The Stranger by the Shore: Beautifully Endearing but Undersold

The Stranger by the Shore (also known as Umibe no Étranger or L’Étranger De La Plage) is a feature-length anime newly arrived on Funimation. It’s a coming of age drama and a romance between two young men; it is endearing without being condescending, encouraging and quite beautiful.

The story follows Shun Hashimoto (Taishi Murata, The Garden of Words and Josh Grelle, Attack on Titan) and Mio Chibana (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train and Justin Briner, My Hero Academia) from their first awkward meeting on the shore of Okinawa, tentatively getting acquainted, and then a sad parting when the younger Mio moves away. When Mio is a little older and returns, they are fortunate enough to reconnect; and although adult life brings welcome freedom to get to know each other better, it is not without some ups and downs. More than that though, adulthood provides each of these two characters to reflect and accept themselves properly, a strong basis for a relationship.

Shun is a writer, still hoping for a break, and living far away from his family in a queer-friendly house connected to a café. He seems to think he’s content with who he is when he meets his Stranger by the Shore; but as we discover through flashbacks, the prejudice he faced at school had an impact. Then his former fiancée (a relationship approved by Shun’s father) appears and family issues back home become apparent too. The cool author is not as well-adjusted as Mio first assumes; and when they first meet, Mio himself is struggling too, not just with an unexpected attraction but the timing of it, when he is dealing with the loss of his mother. Flashbacks tell us how close their relationship was (and how his affinity for food developed), but the two of them hardly tell each other much at all, as if moving forwards together can be done without considering what is behind them.

It’s interesting to see that there are parallels between communication and sex for Shun and Mio: even when their attraction is undeniable, and turns into love, there is no common direction towards it becoming physical. Once they figure out how to talk it through though (awkwardly but openly), it happens, and other communication and openness can follow. It might reassure some viewers to know that this bedroom scene is distinctly romantic rather than erotic, and as much of the lovers’ modesty is covered as their growing up is. That said, there is also something natural and quite believable about the scene too.

The Stranger By The Shore: Shun and Mio in an intimate gaze

There’s a great deal of romantic angst throughout The Stranger by the Shore, alternated with loneliness. The wide open sea is a frequent backdrop, especially during lonely moments, while more passionate and positive feelings are accompanied by blossom, breeze and butterflies. Mayumi Watanabe’s animation is beautiful from start to finish, with captivating light, colours and movement. The one section of the film which takes Mio and Shun into the city maintains a similar pace, but is strikingly different, giving the pair a new kind of loneliness that makes them look at their relationship again.

I’m not familiar with the manga series L’étranger de la Plage by Kanna Kii (who also supervised the film) that the film is based on, so I cannot comment on the adaptation. Neither am I familiar with other “boy love” anime, so cannot say how typical this film is of the subgenre as a whole. I can however say for sure that writer and director Akiyo Ôhashi has made a lovely job of portraying the formation and development of a loving relationship, from innocence to commitment; especially for his first film. I would be perfectly happy for my teenage son to watch: he would see a wide range of obstacles that two fairly realistic characters can face in a contemporary relationship, without glamour (except perhaps the butterflies), pretence or neatness.

Shun and Mio regard one another, set against a glowing blue sky

There are a couple of issues, of course, as in nearly every film. A minor one is that Mina Kubota’s soundtrack verges on the soppy at times; but perhaps that fits with the expectation of the intended audience. A much bigger issue is the length of the film: way too short at 58 minutes. This means that an entire relationship—rich with dialogue and emotion—is compressed into little more than bullet points. These characters deserve depth, which is distinctly missing. Most of what I have described about the main characters’ lives needed to be figured out, as there was virtually no exposition; which may work just fine for viewers who are already familiar with the books. Someone like my son might enjoy the characters and the pace, but I cannot imagine him having the patience to read between the lines to understand all the motives and background presented. Some of the secondary characters (such as Shun’s lively housemates) are not explained at all.

The Stranger by the Shore is available now exclusively on Funimation, dubbed in English and subbed in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Written by Alix Turner

Alix discovered both David Lynch and Hardware in 1990, and has been seeking out weird and nasty films ever since (though their tastes have become broader and more cosmopolitan). A few years ago, Alix discovered a fondness for genre festivals and a knack for writing about films, and now cannot seem to stop. They especially appreciate wit and representation on screen, and introducing old favourites to their adolescent son.

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