Aug 26, 2014

Anime Review: Bungaku Shoujo

Bungaku Shoujo title/logoThe synopsis of this movie is woefully inadequate. No, really, go read it. It’s bland sounding other than the eating paper thing. Normal high school student joins literature club. May have had issues in past resulting in not wanting to write. You’ll have to just trust me that this is also a fairly misleading account as this leaves out psychotic ex-girlfriend that makes up the majority of the drama and running time.

So yeah, the milquetoast lead Inoue gets roped into joining the lit club despite vowing to “never write again!” Considering the title of the movie, Bungaku Shoujo, basically translates to Literature Girl, you can probably guess he’s going to change his mind on this due to the eponymous girl. She is, unsurprisingly, the sole other member of the club: Touko, a girl a year older than him whom you’ll be hard pressed not to immediately peg as his new love interest since they pair so well. But, well, you’d only be sort of right. You see, even though the first half hour of this over hour-and-a-half adventure seems to suggest a romantic drama, it’s not… no, it’s more of a drama. With weird surreal stuff. And a crazy girl. And then a lot of confusing as hell stuff.

Inoue stands, back to the viewer, in his school's courtyard looking at a tree bright yellow tree with a girl sitting under it reading a book

I wanted to like this movie a lot more (esp. after the spoilers that was JadeCharm’s AMV that originally clued me into this movie even existing). Dialogue is a huge mix of confusing and cliché and the direction and animation is rather by-the-numbers. It seems like it wants so badly to be heartfelt and innocent and pure and a bit quirky fun but it’s not great at much of that to be honest. Oh, and remember that whole paper eating thing? Yeah, it’s never really explained and instead comes off as just sort of there for quirkiness’ sake. I get the feeling it probably had a lot more meaning and explanation in the source material.

Touko, the eponymous book girl, sits under a tree reading in the bright morning lightI was damn near sure Touko was not real and only existed in Inoue’s mind like a literature muse or something. She never really interacted in the movie with anyone else for most of the running time, like some sort of Sixth Sense thing. It isn’t until the planetarium scene near the end… but then she’s suddenly not there and the prior love confession seems… to have… not happened actually? What? I was so sure she was just in his mind. And the train scene. And so much else… what… And I love Hirano Aya’s performances, so it’s too bad her ex-girlfriend character here was annoying and confusing (yes, again). The two leads are void of much personality. Lead boy Inoue is limp and pathetic and even gets called out on being no better than acting like a supplicant dog. Everything is so disjointed, who knows what anyone’s motivations are, and since none of it manages to coalesce into anything concrete the “big payoff” third act stuff just falls flat and comes off as awkward, embarrassing, and confusing. Which is made all the worse by the fact that I was trying so hard to figure out if there was a twist or catch and I thought I almost had it figured out (her being not real) and in the end it was nothing of the sort, leaving me feeling cheated and misled.

Inoue walks to school one winter's morning as two girls gossip behind him

The entire movie plays out like a visual novel on auto-pilot but misleads you at every. step. of the way about which girl’s path we’re on. You’ll be sure this is about how Inoue and Touko are gonna hitch up over their shared passion for literature if only he could get over his old vow of non-writing. But you’d be wrong. Then you’ll be sure he’s gonna fall for the adorkable Nanase and they do that New Year’s thing and it’s kinda cute but cliché but you can dig it since it sure beats the alternatives so far. But you’d be wrong because here she is slapping a bitch up and then there’s this wheelchair girl. So then you’ll be sure, oh, it’s how he’s going to either get back together or at least resolve things with this past flame, Miu, and whoa she’s hospitalized so let’s all board the sympathy train! But you’d be wrong. Then things get all weird, then they get weirdly mysterious, and then they get straight up hallucinogenic, and then it’s… sigh… running after a train like in every damn romance story ever. And then it’s over? With what looks to be a typical cop-out epilogue scene but even then I’m not sure. And you’ll wonder what just happened, who were you supposed to be rooting for, did anyone actually get together, or did they just take you for a rollercoaster ride that was all uphills and straights but somehow, defying physics, arrived back at the gate without any exciting descents.

Inoue sits in the club room writing as Touko reads in a chair by the window, the room bathed in a strong afternoon golden glow

Oh well. It’s not utter shit but it’s just plain confusing, may or may not have a more interesting idea behind it (but damn if I can find any confirmation/explanation anywhere*), and does a really piss-poor job on executing the tearjerker scenes. I didn’t care much for it as a result. Shame. It looked like it would be a lot better. Seriously, though, if you want sappy romance that focuses on the seemingly mundane go watch Shinkai Makoto’s stuff, like 5 Centimeters per Second. It’s infinitely better written, way better animated, and manages to nail all of the high notes Bungaku Shoujo wanted to hit.

Inoue stares down at Touko with disapproval as she leans in through a window by his classroom desk

As of this writing, I’m not aware of any US release (other than the light novels it’s based on) so you’re on your own.

* On further reading, in the original light novels Touko is supposed to be some kind of ghost, so… yeah. I guess she’s pretty popular, too. While this does help explain things none of that really made it into the movie. Boo.

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