Aura – Anime Review
Synopsis: Ichiro suffered chunibyo delusions and bullying in middle school. Now a high schooler, he wants bury his past, but finds himself drawn to a girl with the same affliction. (Official HIDIVE Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Aura deals with a popular topic in anime, Chunibyo Syndrome aka Eight Grader Syndrome, and treats it with a unique perspective and attitude. Chunibyo Syndrome, for the uninitiated, is a phenomenon in Japanese society where young teens often believe themselves to be in possession of otherworldly supernatural powers or identities that sets them apart from the humdrum of humanity. It is usually employed as a source of comedy, by mocking the Chunibyo, or drama through the bullying of said person. Aura chooses the latter path but handles it with a nuance that sets it apart. It kicks things off with a showdown between two mythical looking characters, instantly leaving audiences wondering if there’s more to the story than just delusional teens. This scene is never mentioned or referred to again for the majority of the movie, making me all the more convinced that this was intentional and meant to make viewers question the events that follow.
From there, we jump to the male protagonist, Ichiro Sato starting life at a new school and going through all the social awkwardness that can rise from that situation. Things look surprisingly normal as we follow him settling in, making new friends and for the most part fitting in. But this quickly leads into stranger tides, first in subtle ways, such as Ichiro’s mother being strangely concerned for him and then more directly as he bumps into a mysterious classmate after school. This classmate, Ryoko Sato (no relation, just same last name) claims to be a mage on a mission from another world and dresses the part, wielding a clunky staff that looks homemade. All of these work to keep the viewer guessing at what secrets the story is building up to. Is what is being said and done onscreen the whole truth or are they merely temporary distractions or misdirection for a grander truth?
The story is truly all about Ichiro and Ryoko and while other characters such as friends and classmates push the narrative forward, what we’re meant to focus on is the eclectic friendship and relationship developing between Ichiro and Ryoko. Watching Ichiro go from forced into befriending Ryoko to truly and desperately trying to help and protect her as her eccentricities earn her extreme bullying makes for a heartwarming journey. The movie also does a good job of not making the bullying feel over dramatic but instead simple and powerful. While the bullying methods are cliche, such as slurs scribbled all over Ryoko’s desk, her items being stolen or destroyed, the acting and imagery really helps to sell the anguish Ryoko feels and elicits sympathy. Going back to Ichiro himself, the inner struggles and also the opposition he faces from his own family regarding his own past experiences with Chunibyo syndrome and his current friendship with Ryoko make for convincing character drama and character building moments.
Then there’s the very manner in which Aura handles Chunibyo Syndrome and the effect it has not just on the people experiencing it but the people around those suffering from it. We get to see glimpses on how this can turn into a very serious matter resulting in heartache and heartbreak for even those not suffering from it. Friends and family can get caught up and end up with deep emotional scars from the behaviour of the one displaying the syndrome. In fact, in a very blunt moment of despair, Ichiro himself blurts out how and why Chunibyo behaviour is considered selfish and self centred. It’s an interesting moment, given his past making you wonder if this is a new level of self loathing or a sincere attempt to show Chunibyo Syndrome in a negative light while leaving out unnecessary shallow mockery. All these combined really help to sell Aura as a unique study and exploration of the subject matter.
All the while, there’s the question of whether Ryoko is delusional or if she’s truly the magical being she claims to be? This mystery isn’t answered until the very end of the movie and for what it is worth, I think the story does a decent job of addressing the matter and bringing it to a somewhat satisfying resolution. Yes, there are certain things that end up feeling like loose ends so it isn’t a perfect ending but this story clearly prioritizes emotions over logic and with that in mind, its ending definitely matches that tone. I do feel the movie’s message and mystery might have worked even better if Ichiro’s own Chunibyo past had been kept a secret from the synopsis as several sequences in the movie would have felt a lot more powerful and meaningful had the viewers been kept in the dark. It’s not a huge issue though as the movie itself hints his Chunibyo past very heavily early on and most viewers would have easily deduced it on their own within minutes. And despite the synopsis mentioning Ichiro facing bullying in the past, the movie itself focuses more on how his syndrome affected his family members rather than ever showing the actual bullying he went through.
Adding on to what I feel could be potential drawbacks from enjoying this story is that, at times, the characters and story feel a bit thin. Ichiro’s emotions and reactions are sometimes too light and blase compared to the situation and make him feel like a limp protagonist. It’s most prevalent earlier on, which could make some viewers struggle to care for him and indirectly, the story as well. Ichiro also seems to easily attract not only popular people in his class but also the affection of the more eclectic ones despite him doing absolutely nothing to earn such attention from all these different people, leaving you feeling like the show could have put in more effort into setting him up as a likeable and charming protagonist instead of having audiences questioning why everyone is drawn to him. Then there’s the fact that the girls bullying Ryoko mention how they think its unfair that she gets to come to school in her ridiculous costume whereas usually any failure to adhere to the uniform code by anyone else results in strict disciplining. This is a valid fact that the story never ever addresses or explains how Ryoko is getting away with coming to school in an outfit that clearly violates uniform codes. Its small issues like these that can take away from Aura’s otherwise engaging tale. Not completely show ruining but definitely distractions or hurdles that some viewers may struggle to overlook.
So, after all that, is Aura something to be put on your watch list? If you’re someone who enjoys seeing popular anime tropes or topics being handled with a different approach, then definitely do check out Aura. It has its flaws but delivers an emotionally packed story with a nice dose of mystery that’s at the very least going to satisfy any need for a fresh take on a popular topic. And seeing how the movie is an adaptation of a light novel that never received a western release, this is the only legal and official way to experience the story on this side of the globe. Which is a shame as there are definitely issues I mentioned earlier regarding characters and story that might have been better addressed and explained in the book but we may never know if that is the case. On the other hand, if you’re seeking a more typical approach to the central topic, or dislike dramatic stories that consists mainly of character conversations over action, you’re best off keeping this off your watch list.
Aura is available for streaming via HIDIVE.