Writer-director Atsuko Ishizuka's friendship tale offers a heartfelt and magical look at the way teens rely on their friendships, especially in the transition to high school. Goodbye, Don Glees! captures the fun but also the isolation of adolescence. Each of the three main characters is layered with secrets, insecurities, and a sense of curiosity and togetherness, even in the face of bullying and viral rumors. Toto has returned from the big city thinking that everything (and everyone) in the countryside is "hickish," but he's obviously also self-conscious about how he's perceived in the capital city. Roma, an introverted budding photographer, misses his former crush who moved out of the country. And Drop's propulsive enthusiasm about being allowed to hang out with the duo is sweet, but as the youngest (and considerably smaller) pal, he's got private motives for going on the adventure. All of the voice actors do a fine job conveying the all-caps FEELINGS of being a teen and dealing with a new school, more responsibilities, and big emotions.
The film's visuals are vibrant and immersive, particularly the landscapes, including a sequence by a beautiful waterfall. Not a tremendous amount happens in the movie, but it's quietly affecting and effective. A late reveal takes the story in a mystical, magical realism direction, but that's believable in the world of anime and in this case only adds another layer to the highly charged proceedings. Although not every teen experiences such a dramatic journey, the trip itself is like a metaphor for that time of life -- unexpected, full of obstacles and dangers that feel of life-or-death importance, and ultimately made better with close friends.