Adapting any multi-volume manga series to a single film can be tough, and despite some narrative beats that don’t go too deep, Blue Thermal is relatively engaging. The explanation in the home video release offers insight to the changes, and overall, I didn’t mind how the lengthy tale got compressed.
Any story that involves aspiring to fly high and to achieve your dreams will always capture my interest. Although classic works like Macross Zero, Porco Rosso and Nausicaä set the bar, it’s tough to find new material that can live up to that.
Just where this film fits in is somewhere after the top five lists. I love the title song (YouTube link) and can listen to it all day! As for the tale, it’s not about what’s amazing with the sport of gliding. Instead, the movie is about headstrong Tsuru Tamaki (Mayu Hotta) wanting to fit in. This story is about her entering college life. She’s the type who dreams of white picket fences and meeting that cute boy who’ll sweep her off her feet. But being a freshman is tough at Aonagi University. After trying her hand at different clubs, she literally and accidentally lands into a sport she has no familiarity with.
After team captain Jun Kuramochi (Nobunaga Shimazaki) takes her up for a ride in the sky, she quickly becomes enamoured and soon shows a talent for it. She has an instinct first-timers don’t have. Just how she knows when to take advantage of the air currents to keep those gliders floating isn’t explained. Maybe it’s in the genes, like Harry Potter is at Quidditch despite not knowing his father was a former champion. At least, this focus kept me interested throughout the view of this film!
As more subplots enter into the picture, all those nagging I want to know more details enter the picture. That’s when I thought perhaps reading the five volume manga is better. On that list of why this is important is her run-in with half-sister Yono (Mikako Komatsu). Because of her natural ability, Tsuru is ready to go into competitions and that’s where she meets big sister. She must have known that she’d eventually run into her by joining this club.
At least the conflict regarding why she would have an immediate rival gets fittingly resolved. The fact it’s tough to hate her makes up for the film’s shortcomings; the characters see her charm and it’s hard to remain mad. Her bubbly personality can turn even the most hardened around. Hotta is perfect in the role.
Meanwhile, Kuramochi has his own problems to face, and those aren’t always detailed. He owes a favour to Asahina (Daisuke Ono) who finances this club’s operations, and to rush through his narrative doesn’t help his story play out convincingly in the 100-minute runtime. There’s certainly a lot more character drama going on, to which I’m sure reading Kana Ozawa’s manga will answer. Sadly, even after the movie, there’s no word if it’ll get translated for an international audience to enjoy.
Where this movie soars is with the obvious romance that’s developing between student and sempai. It’s cute in a vintage 50s kind of way. Also, despite attempts by Kuramochi to warn the club he’s leaving, their dour disposition needs a wakeup call from someone to show they can do it. Ganbatte is the mantra here! Without him to motivate the gang, they might quit too. He was their mentor. Here, I can’t help but be reminded of Porco Rosso because even when Marco thought of giving up, to have Fio around to encourage him really shows how even puppy love matters. And as for whether the two find their happily ever after, I think a campaign is needed to convince Viz or Kodansha to translate the manga, so new fans can enjoy the full story.
3½ Stars out of 5
Blue Thermal Movie Trailer
Postscript: Interest is alive for more stories. Anime News Network reported in 2021 that the prequel titled Blue Thermal: First Flight is coming. Flash forward to present, and that story wrapped Jan 22, perhaps it’s possible to see a translated box set presenting Tsuru’s journey in full.