Nerawareta Gakuen

Posted by DiGiKerot in One shots at October 21, 2012 on 12:55 am

There’s a few different ways you could probably attempt to translate the name “Nerawareta Gakuen”. A previous live-action adaptation of the original novel was released in English in some territories as “The Aimed School”, which someone with a slightly better grasp of English may well have rendered as “School Under Target”. “School In Peril” is another alternative title that has been proposed at one point, though it would seem that Sunrise have gone for the rather more straightforward, whilst not a translation at all, “Psychic School Wars” as their moniker of choice for the Japanese-impared.

The movie centres around a school which seems to be in animes recent locale of choice, Enoshima. As is usual with these things, a transfer student turns up one day, only it’s a guy that protagonist Kenji bumped into earlier and seems to recall having stated that they’d just only arrived in this time period – a statement odd enough that would probably wouldn’t forget it.

Then there’s the fact that, starting around the same time, a number of students – including senior members of the student council – seem to be undergoing curious personality changes. The school has just placed a blanket ban on people carrying mobile telephones on school premises as well, which fairly serious ramifications for anyone breaking this rule…

Whilst this may sound like a pretty compelling, if fairly standard, Body-Snatchers style exploitation or horror movie, that’s not really the case here. It turns out that the anime version of Nerawareta Gakuen is a romantic gag comedy. You see, Kenji is infatuated with the class rep, Kahori, but his sporty childhood friend Natsuki obviously has feelings for him (not that he is aware of this, of course). Kahori, as far as it goes, falls in love at first sight with the transfer student, but he might just be a time-traveller who is also giving people psychic powers. So whilst they’ve gotten the Psychic, and the School, they’ve not quite got the War.

NeraGaku is actually a pretty good gag comedy. Admittedly, it’s a little forced at times in the same way as the average Key adaptation – there’s a lot of exaggeration and unnatural situations thrown into the mix, and some incredibly peculiar non-sequitors when the movie leads you to be expecting something else. This is kind of one of the problems with the movie – it’s frequently difficult to tell if the movie is being subversive with what it’s handing you, or if you are simply missing something. At times is definitely seems like it’s trying to sideswipe your expectations by handing you something you aren’t expecting, but other times it’s just plain confusing.

It turns out that the movie, rather than being a straight adaptation of the original novel, is actually something of a sequel to it whilst still aping it’s plot structure. This, theoretically, can work – it’s precisely what The Girl Who Leapt Through Time did. The difference is that, whilst TGWLTT made passing references to the original work, NeraGaku expects absolutely familiarity – rather than the original heroine being a cameo as in TGWLTT, those characters from the original NeraGaku are present and very relevant to the plot, and they give no consideration to newcomers who won’t know who they are. It’s the kind of thing they can get away with in Japan where, even if you haven’t read the original book, it’s been adapted for film and TV enough times that you’re likely to have seen one version of it at some point. Those of us outside Japan don’t really have that benefit, however, so it just comes across as being confusing.

This is made doubly problematic once you mix in the movies original ideas, many of which it manages to fumble completely. There’s a running plot throughout the movie to do with the school banning mobile telephones which doesn’t really go anywhere, even though it looks for the longest time like it might. It’s there in part to support the themes of the movie – it’s a film about communication, the main psychic power going around being mind-reading, there being lots of talk about mobile telephones and how someones personal opinion on a subject can differ when made to consider it from a group perspective. The problem is that, whilst all this seems to be building up to a climax, it’s entirely defused by a really peculiar non-sequitor gag scene before being entirely forgotten.

Beyond that, the movie continues to throw around a whole bunch of ideas and plot lines within it’s science-fiction milieu that ultimately fall apart in the movies final act, where they continue to be ill-explained, and build to a really strange pair of conclusions (yes, anyone who left before the credits finished didn’t actually see the movies end and likely have completely the wrong idea about how it ended).

The movie was produced by Sunrise – specifically, it looks to have been produced by Sunrise Studio 8, the division which recently produced Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere and Accel World, and seems to be producing a high standard of animation as of late. In line with their recent TV work, the animation in NeraGaku is mostly excellent. It does overblow the effects animation on occasion, the opening stretch of the movie seeing the screen constantly showered with cherry blossoms in a fashion which will cause anyone encoding it for DVD to have severe headaches, and the ocean (Enoshima, remember) is an over animated mess of CG. The character animation is pretty good, though it is often exaggerated, Natsuki in particular seeming to have the ability to (non-Pyschically!) defy gravity.

In conclusion, if you can forgive all of the garbled science fiction malarky, it’s a fun movie. For what it’s worth, I actually enjoyed it a great deal, mind-bending as it proved to be in the end. I think that, ultimately, the movie will end up finding a pretty dedicated audience simply because Natsuki and Kahori are, dare I say it, kind of “moe”, even if the plot does ultimately come across as non-sense. General reaction to the movie post-screening, however, seemed to be pretty overwhelming negative, so maybe it’s something you should just consider watching if you don’t have to go too far out of your way to do so.

(PS – It’s not even out in Japanese cinemas until next month, so you probably have a long wait to see it. Whatever made them think premiering a movie so reliant on knowledge of an old, Japan-only SF novel in Scotland is somewhat beyond me…)

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