It's a time-travelling trip through a myriad of emotional highs and lows in Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl. Steve and Nick try to follow the rabbit trail only to discover...we've been here before?
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the movie ahead.
So as a quick refresher, we covered the TV anime back when it aired, and as I recall we were both fairly lukewarm on the concept and execution. But now we've had time to reflect and digest this new story, so has your impression of our titular little rascal changed at all?
Oh yeah he sucks way more now.
Real talk, while I felt the TV series mostly missed the mark, there were at least a couple arcs that I thought had something going for them, where I could see why others would latch onto it even if I couldn't. But Dreaming Girl is basically a 90 minute reminder of everything I disliked about its predecessor.
I'm sorta of two minds at the moment, because I am a big sap, and thusly this big sappy movie managed to sweep me up into some of the emotional heights. So I gotta give it props for that. BUT, I also think it ends up being a much weaker story than anything the show covered, and the adaptation doesn't do a whole lot to embellish it aside from leaning into certain emotional beats. My major opinion, though, is that we, as a society, cannot allow this to keep happening.
If only we could put Schrodinger's cat in some kind of container, to isolate it from the anime and light novel writers who keep pulling it out.
Anyway, the actual plot of Dreaming Girl revolves around the secret 6th girl in Sakuta's harem of Monogatari ripoffs, Shoko. Who in the TV show was basically a lengthy red herring who hung around while all the stuff with Mai and Sakuta's sisters was happening.
I suppose it would be more accurate to say it revolves around Shokos plural, because this time that freaky puberty syndrome manifests as multiple versions of Shoko from different points of her potential future existing simultaneously. Keyword there being potential, because I have bad news about present-day Shoko.
She's got anime disease.
Boy howdy let me tell you, revisiting Angel Beats! this year sure didn't make me feel any kinder towards this movie. Jun Maeda please come back. I'm sorry.
This is my first, and perhaps most important issue with the film as compared to the series. All the prior arcs had puberty syndrome arise as a result of psychological issues stemming from bullying or some adjacent societal problem. There's a richness, complexity, and universality to those issues that warrant their exploration through the weird, allegorical means common to franchises like this one. Comparatively, giving an adorable little girl an incurable heart condition is easy mode tragedy. It's such a cheap shot.
See that's the rub. I kind of lied when I said this story is about Shoko, because it's not. Shoko is around in a lot of it, and she's integral to moving the plot along, but in terms of who gets the emotional focus and character development, this is entirely about Sakuta and how sad he is that Shoko is dying and GOSH if only he could save her because her dying is just so sad for him to watch. Well, she's also there so Mai can act jealous over Sakuta for the 100 millionth time in this series because that never gets old, right?
Mai gets done so dirty by this film, and I'm not even talking about the big twist midway through. She just really doesn't get to do much besides yell at Sakuta when he's being a huge idiot, which is most of the time.
You see, it's funny because she's constantly defensive against every girl in Sakuta's life and doesn't trust him despite them supposedly being in love. This is what a happy relationship is like right?
Also, one of the main gripes I had with the TV series was that it never properly interrogated Sakuta's selfishly selfless and self-destructive pathology. That's pretty much what this film is about, so I guess I'm somewhat thankful for that. It was satisfying to see Mai call him out on his bullshit here.
I'd be with you there if the movie actually did interrogate it, but by the end credits it doesn't really feel like Sakuta's learned to stop feeding his nascent hero complex so much as he's learned to redirect it entirely at his girlfriend.
Oh for sure, I don't think the movie went nearly as far or as explicitly as it should have in that regard, but an attempt was made, as they say.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The first half hour of the movie is basically just subdued sitcom shenanigans as Sakuta hangs out with Future Shoko and tries to figure out how to get her puberty syndrome to chill out. And I do appreciate the movie's honesty in that their first attempt is to just have her marry Sakuta to fulfill her life's dream. This series knows what it's selling, at least.
The first act is meandering as hell and I don't feel like I ever get a proper grasp on Shoko as a person. Shoko only exists within the terms of her weird not-relationship with Sakuta. That doesn't end up being enough to connect with her as a character, which also ends up hurting the emotional focus of the film.
It also doesn't help that, once now and forever, Sakuta sucks. He's somehow more flatly written than in the TV series and every time a girl falls in love with him the first and only question on my mind is:
There's just something about bland anime boys. At least Mai acts like a proper thirsty human being about it tho.
Conversely, that wedding hall scene was supposed to be bittersweet, and it properly is once we get the full context of what Shoko is doing, but it comes across as weirdly puritanical and manipulative in the moment.
Oh right, after that we get the first twist of the movie. And again, Jun Maeda, I owe you so many apologies.
Which leads to the central conflict: someone is going to die, so with that knowledge, who wants to die the most?
Cut to Sakuta standing outside trying to pick out a car to run him over
So it is extremely frustrating to have Sakuta waffle back and forth what feels like forever regarding whether he's willing to give up his life to let Shoko live. Like, it's a rough situation and a complex moral question to be sure, but ultimately Sakuta doesn't think about it so much as literally just run into traffic in the heat of the moment. So all the ethical underpinnings kind of dissipate in the end.
It's also just a magnificently shitty way to make Shoko even less of a character. Even her own death ultimately has to be about what Sakuta wants. And to be clear, she doesn't want him to effectively kill himself to save her. She says so multiple times along with every other person in Sakuta's life, but god knows nothing can stop this boy from RSVPing his own pity party.
