Ride Your Wave continues a trend in recent anime films that explore the beautiful grandeur of water — flowing along with the story itself. It follows on the heels of Makoto Shinkai’s successful Weathering With You and precedes the upcoming film Children of the Sea (both released by GKIDS, which is quickly becoming a force for anime releases in North America).
It’s also Masaaki Yuasa’s fourth directorial feature, and employs the talented staff at his animation studio, Science Saru. The group is mostly known for its work on Devilman Crybaby and the currently airing anime Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, among others. Ride Your Wave is just as mesmerizing and fluid as those projects, making it one of Science Saru’s best animated efforts.
Like in Yuasa’s previous work, Lu Over the Wall, the sea plays an important role in the plot. As the title alludes to, Ride Your Wave follows two young lovers who bond over their shared love of surfing. While water holds the central theme of the film, Ride You Wave is ultimately about mustering up the courage to do something life-changing, even if things don’t go as well as you’d hope.
More Than a Love Story
The first half largely focuses on the sappy adult romance between carefree clutz Hinako Mukaimizu and diligent fireman Minato Hinageshi. Their intimate dynamic develops soon after their first encounter atop a burning building lit by fireworks. From there, they connect with a mutual love of surfing, joking around with each other, and going on frequent dates, as any other romantic couple. It appears at first to be a pretty, but fairly standard romance.
Ride Your Wave builds and emphasizes its central characters’ connection over the course of a year… before abruptly ripping them apart. Up to this point, the film uses a consistent color set of blues, reds, oranges, yellows, and whites in its animation. Minato’s death presents a turning point in the narrative, when the film switches to a darker grey and black palette. While there are few moments like this in the film, the scene’s somber impact is not only felt more by Hinako, but also by the audience.
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As much as the film is a conventional love story between Hinako and Minato, there’s a particular focus on Hinako. We’re shown the aftermath of how she deals with Minato’s death and what she learns about him from his close family and friends. She sees his spirit float around whenever she approaches water and whenever she hums their favorite song (“Brand New Story” by the Japanese boy band Generations from Exile Tribe.) Gradually, she realizes she has to move on and let Minato pass into the afterlife.
Hinako definitely develops the most throughout the film, and her journey follows an up-and-down path to regain her passion of surfing in the sea that took her lover’s life. She has a determined agency to herself and wants to find ways to help people in the process. This leads to her embracing herself as the hero she needs to be, just as Minato regarded her. Hinako realizes they had so much more in common than she thought because of the way both worked hard to be where they were. Finding this resolve helps her in the film’s climax, as she learns to conquer her fears, trust herself, and step up to literally ride the wave she’s destined for.
Emotional Colors and Close Connections
Ride Your Wave mostly maintains a bright, colorful tone with an upbeat positivity — despite the tragedy at its center. But it can balance that out with more sad moments when necessary. The story follows some familiar romantic comedy and drama movie beats that often lead to some predictable outcomes. Aspects of the plot and what happens next can be seen from a distance if you pay attention. Despite that, I became more invested in how the film arrived at such conclusions and evolved its characters.
I appreciate how Ride Your Wave film never lingers in despair any longer than necessary. Certain moments are skipped over or dealt with off-screen, but it all leads up to Hinako’s cathartic release of tears (and more watery imagery). It’s a well-earned moment full of emotional energy that’s built up for quite some time. Hinako’s mourning leads to a sense of relief that both she and Minato will find peace.
Those few predictable beats aside, Ride You Wave keeps you on your toes overall because of how everything connects. The film maintains a consistent use of setup and payoff, doing a great job of bringing back all the relevant details into the plot, even if you forgot about them. If you’re familiar with the principle of Chekhov’s Gun, you can be sure that a thing appearing or being mentioned in one scene is bound to pop up in other moments later on. Without giving away too many spoilers, some examples include common items like coffee and omelette rice dishes.
A Bittersweet Tune to End On
There’s also a clever recurring use of the song “Brand New Story.” It’s the most tangible connection between Hinako and Minato (at least to the audience) and its repeated use throughout the film is much more than a marketing trick to buy the official soundtrack. Music plays an important role in the movie, as it helps progress the plot forward and blend seamless, fantastical elements (Minato’s spirit in the water) into an otherwise grounded story. And yes, it becomes catchier the more you hear it, but the film doesn’t overuse the track, and demonstrating how well movies can interact with music.
In such instances, this can lead to moments of comedy and corniness, with Hinako having to hum or sing the song aloud in order to summon Minato in nearby water. In other scenes, you might question if Hinako’s grief finally drove her off the edge. Nevertheless, “Brand New Story”’s presence in the film works as a strong musical hook and a key connection that forever ties Hinako and Minato.
Although it’s not as strange or out-of-the-box like other Yuasa works, Ride Your Wave is nonetheless a charming film that’s unique enough on its own to distinguish itself from other romantic comedy dramas. With fantastic animation and a cast we can all root for, the film will leave you satisfied on a bittersweet note. By the end, you’ll hopefully come away with the motivation of finding your own wave and ride it, too.