Anime Review: Bungaku Shoujo Movie

(Originally published on Livejournal on 11/20/10)

Anime Review:
Bungaku Shoujo Movie

What this is about: I made the promise that I would review every new subtitled anime show (excluding blatant yaoi and/or porn) released during the Spring and Summer 2010 seasons, so now I am going back to review a handful of shows that I missed over the past few months for one reason or another. This time around, it’s Bungaku Shoujo (Book Girl): The Movie, a 100-minute, feature-length film that appeared on the big screen on May 1st.

tl;dr review: A childhood friend from the past interrupts Konoha’s comfortable life; Touko steps in to resolve the conflict between Konoha and Miu.

Assorted video captures from the episode – click on each picture for a full-sized view in a new window:

Spoiler-Free Preview: For the past two years, Konoha Inoue has been your average high school student, except for one thing: He belongs to the school’s Literary Club. The only other member and his senior, Touko Amano, is a “Book Girl”, a special spirit that consumes written works (literally) to survive. Each day, Konoha writes a short story as a ‘snack’ for Touko, and everything is normal and peaceful. Until one day, a mysterious note finds its way into the club’s mailbox, a note that opens up an unhealed, raw wound in Konoha’s past. As a treasured childhood friend enters his life for the first time in years, he must confront his own guilt while helping his friend finds peace, with Touko leading the way.

Ahoy, Spoilers Ahead! Okay, still with me? Ready for the spoilers? Turns out the mysterious note is a drawing from the collected works of Kenji Miyazawa, a prolific author who wrote “Night on the Galactic Railroad”. At first, Konoha thinks it is just a prank, but Touko intuitively believes otherwise. After some investigation, Konoha learns they ultimately came from Miu Asakura, his friend who he thought had committed suicide two years ago. Instead, Miu has been sequestered away in a hospital, recuperating, trying to reach Konoha. Overjoyed at the reunion, she clings to him desperately, while simultaneously introducing a deep rift between Konoha and everyone else he knows.

When confronted, Miu explains that she actually hates Konoha, blaming him for her suicide attempt in middle school. She had dreams of winning a young writers contest, and Konoha stole that away from her by submitting his own story under the pen-name ‘Miu Inoue”, and it became a wildly successful best-selling novel and movie. Wracked with guilt, Konoha is comforted by Touko, who is always there for him, but is still haunted by Miu’s words that he will never really understand how she feels, and to seek out Campanella’s wish. Believing the answers may lie in Miyazawa’s works, he seeks out his stories and quickly discovers that Miu had actually been plagiarizing Miyazawa all along, all of her stories stolen from his short stories. He then receives a phone call that Miu is missing from the hospital, and Konoha rushes off to the only place he thinks she will go: the roof of the middle school.

There, he finds Miu on the edge, ready to jump a second time. They talk, and Konoha says that he will go with her wherever she goes, one final journey on the Galactic Railroad. As the two prepare to jump together, Touko arrives and Konoha hesitates, then saves Miu, who collapses into his arms. But as the two of them prepare to enter a taxi to return to the hospital, Miu leaps out and falls in front of a speeding truck. While mostly uninjured, the tragic event causes Miu to revert back when she was just eight years old, and inexplicably loses control of her hands and feet. Konoha, feeling responsible, drops out of school to care for her, then submits his resignation from the club to Touko. While caring for the invalid Miu, Nanase Kotobuki (Konoha’s classmate) rushes in and attacks Miu, causing her to break her facade and reveal that her helpless state was all an act. Miu explains that Konoha is all she has left, everything she has done has been to keep him by her side. As if on cue, Touko enters and offers a helping hand.

Touko leads everyone to a planetarium, where she helps sort out the toxic relationship developing between Miu and Konoha. Miu feels worthless, dirty and helpless, a lost soul that can never find happiness, while Konoha feels guilty for driving her to commit suicide and taking away her future. But after talking, using Miu Inoue’s novel as an analogy, she comes to realize that he’s being doing everything *for* her, not *against* her, and Miu has newfound resolve to find her own, new future. When the lights rise, Konoha finds Touko has left, and goes running after her. He finds Touko at the train station, ready to leave for college. She explains that she cannot keep Konoha ‘all to herself’ anymore, that it’s time for both of them to move on. They leave with a kiss, and an unspoken promise of the future.

My Thoughts: Oh, how bittersweet! I was pleasantly surprised when I first saw the Bungaku Shoujo: Memoire original video animation a few months ago, completely not expecting to be drawn in by the light, shoujo story. (To promote the movie, they produced three OVAs as prequels to introduce some of the main characters; the one I was focused on Touko.) Romance dramas are definitely not what I normally watch, but I was looking forward to this movie.

At first, I was a little bit worried that they would spend too much time on the “weird part” of the series: Namely, Touko’s non-human aspect of needing to physically consume books to survive. Plus her indefatigable enthusiasm towards literature can get grating after a while. But other than a few minutes centered around that in the beginning, Touko’s paper-eating is largely unspoken throughout the rest of the movie, and the character herself takes a backseat to the true main characters of the story: Konoha and Miu.

And boy, is it a roller-coaster ride. At first, I was a bit confused as to exactly what was going on, as if this was a sequel and I had missed the first part. But that was largely intentional, as Konoha himself is filling in the blanks of his own past he has tried to hide away in his mind — not understanding at first the crippling anxiety attacks when reading Miyazawa’s works, purposely constructing a “normal” life to cover up for his unhealed past. The guilt he feels is crushing his soul, and he cannot move forward until he deals with it, mentally blocked and unable to become a true writer (with the lone exception of Touko).

Miu, on the other hand, really is a piece of work. Or rather, she is a total mess. You want to hate her for her underhanded conniving, he clingy behavior, her constant lies and deceptions. It would have been so easy to just walk away from it all…but that would have solved *nothing* for Konoha, or for Miu. As despicable as her personality and actions are, it’s all just a desperate cry for help. And amazingly, it’s Touko that acts as the facilitator to guide them to the path of salvation.

The Verdict: Mmmmm…tasty!

MOVIE FINAL GRADE: B+ Believe it or not, after literally *hundreds* of reviews over the past several months, this is the very first time I’ve reviewed a full-length movie. Question is, what to do concerning grading and recommendations? Rather than treat it just like a run-of-the-mill twenty-minute anime episode and just plaster on a thumbs-up/down, movies should be treated more like completed series. Hence, a letter grade.

And my final thoughts? The movie is pretty good, and despite my misgivings about shoujo and romance stories in general, this one was enjoyable. Lots of dramatic tension and unexpected twists with (yay) a satisfying conclusion. Although the character designs are somewhat simplistic, the animation, art direction and storyboards are first class. The “weird premise” (e.g. paper-eating girl) is totally secondary to the main story itself, thankfully. On the negative side, it does get somewhat overly sentimental at times, and there are interactions with the secondary characters that are maddeningly unexplained. But focus on the main story and you’ll be fine.

For more info:

Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_Girl
My Anime List Entry and reviews: http://myanimelist.net/anime/6408/Bungaku_Shoujo
Video trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_Ut7JYSI_4

Summer and Fall 2010 Series up next: Hiyokoi (1), Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru (2-3), My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute (2-3), The World God Only Knows (2-3), Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (2-3), Psychic Detective Yakumo (2-3), Shinryaku! Ika Musume (2-3), Letter Bee Reverse (2-3), Bakuman (2-3), Otome Youkai Zakura (2-3), Kagurahime (2-3)

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