Psychic School Wars

In its marketing Psychic School Wars invokes shades of anime classics like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, 5 Centimetres Per Seconds, and Only Yesterday. Perhaps this inflated expectation ended up hurting Psychic School Wars because what it delivers is a ponderous mess that can only be described as ‘aggressively mediocre’.

The story follows Kenji Seki, a clumsy and awkward teen with a massive crush on the school beauty, Kahori Harukawa. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, the literal girl next door and childhood friend Natsuki Suuzura is in love with him, and channels her frustration over the unrequited affection into teasing and violent outbursts. Enter Ryouichi Kyougoku, an exchange student who quickly captures Kahori’s attention and throws the delicate balance of Kenji’s daily life into chaos. To makes matter worse, Ryouichi turns out to be a psychic time-traveler with a hidden agenda. As more and more of the students and faculty fall under Ryoichi’s psychic influence, Kenji may be the only one that can stop his mysterious mission.

So the genre savvy ones amongst you have already realised from the description, it’s a coming of age story with sci-fi elements acting as metaphors for common teenage problems. That in itself is not a bad setup. After all, many a successful anime have taken the formula of ‘insert magic realism into a slice of life setting‘ and turned it into well loved properties, like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Where Psychic School Wars falters is its heavy handedness in getting its point across. The characters are prone to giving verbose monologues on, not just their motivations, but the philosophical reasons behind their views and actions.

Enjoy the beautiful scene before it devolves into a joke about an open zipper.

Enjoy the beautiful scene before it devolves into a joke about an open zipper.

The whole movie indulges itself on saying out loud things better left unsaid or already shown. The result is a work that seems to put little faith in its audience’s intelligence. For example, earlier in the movie, the characters practice lines from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Being a play about an everyday situation dissolving into the supernatural after a roguish character brings magic into the world, you’d think the parallels are obvious enough for most of the audience to spot. Well, later in the movie, Ryouichi actually gives a long monologue, explaining the connection in detail, stating outright that he is just like Puck from the play. Other characters also continued to explicitly comment on the metaphor throughout the rest of the movie.

The characters are loveable enough, without really rising above the genre tropes, though there are genuinely fun character moments sprinkled throughout the movie. The trouble is though, they tend to break down into melodrama whenever the plot demands it and the plot demands way too much melodrama. Now, I am not just doing the ‘too macho for romance plots’ shtick. On the contrary, I will curl up with a well written sappy movie any day of the week. It’s just that Psychic School Wars fails to sell most of the romance and the characters take themselves way too seriously. It’s not just the romance either, all the characters seems way too highly strung for super rich kids (their homes and schools are huge) living in a idyllic seaside town. For example, there was a dramatic and tear soaked shouting match over the school’s plan to ban cell phones on school grounds. This kind of first word problem can’t help but invoke horror flashbacks from western television’s ‘blue sky initiative’ dramas where the setting is picturesque and everyone is miserable, ala The OC.

Look around you. Enjoy the sun and the beach. Maybe don't cry all the time for no good god damn reason.

Look around you. Enjoy the sun and the beach. Maybe don’t cry all the time for no good god damn reason.

The plot itself is decent enough but the resolution is rushed so the movie ends just as it gets interesting. Consider watching until the end of the credits as well because otherwise there is no real resolution to the the plot. I feel like the movie needed to make a choice on whether or not they wish to make the sci-fi elements more explicitly important to the plot or leave it as a mysterious precipitant that set offs the events of the movie. They however seem to have settled somewhere in the middle and fell short of delivering either.

The animation itself is without fault. It is beautifully rendered and perfectly captures a gorgeous seaside town. Character animations are also smooth and natural, the work on the energetic Natsuki particularly standing out in capturing her tomboyish charm and hyperactive personality. There is some trouble though, in the contrast between the laid back ponderous style of the animation not changing to reflect the kinetic nature of particular action scenes. All in all though, the technical side of the animation is somewhere Psychic School Wars definitely delivers.

Maybe she was born with it, maybe it's anime wind.

Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s anime wind.

Now, what I’ve said feels like I have nothing but bad things to say about this movie, which feels odd to me because it’s not a horrible movie per se. I actually struggled quite a bit to satisfactorily parse my thoughts on the movie to account for why I had such a visceral reaction to it and this is my conclusion. It’s too perfectly mediocre that it felt like it’s a cynical paint-by-numbers effort which completely wasted its potential to be a good, maybe even excellent, work. All the ingredients are there for a compelling coming of age tale but they squandered the opportunity by taking no risk. I would have preferred if it managed to be a worse movie on its own term which would have probably resulted in a more entertaining watch and review. Instead we have a serviceable bore.  If you have a remarkable threshold for melodrama and feel in the mood for beautifully animated mediocrity, give it a go. Otherwise, just watch The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

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