Chuunibyou… a word I had heard before… but had no idea what it meant. A word that could describe segments of my childhood, honestly. It refers to a few different things, but the one that’s most relevant is when middle school students become obsessed with the concept of having superpowers, even to the extent of creating aliases and identities for themselves.
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, or Inou Battles Within Everyday Life, features a group of characters who all suddenly get special powers in a world that doesn’t seem to need superpowered individuals. These five friends have to come to terms with what it means… and, well, a lot more.
Harem Alert! Harem Alert!
While the harem aspects aren’t the primary focus of this anime, it can’t be denied that this anime is strongly within that territory. Each of the characters develops strong feelings for the male lead character, including one of the major side characters who has an entire episode devoted to her misunderstanding something he said and acting like his girlfriend and all of the other characters being jealous. Now, as I’ve said several times, I have nothing against harems as long as the show makes use of it well… and When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace, surprisingly, does a really good job of that. There’s a constant sense of humour, and even some interesting character development and drama built around the harem… and not the bad type of drama.
There were some real moments between the characters… even among the crazy superpower stuff, and it just made the absurdity all the more rewarding. That isn’t to say it was all good though… there were some points where they seemed to just go to strange places, strange by the standards of this anime that is, and it just left me wondering why they even bothered. But overall, the combination of absurdity with the occasional touch of seriousness just worked really well for these characters and this story.
Meet the “Literature” Club
So, our primary cast comprises their high school’s literature club (including one adorable elementary schooler), the school’s student council president Mirei Kudo, the main character’s arbitrary rival, and a selection of side characters who are mostly there to build for subsequent seasons should we be lucky enough to receive such.
Our literature club members are a pretty diverse, if stereotypical group. The protagonist, Jurai Ando, is a Chuuni, through and through. And getting superpowers didn’t stop him… oh no, if anything it enhanced his condition. He is the one figuring out the details of their powers, coming up with aliases for them and names for their powers. He is in the literature club with three females from his school and the niece of the club’s advisor. Here’s where the stereotypes come in… Himeki Chifuyu is your adorable yet somewhat simple child. Kanzaki Tomoyo is the typical ‘love interest in denial’ – not really Tsundere, but definitely somewhat aggressive towards him. Kushikawa Hatoko is his childhood best friend who he can’t seem to see as more and who is always with him even though she has no clue what he’s talking about most of the time. And last but not least, the mature perfectionist, Takanashi Sayumi.
But, as I’ve said before, having easily recognizable character archetypes can be a good thing, provided the show takes them into interesting places… and, surprising though it is to say, character development is one of this show’s strengths. It does a good job of giving you an understanding of these characters, stereotypical though they may be, and of giving them a chance to become more than just stereotypes.
The side characters are… less interesting. Aside from Kudo, the rest of the characters could’ve done with less screentime. They’re fairly boring characters whose presence doesn’t add to this arc, so seeing them as much as we did really hurts this show’s appeal.
Probably my biggest problem with this show is that they didn’t focus their attention appropriately during this first introductory arc. They had several scenes that could have done a great job of acting as mystery or intrigue to build interest for a second season… but then they went and gave us the explanations too. The first arc should have been just about the Literature Club and not gone so far into the other sides of matters.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed anime tends to struggle with, its mystery. So few shows get it right that it leads me to believe it might even be a cultural thing… but there’s value in not telling the viewers everything upfront. Leaving things hidden for later arcs, for later seasons, or possibly even forever can create a sense of attachment to the show as people spend time wondering and trying to figure it out.
I’ll give two examples that shouldn’t spoil too much… in one scene, Jurai is talking to a mysterious older man who seems to be hinting at something more, who seems to be acting as though he’s involved in something mysterious and who has shown up a few times in weird places through the series. And then, you find out that he’s actually Tomoyo’s older half-brother who has a severe case of Chuunibyou. If they’d left it at that, it would’ve been an interesting mystery… something to wonder at. But then, rather than finishing the intro arc and leaving you wondering, you actually get to see a full episode showing the other side of that scene – what was happening from his perspective.
The other example… Hatoko is kidnapped at one point, for seemingly no reason, by this same character. Later she was rescued by a development of Sayumi’s power. This would’ve been a cool scene, and something that could’ve added mystery: “Why was she kidnapped? How did they knock her unconscious?” but in stead they reveal the whole plot right away. Another potential thread of interest lost far too soon for no real gain.
The one thing the show seems to lack are actual supernatural battles. I was shocked at how few there actually were. You get a lot of frivolous displays of power, and a few short-lived fights, but no real battles. And what few battles we saw rarely featured any of the protagonists in more than a supporting role, save Andou whose power is actually genuinely useless (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler – you find out a few minutes into the first episode).
It’s clear they’re saving them for something, but if you’re going to show me supernatural battles, I want it to feature characters I know not just random people. If you want me to watch fights featuring random people, introduce them first – let me understand them and get to know them before you just randomly have them start fighting each other. The one thing I will say is that the animations of all of the various powers is done just right. Even Andou’s seemingly useless power has an animation that just fits him perfectly.
What’s really annoying is that the show feels the need to shoehorn this in where it doesn’t belong when the first season is perfectly fine standing on its own merits. The character scenes work so well, and the few little teasers could’ve been so intriguing if we’d been left in the dark. Give us a subtle hint that something might have happened – like Hatoko’s kidnapping – but make us wonder. That way, when the second season starts to go into it all, we’ve had time to really begin to build theories and start wondering.
For a show claiming to be about Supernatural Battles, it sure surprised me with how strong its character pieces are. By far my favourite moments were getting to know the characters… and this show would’ve been the type that had me craving a new season if only they’d left a little bit more to our imagination. We need something to make us wonder for next season, not just a minor cliffhanger that doesn’t really mean anything.