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!
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.
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.
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.