This will be a comparably shorter post. I haven’t written anything in almost two weeks as I’ve been pretty busy lately with graduate coursework, research, and grad school apps; so I’ll just toss a few rushed writings here for the potential discussion. Anything’s better than nothing, right? (This is considerably untrue, but whatever, accept it senpais!)
I’ll admit that Aura has been a totally unexpected surprise. After all, as the first several minutes roll out, one can’t help feel it’s all been done before. Sure, fans of Aura (or Romeo Tanaka most particularly; I don’t think most people care for Kishi or AIC) will defend the content by saying Tanaka wrote the material for Aura long before KyoAni’s Chuu2 was conceived. However, it still falls a little short of novel invention due to its plain framework. This was my first impression coming straight into the first few minutes. However, I’ve been tremendously taken aback by its direction. Aura set outs to handle the chuunibyou affair in a more realistic, more palatable, and ultimately more approachable and insightful method that deserves nothing short of praise.
These derivations are essentially pearls before swine. Satou’s drama is handled far better than the KyoAni counterpart, and this is because the direction is played more realistically and the notion far less glorified. It also does not rely on an ‘anime’ soundtrack (indeed, it’s quite plainly void more than half the time) nor does it needlessly bask in splendid but irrelevant background scenery. The work relates Satou to us by virtue of his behaviorisms, the narrative’s pacing, and the way he interacts with other dummies. This is how a properly done drama should be delivered, not with Free! levels of whimpering and yelling and crying.
Bullying and events that come as a result of the chuu2-ing are all dealt with a measured hand. It’s delightful to finally see an otherwise known gimmick be treated with respect here. Satou being a previous victim knows just how to handle these situations and hence why his dynamic with the rest of the crew manifests so well. Sometimes you wish Satou could simply laugh or shrug off some of the taunting, but this is also what makes the show so fervid with emotion. Each of the bullying events hits right at home; the fact that he can’t always take the bullying under a more rational perspective as we can is because of his past trauma. The passive-aggressive behavior with all the bullying is also exactly what kids do, and it’s a bit emotional to see hopelessness so precisely in front of you.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I truly loved the film. My main disatisfaction with Aura as a whole stems from this sentimentalism. For one, Aura still relies heavily on stereotypes and that trite premise. The short length can only excuse this so far unfortunately. Having 17 of 34 kids in the class all have the ‘syndrome’, and the teacher being an utter dick who blackmails Satou is a little much. Also, a palace structure built by desks? Soooo CG. If I were Satou, I’d have serious doubts about whether I want to climb on top of hundreds of unsteadily placed, potentially death-toppling wooden mammoths.
The drama can also feel rather cloying at times, with events spurred a little too suddenly, such as when the chuunis first get bullied and Satou gets
owned clobbered. Satou’s actions are done realistically, but you can tell that the studio went for more emotion-pulling than it really should have. The music rises to an intrusive, almost vexing level, and the whole scene feels like something straight out of a melodramatic visual novel.
Aura‘s bullying overall is also a little one-sided. There’s potential in getting into the bully perspective’s characterization with why they’re doing it in the first place (this is partially hinted at), but they’re villainized so that you can stay miserable with the chuu2’s. Also what’s with the zero intervention at the climax? This is a little too anime; there’s no way a teacher wouldn’t have settled the matter instead of allowing Satou to assume everything squarely into his hands.
Also, what about Satou (the girl)’s characterization? It would have helped to see some margin of this—her backstory, for one—in order to empathize with her. I feel aside from Satou himself, the sister is given the most depth. It’s a little strange to say this considering that she appears so infrequently in the story. The conclusion is unfortunately also underwhelming and not a great way to resolve the introduced conflicts.
As for comedy, Aura‘s humor is as dry as any other Tanaka work, but markedly less central to this piece. I think the ‘sexting’ bit was probably the funniest part of the film, and that happens when? In the first 30 seconds? Aura is a more dramatic work after all, so if you’re looking for classic comedy coming into the film, well, don’t. It’s certainly not a flaw of the film itself, but I think it’s noteworthy given what most (or at least I) was expecting.
You know, Aura most reminds me of a visual novel. The eccentric characterization, goofy premise, and hard-hitting drama are all there. But it shares the same overall flaws—being too localized in one-on-one relationships while throwing everyone else under the bus (or ignoring them altogether). And then there’s a conclusion that is simply founded on the two’s agreement. While I wouldn’t say Aura was fully unenjoyable, I still feel unsatisfied given Tanaka’s better played works. I had higher hopes of the film, but I’m at the very least glad chuunibyou isn’t exalted to such ridiculously shameful levels with how most works carelessly portray the problem.