What a strange curiosity this was.
So I really felt like watching an anime yesterday – I just had a desperate need for a new, interesting Japanese cartoon. I had seen an ad for Psychic School Wars a while back and thought it looked neat, so when it showed up briefly on YouTube, I couldn’t help myself. Don’t do shit like that, buy it instead, it’s worth it, I’m a bad person. In the future, I’ll probably buy it. It was weird as heck, yo, but it was unique.
When Japan gets a hold of psychics, you know weird shit is going to go down (see Akira). Psychic School Wars is no exception, but I can’t help but like it. I don’t love it, there’s some decisions I’m not sold on, but I was into it for the whole hour and a half. So, indulge me as we discuss the do’s and don’ts of middle school telepathy. Spoiler alert, and I mean it this time. Find it, buy it, watch it, then come back and we’ll talk.
Psychics Are Weird
The movie is hella artsy and esoteric. We follow four primary characters: Kenji, Ryoichi, Natsuki, and Kahori. Two boys and two girls. Kenji is a seemingly normal middle school kid with latent psychic powers sealed by his grandfather. Natsuki is his next-door neighbor and has a crush on him. She had powers as well, but when Kenji falls ill during childhood and ends up in a coma, she trades her powers so he can get better. It appears she doesn’t remember. Kenji has a crush on Kahori, another girl from his school. She practices piano and surfs in order to feel closer to her deceased father, who died at sea.
And if that wasn’t weird enough…
Ryoichi is a teenage moon psychic from the future. Yea, you heard me. He can read minds, has some weird crystal he uses to travel from the future, where Earth is uninhabitable and everyone lives on the moon. They’re dying out, so he comes back to give other people psychic powers so hopefully they can all save the future.
That’s not a bad hook – it’s certainly different. Going back in time to change the future is a common time travel thing, but not with characters so young, and not in this context. Faced with extinction, kids around middle school develop psychic powers, apparently so they can interface better and come up with a solution to save themselves. The more they have, conceivably the better answer they can come up with. But the psychics Ryoichi wakes up in the past take things into their own hands back at their school. There was some incident with a cell phone the previous year, and so the school council is trying to ban cell phones for students and staff. It’s a really big deal, with harsh punishments, and the psychics push for it since they have a better way of communicating. There’s a lot of threads going on in just a little anime movie.
Welcome to My Twisted Mind
That’s a lot of elements to unpack for one little movie, but I think they deserve analysis. There’s a lot of moving parts here, and it’s all intentional.
First, the animation is amazing. The characters are well drawn, movements are smooth and fluid, and backgrounds are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in an anime. Which is the point. Psychic School Wars runs like a treasured childhood memory. Moments come and go, there’s always beautiful music playing, and every afternoon has perfect, picturesque weather (minus the typhoon). Most of the shots take place in the early morning near dawn, or late afternoon and twilight when everything is brilliant and colorful, with lens fair like a weeaboo J.J. Abrams. The skies are exploding with color and everything just feels vibrant and alive. If there are scenes at night, the moon is full, and yet you can still see stars and galaxies and all kinds of things. It’s like cranking up your nostalgia goggles to eleven. I got the point it was trying to make, about how we remember the past and things that happen in our childhood (when they show flashbacks, things are even more vibrant), but despite knowing the purpose, that didn’t stop it from being really beautiful. The characters are the same way, with nice voices and good clothes. Natsuki illustrates memory beautification by the way she moves. She can flip over things and jump really high relative to the other characters, in a way the movie doesn’t really tell you is necessary. But that’s how you remember things. That stool was like a building sitting on top. Cherry blossoms are always falling. You could glide and dive and flip and do all kinds of things in your memories. Heck, they even hang out on the beach during a typhoon, and have lunch, no one gets hurt, everyone is fine. It’s not totally true, but it makes your life more interesting. Everyone does it.
