ANIME REVIEW: Typhoon Noruda

So, you’re a busy adult or college student looking for an anime recommendation, huh? Well, I’ve got just the thing for you. It’s a shonen anime that has 500 episodes and three movies so far, and… oh. Too big a commitment, eh? Well, there’s also this great one-season anime that’s only 13 episodes, and… huh? You can’t manage that one either? Well… um… there’s this great stand alone feature film movie that’s… what?! Are you kidding me? How busy is your life?!

… Well, how about 26 minutes? Can you spare me 26 measly minutes? … Good. You had me worried there for a second. That means you actually can commit to the short feature Typhoon Noruda, and I promise you it’s a half-hour you won’t regret. It’s a great, beautifully-animated little story that punches well above its weight in terms of run time.

Typhoon Noruda opens with a radio announcement of an incoming typhoon and a fist-fight at a rural, coastal high school between two students there, Azuma and Saijo. These boys have apparently been best friends until recently, but Azuma’s decision to quit the baseball team that was their shared social activity for years threatens to rupture their bond of friendship. With the arrival of the typhoon, the high school students are forced to shelter in place.

While off by himself, Azuma happens to look out a window and notice a girl standing on top of an electrical tower during the worst of the storm. When lightning strikes and she falls, he rushes out into the storm on his own to rescue her. When she comes to, Azuma discovers that he may have just met the potential avatar of a vague, impending apocalypse. He wants to help the strange girl named Noruda… but he may not get by without a little help from a friend, himself.

Before talking about anything else, I want to address the short length of this film and a bone to pick I have with negative press that generated from some amateur reviewers on Amazon and other sites. Typhoon Noruda caught a lot of flack from some quarters because of how short it was, arguing that it should have been longer. However, these same reviews completely ignore the fact that it’s an incredible representation of the “short feature” subgenre of film. Noruda manages to not only tell a good story in 30 minutes, but it also depicts it beautifully, represents its characters well, contains a complete and self-contained plot, and even “means” a few things. That’s something many far-longer media projects fail to achieve, and it deserves kudos for this economy of storytelling. This mini-movie is the animated equivalent of a short story, not a novel, and it needs to be viewed in that light to judge it fairly.

Getting to the film itself, its visuals are almost certainly its strongest point. This film is beautifully drawn and animated, and its cloud and water effects deserve special praise. They aren’t quite on the level of Weathering With You or Children of the Sea, but they still blow away most of what you’re likely to see in other anime. The character models are appealing and realistic, and this film contains no “fanservice” scenes worthy of the name, so it’s safe to show to kids. (There is a brief scene at the very beginning where Azuma walks in on the mystery girl while changing, but nothing about that scene felt designed to titillate, and I think the only people who would find something dirty in it are those who have less-than-pure minds to begin with.)

I don’t have much to say about the music, but it is quite beautiful and complements the story well. It’s quiet in spirit and features mostly piano and strings, and the piano in particular often has a sort of rhythm to it that makes you think of falling raindrops. I can’t say that any of it is “hummable,” but it does well as accompaniment to the film. The ending song by Galileo Galilei (“Arashi No Atode”) was fantastic and a highlight of the film for me, not only because of its great tune, but because of the song’s on-point lyrics given the story’s themes.

The animation is top-notch, and the whole production has a “Ghibli” look to it – perhaps not surprising given the director’s background as a former Ghibli animator, but there’s also a vague “something” about it that feels different. With one or two notable exceptions like Princess Mononoke, most Ghibli films have a sense of their being a built-in “children’s film” safety net, a guarantee that things won’t get “bad” beyond a certain point. This film lacks that in a good way that creates some actual suspense and uncertainty at the outcome.

In terms of the story, I want to again praise this film for its economy of storytelling. This film feels much longer than it is thanks to how much content it manages to include, and it does that through a couple of clever narrative tricks. First, the named cast of this movie is really just three characters: Azuma, Saijo, and Noruda. Many others appear, but they are ultimately just part of the background. It also parcels out just enough information for everything to make sense. The downside to this is that it does leave you wanting more, and I especially wish we had a bit more background on Noruda’s past and an ending that got to take its time with a longer wind-down. However, given the run time, these felt like necessary concessions, and they also allow viewers with a little imagination to make their own suppositions about events to flesh out the plot points the movie doesn’t explicitly spell out.

Thematically, this film can be said to be “about” three things – two of them plot-related, and one that’s more of a vibe or feeling. Plot-wise, the story of Azuma and Saijo is a parable about how important it is to have good and honest communication between friends so that one person’s motivation doesn’t get mistaken for something else entirely, and no assumptions are run away with prematurely. In a more subtle way, it’s also a good lesson on the important of persisting in things you aren’t naturally or immediately successful at – a lesson front-and-center in the film’s action climax, but also present elsewhere.

Finally, the film captures a sort of vague, dream-like quality one gets from sheltering in place during a bad storm, especially at night. In those moments, human beings are suddenly reminded that we are not creatures totally apart from nature, but something subject to the same forces that affect animals in the forest or strays in the streets. At the same time, the darkness and “unknown” qualities of the storm make you feel like anything could be happening out there, out of your sight… even fully abnormal or supernatural events. This film captures a bit of that imaginative, eerie quality in Noruda and the events surrounding her.

All told, I really have nothing but good things to say about Typhoon Noruda. It’s a great little story, compactly-told and well-animated. While I would have welcomed it being just a touch longer (even 45 minutes), I can fully appreciate it as a great example of what it is, and I hope you will do the same.

In terms of how to access and watch this movie, that’s unfortunately a little trickier than it was just a few years ago. It was licensed and released in North America by Sentai Filmworks back in 2018, and for a long time it was exclusive to their streaming app, HiDive. However, it has since been delisted from there. Surprisingly, it also received a physical release on Blu ray. This felt like a puzzling decision at the time, since I believe it’s the third-shortest stand alone physical title Sentai has ever released (behind only the 25-minute “Hot Springs” OVA of DanMachi and the laughably-short, 15-minute “Drifters of the Dead” OVA of High School of the Dead). The Typhoon Noruda Blu Ray has also since gone out of print, but the fact that it got a physical release at all means it is still out there in the world and watchable… another case-in-point for my belief that every anime ought to get some sort of physical edition, even if just in limited quantities.

Thankfully, this Blu Ray won’t cost you an arm and a leg despite being out of print, at least at present. At the time of this review, it’s still available on Amazon for less than MSRP, and can probably be found on eBay thereafter for cheap as well. The quality of the physical release is pretty solid — audio/video is excellent, and it contains a few extras in terms of interviews with the creators. Given the paltry run time, I do wish Sentai had sweetened the pot with a bonus soundtrack, but I’m also thankful this one got a physical at all. It does contain another bonus short film (much shorter than Noruda, at only about 5 minutes) from the same director called Control Bear WONDER GARDEN that’s a cute and delightfully well-animated animation nugget in its own right.

Whether you watch Typhoon Noruda as an “appetizer” before a longer feature with friends or family, or squeeze it in as a manageable commitment in a busy day, be sure to check it out somehow. It’s a great anime to experience for the first time and easy to revisit, and my bet is that its gale-force winds aren’t the only thing about it that will blow you away.

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