Nerawareta Gakuen

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Seki Kenji is a seemingly average, clumsy junior high student who lives with his grandfather and baby sister, and lives next door to the athletic Ryouura Natsuki, his childhood friend who harbors feelings for him. Kenji and Natsuki start the first day of school meeting their friend Kahori Harukawa, who Kenji has a crush on, but before that Kenji meets the new transfer student, Kyougoku Ryouichi, for the first time.

Ryouichi turns out to be a time traveler from a future where mankind has abandoned Earth and live on the moon. He has come to awaken the psychic powers of people in Kenji’s time. Kahori falls in love with him at first sight, leading to her rejecting Kenji, who is later confessed to by Natsuki in no uncertain terms. As Kenji, Natsuki, and Kahori struggle with their relationships, the student body is being reprogrammed by Ryouichi, and the council becomes more and more averse to cell phones. Ryouichi warns Kenji that they’ll have to fight, but agrees to put it off so the four of them can have a day at the beach.

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When it’s over, Kenji’s time on Earth is almost up, he reciprocates his feelings for Kahori, but knows her memory of him will vanish when he returns to the moon. Kenji’s psychic powers are released by his grandfather, and he uses them to return Ryouichi to his time. He goes with him, telling Natsuki to wait for him. After they’re gone, neither Kahori or Natsuki remember Ryouichi or Kenji. But one day, at the start of another school year, the two girls discuss the new transfer student, and Kenji reappears, along with Natsuki’s memories of him.

While we tend to focus nearly exclusively on television anime, we find it important to check out a film once and a while, to see what a big budget and one-and-three-quarter-plus running time can do. This film does quite a bit, transporting us into an epically gorgeous and lush seaside town and drawing us into the lives of kids who’d realize how gosh-darn lucky they are to live in such an idyllic world if they weren’t constantly pining for one another. With all kinds of jumps, flips, bounces, and blows, the fluid animation brings Kenji, Natsuki, Kahori and Ryouichi to life at a level television can’t ever match with consistency.

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The visuals are all on, all the time, a picture of otherworldly hyperrealism to reflect how Ryouichi sees the Earth after living his whole life on the moon, with unblinking eyes. Our Favorite Seiyu Hanazawa Kana lends her voice to the surface-perfect Kahori, while Natsuki is voiced by the up-and-coming Wantanabe Mayu, who knocks it out of the park in the first thing we ever heard her in. Natsuki’s incessant teasing got on our nerves at first, but before long we were rooting for her. Just as ambitious as the sights and sounds is the sprawling story of two separate worlds and a moving love polygon that resolves itself in a way that’s to our liking (there’s one kiss in particular that was stunning in its execution).

There’s a lovely recurring theme of mirrors. The teacher likens theater to a mirror through which the audience see versions of themselves. Natsuki, whose love for Kenji is (initially) one-sided – sees Kenji (who has the same one-sided feelings for Kahori) as a mirror. The moon mirrors the earth. The mechanics of time travel and the awakening and use psychic powers are handled elegantly and without too much fuss. In the end, Ryouichi may have failed the mission his father sent him on, but his presence on earth led to Natsuki’s feelings finally reaching Kenji, creating the possibility that the two needn’t remain nothing more or less than just neighbors.

In fact, one of our only gripes with this film might just be its title, translated as “Psychic School Wars” – which hardly does the film justice.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

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