What’s a harmony anyway? To answer that question, we would have to know what a melody is. You likely already know what a melody is though, but let’s just state the obvious anyway. When a song gets stuck in your head, it’s usually the melody that you’re mentally hearing. Usually. Perhaps the more musically-inclined amongst us might hear a song’s harmony instead. Who knows? But let’s assume it’s the melody. So then, what’s the harmony? To put it as simply as possible, it’s all the notes being played around the melody. You could even say that the harmony supports the melody. Now, I’m sure someone who has actually studied music theory can give an even better answer than this, but for our purposes, a basic explanation will suffice. Even so, this doesn’t mean that the harmony is somehow less important to the melody in any way. Obviously, if you change the melody, the song changes entirely. But if you change the harmony, the song will change too. This is exactly what we see in Harmonie.
Juri used to be… what others considered to be a strange and weird. What do I mean by this? Well, if you’ve seen your fair share of anime, it’s likely you will have noticed a pattern: anime likes to portray a reality in which the popular kids are typically mean-spirited and condescending to others. Not all of them, but a fair share nonetheless. Cool kids in anime tend to sneer at the people beneath them, acting as if their time is too precious to be wasted on anyone who is remotely different. I’m not sure how accurate anime is compared to the real world, but in Juri’s friends, Harmonie echoes the same theme: “God, I’d just die if someone like that sat next to me!” But like I’ve said, people used to think Juri was weird too. In fact, even her own mom thought she was strange. Was she really, though? Well, as a young girl, Juri did have a peculiar quirk. She still does, actually. She seemingly has been having the same dream every night — a dream about a robot girl forming an unlikely connection with a human boy.
My initial reaction is, “Well, so what? It’s just a dream.” For some reason, however, Juri’s mom was really concerned for her little girl. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would get so worked up over a dream that sounds — to be quite frank — fairly innocuous, but then again, we don’t get to see the whole picture. All we know is that Juri composed a song to accompany the dream, and she also drew pictures of what she saw every night. Maybe there’s more to the story that Juri has forgotten. After all, this isn’t outside the realm of possibility as she has certainly forgotten about a lot of other important details, which I’ll get into in a bit. So maybe as a little girl, Juri was a bit too obsessed with her dream.
Eventually, Juri got bullied at school for being different, and perhaps her mother’s protective instincts kicked in. She enlisted the service of a psychiatrist to apparently help rid Juri of the dream. When therapy seemed to have failed, I can only imagine that frustration began to boil over in her mother: “She told me to stop making things up.” As a parent, it probably didn’t matter whether Juri was making stuff up or she was actually dreaming the story every night. Juri’s mother just didn’t want to see her little girl get bullied anymore. Like most parents, Juri’s mother was probably looking at the big picture, i.e. she knows how hard it’s going to be if Juri continues to be different. I’m not saying that the mother is in the right or anything like that, but it’s important to keep in mind that things are not as black-and-white as we would like them to be.
At the start of the short film, Akio reflects on people’s nature: “Everyone has their own world inside them. I’d guess [my best friends’] worlds are very similar to mine. That’s why we get along so well. But Makina Juri is different. I doubt I’ll ever step inside her world.” Now let’s replace the word ‘world’ with ‘melody.’ Juri had her own melody unlike anyone else’s. It made her different. It also made her seem weird. After having to deal with a tough and painful childhood, Juri decided to wipe her slate clean and start over in high school. She gave herself a new melody, and all of a sudden, she is now one of the more popular girls in the class. Still, you can’t ditch your old melody, can you? It’s an intrinsic part of who you are. Juri may have repressed a lot of her painful memories, but she has been subconsciously holding onto her old melody this entire time.
Juri gives Akio a media player containing the song she had composed, not realizing that a recording of one of her therapy sessions is still saved onto the device. She even carries pictures of her dreams with her — pictures she had drawn as a young kid — when most people would’ve either thrown them away or at least hidden them in some shoebox beneath the best. Yes, as much as Juri would like to outwardly reject her old melody, she clings to it to this very day. So when one of her friends plays a prank on her involving her composed song, cracks begin to show in Juri’s facade: “She’s always been weird. She really tried to change when she started high school, though.”
This is where Akio comes along. Apparently, our protagonist has perfect pitch, so he can reproduce any melody after hearing it just once. When he hears just a bit of Juri’s old melody, he becomes fixated by it. He asks her for the rest of the melody, because he finds it beautiful. As I’ve said, she gives him a media player containing not just her old melody, but one of her therapy sessions as well. I imagine that as Akio is listening to the first track, he falls asleep at some point during it. The second track begins to play, and it feeds our protagonist with visions of Juri’s dream. He doesn’t quite realize this at first, so he tells her about the dream the next day. Naturally, Juri feels as though she might have found a kindred spirit: “I get it. You listened to the song and the dream gets passed on!” Later that day, Akio realizes that there’s nothing supernatural happening here whatsoever. Juri had simply forgotten about the existence of the second track. She also can’t remember if she had drawn that pivotal scene in her dream, but she did. Akio even accidentally tears this very same drawing that I’m talking about, so he tries to reproduce it. But with Juri not realizing that Akio is merely copying one of her drawings, the reproduction confirms her misguided suspicions that Akio is a kindred spirit: “We’re the same.”
