Ride Your Wave is available to stream on HBO Max, or via rental from many other services.
I'm not always convinced by how anime rom-coms handle character relationships.
Some feel just plain arbitrary, pairing off the male and female leads for the sake of ticking a “token romance subplot” box on a rubric somewhere. Granted, every storytelling medium seems to have the same problem, not just anime. That doesn't make it feel any less uninspired.
Others are even worse. They'll set one or both people up with some deep, personal problem for the other to “solve”. Naturally, they'll learn about each other and form a bond almost as a matter of cause in doing so. Nice and plot-rich, but not how human relationships work in my experience.
And, occasionally, the storytelling is thoroughly from one side that the other ceases to be a truly complex character. Criminy, does anime ever have a manic-pixie-dream-girl problem. And make no mistake – it's almost universally the lady who gets the short end of the stick.
But, granted, you do get the benefit of anime being… well, animated. Almost by definition, animated people make wider and more vivid expressions than a physical actor – often they're less nuanced, sure, but they're also much easier to read and buy into.
And few do “vivid expression” quite like director Masaaki Yuuasa. Usually he usually wields that in service of fantastical, dreamlike fantasies. In Ride Your Wave, it makes for some endearing characters with lively personalities. Hardly traditional acting, sure, but it's rife with interactions that I find hard to look away from.
Luckily, that's not the only thing Ride Your Wave‘s central relationship has going for it, either.
I'm going to borrow a passage from an author I quite respect here, who in turn borrowed it from a poet he quite respects.
You know a line is great when it comes to you third-hand.
“We did not spend our days gazing into each other's eyes. We did that […] but most of the time our gazes met and entwined as they looked at a third thing.
Third things are essential… objects or practices or habits or arts or institutions or games or human beings that provide a site of joint rapture or contentment. Each member of a couple is separate; the two come together in double attention.”– Donald Hall
I'd never argue this is the only thing anime tend to miss when fleshing out character dynamics. Usually they suffer from a whole melting-pot of pet problems.
But it's pretty telling that, entirely too often, a designated Main Couple will have nothing at all in common. Put “attraction works in mysterious ways” and the Han/Leia slap-slap-kiss relationship aside for a moment; half these pairings would actively avoid hanging around each other in real life.
Circumstances forcing people together just doesn't feel like a stable base for long-term happiness.
In Ride Your Wave, on the other hand, Hinako and Minato have everything to share between them – up to and including the sound of their names. Go ahead – roll them around in your mouth a little. They sound like a playful parent gave their twins cute, matching names.
And these two really do match, and the writing refuses to let you forget it. A love for surfing, the sea, a very specific breed of porpoise. A powerful sense of adventure. They're even animated to mirror each other, eating their sandwiches in the exact same way – that is to say, in three bites flat. Even “good coffee” makes enough of a totem for them to share.
I feel myself getting diabetes just watching these two, and I love it.
Brand New Story
And, to cinch the deal, they have an “Our Song”. Man, how many anime stories spend enough time in “the quiet moments” to dwell on a shared love for kinda-kitschy throwback pop music?
This song in particular keeps popping up about every fifteen minutes, too. The tremendous (animated) acting and dialogue sells these characters, of course. But having such a regular staple in their relationship makes Minato and Hinako feel like they've been together for years rather than a short six months.
Give it a listen. If you like its atmosphere, by all means – please go watch the movie first. Because I the point I'm about to get to is going to require spoilers for the film's second act.
The thing about shared “third things”, though, is that they don't go away. Even when one of the people does, they remain.
And the rest of Ride Your Wave very quickly becomes about how their many, many Third Things continue to haunt Hinako.
She has to move away from the ocean and give up her surfing hobby because that's where nearly all their memories were made – on top of that it took his life. A cup of coffee brings her to tears. A toy porpoise is both a comfort blanket and, well, whatever the opposite of a comfort blanket is.
“I guess you're reminded of him by everything you see, huh?”
…and it does, to the point that those exact things – the sea, the song, and even the porpoise – are what literally bring Makoto back into the story. And learning to have a reminiscent rather than obsessive view on those parts of her life – with implicit nudges from the rest of the cast – is what lets both her and the plot finally move forward again.
As a metaphor? Absolutely ham-handed.
As a narrative device? Totally affecting.
Because these are characters that you can actually do that with.
In just the first twenty minutes, these two share so many moments in so many different contexts. Most of them last less than a minute, sure. But people are multi-faceted, and Ride Your Wave makes a best effort to revolve through as many of those facets as possible.
And so much of that is a shared experience for Makoto and Hinako. It's what makes them feel like a real pair, and what had me bought into their mutual relationship more than with nearly any other couple in any anime I've seen in ages.
After all, what's the point of being a pair if not sharing in things and experiences, together?