ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
The 80’s were the decade when the atrocities of war stopped being taboo and several anime were made to depict the aftereffects, the most direct of which was Barefoot Gen with the bombing of Hiroshima. Grave of the Fireflies takes a rather different approach to the subject by focusing solely on its characters and not on the actual catastrophe, in this case the bombing of the Kobe area. That is after all what makes this movie unique; it is more about the mentality of the characters and not of the actual destruction. In a way, it is a far more dramatic and realistic version of Barefoot Gen and its idealistic characters with their positive attitude and an ending that gives you hope for the future. This movie does the exact opposite; it starts by telling you that the kids will not have a good ending (thus not a spoiler) and then begins a flashback showing what exactly happened.
The movie also shows a lot of the bad side of humanity, with the Japanese being cruel to one another in their struggle to find enough to survive to the point they become uncaring even towards the suffering of children. It is at the same time not without its sparks of hope for a better future, especially in the scene with the kids burying the dead fireflies and wishing them better luck in their next life. That makes sense for those who believe in reincarnation and not one life and then straight to heaven or hell; thus from a Japanese perspective the ending hints that the kids may get a second chance in their next life (thus the meaning behind the name of the movie).
The movie practically shows the aftereffects of the destruction through the eyes of the two main siblings. It is meant to present the world with their innocence, their pure minds not tainted from the various social-political issues behind the war and the deaths of their relatives. They do not understand all that, nor do they care to find out. They are just trying to have a happy life with survival being a much secondary issue. When finally that issue does arise because they have nothing to eat, they still try to reason everything with their child innocence, thus once more the whole movie is in a way a criticism against the real reasons of the war. The grown ups make wars for various agendas but the children do not understand or care about them, yet suffer the consequences nonetheless. It is a much more poetic and direct form of anti-war message compared to Barefoot Gen and its over-the-top focus on making the explosion to look horrifying and the survivors to suffer yet try to find hope and move on. And that is why I consider it far more mature and superior as well.
The production values are also very good for its time, with the characters being full of lively motions and the backgrounds looking plain albeit detailed in secondary areas, such as textures and physics. The elegiac BGM and the innocent voices of the children, as well as the occasional cruel ones of the adults manage to create a much appropriate atmosphere that may even bring tears to all the not-so-good-at-self control viewers. Another thing that is done in a far better way than Barefoot Gen, where visuals and voice acting are so bad you feel like laughing at points.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (well-done)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (detailed)
Animation 2/2 (good)
Visual Effects 2/2 (symbolic)
SOUND SECTION: 8/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 9/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 2/2 (good)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 2/2 (fine)
Conclusion 2/2 (powerful)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 1/2 (generic)
Personality 2/2 (cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 2/2 (symbolically, a lot)
VALUE SECTION: 8/10
Historical Value 3/3 (all-known)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too much overblown drama)
Memorability 4/4 (extremely tragic to the point of forever remembering it)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 10/10
In all, this is for me the best anti-war drama ever made in anime. It is not afraid to show the cruel side of man next to the innocence of children and end in a very tragic way for the viewers to despise war and sympathize with the characters even more. A very successful movie for what it was made for.