Can a film be too slow and too fast at the same time? The Stranger by the Shore anime, based on the acclaimed Boys Love manga by Kanna Kii, is a very short movie running only one hour long. Not a lot happens within that time, and yet what does ends up feeling a bit on the rushed side. Despite this major issue, director Akiyo Ohashi's film manages to be a pleasant albeit low-key experience that will appeal most to those seeking more realistic BL romances.
The main characters, Shun and Mio, are not the standard seme/uke stereotypes. Whereas much of the BL genre, for better or worse, isn't particularly concerned about the more complicated aspects of queer identity, Stranger by the Shore's Shun struggles with homophobia both external and internalized. Mio is mostly attracted to girls but is in love with Shun, and after three years living in the city, he's returned to Okinawa to pursue a relationship with Shun and navigate his own identity issues.
The realistic concept of the characters exploring themselves is handled most effectively during the film's sex scene. Fuji TV's Blue Lynx label has pushed the limits for gay sex scenes in theatrically released anime movies such as Twittering Birds Never Fly, but Stranger by the Shore's climax is interesting less for graphic content (it's mildly graphic but not exceedingly so) and more for what it reveals about the characters. Shun and Mio's first time together is realistic in its heavy awkwardness, with a lot of negotiation and struggles to do everything right, but a genuine sense of love despite that awkwardness. It's sex for the sake of storytelling rather than pure titillation.
Other aspects of Stranger by the Shore's storytelling, however, aren't as strong. So much of the narrative depends on the passage of time, with Mio's personality going through a complete 180-degree shift between leaving Okinawa as a sullen teenager and returning as a peppy and popular adult. The staccato rhythms of the film's editing, however, make that passing of time feel unnatural. It often seems as if scenes are just stopping and starting rather than flowing in a way that makes the timeline feel comfortable.
So much of the film's character development, particularly for Mio, happens either off-screen during the big time skip or before the story even starts. Without having read the original manga, which is being released in the United States by Seven Seas Entertainment on July 27 under the title of Seaside Stranger, it feels as if some character development beats that would have made the story more compelling have been cut in order to fit the brief one-hour runtime.
On the positive side, Stranger by the Shore is a treat visually. The animation studio, Studio Hibari, hasn't produced many movies of its own, but the animators there have assisted on Studio Ghibli classics like Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service. While Stranger by the Shore doesn't have Ghibli-level animation, the character designs and background paintings are gorgeous. The movie gives off a warm summer atmosphere that makes the experience enjoyable even when the plot is struggling to hold full interest. There are also a lot of cats, which is always adorable.
Perhaps the root of Stranger by the Shore's pacing problems is that this sort of low-on-action atmospheric storytelling is just easier to pace out effectively on the page rather than on screen. Had the anime succeeded at conquering that challenge, it could have been something truly special. As is, it's still an enjoyable romance that does well in terms of LGBTQ representation, but it's a very slight film that's not going down as one of the genre's classics.
Directed by Akiyo Ohashi, The Stranger by the Shore is now streaming on Funimation.