Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Anime Review: When Supernatural Battle Became Commonplace

Sorry for the delay on this one folks, I've been busy although the missing book review from last week wasn't because I was busy, it was because I sat down and realized I just had nothing to say on the book. That's always a problem here, sometimes I just read something all the day through, find it passable, but just have nothing to say about it. I've also been reading quite a bit of middle grade recently and I'm still debating if I want to review that here as well since again, shorter books, less to talk about and these reviews are already pretty short.

Thankfully that's not my worry here tonight, this show wasn't on my radar as the fall season began but after I saw quite a few people talking about how great the new Studio Trigger show was (no one could decide on a nickname for a few weeks, even the licensors it seemed, many people seem to have adopted "Inou Battle") I gave it a shot and what do you know, it's actually a pretty fun light novel adaptation!

When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace

Classmates Ando, Hakoto, and Tomoyo along with their senpai Sayumi and elementary schooler Chifuyu make up their high school's Literature Club where they read, write their own novels, and as of late, indulge in magical shenanigans thanks to their new powers. They can now summon fire, stop time, and heal all damage but funny enough it's their regular lives that seem to give them their biggest problems and joys. 

This show is an interesting mix of average, everyday high school life and fantasy but the fantasy was bleeding into the everyday life even in those brief few minutes before our characters gained superpowers. I watched the first Love, Chunibyo, & Other Delusions series a few years back which was okay but I never quite bought into chunibyo the way the show portrayed it. I knew some oddballs in high school but by the time you get into late middle school even, just about everyone can differentiate between real life and their daydreams so I found Rikka just plain annoying. Ando's chunibyo here makes much more sense, I remember the word came up in one of Funimation's shows last year and they translated it as "dramatic teenager phase" which fits the situation here perfectly. Ando (and some others) are perfectly aware of how the world works and simply just don't care or at least act like it. Ando's antics also backfire on him pretty regularly, they backfire spectacularly in the first episode and that's what sold the show for me, it's aware of just how dorky kids are which was a welcome change from shows with super serious, mature teenagers or shows that don't even realize how dumb their cast is.

However, I don't think that Ando's chunibyo was a bad thing so the few times the show tried to criticize it came off rather awkwardly for me. Most of the time the show embraces the hamminess just as much as he does but one of the shows biggest moments, where Hatoko completely loses her cool and yells at Ando for a few minutes straight, is a clear condemnation of the syndrome. Since the series goes right back into playing with the ham and cheese the next episode it felt a little incongruent there, plus, on a personal level I had trouble being convinced by Hatoko's rant since she was at fault as well. She's clearly unhappy at Ando that he hasn't tried for a long time to really listen and think about what books she would actually enjoy when he recommends her things and how she knows she's being teased and yet, relationships go two ways and it sounds like she's never talked about any of this with him before. If part of the point of her outburst was to give Hakoto some character growth, with her realizing that she needs to speak up more and can do that without having to change who she is (in addition to Ando realizing that he needs to stop being so pretentious), then this would have worked but it's not so I felt like it was both a missed opportunity and the whole speech, despite being one of the most important moments in the series, was one of the least-fitting moments for me.

The show has a bit of a hard time balancing all four of it's female leads in general as well, it really does try and each of them does have a distinct personality but they all fall in love with Ando and that's just too harem-like for me. The girls do seem to come to an internal "truce" with each other which I agree was a bit too neat but honestly I prefer a situation like that to continued "who will they choose it's tooootally not obvious!" antics. I recently saw an interview with the manga-ka of YuriBear Storm and Kuniko Ikuhara where they were talking about the show and how it's different and Ikuhara mentions that he thinks it's very hard to do an interesting, conventional romance between a boy and a girl these days since so much of it has already been done and I have to agree with him. If Hakoto or Sayumi had "won" instead then it still would have been something I've seen many times before in anime. I am glad that Tomoyo seems to be the "winner" since that means there will be more of a focus on her and she's my favorite of the girls, and I do think she and Ando bounce off of each other in the most interesting way, but the show never really did anything with the romance other than just present a male character and several female characters. There were plenty of relationship building moments but those were about friendship, not romance, so I have a hard time believing that anyone could have become emotionally involved over it.

Despite all of that, the show really does make the average, everyday moments of the characters work quite well and they're both much more common and also a little more fun than the battles. I was a bit sad that my "commonplace, everyday battles" I was promised never happened but the meta-plot for this story is rather strange. The gist of it is pretty standard for an anime, there's a magical war going on which means lots of fighting, and even the set-up for it (where it's people from another world watching and placing bets on the fights, so the war is more like a series of war games) is something I've seen a few times in anime in the past few years. The way it's introduced however, using completely new characters and crammed into one episode so it can set up a gag from the very end of the previous episode, was new and ruined the episode a bit for me.  The whole idea itself is ripping off of stories with super serious magical battles a la it's contemporary Fate/Unlimited Blade Work's holy grail war, although I'll admit I didn't pick up on that since I was distracted by the show also trying to play with the standard shonen friendship tropes (which is another reason the chunibyo condemnation didn't work for me, that was the previous episode and then this one reminds you of just how aware and in love this series is with anime including dramatic teenagers). I am intrigued by this meta-plot (it's as if our characters are side-characters in a larger story which I find amusing) but I do wonder if it worked better in the novel when it didn't have the time constraints it did here. And as a quick note, I was happy to see the show decide to give Ando a lame power and when he "powers up" to not go the usual route and suddenly make him the strongest of the group, I was really not expecting the story to take the direction it did with that detail.

Unlike Studio Trigger's original works with Little Witch Academia and kill la kill the art and animation aren't as wild and out there but that zaniness certainly shines through from time to time. I thought the show looked consistently good and that this story and the studio seemed well matched, Trigger certainly enjoys fight scenes and, considering how well this series nails the smaller, more human moments of the show, I had to wonder how much of the show is a strict reproduction of the original novels and how much of it was reworked by the anime writers. In any case, I did enjoy the show and do recommend it, but I doubt I will buy it since it is an Aniplex show and I don't think I want to rewatch it enough to pay their prices. In the meantime the show can be viewed on Crunchryoll.  

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