Flavors of Youth Review [Collaboration Review with Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews]

Flavors of Youth poster

AKA: From Season to Season, Shiki Shoku Shiki Shi, Si Shi Qing Chun
Genre: Slice-of-Life/Drama
Year Released: 2018

Distributor: Netflix

Origin: China/Japan
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: 5 Centimeters Per Second, Dareka no Manazashi, Chef, Hoshizora Kiseki, Sentimental Journey
Notes:
-O: The Japanese language track was used when I reviewed it.

-S: I watched the English dub for a contrast.

-Please check out Scott’s blog Mechanical Anime Reviews.

-Context for this review:
O=Ospreyshire/Curtis
S: Scott/Mechanical Anime Reviews
Fun Facts:
-This is the first feature length film from ComixWave that wasn’t directed by Makoto Shinkai. This was directed by Japanese animator Yoshitaka Takeuchi and two Chinese directors Li Haoling and Jiaoshou Yi Xiaoxing. The latter has directed the live-action Surprise series in his native China.

-Flavors of Youth is a collaboration effort between the aforementioned ComixWave and Chinese animation studio Haoliners Animation League. Some of their other works consist of Spiritpact, To Be Heroine, and School Shock to name a few.

-In the Japanese dub, Yi Lin is voiced by Minako Kotobuki. She is also known for her work as Tsumugi from K-On!, Asuka from Sound! Euphonium, and Izumi from Your Lie In April.

-In the English Dub, Xiao Ming from the first/noodles segment was voiced by Crispin Freeman. You should know him as Togusa from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Kotomine Kirei from the Fate Franchise, and Kray Foresight from Promare along with many other familiar voices.

-San Xian noodles have existed for over 200 years in China. The noodles themselves are actually made with rice that stayed in the sun where it can become stretchy into noodle like shapes. The originators of the San Xian noodles did this to preserve the food and to create new meals into their leftover rice.


O: I get to have another collaborative review! This is my second one ever, but my fellow reviewer shouldn’t be a stranger to any of you that follow Iridium Eye Reviews. It’s none other than Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews. How have you been?

S: Hi Ospreyshire! Thank you for having me here. I’ve been pretty alright, but a little busy here and there are things usually are. Some things just don’t go your way and you have to fight through somehow. Oh, and I guess I’ve been busy blogging too. How’d that happen? Hope you are doing well too.

O: Thanks. Instead of slogging through The Dragon Dentist like the last time, we’re going to tackle something from the critically-acclaimed ComixWave package film that probably shouldn’t be watched if one is hungry. Not only that, but it’s going to be our first collaborative review involving an international collaboration between two different countries. Wow, I just noticed this other connection to this particular film. Without further ado, let’s take an animated tour of China via their tales involving food, fashion, and architecture.

S: I think the third one was a mixture of architecture and the audio tapes they were passing around from day to day. I do have to say though, I really like the concept of this movie of exploring how life changes and how we are connected with other people through different objects we have different memories of. It is like one of a large amount of ways we live as humans, so it’s all very relatable.

O: Flavors of Youth is an anthology taking place in different places of China. The first segment is called “The Rice Noodles”. It’s about a man named Xiao Ming who currently lives in Beijing, but is originally from the rural parts of Hunan Province. He constantly reminisces over his family and hometown’s San Xian noodles. Him and his grandmother spent a lot of time together during his childhood when his parents weren’t there and they would have these noodles from the local noodle shop. Unfortunately, the noodle shop closes down and another one opens up temporarily (with different owners). Then, they switch it to a seafood shop much to his chagrin. Xiao Ming eventually moves out of Hunan during his adult life, but a tragic situation forces him to go back for an important visit.

“A Little Fashion Show” takes place in Guangzhou where it involves a model named Yi Ling and her aspiring fashion designer student little sister Lu Lu. Yi Ling is swamped with work at photo shoots and runways to the point where she doesn’t go back to her apartment for her own birthday (context: Lu Lu made a cake and dinner for her and Yi Ling didn’t respond to her texts right away). The model comes back very drunk after the company party and doesn’t partake much in what her sister made. Things get worse as she’s late for her fashion evaluation due to her hangover and she gets upstaged by a younger model named Shui Jing who was an admirer-turned-rival to Yi Ling. She becomes so obsessed with her career and staying power that she spends more hours at the gym and skips meals.

