Ichirou Satou is an ordinary high school student who pretended that he was a hero by the name of "Maryuuin Kouga" back in middle school, which led to others frequently bullying him. Now that he has left this embarrassing phase behind, he does his best to avoid standing out and live a peaceful life, although he feels the world has become quite dull. But when he makes his way back to school one night to grab a textbook he left in class, he runs into a strange girl wearing a costume.
This girl, Ryouko Satou, happens to be his classmate and is affected by the exact same condition that he once had, holding on to a delusion that she is someone else and dressing up to reflect this. The very next day, Ichirou is asked by his teacher to become friends with Ryouko, to which he adamantly refuses, unwilling to be reminded of his own history. When he sees that she is being bullied just as he once was, however, the boy makes it his responsibility to take care of her and break her free from that which what once plagued him—the perfect job for Maryuuin Kouga.
I'm not sure why this necessarily got such an average score. The characters are a modern Japanese interpretation of Cervantes that is very accessible even to a non-native speaker. It is an hour an a half of tightly written story line with very little empty time, and while the animation is nothing spectacular, there is a genuine interplay between the main hero and heroine that all throughout makes the movie very enjoyable.
There comes a time when most of us tend to dislike reality. Boring people, normal unending days, and nothing much to do. Then we turn to fiction. We visualize ourselves as someone we're not and, in extreme cases, live up to our fantasies.
That's what Aura's story is mainly about. Aura is about a story of former chuunibyou (8th grader syndrome) case who's now trying to become a normal person, that is until a faithful encounter with a girl who calls herself as a "researcher" searching for dragon terminals. At first, he hesitates on helping her as he doesn't want to have a relapse again but
soon finds out that she needs his help.
Aura: Maryuuinkouga Saigo no Tatakai is a slice of life story that has a subliminal message. We all know the pain of bullying either as the recipient of it or as a bystander observing the damage done to the bullied. It's never beautiful and that's what Aura conveys. It shows how people tend to step on other people when they outshine them in certain weird and quirky ways. It is less a comedy show (unlike Chunnibyou demo koi ga shitai) and more of a drama with realistic elements.
The art and music of this show is about average and there's nothing much to revolve about in the story but the main driving point of the show are the characters. This movie is all about character development. You start off with a doubting protagonist that would end up as a dependable friend for a lot of people. That's the norm and this doesn't deviate much from it except for the fact that the heroine not depended on him but he changed her. All of the characters can give you the proper emotions. You take pity on those who are being bullied and you get mad at the antagonists. Personally, there was a time I was afraid I'd punch my monitor because of the rage building up inside me. That's how well the characters can pull you into their simple lives, something most shows can't do.
Overall, the movie is enjoyable. The flow of the story is smooth. Despite the abrupt turn of events in the middle to last scenes, the story progression feels natural and believable. It feels like you're seeing real people and not just an animation so kudos to the voice acting staff in that division. You're surely bound for a roller coaster of emotions for this piece that would lead you to tears, anger, and smiles. Just try to view this movie with an open mind (Please don't try to compare this with Chu-2 since they are both different) and I'm sure you'll enjoy every twist and turn you're gonna go through.
This gentleman in the times when he had nothing to do—as was the case for most of the year—gave himself to the reading of books of knight errantry; which he loved and enjoyed so much that he almost entirely forgot his hunting, and even the care of his estate. So odd and foolish, indeed, did he grow on this subject that he sold many acres of cornland to buy these books of chivalry to read. … [In the end], he so buried himself in his books that he spent the nights reading from twilight till daybreak and the days from dawn till dark; and so
from little sleep and much reading, his brain dried up and he lost his wits.
