What happens when you take a group of teenagers (and one elementary schooler), then add some superpowers and teenage angst into the mix? Well, this is what When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace aims to explore during its 12 episode run. With an eclectic mix of chuunibyou (middle school syndrome), harem and slice-of-life elements, and superpowers, this anime has all the makings of greatness. However, if you mention this anime, many either do not know about it or are left divided on how to feel about it. What, then, is it hiding that makes for such a divisive experience? This anime also sits as part of the impressive catalogue of work that Studio Trigger has to its name. As a result, it also has another hurdle it must overcome, that being, an expectation by many that all anime in Trigger’s catalogue must reach the same high bar set by other series from the studio, such as Kill la Kill and Kiznaiver.
So, once again it’s time to buckle up for a trip down the otaku rabbit hole to discover why When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is so often overlooked, and nail down if this anime is one to check out, or whether it’s overlooked for a reason.
The story begins with your typical high school slice-of-life anime opening, where we’re treated to soft, gentle music, and a female narrator who we assume will be essential in the story to come. We are then introduced to the literature club, a group of five students, when their resident chuunibyou, Andou, begins one of his monologues calling to the power of evil in his right arm, only for it to be answered, much to his surprise, by a bright light. From here you would assume that the action-packed rollercoaster of supernatural battles is about to begin – and you would be wrong. Despite its title, When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is a high school slice-of-life/ harem anime, with superpowers thrown in to set it apart from its peers. There are a small number of superpowered battles, but they are used to introduce the powers and capabilities of the main cast, so if an action-packed shounen anime is what you’re in the market for, you’re likely to be disappointed here. Episodes 1 and 12 are the main moments where the battles take place and they are both spectacularly done and simultaneously short and sweet. These moments are short for good reason, however, as they give only a glimpse at the incredible potential of these characters while also allowing the audience to understand the logic of hiding these powers as, should these powers be discovered by others or be used for evil purposes, their lives would become considerably more complicated.
The literature club members are the main focus for the anime, and have incredible powers that, interestingly, tend to mesh well with their personalities. For example, Hatoko – my personal favourite character – has the ability to control the elements – think Avatar the Last Airbender, but as a Japanese school girl. For such a quiet and almost air-headed character, this potentially destructive power would almost seem a bad fit, however we learn throughout the anime that Hatoko is a character with considerable depth, complex emotions and motivations that set her far apart from your usual trope on legs – a trait that is shared amongst all the main cast.
As is the case with most harem-type anime, the main cast does fall victim to many of the usual tropes, including the oblivious and, in this case, chuunibyou main character, the adorable lolita character, the calm senpai, the air-headed childhood friend and the tsundere thrown in for good luck. These tropes, as they are so exhausted within anime, can immediately be a turn off if executed in conventional ways. However, to the credit of When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, the characters are often given something to explain their behaviours or give them a twist. One such example is Tomoyo, the resident tsundere, whose attitude stems from her ambitions and goals, and the fear and insecurities that’s born from them. I’m not going to sit here and say that these characters are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, because that would be a lie. However, there is just enough of a twist in most of the characters to keep you invested in them until the end.
Before I move on, I must draw attention to a specific scene involving Hatoko, as it would be criminal of me to skip over it when discussing characters and their portrayal. Hatoko is the subject of a now infamous breakdown/ rant scene, a scene that seems to appear in so many anime social media pages. If this review does nothing to convince you to watch this anime, I would still recommend above all else that you check out the “Hatoko rant scene” on YouTube. This scene is, in my opinion, one of the finest examples of voice acting that I have seen in recent years and is a true testament to the skill of voice actress Saori Hayami, as it delivers hard hitting emotion and elevates Hatoko from the air-headed friend to a character that we truly empathise with and relate to.
Themes of the anime
As a slice-of-life anime, you would expect certain themes to be explored in When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace. From the adolescent themes of growing up and growing apart, to the feeling of confusion in both life and love, these are some of the central themes explored in the anime. The situations the characters find themselves in, from loving rivalries and fierce battles to the staple beach episodes (yes, there are two beach episodes in this anime), give ample opportunity for these emotions and themes to be explored in a decent, albeit often generic, way.
So… What’s wrong with the anime?
Now, I think it’s time for full disclosure. While I did enjoy my time with this anime, it has a few flaws that, personally, really affected my overall experience with it and how I feel now having finished it. The main issues this anime has, in my opinion, can be focused in three main areas: the execution of its story, its humour, and finally, its main character. I will warn you now, there will be some mild story spoilers in this section, so if you would rather go in to this anime totally blind then please skip this section. With that out of the way, let’s start out with the first issue – the story.