And this is after he himself commits (correctly!) to not going through with it. Mai does get through to him, but then he does an immediate 180 after seeing Shoko in the hospital. It's almost like he lacks object permanence and instead emotionally attaches himself onto whichever girl he saw crying most recently.
Don't you see Steve he's just so kind and generous that he can't help but give too much of himself when he sees a sad girl. But it's ok because even if Mai misses him she'll be okay. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Basically the universe decides to give him a taste of his own medicine, which finally, finally makes him realize (however briefly) that maybe he shouldn't follow through on every single messianic instinct. There are consequences to his actions beyond him.
Unfortunately Sakuta is somehow denser than Shiro Emiya, if that's possible, so the only thing he takes away in the long run is he should have been harder to push.
Yeah, I mean, that's my charitable take. You could also argue he just gets very sad that his girlfriend dies, blames it on himself, and would have kept spiraling into depression if Shoko hadn't shown up with her magic time-traveling bed.
The moment Future Shoko brought up Time Travel I had a desperate, doomed hope that this would devolve into a Futurama gag where Sakuta and Mai keep going back in time to die for each other until we just have a minivan plowing through a street of teenagers like bowling pins. Alas it just ends up with Sakuta re-enacting the end of Bill & Ted with himself.
Tbh, the whole movie is kinda worth it for this one shining moment of clarity where Sakuta does in fact realize how insufferable he is.
I do genuinely like that the quantum mechanics of it means Sakuta has to get somebody to observe him to actually manifest. It's a cheeky little callback to the original arc that made me smile even as I rolled my eyes at everything else.
Out with the bunny girl senpai. In with the bunny boy kouhai.
Disappointed he chickened out and went the kigurumi route. Put the fishnets and bustier on and stop being a coward, boy.
I want to like it, but history with this series taught me that Sakuta isn't a character designed to have his motivations and psyche dissected by the narrative. He's an existence meant to lionize his particular brand of empathy that insists he must help every person he encounters and the show always steps back from criticizing him too harshly so it can reward him being such a nice guy.
Spoiler Alert: We are discussing the end of this film.
Which is why this part I do like is unfortunately undermined by the remainder of the film, where everyone does in fact get a happy ending and it's questionable what, if anything, Sakuta actually learned about himself.
Like sure, he does make peace with Future Shoko and then push his past self out of the way. It's like reverse Donnie Darko when you think about it. But then after being sad for a week he realizes they can use relativity or whatever to save Past Shoko from becoming Present Shoko so Future Shoko never has to die. Or Something. I admit by this point I was playing on my phone.
Whereas the first act was meandering, the final act rushes through this whole resolution to Shoko's issue. And I'm still not entirely clear how fourth-grade Shoko is supposed to, uh, cure a heart condition. Gumption I guess?
I like to believe that the driver of the car that failed to kill Sakuta dies and she gets his heart instead.
Because at least then there's some kind of consequence to all this.
Oh I meant to bring that up! In every outcome, that driver clearly gets dealt the rawest hand out of anybody. They don't even bother telling us if anyone in the car is okay. That's kinda messed up for a series that's supposed to be about empathy.
Like, there was in fact something you could do and it was not walk into traffic.
Maybe we'll get to meet the sad daughter of the driver in Rascal Does Not Dream Of Traumatized By Vehicular Manslaughter Sensei or something.
Oh and there's also like, a two minute conflict where if they change the past Sakuta and Mai might never meet, I think? It doesn't actually mean anything but they sure do brush it off even though I think if that happened Mai would have vanished from existence in the first arc.
Well, they have to bring it up because time travel and paradoxes and butterfly effect and so on and so forth. As with some other parts of Bunny Girl Senpai, it feels like the story going through the motions it knows it's supposed to, even if it doesn't really care about it. And here it clearly doesn't, because the consequences end up being nil. Everything works out perfectly without anybody having to do anything. Which is great! But as a result, the drama in the final act ends up feeling especially contrived.
The story tries to be about Sakuta making a hard choice and living with the consequences because he realizes he can't save every sad girl who comes into his periphery. Except it turns out he totally can and just needed to be smarter about it. So don't worry, no consequences for anyone! Future Past Shoko is now Present Shoko and she's seemingly totally fine and she even remembers him. Hooray.
And to be fair, I was A-OK with that in the moment! I was tearing up in all the right places, and I was glad to see lil' Shoko get a happy anime-disease-free life. Even though I have issues with the film's overall construction, on the micro scale it works perfectly well for me as a good tearjerker, and sometimes that's all I need in my life.
Also to be fair, I'm currently in the midst of playing the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, so every part of me is in a heightened emotional state for the time being.
Look it's clear by now I have very few kind words for this movie, but I want to stress I did approach it in good faith. The Violet Evergarden movie took me by surprise and charmed me with an IP I was less than impressed with, and I was totally open to this movie doing the same. But then I got to the scene where we find out Mai starred in an in-universe movie that's just this movie and I flipped off my computer screen.
A bit much, yes.
And I think that tidbit is the deciding factor in Dreaming Girl. If that seems like a cheeky wink to you, the viewer, then you'll probably like this movie. If it looks like somebody huffing their own farts in a paper bag and begging you to be impressed, you can join me in the salt mines.
Yeah, I don't think it'll be changing anyone's mind on the franchise, but if you wanted more Bunny Girl Senpai, this most certainly is that! And if you don't, well,
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