The Blu-ray / DVD market may well be much less important than before in recent years (with the emergence of platforms), it still happens that some publishers give us the good surprise of bringing animes that are not, to to date, available by no means other than physical media. This is the case of the animated film that interests us here: Happy-Go-Lucky Days. Released at Kazé at the end of September in a DVD / Blu-ray combo edition at the retail price of € 24.99, this 54-minute work (credits included) is not actually accessible on any French platform to date. And if this is a release that gives us particular pleasure here, it is above all because this film adapts Dônika Naru Hibi, a superb manga unfortunately still unpublished in France and which we owe to an excellent author who was for too long shunned in our country, Takako Shimura.
Takako Shimura is a great lady of the feminine manga who officiates since 1997, and who, still a year and a half ago, was only known in France for the excellent series Fleurs Bleues, released by Asuka / Kazé Manga between 2009 and 2015, and which in 2009 experienced an animated adaptation which took a long time to arrive in France since it has been available with us since only August 2021 via the DNA platform. Since 2020, Akata editions have undertaken to finally make the work of this important artist better known in France, first of all with If we were adults …, one of her latest series (still in progress). currently) which was first launched as a digital preview in spring 2020, while volume 1 paper will be released in November. Since then, Akata has launched in France another manga by the author this year: Comme un adieu. Among Shimura’s well-known works, we can also mention, among others, Hôrô Musuko, the longest series of his career, whose 15 volumes were published in Japan between 2002 and 2013, and which in 2011 had an animated series. Unfortunately, despite its reputation, Hôrô Musuko is still unseen in France to this day, both in manga and in anime.
Dônika Naru Hibi, on the other hand, is a short work in 2 volumes, actually consisting of several short stories sometimes gently erotic and mainly exploring human relationships and sexuality. Dating from the first years of the mangaka’s career, this manga was pre-published in Japan in 2002-2003 in the magazine Manga Erotics F of the publisher Ohta Shuppan, a very good magazine which also hosted, among others, Fleurs Bleues, La fille de the beach of Inio Asano, or Snegurochka of Hiroaki Samura.
As for the animated adaptation that interests us here, it is much more recent since it was released in Japan on October 23, 2020, after a postponement due to the health situation since its release was initially scheduled for May 8, 2020. For its staff principal, we find the studio Liden Films Kyoto Studio, the Kyoto branch of the studio Liden Films (which got noticed this year for the animes Tokyo Revengers and Farewell My Dear Cramer, among others), to the production of the animation . The realization was entrusted to Takuya Satô (Steins; Gate, Wixoss, Kase-san …), the musics to the Japanese group CreepHyp, the character design to Haruka Sagawa (mainly active in other positions, but that the we will soon find the character design of Child of Kamiari Month), and the artistic direction of Yukihiro Saitô (Farewell My Dear Cramer, Juliet at the boarding school, Magical Sempai …). In the end, in terms of the scenario of each of the 4 parts, Takuya Satô took care of part 1 himself, while part 2 was entrusted to Yoriko Tomita (several episodes of Hi Score Girl, Fire Force , or more recently Build Divide – # 00000 (Code Black) -), and parts 3 and 4 to Yasunori Ide (best known as a storyboarder, or as the director of a few animes like Please Twins).
Happy-Go-Lucky Days is therefore composed of 4 parts of a dozen minutes each, and the last two of which are more intimately connected.
The first part invites us to follow the emerging relationship between two women who, in the past, were both in love with the same girl at different times. Touched by attending the wedding of this old love that she has never forgotten, they will move closer to each other, as if to try to fill their common wound together.
The second part invites us to discover a serious teacher, and indeed so serious that at his age he still has no one in his life. Will the sudden declaration of love from one of his students change something, or not at all?
In the third part, a teasing and rather focused student, disowned by her family after filming in adult videos, finds refuge with the family of her young cousin who is just entering puberty. Obviously, at his age when we are experiencing his first romantic and sexual emotions, the young boy is very disturbed by the presence of this rather cash cousin. but just as much is the case with her closest friend and potential lover, a classmate who, upon discovering one of the young woman’s adult videos, begins to take a little more interest in the thing.
