I watched the European premiere of Hula Fulla Dance at the Cameo Picturehouse in Edinburgh as part of Scotland Loves Anime.
During the first half of the week, we’ve been exploring old animes at the festival, the disconnections created by increasingly connected technology and isolation. Hula Fulla Dance, at first blush, is the opposite; an anime about Hula dancing.
But only at first glance. In fact, loneliness is tackled in this slice of life, as is the impact of the 2011 tsunami. The anime starts with a young girl watching her older sister impress the crowds with a hula dance, and then the sister is gone.
At a second glance, Hula Fulla Dance is about making new connections to replace old ones, about renewal and friendship.
It’s also a supernatural thriller if you choose to take uncorroborated moments of high emotion at face value.
Seiji Mizushima’s anime walks some well-trodden paths as young women bond over shared hardship and good intentions. There’s dancing, and music, though not overmuch of either.
The anime is set in a holiday resort called The Hawaiian, and our team of heroes are training to be professional dancers there. One of which is a young and short Hawaiian who came to Japan as the competition back in Hawaii is too tough. She dreams, though, of setting up a Hawaiian-themed resort in Hawaii. Go figure.
There’s the mean one, the shy one, the fun one who’s larger than the others. This makes her normal-sized, compared to the skinny hula dancers everywhere, but earns her the nickname Sumo Dancer. Our hero, though, is the young sister who lost her hula dancing hero to the tsunami.
This is a Chris anime. That’s a personal scale, but it might translate as a ‘Mum and dad anime’ in that you could watch it with either parent unit without embarrassment. It’s wholesome.
But it’s heartbreak wholesome in that it’s not always sunny and fun. Our heroes have real personal challenges to overcome and there are tears with the laughs.
Had Hula Fulla Dance not been part of Scotland Loves Anime, there’s no way I’d have watched it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a good bridge from the week’s start with titles like Perfect Blue and Patlabor to the new material. It’s such a good bridge you might not even realise you’ve crossed a threshold.
It’s the strong characters that hold Hula Fulla Dance together. If you’re willing to look at the strange supernatural twists as moments of fancy, then it’s all entirely believable. If not, then it’s up to your own worldview.
The idea of trying hard, no harder, harder still, to succeed and make friends is an incredibly familiar trope in anime, but it doesn’t jar here. It could but doesn’t, and that’s down to the success of the narrative and the pacing. You might not even notice the hardships for all the bonding.
Happily recommend Hula unless you’re looking for dancing ninja robots.
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