Airy and sweet but missing some zest – Honey Lemon Soda (movie review)

Ah yes, I am back in the realm of those sappy sweet shojo movies. This time being the long awaited Honey Lemon Soda, given that that manga is an incredible smash hit in Japan! For me it was less about the shojo, and more specifically about the lead, Raul! Considering he is the baby of Johnny’s group Snow Man, I wanted to give my fiscal support in his first big role. So off to the theaters I went!

Ishimori Uka (Yoshikawa Ai) is an incredibly shy girl, who was bullied in middle school. Her inability to speak up, or act out got her the nickname ‘Ishi’ (stone). During her final year of middle school, she comes across the blonde haired Miura Kai (Raul). He gives her some encouragement for heading to high school, where they meet again. Uka wants to overcome her reserved nature and make some friends. Kai, somewhat popular but also distant, ends up taking her under his wing. Of course, a love from Uka to Kai blooms but Kai has a secret that might stop it from coming to full blossom.

Which, that’s a very generous description if I do say so myself. Because Honey Lemon Soda the movie was not very clear with it’s timeline. As I’ve expressed before, the highlight reel style of shojo adaptation was heavily used here. The story bounced between all the major plot points of the manga without much depth or consequences to any particular characters or problems being introduced aside from Kai’s secret. Uka’s bullies? One and done thanks to Kai and company. Kai’s ex-girlfriend? A surprising subversion as she actually is a nice girl, and ends up being a secondary mentor figure to Uka.

Something interesting that the story did with this highlight reel, was that they utilized a lot of fade to black, and fade into new scenes. It was a really interesting choices since it happened multiple times, as a way to break the story into simplified story points. At first I thought it was odd, but post-watch I think it was a really good choice. It helped the story, which was already going to be choppy, smooth itself out a bit without trying to add in additional transition scenes.

However, there were a few jarring issues. The product placement of Kirin’s Lemon Soda was obnoxious. I somewhat anticipated this, but some subtlety would have been nice. The opening ten or so minutes felt more like an elongated commercial then the beginning of a film. The second issue was the OST, which had a fair amount of English. It was jarring personally, and it was cut in at strange times that really took me out of the scene rather then enhancing it. I appreciate the efforts to shake up the OST efforts, but this was a swing and a miss. Minus Snow Man’s “Hello Hello” as the ending of course.

So now we get into the acting, and to be honest: no one stood out. I mean this in the most neutral sense possible. The cast all managed to match the energy and effort of their fellow cast mates, so the film felt cohesive. However, this cohesiveness ended up back firing as every scene managed to just barely touch the emotional note it wanted, but failed to really pack a punch anywhere. I know their were character motivation and developments, and confessions scenes that should really hit me in the feels! But none of those scenes have any memorable impact to them.

About the only actor I care to comment on is Raul. After all, he is the reason this movie was on my radar and why I went to see it in the first place. I am not a fan of the fake husky voice they had him do the entire film. I think it was suppose to add sex appeal or something but just came of as well, fake. I don’t mind him using this voice when he sings, as it’s usually complimentary to the song, but in the film it just felt pretentious ‘not like other boys’. It really dampening the impact of having him, an actual teen, play a teenager in film which I was pretty excited about. The rest of the cast was still in their early 20’s, but at least the male lead was a teenager so… progress?

The other point is that Raul’s performance this time around. Even just comparing this to Takizawa Kabuki the movie, or even his two drama parts the chemistry wasn’t there. I’m not saying that Raul was bad, he is part of the cast, and therefore matched everyone else in cohesive energy. It’s that aside from the kissing scenes (making a must-watch for his super fans), and the fact he literally stuck out like a sore thumb between his height and hair; Raul was under whelming in delivery. It’s disappointing but not surprising. I have a feeling Raul trends more to ‘does well with fellow Johnny’s’ verses solo, but it might be an age and experience factor as well. Only time will tell.

A few other tidbits is that the b-roll in the credits was absolutely adorable. I do recommend sitting through them for a more well rounded experience with the story. The chemistry between Kai and Uka was…. okay I think? From purely the movie stand-point it was fine, but I think fans of the original might expect more. This might be another age and experience gap with Raul being so young, and the rest of the cast somewhat older playing in again. Personally, I think the side couple had more chemistry and better development then the main one. But that’s more due to my own taste in romance then the actual actors I think.

As a whole, Honey Lemon Soda leans way more into the honey soda then the lemon, so the balance isn’t quite right for me. It might be more your taste if you like your shojo super sweet and airy. It’s cute, and fun but lacks the power to make it really memorable. While I enjoyed it for what it was, (without any prior knowledge of the manga), I think this is an adaptation that fans of the original will find to be incredibly flat. As always I’d love to know your thoughts if you’re familiar with the story, or have seen it yourself in the comments down below!

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