Release Date(s)2022 (December 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Madhouse/Kadokawa Animation (Shout! Factory/GKids)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D
Goodbye, Don Glees! (aka Gubbai, Don Gurîzu!) is the sophomore feature from anime director Atsuko Ishizuka, who cut her teeth working on television series like A Place Further Than the Universe and No Game, No Life. Her previous film, No Game, No Life: Zero was a prequel to the latter, so Goodbye, Don Glees! is her first feature that’s based on original material. That’s true despite the fact that the story bears some passing similarities to Stand by Me, in that it’s a coming-of-age tale about a group of friends who journey into the wilderness in search of something, only to learn a few unexpected things about themselves in the process. That’s just the broadest possible strokes, however, as the actual narrative details are quite different. This may seem heretical to fans of Rob Reiner’s classic, but in some ways, Ishizuka’s story cuts even deeper. The boys in Goodbye, Don Glees! aren’t searching for a dead body, but they do end up finding one of a very different sort, and that means that they’re confronted with mortality in a way that’s all too universal. We may not all catch a glimpse of a corpse in the woods, but death still touches each and every one of us, regardless of age or circumstances.
Ishizuka’s screenplay centers on two grade school students who have dealt with their social awkwardness by starting their own club, the Don Glees. Roma (Natsuki Hanae) and Toto (Yûki Kaji) grew up together, but they’ve recently been joined by a new member, Drop (Ayumu Murase). When their attempt to film a fireworks display with a drone camera goes astray and they’re wrongly accused of starting a forest fire, they end up hiking through the mountains to recover the errant drone, which may contain footage that will prove their innocence. Yet while the actual fire will quickly be forgotten, their youthful innocence is something that they’ll never be able to recover again.
Roma and Toto’s quiet rural life has been constrained in ways that frustrate them, and they dream of a world beyond their limited borders. Yet they’re also constrained by their own fears, and they chafe against the expectations to follow the paths that have been planned for them by their parents. They just need the courage to take the leap of faith together, and that courage ends up being provided by Drop. Drop isn’t just a newcomer to the Don Glees; he’s also a newcomer to their small town, having already traveled the world by visiting faraway places like Iceland. Drop’s gift to the other two boys is his freedom, but that freedom has come at a price. He doesn’t know what his future may hold, but that’s why he’s not willing to risk losing a single moment:
“I can’t leave a footprint in this world if I don’t do something in the end. Whatever others say, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your happy ending. If the world were to end tomorrow, I don’t want any regrets.”
Roma and Toto have both been filled with regrets over paths not taken, so Drop’s greatest gift to them is to show them the importance of taking risks, and of breaking free from artificial constraints. He also teaches them the true meaning of friendship when he sends them on a quest to find his own personal treasure. That larger journey will ultimately bring all of their paths full circle, and while Drop’s prize proves to be of an intangible sort, it’s still the most priceless treasure of all.
His quest ends up inadvertently bringing their club full circle as well. Roma and Toto originally picked the name “Don Glees” as a punning English transliteration of the Japanese word donguri, which means “acorns.” In never-ending cycle of death and rebirth, an acorn must fall in order to achieve new growth. Thanks to the club’s newest member, Roma and Toto will finally be able to shed the baggage of their youth, shatter the bonds of their limited worldview, and achieve new personal growth. It’s only then that they can finally say, Goodbye, Don Glees!
Goodbye, Don Glees! was animated digitally, primarily using hand-drawn 2D elements, although a few 3D backgrounds were used to provide a sense of depth during forward or backward motion. The 1.78:1 framed image shows plenty of detail, especially in the lovely hand-painted backgrounds, and the consistently high bitrate means that there’s no noise, banding, or other artifacts visible. Much of the film takes place at night or in darkened environments, and those scenes have been given a filtered look that’s akin to day-for-night cinematography. That means that the colors are muted in those shots, appearing borderline monochromatic, and the contrast range has been flattened out. In comparison, a few other scenes offer a warm magic hour glow, with stronger contrast and deeper black levels. Either way, blue and red tones are kept to a minimum for the majority of the film, in order to make them stand out during one of Roma’s key memories. It’s a highly stylized color scheme, but it’s used effectively to support the emotional effects that Ishizuka wanted to convey at any given moment during the film. This 1080p transfer conveys all of those effects beautifully, and considering that the film was doubtless produced as a 2K Digital Intermediate, any improvements via an upscale to 4K would have been marginal at best.
Audio is offered in Japanese and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English, English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles. (The English subtitles match the Japanese language version, and the English SDH matches the English dub.) While the English dub isn’t bad at all, the original Japanese language track still has superior voice acting, so it’s the recommended version between the two. Regardless of which language that you choose, it’s a wonderfully immersive mix, filling the room with a variety of ambient effects to draw the viewer into the environments. While directionalized effects are kept to a minimum, there’s constant atmosphere from the sounds of cicadas or other insects, and reverberations are used throughout in order to expand the sense of presence—when the fireworks go off early in the film, they make the walls of the listening room melt away. The eclectic score from Yoshiaki Fujisawa, ranging from delicate solo piano lines to a thunderous full orchestral score, really adds to the experience. It matches the environmental immersion of the sound effects by immersing viewers into the drama as well.
The Shout! Factory/GKIDS Blu-ray release of Goodbye, Don Glees! is a two-disc set that includes a standard definition copy of the film on DVD, as well as a slipcover that duplicates the artwork from the insert. The following extras are included, all of them in HD:
- Interview with Atsuko Ishizuka (10:33)
- Trailers (5 in all – 7:09)
The interview with Ishizuka has her answering a series of offscreen questions regarding Goodbye, Don Glees!, and explaining why she made various choices about the story. She does address the similarities to Stand by Me, but points out that Goodbye, Don Glees! is really a dramatic reversal of that film—it’s not a case where adults are returning to see just how small their old town looks in comparison to how they felt about it as children. Instead, it’s the children learning how big that the outside world really is. While the story isn’t autobiographical, she does explain the personal reasons why she identifies with two of the characters. She also describes how the film’s locations aren’t based on any real places, but she wanted her original setting to feature universal elements. On the other hand, she did do a virtual location scout of Iceland, and discovered an isolated phone booth that she incorporated into her ending. Ishizuka is an articulate speaker, so it’s a shame that this interview is so brief, but it still gives a good taste of her thought process while making the film.
While a few more extras would have been appreciated, Goodbye, Don Glees! is the kind of film that’s best appreciated on a subconscious level, rather than over-analyzing why it works the way that it does. It’s a story that can hold up a mirror to viewers: the more personal baggage that you bring with you, the more that it may affect you while watching the film. Based on my own experiences in 2022, it hit me particularly hard. Your own mileage may vary, but this will potentially be a deeply emotional experience for some audiences. Even if anime isn’t necessarily your cup of tea, Goodbye, Don Glees! is highly recommended as an example of the limitless possibilities of the medium.
- Stephen Bjork