Screening Date: October 20th, 2012
Director: Ryosuke Nakamura
Starring: Maya Watanabe, Yûtarô Honjô
Nerawareta Gakuen is a well known story to those in Japan. The original novella by Taku Mayamura has been adapted several times into live action series and films but this particular adaptation produced by Sunrise is the first time the story has been animated, a format which allowed the studio to create bold and striking visuals . While frequently beautiful, Gakuen stumbles with a plot full of clichés and a lack of explanations, perhaps expecting an audience fully versed in the source material, and thus fails to stand on its own.
The plot is a mishmash of high school drama, time travel, telepathy and conspiracy which somehow feels odd yet generic at the same time due to the numerous clichés: the mysterious transfer student, the fumbling hero, the tomboy girl-next-door who beats up the hero. Even the music feels trite as new guy, Kyokugo, plays ‘Clare de la Lune’ while the secondary female character, Kahori, watches on, amazed. However, these characters aren’t the real problem in Gakuen. When given the chance to develop, they are engaging and fairly interesting, especially Natsuki who’s starts out mildly irritating and becomes endearing. The problem is the supernatural element which is never explored fully, only hinting at what might have happened at the often mentioned mobile phone incident and constantly throwing new, contradictory information at the viewer. While there is a core of great and intriguing ideas, the decision to run both a romance and a science fiction plot side by side results in a confusing hour and half with no real pay off. Even the scene after the credits feels weak rather than rewarding.
What is excellent is the animation. A kaleidoscope of colours and patterns appear every 10 minutes or so, primarily focusing on moonlight and sunsets. Scenes inside the school become ethereal as the light filters through the stain-glassed windows. Unfortunately, this visual theme is cheapened by the silliest decisions. Suddenly cheery blossoms are appearing in closed classrooms and students are being attacked by mind-controlled bubbles.
Thankfully, the simplistic style of the characters and buildings provides a rest from the visual attack of light filters and lens flares. The animation of Natsuki is a joy to watch as she’s constantly moving; running, jumping, cartwheeling; fluidly and elegantly. Her design is pleasing and is perhaps a better example of the work Sunrise can produce. While the visuals are undeniably stunning, the sheer abundance of effects is more likely to cause headaches than awe.
Nerawareta Gakuen is very pretty but unfortunately favours style over substance. The plot is constantly shifting from the science fiction based school politics to the romantic drama and any attempt to tie the two together ends in knots. Ultimately, Gakuen will likely be forgotten soon after its general release.