Filmmaker Shunji Iwai Goes Anime

Japanese director Shunji Iwai’s Hana and Alice was a charming and heartfelt movie about two schoolgirls crushing on the same boy. The 2004 live-action film met with acclaim and gained a cult following in Japan. It made Hana (Anne Suzuki) and Alice (Yu Aoi) popular enough characters that fans wanted more of them from the respected director.

A full decade later, Shunji Iwai answered those demands with a prequel, this time surprisingly in a sweet animated adventure for the two beloved characters. The prequel slyly tells the origin story of their remarkable friendship. The Case of Hana & Alice reunites the two actresses, this time voicing their characters for a light-hearted and tender anime movie, as Alice meets Hana for the first time in middle school.

Fans of Iwai’s original live-action Hana and Alice will be happy to catch this animated prequel but viewing it isn’t essential to appreciating the anime movie. The Case of Hana & Alice is a completely self-contained adventure that begins with Tetsuko, a 14-year-old student, moving with her mother to a new town and school. The ballet dancer’s parents have recently separated and she struggles at first to fit in at the new school.

…slice-of-life elements that could be throwaway moments turn into profound reflections on the struggles of high school

Adopting the nickname of Alice, she’s bullied and discovers she’s been assigned the seat of a deceased student from last year. A number of odd superstitions, including bizarre references to Judas, have arisen among the students regarding the incident. Hearing strange rumors about what happened last year in her classroom, including tales of murder, Alice begins investigating the death herself.

The investigation leads Alice to her mysterious next door neighbor, a shut-in that stopped attending school last year. The chance meeting of Hana and Alice sets them off on a freewheeling adventure together to solve last year’s incident. The goofy “murder” mystery begins a long journey towards understanding for both girls and their growing friendship.

The Case of Hana & Alice has engaging teen characters with an enchanting look at friendship. Deftly mixing high school hijinks with more character depth than expected, its central teen protagonists are fundamentally likable characters. Shunji Iwai somehow fits the sprawling plot neatly together without things coming apart. Slice-of-life elements that could be throwaway moments turn into profound reflections on the struggles of high school.

What could turn into a predictable anime about two outsiders getting drawn together by necessity, becomes a wonderfully astute and humane depiction of two young girls taking control as they explore the greater world together. The blossoming friendship between Alice and the introverted Hana naturally develops with sure characterization and honesty.

Filmmaker Shunji Iwai brings something unique and fresh to the tired anime set-up with captivating storytelling and genuine heart. The Case of Hana & Alice starts with two great characters and gives you a funny tale of their adventures with real emotional weight. Springing from a popular live-action movie, fans will love hearing Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi voice these characters once again.

Video

A blend of typical 3-D CG and rotoscoped animation techniques fairly common in anime, The Case of Hana & Alice looks decent on Blu-ray at 1080P resolution. Shunji Iwai’s background as a live-action director brings an unusual sense of composition and direction.

The rotoscoped animation has ups and downs in terms of fluidity. This isn’t the detailed and lush art style of say a Studio Ghibli film, but resembles many other mid-level anime productions from the same era.

The 1.78:1 presentation has clean black levels and a perfect contrast. Colors are slightly tame for film animation; this isn’t the wildly over-saturated palette of Hollywood CGI. The Case of Hana & Alice runs 98 minutes on a BD-50, encoded in efficient and high-bitrate AVC. Picky viewers will be happy to find out that banding and chroma noise aren’t issues.

Audio

GKIDS neglects to include an English dub but this is one case where the two Japanese actresses are so linked to these characters, a dub without them wouldn’t work in practice. The Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack has a sentimental instrumental score with adequate sound design.

Yu Aoi And Anne Suzuki deliver clean, intelligible dialogue anchored to the center channel. Anime films tend to lack discrete separation in their surround mixes and The Case of Hana & Alice is no exception. Rears are largely used for ambient support and spreading the score beyond the front soundstage.

Optional English and Spanish subtitles play in a white font. The English translation is a concise, straightforward adaptation of the Japanese dialogue with a few small liberties taken in spicing up the language.

Extras

GKIDS continues their excellent line of anime releases through Shout Factory with a comparatively loaded Blu-ray containing several informative special features. A slipcover is available. The backcover lists the BD as Region A but that hasn’t been tested.

All special features are in Japanese with forced English subtitles.

Interview With Voice Actors Yu Aoi And Anne Suzuki (30:01 in HD) – Broken up into seven different topics, this extended interview also includes director Shunji Iwai. The charming interview reveals the two actresses’ close friendship and feelings on playing Hana and Alice. Memories of the trio working together on the first Hana & Alice movie are discussed.

Film Completion Press Conference (11:48 in HD) – A presser with the two voice actresses and director from 2015.

Film Premiere Stage Greeting (12:00 in HD) – Taken a week after the preceding Press Conference in 2015, the movie is introduced.

Interview With Director Shunji Iwai (37:53 in HD) – An in-depth interview with the director. He covers a litany of different subjects, from the movie’s early genesis as an aborted manga prequel to the transition from live-action to animation for these characters.

Message From Animator Makoto Shinkai (26:22 in HD) – An essential featurette for aspiring animators. The veteran animator discusses the rotoscoping and animation on display. This is a technical discussion with substantial content.

Theatrical Trailers And TV Spots (03:24 in HD) – A variety of English and Japanese trailers are included.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Case of Hana & Alice
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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A sprawling high school mystery turns into a charming story of adventure and friendship for two popular characters from director Shunji Iwai.

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