Speaking of childhood memories, no self-respecting nostalgic recollection would be complete without complicated young love. The characters are practicing for a school play, Midsummer Night’s Dream. Makes perfect sense, your allusion game is strong. So like any good Shakespeare romance, there’s a lot of connecting dots, so try and follow along. Kenji likes Kahori who likes Ryoichi who also likes Kahori back but knows he can’t stay in this time. And Natsuki likes Kenji, even though he can’t see it. Everyone must come to terms with their feelings, and the film’s main point is about how we communicate – what we say and what we do to convey our thoughts and feelings to one another. Kenji seems like a bit of an idiot, but his room is full of inventions and gadgets and things he works on, which reveals some underlying intelligence. That communicates something. Natsuki is jealous that Kenji likes someone other than her, so she says things to him that she doesn’t necessarily mean. That communicates something.
The psychic kids are the ones that really bring it down with a heavy hand. They want to ban cell phones because they can just talk through telepathy. They figure if people don’t have cell phones, they can get other people with psychic powers to join them and weed out other people who feel dependent on them. At first, I thought that was a drag on technology – these dang kids are so out of touch with their cell phones! I don’t agree with that at all, but later in the film, when Natsuki is on trial for bringing her cell to school, she says that cell phones aren’t the problem, it’s people who don’t know how to communicate. They can read each other’s thoughts, but what’s the point if they’re not willing to speak the words out loud, like they’re still afraid to make their thoughts heard. Saying something for people to hear is powerful, and I thought that was a really cool moment for the movie. So thumbs up there for making a good point. All things in balance, right? Find time to unplug, but don’t drag tech just because it changes things. That’s just how the world is, yo.
Still, the four main characters are more interesting than the subplot on all levels. But things aren’t perfect in paradise. Ryoichi believes he and Kenji must fight. If Ryo wins, he can take Kenji’s powers and add them to his own, and use them to save the future. But they don’t really end up fighting and Ryo breaks his time travel crystal thing, stranding him in the past. Kenji elects to take him back to his own time with his powers, and they warp off together. Kahori and Natsuki forget who both boys are, and the movie ends.
I didn’t hate the ending, things like this never have a happy ending. It leaves on such a fast, anti-climactic note, you know the end is coming, but nothing gets resolved. Ryo failed the mission, no one really came out with all their feelings, of if they did, there was no easy solution for them. No one ended up together, but everything else in the movie felt purposeful. This was no exception.
So what does it mean? Childhood memories are like that. We remember things very clearly, and we add a narrative to our memories to help make sense of them, even if they’re not entirely true. But they don’t always have a cinematic resolution, things can happen and its over before you know it. People move away, relationships end. Rarely is there true closer in life, and I think that was what the movie was trying to get at. 0% of the conflicts presented in the movie are solved by the end of it. Kenji tells Natsuki to remember him, and then he’s gone, and she immediately forgets everything but his name. Kahori is crying because Ryoichi has to leave, but when he’s gone with Kenji, she can’t remember why she’s crying. All the scene transitions up to that point have been slow fades to black. But the end of the movie just cuts straight to black, no fade. Memories aren’t always so well edited – don’t always have a clean cut off from one phase of life to the other. Sometimes, they continue into fuzz, or just stop.
That’s not even mentioning the psychic kids at school. Is there still a ban on cell phones? Are people still getting suspended for it? What about the missing students and the teacher? Are they well? Did they just leave because they figured out psychics were taking over the school? None of that gets answered. My guess is, since Natsuki and Kahori forget about the two of them, perhaps the other kids forget as well, and life returns to normal without them? I imagine they probably lose their powers. And what about Kenji’s grandfather, who feints when the two leave the Earth? He was a psychic too – did he just lose consciousness? Lose his powers? Did he die? He had his very young granddaughter with him, and if no one remembers the two boys, who remembers his family? Is that girl just stuck there now with this dead guy? I know why they ended it the way they did, but there were some serious questions left behind. I’m going to assume everyone passed out, lost their powers and their memories and woke up again, but there’s literally no way to know that. The film doesn’t make that clear at all.
In the End
If I can say one thing, Japan always does interesting things with psychics. At the very least, they told a story in a way I hadn’t heard before, and it was refreshing. The dub was pretty good, voice acting wise. They do a good job. And it could have been worse, look at how Akira ended.
It’s a weird little movie with some interesting moments. Good sound design and animation, a weird premise, and a weirder ending. But it all has a purpose, and I think that attention to detail made it worth watching. Keep your friends close and your love interests closer, especially if they’re psychics from the moon. I would give it three time-traveling, mind-reading woodland creatures out of five.