Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Six months ago, the five members of an otherwise ordinary high school literature club randomly developed mysterious supernatural powers. They range from amazingly powerful to kind of lame, but lone male member (and total chuuni) Ando is convinced that their lives are about to change…except they don't. Now they've got superpowers, but otherwise their daily lives go on as normal. Can having magical powers really make a difference if there's no reason for them to exist?
If you go into When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace expecting a show about supernatural battles, you're probably going to be disappointed. This series, based on the inevitable light novels, is basically the introduction to a larger plot about actual supernatural battles, or at least it gives off that impression. But even if the anime series ends just as things are getting started on that front, it's still a lot of fun due to its light touch with humor and charming characters learning to be true to themselves, which may be their greatest superpower of all.
The story follows the five members of a high school literature club: Tomoyo, Hatoko, Ando, Sayumi, and Chifuyu. Ando is a chuunibyou, a term that refers to someone who has an active fantasy life at an age where they really need to grow up and pare it back. While the girls tease Ando about his "disease," particularly Tomoyo, he's the lifeblood of the club, and when everyone mysteriously acquires their powers, he's the one who names them. A lot of the humor, particularly in early episodes, comes from the way that he employs alternate readings of kanji in his naming schemes. If you've ever picked up manga in the original Japanese, you may have seen kanji (Chinese characters) with smaller phonetic characters written above or beside them to indicate how they ought to be pronounced. In some cases, the phonetic characters may be read as an analogous English word; this is what Ando does when he's indulging his chuuni passions. So his power, a useless black flame, is written with the kanji for “black flame” but pronounced “dark and dark.” Some of the absurdity is lost if you don't realize this; likewise it's important to remember that “b” and “v” are as interchangeable as “l” and “r” in Japanese, since two specific jokes rely on the swap. It's likely that these gags came across better in the original novels, but both sub and dub tracks do their best to convey the visual humor aurally.
By and large it works, resulting in a pretty funny show. As is common with comedies, the English dub works better on that front simply because it's tailored to a more western sense of humor in terms of lines and delivery. It's a strong dub in general, with Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott turning in a very good performance as Ando and Shanae'a Moore's Tomoyo also being particularly well done. The biggest issue is name pronunciation, with “Tomoyo” sounding more like “Tomio” and a few difficulties with Chifuyu as well. Most impressively for both vocal casts is that most of the characters have the potential to be annoying but almost none of them are. This is especially true of both Ando and Tomoyo, who run closest to stereotypes but turn out to have more than they appear with more complex thoughts and feelings. All five of the main cast members are hiding their own scars beneath the surface, such as Chifuyu's lonely home life or Tomoyo's family problems. In the cases of Tomoyo and Hatoko, their issues come to influence the course of the story itself: Tomoyo's older brother Hajime has left home and gone off the deep end, while Hatoko's relationship frustrations with Ando come to an impressive head in episode seven, when she has a breakdown the likes of which we rarely see in anime.
The human component of this series makes it just as much as the absurd comedy does. Underneath the show's surface is a dark emotional underbelly that informs the characters' actions, with Ando perhaps being the truest to himself, although he also went through a period where he thought that he needed to give up what he loved – fantasy – in order to fit in better. In many ways, this is less about the wacky adventures of a bunch of kids who suddenly get useless magical powers and more about Ando showing his friends that you don't always need to be as adult or normal as others say you do. At one point, a character tells one of the girls that chuuni want to be understood, but not so much that they fit into the crowd – basically, they want to be accepted for who they are completely. While this sounds like the plot of 90% of middle grade novels, it's still an important statement in a Japanese series, where conformity is much more socially valued. It's that attitude that draws the girls to Ando even as it frustrates Hatoko, and it ultimately has more impact on them than the eponymous “battles.”
Toward the end of the show, specifically episodes eight and eleven, we do get some explanations about what's going on with the powers, but it's almost more of a distraction by that point, setting up what feels like an entirely different story than the one we've been watching, even if it does make Tomoyo's brother and one random male classmate named Sagami more relevant. Despite this, the final episode manages to wrap things up in a surprisingly satisfactory way. There are still questions looming, but not so many that you feel frustrated. Hatoko's behavior is actually more of a problem, as some of her behavior in episode eleven takes away from her earlier rant.
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is a fun story that's more slice-of-life than fantasy/action. Although there are battles and supernatural powers, the plot rides on the characters themselves and their interactions more than what they're actually doing in the larger world. With strong vocal performances in both language tracks, nice animation, and just an overall sense of fun, this is an enjoyable reminder that sometimes being true to who you are is the best superpower of all.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Nice character relationships and interactions, animation helps drive the sense of fun, strong voice acting with improved comedic delivery in the dub, Hatoko's rant is impressive
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