From June 2019 (a much simpler time) comes the continuation of the Bunny Girl-Senpai anime, the broadcast of which ended without answering key questions about the nature of Sakuta’s first crush, Makinohara Shouko (Minase Inori). Don’t bother watching this movie without having seen the anime, my reviews for which you can read here.
Our titular Rascal Sakuta is actually doing fine with Mai as his busy actress/model girlfriend Mai. But one day a college-aged version of Shouko arrives at Sakuta’s apartment, ready to move in with the man she loves. Anxiety about the future from a much younger Shouko from the fourth grade led to her Adolescence Syndrome that created her future self in the present.
The younger Shouko reveals to Sakuta and Mai that she’s been in and out of the hospital all her life with a bum ticker; she wasn’t even expected to survive past middle school, hence her anxiety. The older Shouko was created to live out all of the plans her younger self couldn’t write down in that elementary school “future plans” exercise.
Those plans include not only graduating middle and high school and being admitted to college, but meeting the boy of her dreams, confess to him, and eventually marry him. For all those things to happen, Shouko needed a heart transplant, and while she’s doing a “trial run” wedding at a venue in a gown, Sakuta notices a scar on her chest and realizes it was he who gave her that new heart.
According to Rio, Shouko’s will was likely split between one who was resigned to dying young and one who sought to continue her life. Now the future Shouko tells Sakuta about a car accident that will claim his life and allow his heart to be donated to her. She gives him the choice between spending Christmas Eve with her or with Mai.
The wounds on Sakuta’s chest are the result of the contradiction of his heart being both in his chest and in that of the older Shouko. Now that Sakuta knows one version of his future and the doom that befalls him, it means he can act to change it. Preventing his accident spells doom for Shouko, but letting the accident happen means leaving Mai all alone.
Sakuta is desperate to try to have his cake and eat it to, but the bottom line is he simply can’t. And while it’s a tough choice, it’s not an impossible one. He visits the younger Shouko in the hospital to tell her that the both of them have done all they can.
For her part, Mai wants Sakuta to choose a future with her, and follow the older Shouko’s instructions to celebrate Christmas Eve at home where it’s safe. She even tries to lead him on a train journey to take them as far away as possible from a situation where she’d lose him, urging him to share the pain of choosing to live on with his girlfriend.
After paying young Shouko one last visit (she’s in the ICU), Sakuta has a change of heart, especially when he realizes Shouko knew he’d pick Mai. He rushes to meet with Shouko instead, and is almost run over by a van, but he’s saved by Mai, who dies in his place. This is a lot of story to keep track of, but it all unfolds relatively organically, and it’s all appropriately heartrending to behold.
Sakuta lives out a few more days after this Bad Ending partly in a numb daze, partly wracked in grief. His chest wounds are gone, which means Shouko never got his heart, and seemingly the entire region mourns the loss of the famous actress who was taken from them far too soon.
Sakuta wanders off, asking someone, anyone to save Mai, to not let things end this way. Then he’s approached…by Shouko. He may not have given her his heart, but she received Mai’s in secret and survived. Now she’s come to help him visualize the time they’re in as the future so he can travel back to the present and save Mai himself.
Sakuta falls asleep in a bed in the school infirmary and wakes up on Christmas Eve. He manages to find someone who can see and hear him (Koga Tomoe, who had a dream about him needing her in just such an occasion) and then reunites with Mai, the loss of whom is still so raw and fresh that he loses it upon seeing her.
Sakuta tells his past self that there’s nothing he can do for Shouko and that any attempt will cost Mai’s life, but as Sakuta is a stubborn ass, he doesn’t initially hear him. Meanwhile Mai tells him she was resolved to rescue him all along, and knows the other Sakuta would never save himself if it robbed Shouko of her future.
When the fateful moment at the icy intersection occurs this time, Sakuta is rescued by his future self (wearing a bunny mascot suit so his self won’t recognize him and cause a paradox). The future Sakuta then vanishes, merged with the present Sakuta…and Shouko vanishes as well. He then returns to a relieved Mai’s side.
Sacrificing Shouko still doesn’t sit right with Sakuta, however, so he and Mai agree to try to do what they can to help her, starting by visiting her in the ICU where she’s near death. But young Shouko tells Sakuta not to worry about her anymore; she’s seen everything that’s happened in her dreams, and intends to create a future where he and Mai won’t have the painful memories of her.
All the way back in the fourth grade, Shouko manages to fill out her future plans, resulting in a future where Sakuta and Mai indeed do not remember her, and seem to be far more at peace for it. They visit a shrine for the new year, and Sakuta prayed for less weird things to happen to him…a bit ironic considering that’s how he met Mai!
All the same, while discussing a movie in which Mai stars in a role identical to Shouko’s near the beach where Sakuta once dreamed of his first crush, he and Mai spot a girl running along the sand with her parents. It’s a young Shouko, alive and in good health. Suddenly memories of Shouko flood back into Sakuta’s head and he calls out her name…and she calls out his.
Dreaming Girl’s ninety minutes equate to five new episodes and a final arc that ties all of the anime’s storylines togethers. It’s a satisfying conclusion to as well as a dramatic elevation of the TV show; an emotional roller coaster that knows just which ways to twist and turn for maximum heart-wrenching. And it’s absolutely essential viewing for any Bunny Girl fan.