Without a doubt, "Hotarubi no Mori E" has become one of my favorite anime short in recent years. It stands on its own as its own entity and brings forth messages of frienship and appreciation of life that are not subtle, but illustrated beautifully in the backdrop of rural Japan.
The story is a simple one in which we have a glimpse of the friendship between Hotaru and the mysterious Gin as seasons pass. As they do so, it brings the elements of a blossoming love and how certain events of time stand out from others. I don't want to reveal too much because much like the stories that are depicted throughout Hotaru's life are experiences, watching "Hotarubi no Mori E" is in of itself an experience. The animation is gorgeous and has a simplistic quality. The use of light colors for spring contrast nicely with the brights used in the winter scenes. The lighting amplifies the quality of both the characters and the world they inhabit, especially during the festival scene.
One major point that stood out for me was the characters. The short has a running time of about 45 minutes and there are only two major characters in the piece. Before watching it, I wasn't sure how I was going to care enough about these characters in the time I was given. Boy, was I wrong. "Hotarubi no Mori E" gives the characters just enough depth for the viewers to care and grants both of them dynamic arcs that gradually unfold like the blossoming of a flower. It also granted the grace of me loving these characters in 1 episode and in 45 minutes, which is quite an accomplishment compared to most anime series. Over the course of 12 or 26 episodes, I have never found myself loving or caring about a character, let alone a relationship certain characters have that quickly. Granted, I can see how some wish that the piece was longer in providing different scenarios (ie. what happens during the time Hotaru doesn't meet Gin) or feel that the pacing was rushed. Honestly, I didn't have any of those problems and felt that "Hotarubi"'s focus was on the developing relationship between Hotaru and Gin and they definitely hit the mark.
As for the sound, the music doesn't distract the viewer from the dialogue. I also enjoyed how they also used nature, which further strengthens the forest Gin lives as a place of home and as an invitation for Hotaru to Gin's world. The voice actors for both Gin and Hotaru are sublime: not hard on the ears and providing enough emotion for the emotional scenes. The balance between this and the humorous scenes are spot-on.
"Hotarubi no Mori E" provides an illustration of life itself in that it is a rare title that has made me experience its wide range of emotions. It's a must see for everyone and I also highly recommend it for anyone who enjoyed "Mushi-Shi" or "Natsume Yujinchou."