Happy October, everyone. Just the other day, I went to see a screening for the film Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl after realizing that the follow-up to one of my favorite anime of recent memory would actually be shown at a theater relatively close to where I am located in the Midwest. I had a lot of thoughts leaving the theater and decided to jot them all down to articulate some rather strong feelings I had leaving the showing. I will keep everything spoiler free with an exception to one instance where I need spoil context to a scene (without giving twists or characters away), but I will put that at the very end of the article in small font and italicized along with a marker * by the point of the article I wanted to elaborate on. I hope you all enjoy my thoughts on this film.
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl is a film that picks up where the hit show Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai left off last Fall. The show, which was a retrospective favorite of the year for me (as well as many others), follows high-schooler Sakuta as he helps his peers overcome their various forms of “puberty syndrome” that take form in the supernatural. The concept lends itself to some really inspired character development and dramatic moments despite losing some viewers at the ridiculousness of some of the plot devices. The film covers the last chunk of content that needed adapted from the “main story” that the light novels tell. I won’t go into much deeper details for the sake of keeping people fresh, but I wanted to provide some background in the off chance one of my readers was not familiar with the show.
First and foremost, I want to note that this film is true to the anime that it is following up. The same spirit, character development, organic conversations, and amazing score are all there. Unfortunately, one of my biggest complaints about the film come from this very same point. Despite being an hour and a half, it feels like this is simply a few episodes rolled into one. Normally, this would not be a problem, however I would be lying to say I was not expecting more out of the production quality of the “couple episodes long” story being told. Indeed, the entire film has a lateral in animation quality and even that amazing score recycles many songs from the original soundtrack. Both of these aren’t always the worst offenses, but even after the film shows its’ hand with twists and developments, there is only one or two new background songs and a few more details animated deeper in a critical scene to show for it. This alone can’t break the film, but when added in with some of the narrative problems explained shortly, it really sours the overall product.
There is, however, something to be appreciated from sticking to its roots. The characters are all here and they all play off of one another in the same organic way that the show really shined with. The characters and their dialogue have long been one of the biggest achievements of the series, and I was satisfied with this film being no exception to how well they are written. This story in particular was rather difficult to have much more than the usual small barbs that non-essential characters have with Sakuta. “Less is more” is a good way of describing how the film used the characters of Kaede and Nodoka (my apologies in advance if I don’t call a character by the name someone doesn’t like...I’m going off of what Sakuta usually calls them all). The character development of Kaede at the conclusion of the main series in particular concerned me with how she would be used for the film, and I am glad they went with a rather safe use of her character.
The only characters I was a little underwhelmed with were Koga and Makinohara. The former is used as an important piece to solving the big conflict of the film and her utilization feels rather shallow because a lack of explanation to the why of her role. She sort of just shows up because the plot needed something, she does her thing, and then you never get any details about what happened later. As for the latter character, Makinohara is a huge focal point of the film and I’m not convinced the writer of the story knew what to do with her character. Her story is all over the place (literally) and it mangles the film’s pacing in a way that I believe that it did not manage to recover from. Further, developments with her character completely derail the narrative of the story and leave an incredibly sour taste afterward (*see end for spoilers elaborating on this). It is sad because I was hoping for more inspired writing like the series had for its characters, but unfortunately the film could not deliver with Makinohara.
Despite the missteps, there are three characters I felt were supercharged for this story. Sakuta is always written in a way that brings some outstanding emotion out of his character, and the film might be indicative of this at an all-time high. His emotions are very raw and it adds emotion to other characters in various scenes in a way that is simply marvelous. What was more surprising was how much emotion Mai had in this film. The titular Bunny Girl from the series lets out everything she has in this story and it absolutely steals every scene she is in. Boosted by that raw emotion from Sakuta I mentioned earlier, she lets it all out in a way that isn’t shown at any point in the series to date. Even after the story starts spiraling out of control, there are some heavy emotional moments that she makes scenes with. The show has always had a backbone on the relationship between Sakuta and Mai and I think through everything that happens in this film (even with as messy as it gets), that relationship grows and is shown in a way that is truly moving.
So if you’re doing a headcount, you’ve probably noted that I’ve only mentioned two of the three characters so far. Arguably one of the biggest surprises of the film (for me anyways) was Futaba. Sakuta’s best friend and typically the rock that gives logical insight into whatever dilemma that the Rascal finds himself in is given an impressive amount of character development here. Her story in the series ends with a gut-punch and the timing of where it was at in the show does not allow for much more to be done with her. This is corrected in her involvement throughout this film. Namely, when the film approaches its apex and the pacing is on the eve of where it nosedives, the audience gets to see something that hadn’t really been shown yet- Futaba gets rattled. She is always a step ahead of figuring out how Sakuta should resolve a conflict, but in this instance she displays the effects of knowing dark turns that are coming. There are scenes where she can’t hold it all together, and she displays emotions that are not typical of her character. After the plot hits its big twist, she is there in a way that is equally unexpected. Her best friend needs someone there for him and, along with their shared great friend Yuuma, she helps pick Sakuta up off his feet. I was very moved by how subtle this display of loyalty and friendship is because it doesn’t shout something like “THIS IS WHAT BEST FRIENDS ARE FOR” like anime might do a little on-the-nose. No, instead we get actions that speak louder than words as a friend is there for another in a moment of great hardship. Add this in with the stellar use of the other two characters I mentioned and you have a winning formula that can outlast every flaw the film has here.
Working through my thoughts I wrote down the night of the film, I have gone back and forth on the film. I do a good job of tempering my expectations going into films that are either follow-ups or sequels since I do not want to have a set of expectations that bring down an experience. That being said, I do have some harsh criticisms for the film even if I did not feel that it lived up to the main series fully. It does not take any risks with animation, the music is content with keeping the norm, and this ultimately leaves an impression that it does very little to set itself apart from the series it follows-up on a technical level. The pacing and narrative are a hot mess and it is a rare instance where the supernatural elements to the storytelling heavily detract from the overall experience.
While it does not deliver elegantly with its supernatural elements, the romance, drama and comedy are firing off of all cylinders here. The fact that the story is such a mangled mess at points in this and I can still wholeheartedly recommend it because of these elements alone is a testament to how effective these characters are and how the relationships amongst them are so impressive. Since Funimation Films handled putting this one out into theaters, I am hoping there will be an affordable home release for fans to experience this film legally (insert jokes from comments relating to how it is Aniplex and will never be affordable and/or jokes about piracy here). The characters are at their peak here, and the emotions are raw and breathtaking. If you even remotely enjoyed the original series, or if you can appreciate well written characters, you owe it to yourself to experience Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl
SPOILER FOOTNOTE STARTS HERE
My biggest complaint with the narrative of this story comes in the last ten-fifteen minutes where the film tries desperately to wrap things up. Our protagonist Sakuta makes his way to an ICU to see another young character who is, quite literally, on her deathbed. As she is sharing her final moments with him, the moment feels completely robbed of all emotion because he hastily tries to explain the nonsense that is the plot devices that have cut corners to get the audience to where we are here. This goes on for so long in the scene that, when the big unfortunate moment hits, the feeling that could have simply steamrolled the viewer felt severely dampened. It was still a heart-wrenching moment, however I think without the nonsense plot devices ham-fisted in, this would have been a TKO punch.