Anime Expo is always home to a number of premieres, and this year was no exception as Netflix showcased a new project from Comix Wave, the same studio behind the wildly popular Your Name.
Flavors of Youth consists of 3 shorts: each focusing on different protagonists telling a slightly different story.
The first, “Rice Noodles” is a contemplative and relatively quiet piece. It focuses on a man named Xiao Ming who has a particular fondness for san xian noodles. The opening scenes show how his love of noodles started in his childhood when he lived with his grandmother. Described with painstaking detail, Xiao Ming appreciates the handmade noodles and quality ingredients that made up the noodle bowls of his youth.
The story follows Xiao Ming through the years, touching upon themes like unrequited love and losing ones passion through the dreary tedium of life. It culminates with our protagonist returning home to visit his ailing grandmother.
“Rice Noodles” definitely starts the film off slowly. There are lots of gorgeous shots of noodle bowls, so don’t make the same mistake I did and watch it on an empty stomach! It seriously goes into Food Wars level of detail when it comes to the construction of the food, which struck me as a little odd in what is otherwise a more intellectual piece. Despite its length, it is able to construct a handful of compelling characters – all involved in Xiao Ming’s life in one way or another.
The next short, “A Little Fashion Show”, revolves around two sisters. The older sister, Yi Lin, is a highly successful model, while her younger sister, Lu Lu, is in school for fashion design. After losing their parents at a young age, the sisters were separated for a while, growing up with different relatives. Reunited, Yi Lin is thrilled at the thought of taking care of her little sister and spending lots of quality time together.
Despite her fame, Yi Lin knows that it’s only a matter of time before she grows “too old” for her industry. This fear only grows after she gets turned down for a new project the day after her birthday. She begins to push herself hard – working out, eating even less than she was before, in preparation for Fashion Week. She begins to get sick, just in time for the first major show, and falls on the catwalk, injuring herself. The rest of the short focuses on her re-evaluating what she’s doing, and how her younger sister plays into the bigger picture.
After the quiet first episode, this was a much-needed boost of energy. The characters are much more boisterous and funny, including Yi Lin’s eccentric manager. I will say it was also a nice change of pace to have a model who wasn’t secretly (or overtly) rude/evil. Yi Lin makes mistakes, but in her heart she wants to do what’s best for Lu Lu.
Overall, this short features more striking animation, crisp dialogue, and overall does a great job of drawing viewers in for the final short, which is far and away the strongest of the three.
“Love in Shanghai” closes out the trilogy, telling the story of a recent graduate named Li Mo, who uncovers a dusty cassette tape while moving into his new apartment. The cassette tape triggers a flood of memories about his middle school years, when he spent a lot of time with his best friend Pan, and his first love: Xiao Yu.
While walking home from Li Mo’s house one day Xiao Yu hurts herself and is out of school for a number of days as she heals. Li Mo uses a recorder to record the classes so she doesn’t miss any of the material, and this gives them the idea to begin recording messages to one another and exchanging the cassette tape. They begin talking about their plans for the future, and in the midst of the cassette recording montage it’s revealed that Xiao Yu’s father abuses her. Xiao Yu reveals that she would be applying to a prestigious high school – no doubt as a result of his pressure and abuse, though Li Mo has no idea. The school is far, so she would have to move, and this makes Li Mo angry as he storms off.
He resolves to apply and be accepted to the same school, even though his parents say it will be nearly impossible with his current grades. His Dad offers him the challenge to really buckle down and study in preparation for the entrance exam. In the meantime, Li Mo distances himself from Xiao Yu, returning the cassette. In the interest of not spoiling the rest of this particularly powerful short, I’ll just say that what follows is the result of the exam, and where the divergent paths that Xiao Yu and Li Mo ultimately end up taking get them.
One of the biggest draws of this film is the fact that Your Name was made by the same studio. While the previous two shorts don’t necessarily strike at the same vein, “Love in Shanghai” absolutely echoes the same powerful coming-of-age storytelling that made Your Name so well received. The interactions between the trio of friends, the music, the gorgeous animation…it definitely scratches a unique itch that you don’t find many other places.
Overall, Flavors of Youth will be a fantastic addition to Netflix’s anime offerings once it arrives on August 4th.