The final segment is called “Love in Shanghai”. The story flips between 1999, 2008, and the present as it deals with an architect named Li Mo. He moves into a new apartment with his friend/roommate Pan and tries to find work with his trade and to make big houses, but his boss at the firm is disgusted by Lu Mo’s model home. Going back to his childhood, he had a crush on a girl named Xiao Yu (no, not the Tekken character) who was planning on going to an elite university. She gets injured due to a road under construction, so Li Mo records the school lessons on cassettes (this was still a thing in 1999 for those too young to remember them) while at the same time saying romantic things in between lessons. Li Mo even becomes focused on going to that same school despite being top-tier, far away, and not having the grades to be accepted. What is he to do to chase this dream and to fall in love?

S: Do you want to talk about The Rice Noodles First?

O: Will do. That was a nice kick-off to this anthology. It does get boring by talking about the animation and scenery from a ComixWave production and I’ve certainly mentioned that aspect with all my Makoto Shinkai reviews, but they know what they are doing. They showed beautiful backgrounds with the rural Hunan Province and with the metropolitan flair of Beijing. The level of detail with the food was quite fascinating when they show the vivid colors, textures, and detail. It certainly felt like I was transported to these local mom and pop noodle shops in China. Besides the obvious culinary detail which I haven’t mentioned in a review since I saw the Peruvian documentary Finding Gaston, the concept of a food bringing nostalgia was a nice touch. The memory of a meal can bring good memories and The Rice Noodles does capture those feelings to a T. I can certainly relate to that aspect like with my grandma’s dishes when I was a kid. While there are certainly deeper messages in other movies and short films than an adult reminiscing about a homemade local dish, I will certainly say that this segment does sell that nostalgia and emotional resonance so much which I do applaud. It was also quite universal. You could replace the San Xian noodles with something like a mac and cheese dish, a sandwich, or even homemade waffles of all things and someone will still find a connection in some direct or indirect way. Would you like to add on to the positives of The Rice Noodles?

S: Just a lot of agreeing on this end, haha. This was a great way to introduce the concept of the series and what is it about food in anime, no matter what level the production is that the food always looks better than normal food? Is it the over exaggeration of the animator being hungry and wanting to express that hunger through what they draw? It’s even worse here considering that this is very much Your Name levels of production of a movie which means the food looks even better than expected. There is just so much here that I wonder about and would like to figure out.

But on a thematic level, I kind of got a little more than feeling nostalgic, but learning about society as one grows up and feeling nostalgic for simpler, much more homey times. I’m not just saying that isn’t an important factor because it does connect to what I’m about to say. As one gets older, they begin to understand society itself and it isn’t as interesting as could be. Knowing about the cheaper ingredients and lesser ingredients in the noodle broth along with the noodle company returning and not being the same anymore. All of that leads to Xiao Ming losing the positivity and imagination he used to have. Or I could have prattled on a little too long on that one, haha.

O: That’s fine. I guess we do have a lot of similar tastes in anime (food pun not intended). Come to think of it, that’s so true. The animation and art of the food was so pristine, they’d make actual food designers halting their methods of putting Vaseline on burgers to make it look shiny for the cameras (I learned that from an article I read as a kid about that job) and wonder how they made the food look better than what’s in real life. I could see that and the fact that there were yellows, reds, oranges, and earth tones in between only enhances those hunger-inducing feelings. Those are just theories I had, but that’s what I think when it comes to what I do know about food advertising from a photography and cinematography standpoint.

That’s a fascinating view and I can see why you or anyone could have those sentiments. I certainly a few of those things about wanting simpler times. I’ll spare an obvious reference to a certain Twenty One Pilots song when it comes to those feelings and topics. In all seriousness, I think you made a link with lots of veracity because when you’re a kid, you don’t care all that much about the ingredients unless you help out a parent or other relative when you cook. As an adult, you become disillusioned while at the same time having some sort of cognizance about what’s on your plate or at least how it got there if you’re really trying to be woke when it comes to your food. The sentimentality can also be suppressed because people will think that it’s not the same or believe the dish is “heartless” in it’s preparation like how Xiao Ming was disappointed with the machine-cut/prepared noodles in Beijing. Hopefully, what I noticed made sense. You didn’t prattle, I thought it was very keen in you bringing it up. So how about “A Little Fashion Show?”

S: I liked “A Little Fashion Show”, but I am going to keep what I have to say short so I don’t steal any thunder. I think this short could be a little longer because it had more characters to play with and such. This whole thing could have been a good movie. Still, I really liked it. I liked how clothes was the link between the two sisters from hand me downs to hand me ups with one designing clothes for the model older sister. It kind of made me feel warm and fuzzy honestly. How did “A Little Fashion Show” hit you?

