Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl
In Fujiwara, where the skies are bright and the seas glisten, Sakuta Azusagawa is in his second year of high school. His blissful days with his girlfriend and upperclassman, Mai Sakurajima, are interrupted by the appearance of his first crush, Shoko Makinohara. For reasons unknown, he encounters two Shokos: one in middle school and another who has become an adult. When Sakuta finds himself helplessly living with the adult Shoko, she leads him around by the nose, causing a huge rift in his relationship with Mai. In the midst of all this, he discovers that the middle school Shoko is suffering from a grave illness and his scar begins to throb...
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai was a sleeper hit last year. The anime told a surprisingly thoughtful story about relationships and problems of growing up through the lens of supernatural phenomena. Although there's nothing particularly new about its ideas or its format of "fixing one girl's problem per arc," Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai had its moments when the struggles of its characters felt painfully real, making it one of the better high school dramedies in recent years.
However, I must confess that I was on the fence over watching a film about Shoko. In the TV series, she was the mysterious waif character with a connection to the protagonist's past. It was obvious that she was being set up as a "final boss" of sorts that the series would have to address eventually, but at the same time I wasn't that interested in finding out more about her character. I felt that the series was stronger when exploring the platonic relationships between friends and siblings, rather than the characters with a romantic interest in Sakuta. Even though Sakuta and Mai have been in a stable relationship since the series' first arc, the inclusion of multiple love interests that Sakuta has to "save" made the series feel more like a boilerplate harem romcom.
True to form, Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl opens with its most frustrating material. It's revealed almost nonchalantly that there are two Shokos: the one Sakuta encountered when he was middle school, and the younger one in middle school who was introduced in episode 6 of the TV series and doesn't appear to remember Sakuta. From there, the film doesn't waste time in getting the older Shoko to cohabitate with Sakuta for the sake of romcom shenanigans. It's getting mildly ridiculous that Sakuta has to pretend to date or live with all these girls who aren't his girlfriend, and Mai is getting fed up with it. You and me both, Mai.
Gradually, the truth behind Shoko's condition is revealed, and Sakuta is confronted with a choice between Shoko and Mai—but not the kind of choice you'd expect. There's never any question that the person Sakuta loves right now is Mai, but the choice he has to make is still a cruel one. This culminates in the most dramatic story the Rascal series has ever tackled, to the extent that it almost seems to belong to another genre. But it's satisfyingly climactic, and I could understand why this arc was chosen to be adapted into a film.
There's no question in my mind that Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl is essential viewing for anyone who was a fan of the TV series. The film resolves some of the lingering questions from the TV series, and the overarching story of the series progresses in a notable way. Sakuta and Mai's relationship gets plenty of solid development too, but I wouldn't actually call this film my favorite arc in the series; for all the heightened stakes involved, it also falls into cliches and too-convenient plot devices. I won't spoil any specific events, but the final act felt distinctly rushed. I think the film's biggest problem is that the plot took too long to get going, resulting in some scenes that didn't have the time to breathe.
That's not to say that I didn't love this film, because it's a real tearjerker. The story hits its stride roughly halfway through its duration and goes to some places that I honestly wasn't expecting. Despite the film being nominally about Shoko, I think that Sakuta and Mai are its greatest assets, because the love and devotion between those two is incredibly touching. The series may indulge in harem trappings from time to time, but when the focus is on its central romance, it has the feel of a pure and sentimental teen love story, the kind that's popular among mainstream Japanese audiences. Even if the romance is not my favorite part of the series, I think that the film is a perfect encapsulation of what makes the Sakuta and Mai relationship so endearing.
Production-wise, this movie maintains many of the core strengths of the TV anime. The storyboarding and direction are strong enough at conveying the weight of each scene that the animation doesn't need to be extravagant, but there are still some great animated cuts anyway, especially when it comes to portraying Shoko. Her exuberance is perfectly captured in the character animation, which helps sell her as a character even when it feels like the plot temporarily shoves her into the background. The music is also a strong point, especially during the sentimental scenes. I was pleasantly surprised that the TV series ED theme "Fukashigi no Karte" is also the ED theme of the film. The vocals are sung by both Mai and Shoko's actresses, further emphasizing that this arc is just as much a Mai story as a Shoko one.
There are other little details I appreciated about this film, like how all the established characters get a role to play, even Tomoe, who has been neglected since the second arc of the TV series. It was also nice to get a continuation of Kaede's character arc after the ending of the TV series. There's also a hilarious callback to the first arc which would have had me cracking up if the context wasn't so serious. The film brings all the major themes and characters in its greater story full circle and will probably make you laugh and cry in the process. If you're a fan of the Rascal series, it's your duty to see its grand climax in this movie.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Tearjerker plot that breaks new ground for the series, satisfyingly brings all the themes and characters full circle
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