On first glance, the Don Quixote is a very clunky tome of a book, with about 800 pages, full of slapstick moments, very unrealistic damsel-in-distress-esque female characters, lengthy and possibly monotonous digressions, and, even with the Modern lauded Edith Grossman translation, still reads like a sack of old bricks. The style of the book, when seen from contemporary times, is very much like Cervantes' description of the Don and his horse, a thin crooked gentleman on an equally battered mare riding off godspeed into who knows what kind of uncharted territory. The experience of reading the book itself was, to me, partially entertaining, due to the comedy and wit of some of the scenes given that it's one of the first books to properly use metafiction; but most of it was a lump of text after text that bored into my skull.
Yet classics must not be read in isolation. The Quixote has been called the Spanish Bible, has been lauded by all sorts of writers such as Borges, Kafka, existential philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, the orientalist Simon Leys (who wrote a very very good essay on its importance in the world) and even hated on by Nabokov. A classic is not merely a text by itself but it sucks history itself with it and must also be read within the soup of history itself. What is it exactly that makes this comedy of an old man who becomes a knight in a world where chivalry is dead and gone so edifying and grand?
The answer here is in the word 'becomes'. This quote comes from Simon Leys' essay:
"The occupation which Don Quixote chooses for himself is that of knight errant. He is not under the delusion that he is a knight errant—no, he sets his mind on becoming one. He does not play at being someone else, as children do in their games; he is not pretending to be someone else, like an impostor, or impersonating a character, like an actor on stage. And he adopts the profession of knight after due reflection: it is the result of a deliberate choice. After having considered other options, he finally decided that the career of a knight errant would be the most rewarding, intellectually and morally.
But how does one become a knight? Van Doren asks. By acting like a knight—which is the very opposite of pretense, of make-believe. And to act the way Don Quixote does is more than to ape. To imitate as he does is a profound apprenticeship—the true way of learning and the key to understanding. “What is the difference between acting like a great man and being one?” Van Doren asks. “To act like a poet is to write poems; to act like a statesman is to ponder the nature of goodness and justice; to act like a student is to study; to act like a knight is to think and feel like one.”
Had Don Quixote been simply and plainly mad, or had he indulged in a protracted game of self-deception and play-acting, we should not be talking of him now, Van Doren observes—“We are talking of him because we suspect that, in the end, he did become a knight.”
This is the crux of the Quixote, which is to provide a vision of a man who decided that, with nothing being right with reality, it should be slayed. The dragon in the Quixote is not the windmills, nor is it the giant, but all of life itself, and to be exact Spanish life in the 17th century, full of small little taverns and farmers leading mundane lives. And the most stunning thing of all is that he actually succeeds, in ingraining himself into the view of the reader. Regardless of whether Don Quixote is a good knight or a bad knight, by the end of the story he is still, utmost and completely, a knight.
But being a knight is no easy task, especially in a world where knights are dead. Nabokov's great gripe with the book is that he found it to be too cruel. "Hideous cruelty —with or without the author's intent— which riddles the whole book and befouls its humor". The sheer about of blows that fall on the two main characters would probably be enough to cause significant limb and spinal injury to render them both invalids for life. The laughter and exploitation of the Don's position, especially in the later part of the book, is the pinnacle of Schadenfreude. But actually what makes the Don is its cruelty. Without cruelty, the Don would not have become, to us, a knight. He would not be a knight because he would have no dragons, and nothing would prevent him from being viewed as merely a play-actor leading a life of luxurious delusion. It is because the Don struggles at any cost that he becomes edifying. Unamuno wrote an entire book arguing that Don Quixote was an existentially real human being, even more so than his creator, who has been lost more or less in the annals of history as a paper patchwork of sources and university historical analyses.
Likewise Borges himself wrote a story about a man on a strange task, to write the Don Quixote without actually reading it, by fully assimilating the writer into himself and creating the work exactly as the writer should have done. The surprising thing too is that Pierre Menard succeeds in his quest to write the Don Quixote.
