Bungaku Shoujo – Grading Grating Adaptations

[Doki] Bungaku Shoujo (1920x1080 h264 BDv2 FLAC) [52D495EF].mkv_00:00:57_08-30-13

Watching a light novel adaptation is not always the most rewarding venture. Production IG’s film adaptation of the well-known Bungaku Shoujo series is no exception, literally springboarding all of its characters from mere foppery and whim. One after another, each character drops a plumpy mess with assumed yet undelivered backstories. And as the screen reels itself out, the first thought on everyone’s mind is, “Why should I care about these moving mouths?”.

High school student Konoha Inoue sees bibliofetishist Touko Amano tear a small piece of paper from a book and devour it; so naturally, he now has to join the Literature club and be her slave for the rest of his high school life! If lenient, this one event can be overlooked, as it’s nothing anime viewers haven’t seen being done a thousand Haruhis over.

But, these confounded premises—of which could be called nothing but a chain of absurdities—keep piling like Chinese dominoes. Delicate yet grating Kotobuki has a crush on Konoha for inexplicable reasons. Touko can only eat paper (also for inexplicable reasons) and yet is able to aptly describe its taste compared to human edible food (again, inexplicable). Konoha has childhood trauma, which may or may not have to deal with the fact that he used to be a famous female author. Oh, and why not add a very very needy ex-girlfriend voiced by drama (but lovable) queen Aya Hirano? With a poop caliber like this, Production IG unwittingly decides that the best course of action is the Mari Okada course of action: mount cloying angst on top of more cloying angst! As a result, there’s such a paltry disservice toward character history that these fatty emotions rarely feel genuine. Backstory? I don’t know such alien terms!

[Doki] Bungaku Shoujo (1920x1080 h264 BDv2 FLAC) [52D495EF].mkv_00:24:04_08-30-13

Fortunately, I’m a sappy little princess by heart, and I really feel I have a weakness for these types of sappy writings. But this also often makes me more critical of Bungaku Shoujo‘s flaws when it misdelivers its romantic content. Once in a while, the childhood issues can feel almost eerie in its uncanny depiction of a past and pure love. However, the rest stumbles about as stated, due to its lack of context. Bungaku Shoujo aims to trickle the relevant character history elegantly into the story, but it forays weightier drama than what our offerings so far warrant. “I love you! Be with me! … Actually I hated you. You should have known!”. Right.

The story does feature a relaxed pacing after its jumpstart, and easily smoothens itself into the story. But the problem here is that this pacing remains static, which is opposite from the intuitive, dynamic approach given that Bungaku Shoujo‘s plot features so many roadbumps in logic. It’s not surprising then that the resultant character drama and romances fumble around for quite a bit, until we arrive at a more rounded understanding. Perhaps what’s most derisive (and unintentionally comical) is that the ending defeats the purpose of this sluggish build-up anyways. From an hour-long expense on Asakura’s clingy psychological issues, the lone solution turns out to be a metaphysical stargazing intervention.

If only such a line works in real life.

If only such a line works in real life. ( ゚ ヮ゚)ノ゛

Moreover, wholly emulating the vantage point of the classic novel Night on the Galactic Railroad is really a pity. Every time I hear another reference, I see Bungaku Shoujo grasp through pretenses at a higher intellectual and substantive level than it actually offers. More to the point, enacting a plot verbatim and literally fourth-walling that text, makes for a very dull and uninspired viewing. “Campanella’s wish”, for instance, is literary jargon worded and reworded so frequently in the film that it no longer holds any meaning beyond “wish” itself.

Luckily, there is one character which keeps the film from being on the level of “simultaneously crying” dramas. While not necessarily the main character in the film (despite being named before the title), Bungaku Shoujo makes it blatantly obvious why Touko is the greatest character in the story. Touko manages to keep the mood upbeat using her eccentric while very sincere personality. Neither does she require such a theatrical history as the rest of the gang. She is also a stickler to her pristine (but never obnoxious) notion of righteousness, analyzing problems with a rational methodology and taking a stand when the rest around her fall in despair. With Chitanda eyes, a passion for mysteries literature, and sensibility in dire situations, Touko manages to wave a magic wand in the air and say, “No Bungaku Shoujo! You won’t just be melodrama!”.

This is a bit of a side point, but it’s interesting just how whimsical Konoha’s romantic feelings can be. He falls in and out of love so many times it’s not unexpected to see him genuinely confess to multiple girls within very close time frames. I only wish the film had brought this point up in a less campy way.

[Doki] Bungaku Shoujo (1920x1080 h264 BDv2 FLAC) [52D495EF].mkv_00:23:43_08-30-13

There is something to be said of its romantic style at least. Works of this genre love to dip their hands in the same suite of tools—slow pacing, vexing drama, a few stereotypes, and heavily, heavily oppressive atmospheres. Just the right recipe makes the world go round, but oftentimes anything more may make for a propelling mass of feces. Bungaku Shoujo fortunately does know its mood, and it employs its various techniques astutely coming from this. I guess precise attention to detail is one enamored aspect for high budget adaptations in general. One noteworthy feature here is the employment of first-person camera angles, many times panning the anicamera from Konoha’s visual field. This substantially complements his flashbacks by offering his lone, limited viewpoint independent of still frames.

