When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace
Episode 7

by Paul Jensen,

I can't recall when the “chuunibyou” phenomenon started cropping up in anime, but it's quickly become a favorite topic for more than one genre in the medium. It's a useful idea that can easily serve as a springboard for stories about the struggle to find a place in the world. While other shows have done a respectable job of examining chuunibyou from an insider's perspective, When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace goes a step further.

With Jurai and Tomoyo established as the chuunibyou champions of the series, this episode sets Hatoko up as someone who just doesn't get it. As much as she may care about Jurai, she can't understand his interests. The novels he recommends to her are an unreadable mess of random words borrowed from foreign mythology. His tendency to give everything an alias is confusing instead of cool. It's inevitable that she eventually gets fed up with playing along.

When Hatoko finally does snap, she delivers a surprisingly biting criticism of several things that the show has been gently mocking. She's especially tough on the deliberate exclusivity of Jurai's particular brand of fandom. Hatoko calls him out for acting like a smug expert when all he's done is look up a bunch of obscure names and concepts online. From her perspective, all he's doing is making it harder for her to be a part of his world. By the time Hatoko's done, it's difficult for the audience to avoid feeling guilty by association. It's not uncommon for an anime series to rant about how society makes it hard to fit in as a geek or otaku, but this particular scene flips the script. It forces the viewer to acknowledge that the reverse is also true: it's not easy for a “normal” person to fit in with an otaku crowd.

It initially feels like Tomoyo and her writing ambitions get an unnecessary amount of screen time, but it ultimately lends some additional context to Hatoko's troubles. Seeing Jurai and Tomoyo understand each other so easily drives home how out of the loop she feels. As the episode moves forward, Jurai's frequent assertions that Hatoko “wouldn't understand” or “wouldn't be interested” start to take on a double meaning. From Jurai's perspective, he's being considerate by not forcing his interests on Hatoko. From her point of view, those phrases are an unwanted reminder that there's a part of Jurai she's unable to understand or connect with. It's a compelling take on a seemingly innocent phrase.

For all its good points, this episode is weighed down by all that talking. One of the core rules of visual storytelling is "show don't tell," and this episode does an awful lot of telling. Some characters are so straightforward and eloquent in their speech that their dialogue ends up feeling too rehearsed. In its desire to get ideas across in exactly the right way, the script forgets that the characters still need to sound like real people. It's not a serious offense, but it does make things a bit more conceptual and a bit less emotional.

Small missteps aside, this is a strong episode that tackles an issue most series gloss over. It takes guts to criticize part of your target audience, and this series deserves credit for taking that risk. It's been tough to predict where the story will go from week to week, but the surprises continue to be pleasant ones. If this week's preview is anything to go by, we might even see some honest-to-goodness supernatural battles next week. Considering the show's title, it's about darn time.

Rating: B+

When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Paul Jensen also covers anime and manga at SharkPuppet.com.

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