The story is effectively non-existent throughout the anime, with occasional character building here or there, but there are no grand overarching plotlines or problems to overcome, and instead focuses on an almost episodic format with small links between them. That is, however, until the mid-way point in the series. Here, the explanation for the superpowers is given, and we are introduced to a new cast of superpowered individuals with their own motives. Adding this plot device at the mid-way point of the season would not have been too late to do so, that is if it had been developed and expanded upon for the remainder of the season. Sadly, this was not the case. The explanation for the superpowers and the new superpowered characters feel like an afterthought and shoehorned in. What’s most insulting here is that there is little to no development of this apparently essential plot device, or potential conflict that could have really impacted our main cast. Instead, it is dropped and forgotten almost instantly, with only a short re-appearance in the final two episodes before being dropped again.
Another issue I have here is the ending. While not terrible, it does leave the series very open-ended. If the anime was an exclusive slice-of-life/ harem anime, then leaving the story open-ended would have played well with this genre and given room for the audience to draw their own conclusions and “ship” their favourite pairings. But this isn’t the case. This anime introduces many story elements which are never developed and as such we are left with too many plot lines left unresolved for an ending of this type to work well. Maybe if the anime was longer, these issues may have been handled better, but sadly, we may never know.
Next, I’m going to talk about something very subjective – the humour. Now, many people I’m sure will thoroughly enjoy this anime’s brand of chuuni-centric humour, or the humour that plays on romantic subplots, but for me, it rarely struck the right note. I will admit that one scene in particular, where Andou returns to the literature club after being escorted there by a new potential love interest and is then subjected to the jealousy of all the club members at once, did get a chuckle out of me, but this is the only example where I actually remember laughing, and all other memories I have of the humour left me feeling more awkward than anything else. This is again a very personal issue but the humour in this anime is potentially hit or miss depending on your preferences.
The final issue I had with this anime is one that is a difficult one to overlook, and that is the characterisation of Andou, our central protagonist who, in my opinion, comes off as unlikable at times. As a character, Andou constantly confused me and not in an “I want to know more about you” sort of way, but more due to his personality and character traits being flip-flopped between. As the chuuni character, the audience can get a laugh or chuckle here and there, but ultimately, he is meant to have a heart of gold at his core. His actions at times during the series, however, left me seriously questioning his execution as a character. Andou, as the centre point of a harem anime, is expected to be somewhat dense when it comes to the feelings of love and affection held by the other characters to maintain the dynamic of the anime. What we don’t expect, though, is this denseness to be at a level of obliviousness that is truly extraordinary. This lack of perception affects how the audience views his actions and behaviour, with some instances being truly deplorable. As I have already mentioned the Hatoko breakdown scene earlier in the review, it is only right that I draw attention to this scene again, as this is one of the main offending instances. Hatoko, at the end of the scene, emotional and visibly upset, runs away. Instead of Andou immediately responding, chasing after her as the caring friend who has known her since they were children, there is a short window of time where he just stands there blankly before acting. Here lies my biggest problem with Andou as a protagonist. His obliviousness in relation to love translates far beyond his role as the central protagonist, and instead seeps into other aspects of his character, including his communication skills, where his bluntness does leave him somewhat unlikable at times. I believe the writers were aware of this and tried to remedy it by providing many moments where Andou can act as a great tactician or gentleman to redeem any callous acts – but some of these redemption scenes can feel forced or come too far after the offending event. Due to some of Andou’s behavioural traits, I often found myself left feeling truly sorry for the girl of focus in a given episode because of some action of Andou’s that had hurt her in some way. When the point of an anime is to get the audience invested in the development of relationships, and this is then undermined by its leading man, I can’t help but feel sad as it has failed in its one goal due to poor execution of the main character.
Final thoughts and scores
To sum everything up, I think that When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is an ambitious anime that tries to explore complex themes of adolescence with a supernatural twist, but sadly lacks the finesse and execution to carry it off well. The story lacks direction and often leaves so much unanswered that the audience is left just shy of satisfied in many episodes. Don’t get me wrong, this anime is very enjoyable, more so for existing fans of the genre, but it doesn’t innovate the formula and does require the audience to overlook sometimes obvious flaws.
This anime puts us as an audience in an awkward position, a position that I am never a fan of. Due to the ending, we are left to decide if we want to leave the story unfinished or if we want dive in to the light novel to find out the rest of the story. The issue then is that we don’t know if doing this will leave us with the final piece of the puzzle we’re so desperately craving, or if we’ll be left dealing with with more of the same – and this is something that I cannot defend.
So then, time for the score. The anime is simply okay – in the areas the anime does well, it truly excels, but its problems stand out like a sore thumb and sadly detract from the overall experience. As a result, and after a lot of debating, I give this anime …
For an anime with so much potential, it is sad that it never reaches the heights it could have. If you want to check out this anime, be prepared for a rollercoaster of potential highs and lows.
With that guys, thanks again for joining me on this trip down the otaku rabbit hole. I hope you enjoyed this review and that it has helped you decide on whether to check this anime out for yourself. Until next time, keep it weeby!