I have been a fan of manga (Japanese comics) and anime (Japanese animation) ever since I was a kid, in fact I was a huge fan even way before the manga and anime craze hit the Philippines… I spent my growing up years glued to the television every single day watching my daily dose of Voltes V, Daimos, Mazinger Z, Star Rangers, UFO Grendaizer, Danguard Ace, Balatack, Combattler and Gaiking and I guess some of you out there can relate to these shows that I have mentioned, but for those who are not quite familiar with these titles, these are some of the biggest anime shows (or more popularly known back then as the “Super Robot Series“) back in the late 1970’s. My generation saw the rise of Japanese animation gaining popularity amongst us kiddies (then) and adults alike that it was already starting to become a huge craze among Filipinos, so huge that the Philippine government was starting to look at it as a “threat” and Malacañang ordered GMA channel 7 (who was showing Voltes V and Daimos back then) and other TV stations to seize transmission on all of their Super Robot Series because these shows were said to be promoting violence to children… I remember getting all disappointed when we learned about this and if I’m not mistaken that the cancellation of these shows caused a huge uproar in the society that people were ranting and cursing those sitting in Malacañang… We never got to see the ending on all of the shows that we religiously watched every single day, and it took me years before I got to watch them in all of their complete glory from first to last episodes thanks to the Betamax and VHS entertainment systems that helped me catch up with lost time.
After a long hiatus in Philippine television, different anime shows started to appear one by one and it was again getting the attention of a much younger audience and us as well (who, at the time, might be around in our teens already) and if my memory serves me right, the word ‘anime’ began to pop up when RPN 9 began showing Dragon Ball Z every Sunday afternoon and people were again glued to their TV sets and following the story, though I wasn’t a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z but when they showed Astroboy and the Macross series (Robotech) a few years earlier I admit that I was struggling to catch up on each and every episode they showed since I had to balance my time with watching TV and studying or else I’m done for! From that moment on, anime has never left the Philippine shores and it has found a new home (once again) in the hearts of Filipinos. And with the emergence of such hit anime shows over the years like Ghostfighter, Slam Dunk, Cardcaptor Sakura, Naruto, Samurai X, Full Metal Alchemist and the rise of cable TV that paved the way for anime-oriented channels like Animax and Hero TV… Filipinos breathe Japanese animation like their lives depended on it, so to speak. But there is this one anime movie that has earned my respect as one of the greatest war movie ever produced and just thinking about it still brings shivers down my spine because of it’s powerful and highly-charged story of love and sacrifice between a young man and his 4-year old sister struggling to survive everyday amidst the misery and turmoil after their town was burned down by American bomber planes during World War II… and I’m talking about Studio Ghibli‘s 1988 classic film ‘Grave of the Fireflies‘ (Hotaru No Haka.)
Though the animated film came out 22-years ago, it was only around 2007 when I got my first encounter with Grave of the Fireflies and it was a day after Christmas when my girlfriend came to our house tugging along with her a DVD copy of the said movie. So it was me, my girlfriend and my sister who went upstairs and sat in front of the TV as my girlfriend popped the DVD disc into the player, and despite how many times I pleaded to my girlfriend to just give me a little insight on what the movie was all about, she just told me to hush and watch the film instead. During the first half of the movie I was all eyes and ears throughout the story though I had a hint that this was leading somewhere… and I had to brace myself for something unexpected… and as soon as we reached the second half of the movie where Seita and his sister Setsuko lived in a huge cave-like shelter along the river, the story went downhill from there and honestly, my mind went numb and I thought for one moment that my heart and soul just died from all the heartbreaking scenes that followed and I noticed that tears started flowing down my cheeks uncontrollably while my sister tried to fight back her tears but to no avail! As soon as the movie was over, I was still in shock and I felt like throwing myself off from a building! It was a good thing that I got to view Grave of the Fireflies a day after Christmas or else my entire yuletide spirit might have been crushed for good and I would have spent my Christmas sobbing and depressed! This movie is so close to perfection and the story was too powerful to comprehend that it pierces the soul right to its very core, though it may be just an animated movie for those who haven’t seen it but I’m daring all of you to watch the film and only those who have a heart of stone will not shed a tear while watching this… because it is impossible to watch Grave of the Fireflies without crying, and I’m telling you, even though I’m a guy but I am not ashamed to tell you that I cried like a baby while watching the movie. I even got to read a comment from someone who joked around that “even Chuck Norris cried like a wimp while watching Grave of the Fireflies.”
I had my share of the same experience when I got to watch other several “heartbreaking” or “depressing” animated flicks like ‘A Dog of Flanders‘ and ‘The Happy Prince‘ (which was narrated by Hollywood actor Christopher Plummer) but nothing will ever top the intense emotional level that Grave of the Fireflies gave me, and I think everybody should watch this just once in their lives and believe me it will make you a better person after watching it, and this movie will make you realize a lot of things though we may take them for granted right now. Grave of the Fireflies is worthy of praises and should be considered as one of the most powerful and moving films in cinema history… I take my hat off to Studio Ghibli for a job very well done and to novelist Akiyuki Nosaka for sharing this true-to-life story to the world.