It is an interesting observation to make that today's world, rather than suffer from an exceeding amount of simulation brought about by media and video game addiction, seems in fact to also suffer from an overload of Reality. Nowadays we live in the shadow of Youtube and quick and easy video devices. There is no bad deed that is not filmed and uploaded out there. There is no embarrassment that has not been captured. We live in a world full of endless depictions of the true disgusting horrors of war, the silliness of broken testicles by people who commit acts of grandiose insanity, religious organizations and fundamentalists being stripped apart as lunatics, and all sorts of miscarriages of justice. Idealism is stark dead because no one can do any vigilantism without having shaky cam footage of some drunk idiot in a suit getting slammed by a beer bottle soberly stripping apart the fantasies of the millions behind computer screens. In some strange way society has hardened itself up against fantasy while equally basking in it. This means that the ideal world and the real world do not mingle like before but are put behind stark bars; an either/or proposition.
Without the power of fantasy, some of our greatest exploits would become woefully insignificant, and we wouldn't be driven by the mad feelings to stop that bully or confess to that girl or do something to win the favor of the people around us. The sad thing is that now all these fairy moods are recorded down strictly and objectively in places everywhere, where men can all be judged without regard for subjectivity. Its not a bad thing though, since it also means that the grand horrors of Nazi Germany, with its monstrous spilling over of fantasy, has a much much lesser chance of coming to pass. But in the end everything must be done in moderation. An excess of fantasy is just as bad as an excess of reality; by strictly stratifying the two into two separate domains, some which the psychoanalyst Carl Jung was fighting desperately against, human being was divided without being able to become whole.
(On a side note here. Tanaka Romeo, who wrote the original Light Novel for Aura, has been considered one of the greatest writers of Visual Novels and Light Novels ever, sometimes even considered as the Shakespeare of the LN/VN industry. His major themes are usually about outcasts and people who are split away from the norm, as well as some critiques launched at social institutions. Sadly from some comments floating out there on the net, it seems his work will never be fully appreciated except in the original language.)
In today's stratified world, reality and fantasy have both reached their extreme ends. Hard pragmatism and self-interest plagues hordes of politicians and citizens, while the other half are so far off into the realm of delusion that there is almost no referent back to reality, sometimes due to the disproportionate social backlash that results from it. Fantasies are regulated into 'subcultures', 'phenomena', 'fashions', 'fads', or even worse 'mental disorders' (I'm okay with the belief that certain mental symptoms can be 'cured' just as easily as physical symptoms, but the modern perception of mental disorder, especially among people who don't know exactly what it means, is a whole other different matter), and other big labels indicating that these are separate from life itself, based on some tenuous set parameters where fringewalkers can mingle with other fringewalkers without falling into the general 'mainstream'. The fact is that these are all as much manifestations of Life and Society as the so-called norm. (It may be a result of the political structure that this results. For an interesting viewpoint see Hunter S Thompson's brilliant journal on using fringe culture to try and affect politics in Aspen.)
But in this world can then anyone be so fully and existentially self-determined to be 'rationally fantastic'? That perfect blend of reason and fantasy that has shook many readers to the core ever since the Don Quixote was first created? There are many thinkers and people who have been posited as such, such as Che Guevara, Renzo Novatore, Max Stirner, Jack Kerouac, and other idealists. The stark difference though is that these are merely idealistic are not 'fantasists' like the Don.
Which brings us to Aura. This adaptation of the Tanaka Romeo light novel works by being a whole lot more cruel, and as a result a whole lot more cathartic, than that other famous Kyoani Chuunibyou work out there. Sadly it probably doesn't do the original enough justice, and it also suffers from extensive melodrama and too black-and-white a morality. Also none of the characters ever take things to the extent that the Don does, and in the end they still come off as play-acting heroes rather than really being them. Much of the 'humor', if this can even be considered the comedy, comes from the insane technolingo that comes out of the main heroine's mouth in reaction to completely ordinary situations. The movie has moments, like von Trier's Dogville, where you get a cheap satisfaction or feel needlessly enraged because of the stark villainy and the stark heroism. This would probably work better if it had been longer, but yet for what it gives us, it's worth a watch. But upon coming to the finale, something amazing happens. Whereas Don Quixote was about the Don's madness striving on in spite of the relentless cruelty of the world, what happens at the end of Aura is the opposite, where madness succeeds in infecting reality, and the world transforms into an Expressionistic-Romantic landscape so brilliant and powerful that it becomes a full exaltation of the need for escape in a bitter reality.