O: Same here, but you don’t have to worry about stealing my thunder. Haha! As much as I barely know anything with the fashion industry, it was great insight and I could believe that story playing out in real life. The relationships between the sisters was a fascinating display of symbiosis. I’m going to add to your point with Yu Ling being the one to pay for their rent/lease with her modeling job while Lu Lu does those “hand me ups” by making the clothes for the big sister. I did think the plot twist with Yu Ling’s obsession of keeping her spot was quite believable and I’m sure there are those who could relate to it. A subject like that needs to be handled accurately and delicately without being so overt with it. I never thought of the short being a whole movie in itself, but I think it could work. You could expand their backstory, delve more into Yu Ling’s modeling career, and Lu Lu’s fashion design studies. It could be at least an hour long with what you can do with this particular story.

S: Right? There is an entire modeling industry that would have been interesting to watch honestly. I think the last two parts of this film could have been their own movie because they have a lot more moving pieces on then the first part with it’s more singular focus. That being said, I think both of them are pretty fine and more than watchable. Plus, you really do get what the directors were going for which is interesting. OMG. I just realized that the first part has one main character, part two has two main characters or revolves around three people, and the last portion revolved around three characters. That’s kind of awesome but strange at the same time.

I think that leads us to Love in Shanghai and I will talk a little about my point of view of it at first because digging into more later. I feel like the English dub kind of ruined a lot of aspects of this part for me. After watching two parts where the voice acting was great (because of Crispin Freeman in The Rice Noodles) or pretty good in A Little Fashion Show, the voice actor for Li Mo in Love in Shanghai was like a brick through a window. That was Ross Butler and his acting lacked everything. Thought, depth, acting ability, and anything you could think of. Almost like he didn’t take any of this seriously. That’s why I can’t help but walk into this part without saying that because it hardened my experience of watching it. 

O: All great points. The fashion industry aspect alone could’ve made that segment a movie on it’s own. I would rather watch a full-length movie involving Yi Ling’s story than The Devil Wears Prada any day. Haha! The stories in Flavors of Youth certainly worked with the time they had. I never noticed that about the three segments with how many main characters there were. That’s awesome. Maybe that’s fridge brilliance on their part. I wondered what the reasoning was besides matching the number of the segment.

Indeed, and thanks for taking it on first. I saw the Japanese version, so I wasn’t aware of the quality of the dub. Since Crispin Freeman was in it, I would expect his performance to be good since he knows what he’s doing and I don’t know that many dub voices he did that I disliked except for maybe Tabool in Now and Then, Here and There, but I digress. It’s good to know they put effort in A Little Fashion Show. Oof! Sorry to hear that about the dub for Love in Shanghai. In the Japanese version, I could at least tell there was effort in the voice acting even though I thought the first two segments had better acting overall from what I heard. The story itself had a unique thing going for it with the love story with Li Mo and Xiao Yu. The plot twist did come off as a surprise that really hit Li Mo, but I guess the dub would’ve ruined that. Love in Shanghai reminded me in some indirect way of 5 Centimeters Per Second (especially the concept of distance and characters finding out what they want to do when they reach adulthood) which I’m ambivalent about which also ties into some of my less-than-desirable feelings about the whole film. It was a good story like the rest, but I liked the first two segments a bit more. I did find it fascinating in the post-credits scene how the characters are in close proximity to each other in the airport. It’s kind of like the last episode of Seraphim Call except Flavors of Youth has better storytelling and the characters don’t interact despite being in the same space.

S: I’m not sure what the significance of the number change for focused characters would be, but I think it’s pretty cool honestly. If anything, it definitely helps differentiate each part more.

I won’t say that it completely ruined Love in Shanghai for me. For instance, I really do like the exploration of communication in this portion and how it connected the two involved even when they didn’t have all the time to connect. Tapes are cool. I’ve never thought about using them that way. Missing one message like what happened in this portion would really mess with your life if it wasn’t received. Same if you ever missed anything honestly. Your comparison to 5 cm/s is pretty on point here. Plus, Li Mo’s attitude of escaping his parent’s grasp was pretty great. If I had a complaint, I think Love in Shanghai jumped around a little bit to me to the point where I’m glad that I had the dub to listen to (despite the obvious) so I could put together things faster. The story was great, but pretty disjointed too. Maybe that has to do with the length a little bit because it had to do a lot in a short amount of time. Not taking points away from that though.

I really liked the post credits scene too. I’ve never seen Seraphim Call, so I don’t know about the comparison here, but I do like that they didn’t talk to each other either. That send off where we hear the listens from each person’s point of view was each part. I really do like how it wrapped up in the opposite order of the shorts. So basically going 1,2,3 and then going 3,2,1. Pretty note worthy and powerful things here too. I liked this movie a lot.

