If you’re looking for a review of the new Rascal Does Not Dream film that’s effusive in its praise, this isn’t it. I recommend you check our other review of the movie by Jeskai Angel, which dropped earlier today. No, my take on the film, like the that of the series, is complex—I’m appreciative both of what the story does and what it attempts to do, but also critical of how it doesn’t fulfill the high expectations it sets for itself.
Continuing from the series, Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl animates a critical story to the franchise. An older Shouko shows up at Sakuta’s apartment, causing relational conflict with Mai, but also leading to the unusual circumstance that she exists on this plane while the 7th grade version of her does as well. Further complicating matters is that the younger Shouko is ill, a circumstance that eventually reveals much of how Sakuta becomes who he is.
We know a bit about Shouko from her role in other girls’ arcs from the series, but here she’s front and center. Entwined with Sakuta’s story, the development of hers’ unravels secrets from his past. It’s an emotional journey, and one that as a fan of the series, I found wildly fulfilling.
But as I intimated earlier, the film is not without its flaws. The first is with the “buy in.” I’m reminded that while I enjoy the show, I’m never able to quite take it seriously, as least not as seriously as its characters do. In The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a franchise to which Rascal must be compared (in addition to the many similarities, the movies for each franchise both even revolve around Christmas!), the characters are either at a loss as to what to do in the incredible situations that arise or are fantastical beings directly involved in them. In Rascal, there’s such acceptance of these puberty syndrome situations as simply being extraordinary challenges in regular life; this produces a soap opera feel, and no balance of anime tropes and humorous writing (and there’s plenty of both to enjoy) can shake that unreal tone in a series and movie that seeks to set a more realistic one.
More troubling, though, is the last quarter of the movie. Once Sakuta comes to a critical, conclusive decision, it’s difficult to accept. The animators—and I’m assuming the light novel writer—understands as much, and so over and over again, finds ways to try to explain away the decision to the audience. Emotional pleas from characters we care about, rational arguments, and the very plans of the girl at the heart of the situation all cry to us as if saying, “Really, this is the only way. Don’t listen to that nagging in your mind—we promise, this is the right thing to do!” It creates insincerity that’s unusual for the franchise. It also makes the movie seem longer than it really is.
Still, most of the rest of the film is earnest, and that carries it a long way. If you didn’t already love the characters—and I’m not sure if I could classify my feelings that way before watching the movie—you will after viewing Dreaming Girl. There’s so much care demonstrated between the characters in the film, models of sacrifice and love that we all should want out our own relationships, that we as viewers can’t help but become emotionally invested. It’s a moving picture, and one centered in this kinship among the characters rather than in fancy writing or complicated situations.
Ultimately, that saves the film. The world and characters created by Hajime Kamoshida are quite wonderful and admirable, and it’s because of the groundwork set in developing them that the movie tugs at the heart in a most genuine way—even if the situational writing doesn’t always do the same.
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl is no longing showing in American theaters, but can be seen in Canada today and tomorrow.