Flavors of Youth – International Version – Anime Review
Synopsis: Memories in a bowl of steaming noodles, a fading beauty finding her way and a bittersweet first love — all in these stories of city life in China. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Flavors of Youth is touted by Netflix as coming from the creators of Your Name, but that’s only partially true. While CoMix Wave Films is the same production company between the two films, none of Your Name’s headlining staff is anywhere near this production, especially Director Makoto Shinkai.Rather Flavors of Youth is a collaboration between CoMix Wave Films and Haoliners, the production company behind so many of the recent Manhua (Chinese Manga) anime adaptations. Flavors of Youth more specifically has three directors, that each helm one of the films three separate stories, although all of them are tied around similar themes.
That out of the way, lets talk about Flavors of Youth itself and its own merits. Firstly, Flavors of Youth is a looker, though not nearly so much as Your Name. The background work is where Flavors of Youth shines, producing incredibley detailed, vivid backdrops of China’s city life.The art is so beautiful, so eye catching that it easily outshines any of the character work. While the leads themselves are often depicted with solid, simple, yet memorable designs and animation, the same can’t always be said for supporting cast. Often the supporting cast looks a significant step down from the lead’s artwork, particularly in the second of the three narratives. These designs feel uninspired, drab, and lack that visual pull that each of the lead’s carry. While neither of the two male leads is all that inspiring in design, they both stand out in my mind a day after watching the movie, where as so many other characters are hazy and forgettable even within twenty-four hours of having watched the film.
Beneath the artwork are three tales, each centered on romance, love, and personal struggle, although to varying degrees. The first of the three details the life of a young man, Xiao Ming, who’s moved onto the hustle and bustle of city life, but has lost his vigor from when he was young. The story proceeds to tie all of his most beloved childhood memories together through noodles. From the time he spent in the boonies with his grandmother who enjoyed eating noodles with him, to his youthful middle school days when he’d use a local noodle shop as an excuse to watch a pretty girl he liked go past him to school in the morning. While the story is sweet, and at times poignant when discussing how nothing lasts forever and memories are to be cherished, the narration borders on overbearing, frequently over-explaining events we witness on screen to a frustrating degree. It doesn’t help that the story is so short that we haven’t had the time to grow attached to our lead. This means that by the time the short is over, and the story is delivering its emotional poignancy, you feel detached, unengaged and what message it has just doesn’t feel satisfying.
The second narrative is stronger, in part due to more limited narration, but suffers in similar respects. For the second story we follow around a fashion model, Yi Lin, who lost her parents at an early age, and has worked her entire career for her younger sister, Lulu. But as Yi Lin ages, and finds competition in the fashion world things take a bad turn and she’s forced to realize how poorly she’s been living her life. More time is spent on this tale, allowing the characters to breath, making it far easier to become invested in the story. But still much of the dialogue is on the nose, forced, stilted, causing a number of scenes to drag long after we’ve gotten the point. It doesn’t help then when we reach the end and our lead has her catharsis it’s sudden, abrupt, and kinda feels unearned. Yi Lin doesn’t have that one moment that really shows us she’s realized how she needs to change as a person. (In fact it’s other characters who ultimately set her on the right path, with little input from Yi Lin herself.) It makes the conclusion feel hollow, much the same as the first vignette.
The third and final story stands the strongest, following Limo, a young man who’s grown up cold in his pursuit of a high-end architecture job, forgetting the young love he once felt for the girl he grew up with, Xiao Yu. With young love is perhaps the most relatable and well realized portion of this film, Limo still suffers from frequent and unnecessary narration, making a number of scenes that could’ve worked in a more subtle fashion, suddenly overbearing. But thanks to a more grounded focus on the heart, lost love, and regret it’s easier to look past the pointed nature of the presentation and embrace Limo’s struggle in both the present and his childhood. Unfortunately Limo’s story rushes to conclusion, jumping ahead to a fairy tale like conclusion that feels more so like wish-fulfillment than something Limo earned through self-reflection.
All three stories suffer much the same flaws, frequently spending too much time drowning us in unnecessary discussion of the narrative rather than letting the characters breath and the visuals to tell the story. They’re overwritten, or so lacking in subtext that scenes feel painfully dry. While my attention flagged here or there, I made it to the end immersed in each tale just enough to find it a modest once through. Flavors of Youth is done a disservice by attaching Your Name to its release, setting the bar high, higher than this film could possibly live up to. But if you’re looking for something with emotion, that’s still a bit rough around the edges, with beautiful background artwork Flavors of Youth is alright. Just alright, but never anything truly astounding.
Flavors of Youth is available for streaming via Netflix.