The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes may be one of the most generic anime I think I’ve seen. It is a bit of a test subject in making generic tropes speak a personal story. And in a year when Suzume spun gold out of such similar material, the awkwardly translated The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes is faced with a tall order to apply a similar level of inspiration to the ideas of love’s transcendence across time and space, magical portals through time and teenage lovers wrestling with a grief-stricken coming of age. Where Suzume took similar core components and elaborated on them beautifully, filling itself with such personality, imagination and humor, The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes is a much more orthodox tale with characters that rarely manage to carve out distinct identities beyond their basic character type, and a story that unfolds as predictably as any.
The story follows Kaoru (Ouji Suzuka) a quiet teenager who meets an attractive new antisocial classmate Anzu (Marie Iitoyo) and discovers a mythical tunnel that grants the heart’s desire to anyone who ventures into its depths, with the side effect that seconds spent within the tunnel pass as hours outside. It’s an effective if transparent metaphor for the time we waste on obsessions that haunt us, the rest of our lives passing us by as we chase this one unattainable goal.
This is especially relevant with Anzu, an aspiring manga novelist who fears her talent is too mundane to support a career. She’s clearly a self-insert for the author upon whose work the film is based on, Mei Hachimoku, something that might take on some lightly disturbing implications given the film’s ending. It’s tempting to make a snide comment about her fears being justified given the many predictable and generic aspects to her work, but this theme does greatly strengthen the film, giving it its most poignant moments, even if even they recall similar scenes in Whisper of the Heart. The meta qualities of this story element aren’t ever followed up on but the personal nature of this story and the clear intimacy of it do give the film a weight and emotional heart it wouldn’t otherwise have possessed.
Otherwise, The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes is just so clichéd. The writing is clumsy and stereotypical of angsty teen fantasy. The film is neither especially well animated or voice acted. There’s the abusive alcoholic dad who blames his son for the death of his sister and just outright tells him so in a drunken rage like it’s Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story or something. It’s not a subplot that’s tactfully or convincingly integrated nor is the death of the sister. The one aspect to the story I’m surprised hasn’t raised more eyebrows is the eventual age disparity between the two romantic leads. It does come about through an inherently unrealistic fantasy element and I can accept the metaphorical and romantic nature of the story being told but it’s still a little questionable. It’s not Licorice Pizza bad but it’s in the same ballpark and makes the movie harder to recommend.
The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes does get better as it goes along and does achieve some moments of emotional resonance without acquiring them cheaply, but it is still a very lightly seasoned stack of anime’s most familiar story tropes, often quite awkwardly implemented and presented with little flair or originality. Even for someone who tends to fall very easily for this kind of story, it’s very recognizable from beginning to end just how uninspired so much of this story is, with even the most poignant moments arising from an ethos of “writing what you know”.