The short film suddenly ends there. We are left wondering what’s to become of Akio and Juri. Will they end up being a couple even though their relationship would be based on a lie? But are all lies bad? If Juri thinks she has found a kindred spirit, would it really do her any good for Akio to shatter her dreams? Akio’s words at the end of the short film would imply that perhaps he isn’t willing to confess the truth: “…Makina Juri’s world was, well, really surprising. But I could get lost in it.” The second sentence is the key here. Akio is just a reproducer, for a lack of a better word. Juri thinks she may have found someone who shares her melody just like how Akio’s melody is similar to his best friends, but she hasn’t. Akio has merely reproduced everything. He reproduced her old melody, he reproduced her dreams, and he even reproduces one of her drawings.
Like Akio said at the start of the short film, Juri is very different. Not only that, he doesn’t even think he could ever step into her world even if he later admits that he would like to lose himself in it. This willingness, therefore, counts for something. He is willing to harmonize with Juri in a way that makes her happy even if it’s all based on a lie. That’s not to say others haven’t tried to harmonize with Juri as well, but as I’ve said at the start of this post, different harmonies can change the tone of a song completely. Her mother and her former classmates used to think Juri was weird. They thus tainted her old melody, making it seem as though it is something painful that she needs to repress. Akio is the first person in Juri’s life who is willing to harmonize with her old melody in a different way. With him, she can think of her dream in a positive light: “The world was totally different from ours! I really like that one scene…”
But still, it’s a lie, isn’t it? Akio is actually quite different from Juri. He’s a bit of an outcast which is somewhat similar to the girl’s former persona, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Akio’s just your typical kid with the average nerdy pursuits and interests. Their melody isn’t the same, and Akio knows it. But maybe that’s the lesson to be learned here. Couples don’t actually have to be the same in order to be happy with each other. In fact, just because two people are the same, it doesn’t mean they will work out as a couple. This is where our melody/harmony metaphor comes into play again. Sure, Juri can change herself to fit in with the popular kids, but without the right harmony, something feels nevertheless incomplete in her relationships with them. This is keenly reflected in how her friends don’t truly understand her, and neither does the popular guy who seems to think that the two of them are dating.
Meanwhile, Akio doesn’t share either of Juri’s melodies, but he understands her. Often times, young people will fall into this trap where they believe a couple in love must share common interests. But there are no rules to love other than that you do your best to support each other. Sure, it probably isn’t wise for two people in a relationship to have contradicting interests, but if the only problem is that you and your significant other do not like the same exact things, then so what? And likewise, just because a girl listens to the same bands that you do, it doesn’t mean that you and her are meant to be. Rather, it is more important that two people harmonize with each other even if they’re not singing the exact, same tune. Akio doesn’t actually share Juri’s dream, sure. But unlike everyone else in her life, he doesn’t instantly reject it. He opens up to it, and allows himself to see what she sees. He can support her in ways that no one else has or can, and that’s what harmony is all about.
The dream itself seems to be a reflection of the short film, but not quite. In it, a robot girl is drawn to a tower where she finds a young boy playing a song with three jars. The jars are each filled with three different colors. As they spend time together, the girl twirls and dances as if she is happier than she has ever been. Eventually, other robots — they’re all male and dressed to the nines for some reason — tries to pull the two kids apart. We don’t exactly see what happens next, but we do get a happy ending. The two kids eventually return to their tower, and the robot girl pulls up her dress to reveal her innards to the human boy. We see that she is seemingly powered(?) by fluids of three different colors — the same colors as the fluids in the boy’s jars. We then get a close-up to the robot girl’s face where we see she has shed a tear. Can robots even cry? You wouldn’t think so, and this shows that she’s not quite the same as the other robots.
There’s thus something human in the robot girl, human enough that it allows her to connect with the human boy. The other robots, like the popular kids at school, are of a higher class. Supposedly, the markings on their bodies signify that they are nobility. As for the humans in this strange world, they tend to huddle in dilapidated buildings, which implies that they are of a lower class relative to the robots. They are perhaps analogous to the outcasts at school. Maybe the robot girl had once been a human, but she became a robot to seek happiness. In the end, however, she ends up connecting with a human boy instead. Therefore, we see two characters from two different worlds come together just like how Juri, a seemingly popular girl, has made a connection with Akio, a seemingly awkward and nerdy boy.
Although at first glance, it may seem as though Harmonie ends somewhat abruptly, I think the short film ends up saying everything it needs to say. There are, of course, some questions left unanswered. The ones that stand out the most to me has to do with the psychiatrist. Why does she call him creepy? Why are her visual memories of him so messed up? Then again, her visual memories of her mother and her classmates are the same way, so maybe it’s just a coincidence. Still, you have to wonder if the story is perhaps alluding to something darker and more traumatic in the girl’s past. Plus, why does the girl dream the same dream every single night? That can’t be right, can it? Or is it just a reflection of her creativity being suppressed because being different is considered a bad thing? After all, Juri says this early in the short film: “I like boring. I hate standing out.” In any case, the answers to these questions are not critical to the story, which is primarily about Juri finding her harmony.