O: Yeah, I don’t know if it was some kind of significant juncture or even numerology (not that I would know), but that was something that I never realized at first.

Sure thing. It was still a good story in itself. Tapes are cool. I bought myself a portable cassette player a couple of years ago and have gotten a small tape collection with some of my friends’ bands in ZAP Records and some African artists. Last tape I got was from the Malian singer Nahawa Doumbia. That was a great listen hearing some acoustic traditional tunes from that part of the continent. Getting back on topic here, the missing message really had so much gravitas in Li Mo’s character development and that certainly hit me in the feels. It certainly flipped between the ‘08 and ‘99 elements more often than not, but I got back on track by referring to my notes as to what happened. The previous two segments handled the flashbacks much easier in my opinion.

The post-credits scene was a nice touch and them not talking to each other was a good choice. It would’ve felt so cheap and forced if that had been the case especially since none of the groups of characters knew each other and were from completely different parts of China (saying nothing how that nation has more people than anywhere else on the planet). That’s right about going in reverse order at the end. It was bookend imagery of sorts.

What do you think were shortcomings of Flavors of Youth?

S: The only shortcomings that come to my head about Flavors of Youth is that it’s constructed out of three shorts really. That may sound like a small thing, but it really does hurt a lot of Flavor of Youth’s stories. I do like that there are three of them and provides us with some interesting characters and a story and we are given enough of a glimpse into each character’s lives and such so props for that. Maybe this is only a downside because I like these people and would like to know more about them other then the small glimpses we are given and that completely breaks the premise that we are given in this show. Young people growing up and such. Can I blame it for being ambitious and not ambitious at the same time? Oh, maybe we need more food in it. That would definitely improve it. Otherwise, Flavors of Youth just looks and moves great along with a cool premise.

Did you find any major faults in Flavors of Youth?

O: More food would be a good choice for Flavors of Youth. Hahaha! Okay, in all seriousness, I can see that argument to be made about the segments being three shorts. Those are legitimate things, but I had some bigger issues despite enjoying this film regardless. Much like some of my issues with Patema Inverted, I thought Flavors of Youth had too much Shinkai fanboying going on. The difference being that ComixWave was involved and they show off that director more than Ghibli did with Hayao Miyazaki. The promotional materials didn’t help by saying its from the studio behind Your Name after how successful that movie was. The art design, animation style, the concept of distance (literal and metaphorical) in the plots, and the overly poetic monologues could’ve easily been written by him and I wouldn’t have noticed. I wish the directors would’ve forged their own storytelling and animation identity instead of just piggybacking off of Shinkai’s directorial and storytelling chops. While most of the animation is high-caliber as to be expected from ComixWave, I noticed some brief drops in quality mainly in the second half with an over-reliance on still shots and some distant character shots did look too basic like a Studio Deen work.

S: Ah, that’s completely fair. I guess I didn’t mind that aspect of marketing because a film like Fireworks, which was created by studio shaft and was Makoto Shinkai like but wasn’t and was probably built to get money from being similar to Your Name came out a year afterwards. I do think that the writers should have wandered their own path like Dragon’s Dentist did considering that Khara is Hideaki Anno’s studio, but he wasn’t advertised for it to be a success because Anno is a creator’s guy that wants other people to have their own voices. Unfortunately, I guess they needed people to watch it somehow. I guess I’m just very numb to advertising like that. Most shorts like this use a famous creator’s name to get new creative voices out there so this was definitely one of those works. I hope it was successful enough. Your talk of visuals is very good though because I didn’t even notice the still frames. I think I just took in the atmosphere too much and just liked it.

O: Thanks for the heads up about Fireworks. I saw it’s streaming on Netflix, so I wasn’t too sure about that film. Flavors of Youth is certainly a film I enjoyed and the animation is still impressive way more often than not. The stories and characters more than make up for it. I do wish that the directors would give that movie their own artistic and narrative flair instead of relying on Shinkai-isms all the time, if you will. I think that’s a good comparison with The Dragon Dentist even with the flaws of that series. I do hope it was successful in Japan and China which I do agree with you on. There was certainly a good deal of effort in Flavors of Youth which I certainly cannot deny. It was also a good exposure (well, partially) to the Chinese animation scene and some of the cultural aspects in animated form. You have that authenticity aspect going for it which is more than what I could say for pieces of animation that happen to take place in China such as Xiaolin Showdown, Jackie Chan Adventures, and (got to be brutally honest) Mulan. All in all, Flavors of Youth was quite a pleasant watch. Maybe not as much of a masterpiece compared to Shinkai’s works with that studio like The Place Promised In Our Early Days for me, but I can safely recommend this to both anime fans and those who like good stories with some atypical subjects. Anything else you would like to say in closing before we get to the scoring, pros/cons, content advisories, etc.?