Finally, the fourth and last part brings us back to the two children of part 3, a few years later. Between the two of them, how has (or hasn’t) changed over time, now that they’re in high school?
You may have already understood it in these few lines: Takako Shimura is a mangaka who, for a long time, and in a fairly innovative way at certain times of her career, has never hesitated to approach romantic relationships and sexuality in all their diversity. Just concerning its only three manga released in France to date, Fleurs Bleues stages the first love emotions of young teenage girls in a high school for girls, If we were adults … offers a complex love between two women who are looking for each other, and Comme un adieu tells the story of the relationship between two men damaged by the sudden return to childhood (physically) of one of them. The artist often strives to break taboos to move the lines, sometimes even if it means deliberately confusing his reader in the face of complex situations to apprehend (for example, in Comme un adieu, the hero fallen back into childhood keeps his spirit of adult, and all the desires that go with it), or to play on a touch of eroticism as is the case in the original manga of Happy-Go-Lucky-Days. In this anime, we thus find all the content of what can make a manga of Shimura: relationships more or less seen as taboo (the student making a statement to his teacher, the young boy feeling the attraction for his cousin , her closest friend trying to retaliate by wanting to be more “adult” than she is after watching the adult video …), for a result that is never free, because very often, these emotions and desires (sometimes first emotions) do not materialize, remain realistic. Simply, Shimura puts on all this an especially very tender, benevolent and bittersweet look, where she judges no one and presents small very human depths that can be part of life.
For all that, the original manga is really beautiful … but is having a really good base material enough to make a great anime? Obviously no. And on that side, this animated film has a lot of qualities, but also some flaws.
The most obvious of the qualities is the respect that the team wanted to bring towards the original manga: concretely, we really find everything that makes the style of Shimura in the themes and in the atmosphere, the whole being all the better. rendered by an animation that is never over the top (it remains very calm, with a certain economy of technical means), by a narration highlighting the characters, and by simple and sometimes quite touching music (in particular the pieces of violin) sticking well to the bittersweet side. Also, in order to make the film a little more accessible than the manga, the few notes of eroticism have been largely obscured, preferring to imply rather than show, which means that there is no nudity, and that a few hugs or caresses may be enough to identify a link.
But Happy-Go-Lucky Days still suffers from its brevity: four stories in 54 minutes (even less by removing the credits), it is inevitably little. In about a dozen minutes each, the stories demand that we get involved very quickly, that we let ourselves be carried away without waiting for major in-depth studies. One can have the impression of moments of life remaining too smooth on certain points. Regarding the technical rendering, if we will not come back to the fairly minimalist animation quality that sticks very well to the stories and the desired atmosphere, it will be possible to find the design of the characters, round and simple, a little too much Sanitized compared to Shimura’s initial styling, although it exudes a lot of smoothness. Finally, it should be noted that this film is only a “long extract” of the original manga: adapting the two volumes of the manga in 54 minutes would have been impossible, and choices were therefore made in the stories.
So, without being excellent (we would especially have liked the film to last longer), Happy-Go-Lucky Days remains a film that will undoubtedly touch a niche, seduce with its atmosphere, move in its brief portraits of life, while seeking to remain very faithful to the sometimes taboo themes and the soft atmospheres of which Takako Shimura is capable.
Now let’s talk about the Kazé edition … well, which is a bit cheap compared to the price. At € 24.99 for 54 minutes in vostf, we could have expected some bonuses, but nothing at all except a teaser of the film. If the soundtrack in 5.1 is very fluid, we will regret a not impeccable image quality which is more for such a recent film, with some traces of colorbanding during a few more “lively” moments. It’s not really shocking, but experienced eyes will be able to notice it quite easily. As for the packaging, it remains very simple: a transparent digistack, composed of two trays each containing a disc (the DVD and the Blu-ray), and protected by a flexible cardboard case but still quite thick. Even if the outside face of the digistack still allows two pretty illustrations to be displayed, we would have hoped for a set a little less cheap for such a price (if only a digipack which would have allowed more illustrations). But hey, let’s not complain too much; nowadays, having such an intimate film on a physical medium, so reserved for a niche, is in itself something appreciable.