Reviewby Rose Bridges,
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
Andou, Tomoyo, Hatoko and Sayumi comprise the literature club of their ordinary high school. Sometime ago, the four of them—along with their advisor's elementary-school-age niece, Chifuyu—suddenly acquired various supernatural powers. So did Kudou, the student council president who is envious of the Literature Club's bond, and suspicious of their activities. Yet all these students' lives have gone on as before, as mundane as ever. As a self-admitted chuunibiyou, Andou dreams of when he'll get to use his power—useless black flames he calls “Dark and Dark”—in a dramatic supernatural battle. The more-powerful girls try to keep him out of trouble as they all secretly practice their abilities in the Literature Club.
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is many things. Firstly, it's a light novel adaptation, as its lengthy title might indicate. It has the familiar marks of the genre: chuunibiyou characters with insights into how they tick, goofy school antics and a harem for the main male chuuni. Yet it also tries at some self-awareness—for example, with monologues about how alienating chuunis can be for their fellow outcasts. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, since the very premise is "what if the characters had superpowers but were stuck in a slice-of-life high school comedy?"
The show is also deeply in the shadow of Studio Trigger's previous success, Kill la Kill. Supernatural Battles apes its popular predecessor's visual style and animation techniques. It also designs characters with cartoonish round edges and comedic, stilted movements. That's no mark against it; Kill la Kill's intentionally "bad" animation was a lot of its charm and a fun artistic choice. It makes it hard to evaluate Battles as its own beast, though. And it seems like Trigger doesn't want you to, as it takes every opportunity to remind you of its flagship series. The tennis racket lying by the side has life fibers. That's Mako Mankanshoku swimming past in the pool episode. The visual gags referencing Kill la Kill are fun, but also clearly indicate how much Battles isn't trying to be its own thing. It's for fans of its source material, presumably, and people who liked Trigger's previous works.
At least the characters are distinctive, and fun to watch bounce off each other. And along the way, there are some real gems in Battles's character writing. Each girl is well-developed into her own character, especially Tomoyo, who pretends to be cool but secretly shares Andou's love of light novels and even plans to write her own, and Hatoko, Andou's childhood friend who now has little in common with him. The dynamic is nothing new, but Battles adds its own spin on it by specifically rooting it in “chuunibiyou” culture. Tomoyo's bond with Andou encourages her to embrace her geekier side, and enter her light novel in a competition. Meanwhile, with Hatoko it emphasizes how she and Andou are growing apart. She delivers an extended rant to him about this in episode 7, the show's strongest by far. In it, she calls out to him how she's sick of him waving her off as “not understanding” his weird interests, instead of explaining them to her. She's sick of the exclusion. She likes him and wants to understand better! Her frustration is specifically rooted in her romantic rivalry with Tomoyo, of course, but it's a familiar one to any girl who's dealt with exclusionary geeky guys. (The rant gets in some good cracks, too, at how chuuni think random English words or negative ideas like “darkness” and “sin” are automatically cool.) Battles also earns points by not pitting its girls against each other for liking the same boy. It therefore joins Kill la Kill in bringing something to the table for both male and female otaku. It has plenty of fanservice (Sayumi's bouncing boobs) and gross sex humor (like one dull gag about Andou being mistaken for a lolicon). Yet it also develops its female characters well, and makes them relatable to women watching the show.
Andou himself is endearing, if predictable, as the male lead for this sort of thing. He's a showy doofus, but one with a big heart. It's easy to see why some of the girls would fall for him. Some—not all. Along with the two previously mentioned, elementary-schooler Chifuyu's crush on Andou is also understandable. Even the dorkiest teenager looks super-cool to you when you're that age. Chifuyu herself is a fun character, if nothing new in anime: the innocent little girl who's surprisingly worldly. It isn't gross like the usual examples, though. She's just savvy in ways the older kids don't expect. I also really liked aloof, serious Sayumi, though her crush on Andou came out of nowhere, as did the one from antagonistic student council president Kudou. In short, Battles tried too hard to enforce its harem, making it hard to take it seriously as an “affectionate parody” of the genre. Even straight examples usually leave at least some of the love interests on the subtextual level for a reason. You can't believably develop that many romances in a 12-episode runtime. That's especially true when you're trying for a larger story.
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace does try for just that, and that's where the show really falls apart. Its premise alone is intriguing—watching the kids find uses for their new powers in a mundane setting. The show doesn't need actual supernatural hijinks, enemies and worldbuilding to explain it all. At least, it shouldn't detract from the personal relationships that drive its drama, which is what that contrived conflict does. There's no resolution to the “which girl will Andou pick?” arc as a result of this. With the harem elements, it means Battles never gets to be the genre commentary it seemingly wants to be. Episode 7 was a great example of sticking it to the genre and subculture's less savory elements. It wasn't a sign of things to come, though. The show was too focused on pandering to chuuni to really make its messages stick and ultimately mean anything.
That desire to have its cake and eat it too was all over Kill la Kill as well. The show tried to say something about clothing and nudity while simultaneously indulging fanservice in every scene. “Teasing depth and never delivering” was the wrong thing to take from that show going forward, and unfortunately, that's what Trigger did if Battles is any indication. Kill la Kill did at least have fun characters and a tight story, though, so it didn't matter if it didn't have much of a “message.” It was a fun watch regardless. Battles can't even be that, because it's too unfocused. It's trying to be too many things at once. There are about three better shows in here, but combined they're just a muddled mess.
Still, there are moments of hope in When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace. The hints of strong character writing (even if they don't reach their fruition) make it a worthier entry than many light-novel adaptations. That isn't enough to recommend the show as a whole, though. There are so many signs of how Battles could have been better, it's just that much more disappointing that it wasn't.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : A
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Fun and mostly well-written characters; similar exaggerated aesthetics to other Trigger shows
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