Before there was Chuunibyou (with a capital “C”) there was Aura. I’m not going to post a real review of the film, as I saw it in Japanese at a theater in Ikebukuro and unlike some of the raw films I’ve watched this year, I don’t think I can do it even take a stab at it until I see it subtitled. This is a very dialogue-heavy film, heavily reliant on the spoken word for emotional heft, and to try and capture it without having understood more of the dialogue would be pointless.
In terms of general impressions, I can say this much. While many already have compared it to Chuunibyou, Aura could hardly be more different. Tanaka Romeo is a very different sort of writer than Torako to begin with, and I don’t see Kishi Seiji directing for Kyoto Animation any time soon. More than anything, Aura is about bullying – the chuunibyou (small “c”) is the root cause, but it’s the phenomenon of bullying (sadly still quite endemic in Japan, especially at the middle-school level) that’s very much the heart of the story.
I haven’t read Tanaka’s LN version of Aura, but I knew it to be quite a departure from what we saw in Kishi’s adaptation of Tanaka’s Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita. While that series was deadly serious in its intellectual and moral explorations, it used absurd humor as the vehicle to do the exploring – Aura is a much darker and more restrained, literal style. The characters wear their pain on their sleeves and Kishi isn’t afraid to show it, or the dark side of those cruel souls who derive pleasure from causing pain to others. Neither Tanaka or Kishi is afraid to show people doing bad things, or eager to make excuses for them. Middle school is a harsh world, and the world of Aura isn’t coated in sugar to make it easier to swallow.
Visually, this is certainly not going to rival the likes of Eva Q or Ookami Kodomo. It’s an AIC project and while they’re capable of outstanding visuals (as witness Jinrui and Hourou Musuko) Aura is really more on the level of very strong TV animation rather than top-end cinematic quality. The performances are all quite solid – Kana Hanazawa wouldn’t have been my first choice as female lead Satou Ryouko but she does a better job than usual at subverting her persona to the role she’s playing, and Shimazaki Nobunaga brings a lot of authenticity to the main character, Satou Ichirou (as far as I can tell, no relation).
I’ll be back with a full review when the Blu-ray is released later this year. I liked what I saw, but it’s hard to make general statements about the quality of the work before then. I can say this much – Tanaka Romeo is one of the most interesting writers in Japanese pop culture, and I hope we see more of his work on our screens – big or small – soon.