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At first glace, new anime film Fireworks, Should We See it from the Side or the Bottom? looks like your average slice-of-life anime film, but it’s actually a bit more based in the world of sci-fi than you’d expect.

[This article contains spoilers for Fireworks, Should We See it from the Side or the Bottom?]

On the day before summer vacation, relatively pretty-yet-friendless high school girl Nazuna challenges the two boys that like her—Norimichi and Yūsuke—to a swimming race. While she handily beats both, she invites Yūsuke to the festival that night as a prize for getting second place. Yūsuke, however, stands her up and she runs across Norimichi instead while waiting.

Image Source: 打ち上げ花火、下から見るか?横から見るか on Twitter

It’s there that Norimichi learns the truth: Nazuna’s mom is getting remarried and she and her whole family will be moving during the break. Nazuna’s entire plan with the race was to charm and then run away with one of the two boys who liked her. It is that moment that Nazuna’s mother arrives and forcibly drags her daughter home in a sea of tears.

Image Source: 打ち上げ花火、下から見るか?横から見るか on Twitter

Left feeling helpless, Norimichi wishes that he had been the one to get second in the race earlier that day—a wish that comes true when he throws a mysterious glass orb in frustration.

From there we see this new timeline—the one where Norimichi won the date with Nazuna.

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Of course, things aren’t as simple as they appear on the surface and this is far from the only time that Norimichi travels back in time thanks to the magical orb. Moreover, each time he uses it, the world is a bit off in some way that proves it’s not quite reality as it should be. And while the characters in the film never explicitly state the ins and outs of what’s happening, it’s clear thanks to the film’s visual language that the more unlikely to occur a timeline is, the bigger the discrepancies in the fabric of reality become.

Image Source: 打ち上げ花火、下から見るか?横から見るか on Twitter

In the world closest to the original timeline—i.e., the world where he won the date—his winning is entirely possible, so the only oddity he notices is the fact that fireworks explode two dimensionally instead of three dimensionally. Yet, in the much more unlikely timelines, the discrepancies are far more major.

Image Source: 打ち上げ花火、下から見るか?横から見るか on Twitter

What’s great about the film is that, as a piece of animation, these discrepancies can be displayed in a way they never could be in traditional live-action. After one very unlikely change, the entire world is drawn in a sketch-like style with the distant background becoming a blank white. While Norimichi doesn’t seem to notice in the heat of the moment, this art style shift symbolizes to us, the audience, how utterly thin reality is becoming—i.e., how unlikely this chain of events was to occur. Of course, from there the events only become more surreal visually as one unlikely timeline is built upon another.

By letting the subtext in the visuals convey the more major, world-altering impact of what is happening, the film proper is able to focus on the much more grounded, human drama of a girl desperately trying to make a connection to her hometown that will exist long after she’s left it. Thanks to this choice, we are left emotionally invested even as we revel in the film’s surreal beauty at the same time—and that is a task that is far from easy to accomplish.

Fireworks, Should We See it from the Side or the Bottom? was released in Japanese theaters on August 18, 2017. It will be released in British cinemas later this year.

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