To call Graduation a movie is a bit generous. Even with the inclusion of the Hirano and Kagiura short, this thing just barely reaches an hour with credits. Since it also inherits the slow, vignette-based pacing of the TV series – along with its visual quality – it’s perhaps better to think of this as an extra-long final episode. While the final lines of this film assure us Sasaki and Miyano’s romance will continue beyond this graduation, this also acts as a pretty tidy capstone to the property in animation.
Like the TV series, there’s not really a central plot to Graduation outside of the premise of Sasaki’s impending graduation. You might think that would give everything a sense of foreboding, with how often high school anime treat graduation like a character disappearing forever, but that’s not the case here. While both boys are a little sad that they won’t be able to see each other every day like before, there’s no question in either of their minds about continuing to be together. That’s refreshing, as it allows the film to pair the bittersweet evolution from high school to adulthood with our central couple’s deepening intimacy, following them as they reach two new thresholds in their lives simultaneously.
While not always connected by story, each vignette that makes up Graduation is connected by that developing intimacy. With Miyano and Sasaki both primarily over the hang-ups that kept them from confessing, the two get to explore what being a couple means. Sometimes, it just means chatting like normal, sharing time together, and enjoying each other’s company just like when they were just senpai and kouhai. Other times, it means pining, like when Sasaki has to study for exams, and their time together is far more brief and precious. On at least one occasion, it means a cuddle session in an empty classroom that unexpectedly turns into some very heavy petting. Individually, these scenes are charming enough, but packaged together, they paint a cozy and endearing portrait of young love. There are also some key moments involving their friends and family, like Miyano coming out to his mother, who immediately insists they invite the nice young man her son is in love with to dinner, instantly diffusing his worries. SasaMiya has always been a property that runs off good vibes, and the vibes here are almost always excellent.
The one segment that sticks out, however, is the movie’s biggest flaw. After roughly 40 minutes of good times, we take a hard left turn into drama when Sasaki reveals their relationship to his older sister. What follows is, on paper, a solid exploration of internalized homophobia that can cause friction even among well-meaning and supportive loved ones. Regarding being respectful to such a sensitive topic, it’s handled about as well as Miyano’s struggles with toxic masculine expectations in the TV series. The issue is that it feels like a cliff notes version of itself, speeding through the plot point as quickly as possible with a character we’ve only briefly gotten to know and gracelessly dumping exposition about Sasaki’s family life on the ground in its rush to resolve the only real drama of the film. While something like this could work here, it would need far more time and focus to achieve its goals – probably necessitating this being a much longer movie that builds toward this conflict rather than introducing and resolving it in under seven minutes. As-is, it’s an underbaked plot cul-de-sac that yanks the atmosphere out from under you just long enough to feel jarring.
Outside of that one admittedly large hiccup, Graduation is a welcome return to the intimate, personal character interactions that defined its predecessor. The production’s still far from an animation powerhouse, but its signature eye for evocative framing and expressive body language returns in perfect form. Countless moments of soft affection, nervous passion, and just a general sense of attraction between our leads does so much to communicate their emotions without dialogue. They also keep making Sasaki ridiculously hot throughout. A guy laid up sick in bed probably wouldn’t look like he just stepped out of a cologne commercial, but you won’t hear me complaining.
The included Hirano and Kagiura short is nice enough, introducing us to the spin-off couple and their basic dynamic. However, it feels like a backdoor pilot for a potential TV adaptation rather than a self-contained short. The titular boys have a sweet dynamic, and their dorm domesticity has a distinct flavor from Sasaki and Miyano’s chemistry, but that’s all we get from them. Fans of the manga will likely enjoy seeing these two animated and interacting, but for anime-only viewers, it’s more like a pleasant appetizer before returning to the couple we’re already familiar with.
While the manga is ongoing, Graduation feels like a farewell, using its final moments to reminisce about our main couple’s romantic journey as they walk the halls of their school one last time. It’s sentimental as all get out, and if you’re invested in these two, it’s easy to get a little choked up as you see them step forward together into a new stage of their lives and romance. In all, it’s safe to say that if you loved the TV series, you’ll love this film.