There’s also blissful, oneiric music enhanced by a very understated pastel color palette; this grants a very vibrant nature to the work which renders a well-crafted atmosphere. Beautiful scenery also keeps this intact from scene to scene, as well as from foreground to background. There are some klutzy uses of CGI (as expected of a Production IG product), oftentimes resulting in very transparent shots that leave you marveling at its peculiar usage rather than at the shot’s effect. And the character artwork—as a remark almost intrinsic within the anime medium itself—is really quite primitive. Many characters here in particular share the same facial shapes and outlines, with little distinctive features save for color choices, hairstyles, and outfits. The dedication toward polygonal facial features is also a bit unnerving, but, well, I find it unnerving in a lot of anime.

Candidly speaking, Bungaku Shoujo should have cut its length by at least a third, as well as offer a less diluted, sluggish, and imbalanced experience. The story can be touching at times, but this adaptation should have consistently paired the right content with the right amount of forethought.

Score: Poor (4/10)
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6 comments

  1. Had you watched the three OVAs before the movie?

    1. Nope. Looks like they were released in monthly installments after the movie. Do they fare any better? I was honestly only interested in watching the adaptations because I wanted to see what the Bungaku Shoujo series was like. Plus, the thought of a bookworm-devouring-books was at the least a very interesting idea. Unfortunately the film sort of killed that motivation to finish anything else, heh.

      1. I watched them before the movie and I think it was the right choice since it introduced separately the story of each girl and don’t have the same tone. It kinda prepared me better to watch the movie, but judging from your negative review I’m not sure you’ll like them :/ After all, I did enjoy the movie, although I can’t say it’s a masterpiece. If I were to rate all of them, I’d be more lenient: at least a 7/10.

        I’ve read one manga based on a novel, the one with the mimic, and I’ll have to admit I grimaced that every time there’s a well-known book as a base. It kinda seems that the writer can’t write a story on his/her own.

      2. I do want to enjoy Bungaku Shoujo more than I didn’t, but the pacing and character development really killed it for me. A lot of the flaws I fuss about do seem to lie in fault to the adaptation alone (save for the story structure using another text as its backbone, like you state) so I’m still willing to give the novels a shot. While I didn’t like the film, I’d still say it was a worthwhile watch, at the very least to see what was adapted correctly or poorly.

  2. Bungaku Shoujo is one of those works which I really SHOULD have loved (I’m a sucker for stories about characters who aspire to be writers), but it sadly fell very short of the mark. Instead of a bittersweet tale of achieving ones’ childhood dreams, we got a rather typical bout of teenage melodrama and clingy girlfriends. Like you mentioned, the poor pacing and, at times, completely illogical character development hampered it. There were also elements that I felt weren’t properly realized, such as Touko’s role in the story. If my memory serves correctly, most of the focus was on Konoha and his clingy osananajimi, causing Touko to take a back seat. It’s a bit of a shame, as she had an interesting dynamic with our hapless protagonist that I would’ve liked to see more of (kudos to Production IG for handling the atmosphere of their scenes well). In short, Bungaku Shoujo was a disappointment and had little value beyond trying to cheaply pull at our heartstrings.

    On the topic of the film’s failure to integrate literary references into the script, I’d recommend checking out the visual novel Forest if you haven’t already. Forest pulls plot threads from many classic texts such as Alice in Wonderland, Narnia and Peter Pan to construct a surrealistic environment that its characters interact with. The work also delves into the very nature of stories and their adapted products, resulting in an experience that just screams META at every corner. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it if you ever get around to finishing it!

    1. That’s another peculiar thing about Bungaku Shoujo. Despite the title and many poster covers marking clearly the best girl, Touko doesn’t appear as frequently in the story as you would expect. Titular characters and/or poster girls don’t need to be the main character (particularly in Haruhi derivatives), but there should at least be some sensibility toward why titles are named after them. Touko does hold a pivotal role here, but she’s largely absent during the rising conflicts. Also, perhaps if she appeared more often in the various scenes where Konoha is at the hospital, the work wouldn’t have stagnated as much in pacing.

      Sure, I’ll let you know when I’m done! Forest takes an interesting approach to intertextual references, whether cloning story structures, characters, or line for line. Thankfully, while those British children’s novels serve as the foundation for its story, it never goes at length to explicitly make every connection (oftentimes intentionally obscuring and subverting them instead, usually to an ironic effect). It’s an odd experiment, and I haven’t quite concluded on what side—”too much” or “just right”—I am on. Of course, there’s also the fact that these references are only one of many techniques to fill in that lunatic atmosphere, so there’s other merits in the story despite whatever one feels about the heavy reference base.

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