Goodbye, Don Glees! review – stunningly animated film is affecting YA adventure

<span>Photograph: Album/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Album/Alamy

Here is a beautifully gentle and melancholy coming-of-age YA adventure from the Japanese animator Atsuko Ishizuka. The story will be instantly familiar: a tale of boyhood friendship coming to an end – or shifting into a new phase perhaps, less intense. There is nothing new to see here, and yet it’s a deeply felt film, romantic and earnest about childhood. Though I have to admit I found the subtitling hard to follow in places; the dubbed version might be a better choice, especially for younger audiences.

The narrator is called Roma; he is remembering the summer when he was 15, living on a farm. The other kids in the village laugh at him, and call him “cow dung guy”. His best friend is serious, hardworking Toto (Yûki Kaji) who has been away at school in Tokyo. Now Toto is back for the holidays with a new boyband haircut and a slight air of disdain for his country bumpkin friend. The pair have been inseparable for years; they built a secret den in the woods and called themselves the Don Glees gang (the name is explained later).

While Toto was away at school, Roma buddied up with another kid, nicknamed Drop (Ayumu Murase), small for his age, wild with a mischievous grin. The moment Drop mentions “the hospital” with glistening eyes, it’s pretty obvious where his storyline is headed.

The Don Glees pride themselves on their amateur fireworks – which are highlight of the gorgeous animation, along with a spectacular starry night sky. But this summer, the gang’s display is accused of causing a forest fire. So they pack up their rucksacks and head to the mountains where they hope to find a drone that will prove their innocence. Not one scene here is likely to surprise, but what a lovely, unashamedly emotional and affectionate look at friendship.

• Goodbye, Don Glees! is released on 30 November in cinemas.