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Nasu: Summer in Andalusia – Review

by Alryo

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It’s one September day in Andalusia and the sky is clear. The landscape is desolate with no vegetation except for bushes and cacti. No trees to stop the sandy wind nor provide shade for the unforgiving 113º heat outdoors. This is the stage in the  cycling competition known as La Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain). Here Pepe, the film’s protagonist, will be forced to face his past and forge his future.

Nasu: Summer in Andalusia is a surprisingly accurate anime adaptation of a self-contained short story found in Iou Kuroda’s manga, Nasu. It marks Kitaro Kousaka’s directorial debut as well as the first time an anime film is selected for the Canne Film Festival. Kousaka is a long time collaborator of Miyazaki’s and a high caliber animator in Studio Ghibli. Some of his works with Ghibli as animation director includes Whisper of the Heart, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and the recent Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Also, Kousaka has worked as key animator for other outstanding films such as Akira, Angel’s Egg and Metropolis. In this instance Kousaka chose to work with renown Madhouse Studios for his initiation as film director.

Pepe Benengeli, a professional Spanish cyclist, is competing in  La Vuelta Ciclista a España (Tour of Spain). One of the three most important Grand Tours of Europe after the Tour de France and the Giro d’ Italia. This particular leg of the race happens to take place in the Iberian region of Andalusia where Pepe’s hometown is located. A place which brings him back unpleasant memories and pressures him to perform his best. Despite of his inner struggle Pepe must keep himself focused on the race and contribute to his team’s victory. His function in the team is to aid the top sprinter, Gilmore, to win the race by strategically positioning himself among the pack during the course of this particular leg. But Gilmore and Pepe don’t get along hurting the PaoPao team success in the competition. The team’s sponsor its aware of this fact and plans to deal with it as soon as the race is over. Pepe’s professional career is all of the sudden hanging in the balance.

The animation work displayed in this film is topnotch as expected from prestigious Madhouse Studios. Cycling is depicted with realism, intensity and fluidity. The landscape portrays the Andalusia region accurately without relying on overly detailed renditions as is common place with Miyazaki’s idealistic artistic approach. Also, it’s refreshing to notice Kousaka’s personal style in the technical aspects of Nasu. For instance, the aerial points of views used to mimic a sport broadcast in order to sell the illusion of realism. Complemented with a brief look into the Spanish culture via a wedding reception showcasing paella and flamenco. On top of that, the intensity of the sport is rendered beautifully by slowly building the excitement to the very end.

The character design keeps some traces of the Ghibli style but aims for a more realistic look. The characters look european and well-defined contrasting the manga’s rough designs. In this film Kousaka’s departure from the Ghibli-look is more evident when portraying the athletes. Characters have muscular frames and proportions that resemble real cyclists.

I was pleasantly surprised by the great potential Kousaka showed directing Nasu. Even though the film is short and the story compact it totally deserves a watch especially from those who look for something different in their anime. Personally, I added this film to my short list of recommended anime for new fans. Don’t forget to check it out, it’s worth the trouble.

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Author: Alryo

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