclusion, there is definitely more to the show than meets the eye, and we shall examine one aspect which I found particularly intriguing: the uses of the time-traveling sphere.
How many instances of time-traveling occurred during the events in the show? By a simple count, Norimichi time-traveled the first time to bring Nazuna to the train station, the second time to get on the train, and the final third time to divert the train to the alternate reality town.
Level 1: Watching the show and recognizing the 3 instances of time-travel
Were there only 3 instances of time-travel during the events of the show?
To go deeper before answering that, let’s consider another question: In the first timeline, why did Yuusuke not want to go on a date with Nazuna? We can tell from many instances during the show that Yuusuke had feelings for Nazuna: he repeatedly declared his interest in Nazuna, and in the second and third timelines he got angry whenever he sees Norimichi with Nazuna, finally in the last timeline, when he sees his potential reality of going on a date with Nazuna, he was so moved that he declared his love for Nazuna outright. This doesn’t add up with the events of the first timeline, where he found all sorts of excuses to avoid meeting Nazuna. How do we resolve this apparent contradiction?
Let’s consider for a moment, what if Yuusuke did go on a date with Nazuna? It logically follows that Nazuna would try to escape with Yuusuke. Then, Nazuna’s mother would stop her, and we’ve seen from Norimichi’s efforts through his timelines, that most of her/Yusuke’s attempts would result in failures and tears. What if Yuusuke, in contrast with Norimichi, decided to give up after some tries? Then, for his final timeline, Yuusuke, being discouraged from his failed attempts, would naturally try to avoid meeting Nazuna, so as not to trigger a bad ending for the two of them. His wish would be so that he would not meet up with Nazuna.
With this hypothesis, the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place perfectly. In the first timeline we see, Yuusuke avoided meeting with Nazuna, firstly, by volunteering to go to the lighthouse to check out the fireworks and encouraging their group of friends to do so to, and secondly, getting Norimichi to tell Nazuna that he wouldn’t be joining her. In addition to that, when his group of friends suggested going to the clinic together to pick up Norimichi, Yuusuke is noticeably reluctant as well, since that would mean that they might bump into Nazuna at the clinic. These facts are coherent with the theory that Yuusuke, despite being interested in Nazuna, had bad experiences when having chosen to meet Nazuna in previous timelines, and hence he goes out of his way to avoid her. The time he traveled back to, would then be somewhere shortly after winning the swimming race, and before he hurriedly agreed to go to the lighthouse during the classroom scene.
(First) Yuusuke hurriedly volunteering to go catch the fireworks at the lighthouse, instead of meeting Nazuna. (Second) Yuusuke, unhappy with the group going to his family’s clinic to meet up with Norimichi.
If we go back in time further, when Norimichi and Yuusuke first entered the swimming pool area and noticed Nazuna, Yuusuke excused himself to the toilet with a strange excuse. This could possibly signify that Yuusuke also time traveled to this point in one of the iterations. One can only wonder what could have happen if Yuusuke didn’t excuse himself at that time.
On top of Yuusuke using the time-travel device, we still have one more character to consider, who had the time-travel device for a significant duration. Nazuna could also have time traveled. One obvious time is when she joined in the swimming race, it is possible that she did not do so the first time round, and had to face her mother alone when trying to leave home. After a failure, she could have decided that she needed help, and joining the swimming race was her way to get one of the boys to help her.
Level 2: Realizing that the time-traveling sphere was used for a greater number of times in the movie then we were shown
In my opinion, expounding a moral of the story within a show adds value to the story-telling experience. In time-traveling stories where the protagonist revises his decisions with the power of time-travel to make progressively better ones, a moral of the story is hard to come up with because we don’t have access to such powers to do the same thing in real life.
In this show however, other elements of the story come into play that generates a moral of the story which we can think about. Near the end of the show when the time-traveling sphere shatters into pieces, the characters see their alternate realities reflected in the shards. Yuusuke sees a vision of his alternate reality date with Nazuna, which strengthens his resolve to go after her. Norimichi sees himself with Nazuna in Tokyo, and subsequently jumps into the ocean to join her. We can surmise that the moral of the story is that there are many possibilities in life, and it is up to us to take action to build the reality that we want.
We know that multiple characters had access to the use of the time-traveling sphere, in particular Yuusuke. And from the discussion earlier, we know that Yuusuke had used the time-traveling sphere before Norimichi did. However, Yuusuke had given up prematurely, and this led to Norimichi’s eventual success. This may be telling us that when we are given an opportunity, we should not easily give up even in the face of difficulty, because success goes to the person who has both opportunity and the resolve to go to the end with it. If we give up the opportunity, we might regret it one day, when even if you had the resolve, you would no longer have the opportunity.
Furthermore, there’s also a meta-moral that’s being portrayed. The animators chose to only show Norimichi’s viewpoint, and only him time-traveling. The viewer has to read between the lines and study the details to discover that the other characters had also used the time-traveling sphere. There is a saying, “History is written by the winners”. History often favors the people who succeed, and the many others who failed to achieve the goal are lost to obscurity. Yuusuke might have made multiple attempts in escaping with Nazuna, but none of those were portrayed in the movie. The moral of the story seems to be further encouraging us to persevere with our efforts until we reach our goals, because if we don’t succeed, then none of our efforts matter.
Level 3: Understanding the morals and the meta-morals of the story
I enjoy studio Shaft’s shows because of the layered messages that they often embed within their productions, and Uchiage Hanabi is no exception. There are definitely still more points to explore:
- In the ending, during the classroom roll-call, Nazuna’s name was left out, as she transferred out. Norimichi’s name was called out, but he was not present. We don’t see reactions from his friends. Does this mean that Norimichi managed to leave the town with Nazuna?
- We were shown glimpses of Nazuna’s foster father, where he died in a shipwreck while holding the time-traveling sphere. Did he also time-traveled? How did he end up dead?