The beautiful and mysterious Shion transfers to Keibu High School where she quickly becomes popular for her open-hearted personality and exceptional athletic talent... but she turns out to be an AI in the testing phase. Shion's goal is to bring chronic loner Satomi “happiness.” But her strategy is something no human would expect: she serenades Satomi in the middle of the classroom. After finding out that Shion is an AI, Satomi and her childhood friend, engineering geek Toma, steadily warm up to the new student. They become more and more moved by Shion's singing voice and earnestness even as her antics bewilder them. But what Shion does for Satomi's sake ends up involving them all in some serious pandemonium.
J C Staff’s 2021 sci fi fantasy was written and directed by the very talented Yasuhiro Yoshiura who gave us the exceptionally brilliant “Time of Eve” in 2008 and “Paterma Inverted” in 2012. With him in charge you know there is potential for something just a little bit special. Certainly the critics agreed and the film was warmly greeted by them and audiences alike. “Sing a Bit of Harmony” is a story that blends Spielberg’s “ET” with Disney Princess musicals and an AI robot in an anime Highschool romance. That is quite a trick to pull off but this works pretty neatly. The danger with this format is that some in the audience may fear that it is a musical and switch off. This would be a mistake. Unlike “real” musicals this film actually embeds the reason why the robot sings as an integral part of the plot. The story, as so often, is set in a school amongst a bunch of teenagers and is centred upon a melancholy girl called Satomi Amano. She is having a hard time as many students are ostracising her for breaching that unwritten school-yard rule about not snitching on other students to teachers. Satomi’s single-Mum (Mitsuko) is team-lead in a robotics research department at a local company. They are about to field-trial their latest creation – a robot in the form of a teenage girl. They are going to drop the robot in as a transfer student at Satomi’s school without letting the school know the true nature of what this new student is. This is a version of the famous Turin test – if nobody guesses she is a robot then the trial is deemed a success. The problems start from day one when the robot girl (“Shion Ashimori”) inexplicably recognises Satomi and makes it clear that she has made it her mission is to make the melancholy girl happy. Much of this mission appears to involve launching into impromptu musical numbers and dressing Satomi up as a princess. This eccentric behaviour is a mystery to the small group who befriend Shion. After one of them, the technical geeky character (and love interest) Touma, accidentally switches Shion off the kids realise what their new classmate really is. Realising that Shion is her mum’s experiment, Satomi makes them all swear to not reveal the truth. What follows is a classic fantasy adventure involving drama, romance and a lot of humour. It builds and builds bringing together a bunch of plot threads into a really satisfying story line. Nothing in this tale happens without a reason and is, at times, perfectly magical. If Spielberg did Disney this is what it would look like. The movie climax is pure Hollywood as the kids run around inside a robot lab on their desperate rescue mission. The hi-tech nature of the romp never gets in the way of genuine human emotions. The plot is also littered with satisfying moments when the AI manipulates the environment to make the humans around her happy. Shion is utterly naive and may not really understand what human happiness is but, by jove, she is going to try really hard at making this work. The results are often hilarious yet this is a movie with a gentle soul. It may never be too emotional but it has a sweetness to it that brings a rosy shine to all who watch it. There is tremendous warmth here to the point where it is all so genuinely touching. Not quite as profound as “Time of Eve” – it is more an entertaining adventure for younger adults – yet this works on all the levels intended. At last, a Highschool Musical it is OK to like. Just remember: it isn’t a musical – right? Simply adorable.
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