In any case Aura walks down the road left behind by Cervantes; a critique of stark realism, and in praise of fantasy.
Seiji Kishi is an interesting director. But rather than go into a couple paragraphs about him, all you need to know is that he’s a great director when it comes to comedy and a pretty poor director when it comes to everything else. However, as of late, Kishi’s really hit a new low by taking a really interesting story and slaughtering it with his poor directing. With his half-assed video game adaptations being his biggest felon, it’s no surprise that people have been panning him.
Aura’s a different story though. This time, Kishi takes a not-so interesting story and actually brings it to life with pretty
great direction... and it's not a comedy either... it's a drama... (Say whaaaat?)
Being a film with only 80 minutes, I believed this shaped Kishi up just a little. There’s no random sidetracking, no rushing to try to get to the meat of the story, no chopping transitioning and none of those odd “gaps” we often see with Kishi’s series. Aura is deliberately paced and the direction is dead on with what it wants to achieve. I might argue that the direction is a little too dead-on; some small breathers to focus in on some smaller moments would have been nice.
But overall, Kishi’s directing is great from the beginning to the end of the film and it’s his directing which brings Aura’s generic story to life.
There is honestly nothing we haven’t seen before about Aura. It’s a more mature look at what a victim of chuunibyo suffers from, but everything plays out like a typical highshcool bullying story. There are no twists or turns. Everything can be seen coming from a mile away. Yet the story still works well and it’s not simply due to the directing.
First off, the dialogue is certainly well written as there’s this genuine sense of realism in which the main characters speak that many will be able to resonate to.
But secondly, the drama is simply well done.
I was expecting the drama to either be Kishi’s usual lifeless crap or something along the line of Mari Okada’s overbearingly blown out melodrama. Instead, Aura’s drama falls perfectly in the center. Everything feels natural. Angst and conflicts are perfectly and realistically presented instead of a cheap means to manipulate the viewer's emotion. The drama is sweet, it’s sincere, it’s heartfelt and it’s heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, the drama could have been more powerful too. Whether it was simply the writing itself and simply because the film was too short – I take blame with the latter – Aura felt just a little lacking. It takes its generic story much further than most and turns it into something great, but not amazing. The characters are likeable and easy to sympathize with, but are far from being anything spectacular. Its major themes and the romantic relationship between our lead couple did hit many notes with me but ultimately they don’t feel fully developed to truly became powerful and thus it just misses the mark of being truly remarkable.
Because honestly, I found the final scene where the male lead confronts the female lead at the tower of desks to be absolutely brilliant and it would have been more so if we were given just a little more development.
Story – Generic but is brought to life by good directing, unfortunately due to the length of the film the story does not feel fully developed
Characters – Likeable and easy to sympathize with, but like the story, they lack full development
Setting – A nice theme that would have been stronger with more time to develop
Production Values – Far from being outstanding, the artwork and animation are still both pretty. The music, on the other hand, is pretty damn good
Do I recommend?: I was contemplating giving this an anime a 7 or an 8 and while technically speaking, I believe Aura only deserves a 7, I’ve got to take my own personal enjoyment into account with my reviews and give a 8 (yeah, yeah I'm a sucker for this sentimental bullying kind of stuff). Regardless, I’d recommend to give Aura a try. It’s short and sweet, and while not as profound as it could have been, Aura still tugs lightly at the heart strings and it sure left me with a big smile on my face after the film finished.
Don your wizard cape and grab your mystical staff of unmentionable powers! It's time to learn about the most fascinating chuunibyou characters in anime who suffer from "middle school 2nd year sickness."