I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories, especially when they’re animated. So, Goodbye, Don Glees! is right up my alley. Animated by Studio Madhouse and released in North America by GKIDS Films, Goodbye, Don Glees! is Atsuko Ishizuka’s directorial debut, which she also wrote. In it we see small-town blues and the promises of the future that summer brings, and how our lives change when summer ends.
Two boys at the bottom of their high school social hierarchy, Roma and Toto, are the best of friends. But with nothing to do in this small farming town and no friends outside themselves, they name themselves the “Don Glees.” Equipped with a fort in the woods, the duo finds joy in each other. But while Toto is away at school in Tokyo, a new member has joined. Named Drop, the young addition to their group is irresponsible and fun-loving, albeit a little melancholic under the surface. Celebrating the summer with their own fireworks tradition is exciting, but when a forest fire breaks out, the Don Glees boys are the ones who get the blame with only a missing drone as proof of their innocence. As they head to the mountains, they embark on a transformative adventure that will ripple through their lives.
Studio Madhouse’s animation is immersive with the background animation as much of a spectacle as the characters in the foreground. The places showcased in Goodby Don Glees! feel lived in, the lush forests feeling real beyond belief. The strong backgrounds allow the character to pop off of them with a vibrancy that adds to every emotion we see on screen.
Goodbye Don Glees! is a coming-of-age story that focuses on the ripples that emanate from one moment in time. It has humor, it has friendship, and in its final act, grief. But more importantly, Goodbye Don Glees! is about celebrating life and having the courage to jump and see things you’ve missed before. It’s a story about hope after loss and how the impact we make on people lasts long after we’re gone.
With sweeping landscapes and warm connections, Goodby Don Glees moves the soul. It starts small—a story we’ve seen before about a group of friends being irresponsible and trying to correct their mistake—and transforms into something lasting. For her debut feature, Ishizuka has pulled out all of the narrative stops and created a story that builds itself larger through small moments. Leaving me weeping at the end, Goodbye Don Glees! has a heart and purpose that showcases the magic of animation. While the first two acts are typical dare for the genre, the finale is where the film soars to a new height.
Goodbye Don Glees! tasks its characters, and its audience, in the final act of the film to take the chance, to adventure, and to live your life, as fleeting as it may be, to the fullest possible extent. It asks you to jump without looking and to never be afraid to see your life and the lives of others from a different perspective. At only a little over 90 minutes, Goodby Don Glees! accomplishes a gut punch while providing a salve to the soul at the same time.
Goodbye, Don Glees! screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2022.
Goodbye, Don Glees!
At only a little over 90 minutes, Goodby Don Glees! accomplishes a gut punch while providing a salve to the soul at the same time.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.