Goodbye, Don Glees!

Nov 26, 2022 | Posted by in Movies

A trio of teenage boys realise what growing up means for themselves and each other in Atsuko Ishizuka’s Goodbye, Don Glees!

Roma (Natsuki Hanaea) and Toto (Yuki Kaji) have been best friends for years, the duo a unit of defence against classmates who would ridicule them for merely existing, calling their group the Don Glees. After Toto attends school in Tokyo Roma was left by himself, and in his absence made a new friend in the form of a boy nicknamed Drop (Ayumu Murase). After the three of them attempt to put on a firework display they are accused of starting a wildfire, and so set out into the forest to search for their crashed drone that would have recorded their fireworks never even igniting. While wanting to clear your names for causing destructive devastation that could easily have turned lethal is a reasonable goal, the purpose of their search becomes very much secondary to the thoughts and feelings that it brings out in each of them.


The joy of youth ©Goodbye, DonGlees Partners

Anyone even vaguely familiar with anime will know that a story with teenage protagonists is in no way unusual, but rarely is the specific age of the characters so central to the tale it’s telling. The boys are at the point in their lives when they begin to accept that they are in the twilight of their childhoods and that their carefree existences are coming to an end. Roma is determined to hold on to the glowing embers of his youth, already realising his friend is beginning to pull away and feeling trapped his by his family’s world of agriculture. Toto is already looking to the future by focusing on the importance of his education and ready to leave childish things behind him, but unsure if it’s truly where his passion lies. Drop is slightly more enigmatic, both from being the newcomer and from periodic comments that suggest an unusual upbringing he doesn’t elaborate upon. Things are made clear with him long before it’s spelled out, and reinforces the point that friendships – especially those you make as children – are things to be treasured due to never truly knowing how long they’ll last.

The story is one of yearning for nostalgic simplicity, when you held the unshakable belief in the invincibility of your youth, feeling that summer would last forever, and life was an adventure before becoming bogged down by the weight of adult expectations and responsibilities. Despite such a seemingly basic setup it’s exactly this, along with the intensity of the feelings on display, that makes the film so utterly compelling, relating its small-scale problems as though they’re spiralling into a personal apocalypse.

It treats every realisation as an epic achievement, but rather than seeming in any way self-indulgent, the artificially enhanced scope instead perfectly captures how it feels to be in your mid-teens. Everything you feel seems to be heightened by the very notion of being alive, where victories feel like sunrise on a winter’s day and disappointments like the ground is about to crack open and swallow you whole. As the boys each reveal where they see their lives going, their reluctance of having to abandon the idyllic whimsy of childhood becomes increasingly clear, and as they each bare their souls it’s impossible to not be swept along as the emotional rollercoaster wildly swings between their triumphs and defeats.


Giving into despair ©Goodbye, DonGlees Partners

As they progress on their journey in between dodging the likes of roving police and roaming bears, we get to know each of them as surely as if we’d just watched them live their entire lives. Although all very different people it’s clear why they’re friends, and even though you know that the loss of childhood they fear will come to pass sooner rather than later, you find yourself wishing that somehow they’ll manage to avoid it and can just carry on with their tranquil indulgences.

The landscape the boys make their way through seems intentionally muted as though allowing the trio’s exuberance to stand out, their movements and facial expressions exaggerated to better capture the intensity of what they’re going through. The forest and traditional expanse of a small town are also briefly contrasted against the neon glow of New York or the basalt planes of Iceland, showing the boys the world that lies beyond the forest’s edge if they make the decision to meet it on their own terms.

The story’s focus wavers towards the end, almost losing itself in metaphysical symbolism as it practically attempts to ascribe a cosmic significance to unlikely happenstance. Although the luscious animation of the sequence starkly contrasts against the earthy tones that compose much of the rest of the film, it’s a distracting epilogue to a story that was complete without it, and while it serves to reinforce the notion that friendships are among the most valuable of possessions, especially for young people, it doesn’t really add anything. The film already gave itself all the meaning it needed, making its points with articulate and poignant clarity, and whether you actually are a teenager or simply remember what it felt like to be one, its emotional depth and capture of the simplicity of adolescent joy is one that will linger.


Facing the future ©Goodbye, DonGlees Partners


Goodbye, Don Glees! will feel familiar to anyone even vaguely familiar with the themes of coming-of-age movies, but its trio of relatable teens and the sincerity of their emotional intensity quickly becomes hypnotic, as it tells a tale of overwrought sentimentality that defies you to claim it doesn’t resonate with you in a deep and powerful way. 

  • Goodbye, Don Glees!


Kneel Before…

  • Roma, Toto and Drop being distinct, rounded and relatable characters
  • acceptance of the importance of childhood friendships
  • emotional intensity portrayed with utter sincerity
  • sensitive portrayal of the fear of growing up
  • beautiful and expressive animation


Rise Against…

  • the lengthy and unnecessary epilogue


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