S: You’ve hit the nail on the head here I think. I don’t have too much to add other then this really is another good example of Chinese Animators not just being used for outsourcing from Japanese animation studios and breaking out to create their own voices. I’m glad that is happening more often recently and I think we should throw them some support when they get the chance and the recognition like this. It’s a good short compilation with some unique storytelling elements. Watch it to support some cool people, though I don’t know how Netflix and streaming services pay and support people like this. Must be complicated. Just watch it legally.

O: Thanks, Scott! There certainly should be more collaborations instead of just outsourcing another country’s work for just keying or in-between animation. It is great seeing multiple nations collaborating on an animated work. Sure, I’ve covered dozens of multinational collaborations in the context of live action films, but it seems to be more of a rarity in the world of Asian animation (I’ve noticed Europe collaborates more often from my reviews thus far). More people should support projects like these, so maybe we can get more quality animated films or possibly series in the near future.

It has been a pleasure collaborating with you once again, good sir.

S: It’s been great collabing with you too. Thanks for suggesting this. We should do it again sometime.

O: Certainly. I’m sure we can find another anime to tackle with such mechanical precision and with the eyes to potentially critique something rare like my blog’s namesake. Yes, I was being a bit cheesy while waxing poetic. It’s like I ended with a Shinkai-esque monologue of sorts. Now if you excuse me, I have to go make myself some kind of noodle dish.


Adjustable Rating System:

Add 1-2 points if you like culinary things in your movies.
Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like slice of life-type stories.

Pros:
-Great animation and scenery
-Likable characters in all of the segments
-Authentic display of Chinese culture, locales, and other aspects of the nation

Cons:
-Each segment could’ve been more developed
-Minor production slips in the second half of the film
-Obvious Shinkai copying/fanboying

Final Score (Curtis/Ospreyshire): 8/10 points
Final Score (Scott/Mechanical Anime Reviews): 8/10 Points

Content Warning: Flavors of Youth is rated TV-PG which is a decent rating for this film. There aren’t that many offensive things about it. There’s some swearing, but even that was rare. Some parts of the plot do involve dark subjects such as eating disorders, death, and domestic abuse, but they are handled implicitly. One character during the “Little Fashion Show” segment makes a joke about himself being gay, but that’s more in passing and that’s the closest thing to anything involving innuendo from a dialogue perspective.

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Flavors of Youth is property of Netflix. The poster is from IMDb and is property of Netflix.

11 comments

  1. Awesome to see some of my favorites collaborating together. I’m glad you guys got more out of it then I did, I did watch this a few months ago and I didn’t feel strongly either way about it.

    I like characters and the cast here just feels ‘disposable’. If they made a series based on any of the shorts, I wouldn’t watch it. That’s fine if the concepts are more engaging but Noodle Boy is just Poetry Night at Your local Cafe, the model story was cliche as possible, and the last story was just Gift of the Magi.

    End of the day I felt it was “eye candy” animation tricking me into watching pretty average shorts.

    I don’t know I don’t like number ratings because I want you to just listen to the arguments and decide for yourself if this sounds good or bad; but I finished Flavors of Youth thinking it was a 6/10 but would probably lower it to a 5 because I barely remember anything about it and often forget it being something I had watched….but it wasn’t Fireworks bad though.

    My sister who watched with me just said it was like a 3/10 because it was boring so I’m not alone but I’m glad with what context and understanding of what the film was and respect what you guys had to say.

    To me it is just Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas but Anime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, K. I’m glad you think that highly of Scott and I.

      That’s fine if it wasn’t your thing and I won’t begrudge you for it. Flavors of Youth wasn’t my favorite ComixWave work compared to The Place Promised In Our Early Days for example.

      I haven’t seen Fireworks yet, but I have some interest in it.

      Thanks for respecting our opinions despite them diverging. I know this isn’t the first time we had differing views on media, so that’s cool.

      Never seen that Mickey Mouse movie, but okay. Funny enough, I have a review planned for next month that involved an animator who worked on that film that ironically got plagiarized by a Mickey Mouse subsidiary….stay tuned. :3

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, you guys did get me more interested in Makoto Shinkai and ComixWave. I get the appeal of it and didn’t think it was the worst thing ever so it’s good to get a new perspective and see other connections.

        I liked some aspects of a Flavor of Youth so I’d like to get around to a better version of it sometime.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Awesome. You should check out that studio and Shinkai’s work. That’s totally fine.

        Definitely. ComixWave certainly delivers in the animation department and they’ve made some good stories.

        Liked by 1 person

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