What They Say:
The future of the world is in trouble. But can it be affected by something as simple as cellphones? Perhaps the world would be a better place if you could communicate without actually speaking if you just knew what others were thinking. But no one has psychic talents or do they?
When transfer student Ryoichi Kyogoku appears things take a turn for the weird.
Students start missing school and the student council bans the use and possession of cellphones on school property. Behind the scenes, Kyogoku begins changing students by awakening their psychic abilities with the hope that maybe he can prevent the future disaster on Earth. But if he can’t, he’ll have to take everyone he awakened back to his future.
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track as well as the new English language dub, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec in 5.1 form. The result is one that works great with both mixes, though it is a film that for the most part is about creating atmosphere and using the audio to enhance the scenes in smaller and more careful ways. When it does go big from time to time and toward the end it definitely matters as it all feels more expansive and engaging because of it. The soundtrack definitely makes out really well by what they do here as it’s a rich and warm piece that exudes something that you can connect with. The dialogue is well placed when needed and there’s a good bit of bass overall done in a similar manner. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally released in 2012, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The nearly two-hour film is animated by Sunrise and it’s quite possibly one of the most beautiful looking anime features I’ve ever seen. It’s awash in color in a way that few films operate on and that just takes it to its own surreal and ethereal level that’s hard to describe. With solid character designs and a good sense of the world and all its details that are wonderfully captured, it’s the color quality that really brings it to life and stands out. The encoding captures all of that without a problem as colors are rich and solid with the right kind of pop and hue that they need. It’s a strikingly beautiful film across the board and the encoding nails it.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case with an o-card that replicates the artwork from the case itself. The cardstock is pretty nice as it gives the color a bit of a boost with its richness, though the lighter blue of the Blu-ray stripe feels like it doesn’t work. The front cover gives you a good idea of the color richness of the film as it uses the familiar key visual that was used to promote the project. The back cover goes for a good star filled background where we get a clean and accessible summary of the premise along with a few shots from the film. The extras are clearly listed and the technical grid breaks everything down in a clean and clear fashion so you know exactly what you’re getting. Within the case we get artwork on the reverse side that’s done in a much lighter color tone that shows two of the leads when they were kids using cups to communicate that’s spread over the two panels. No show related inserts are included.
The menu design for this is pretty nice, though I’m surprised they didn’t go for a clip setup for it since there are so many visuals to set the mood with. What we get is the star filled background from the back cover used here with a blending in on the right of another fantastic key visual piece of the main cast that has its own colors that really pop. It’s a very varied piece overall between the two but the blending really works better than I would have expected. The navigation is done in a simple bright blue stripe along the bottom that has the standards and it works as both the main menu piece and as the pop-up menu during playback without a problem.
The extras for this release are short overall as it’s just the standards that you want in that we get the original promos, some of the TV sports for it, and the theatrical trailers, which amounts to about seven minutes overall.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Known as Nerawareta Gakuen in its original Japanese release, Psychic School Wars is a 2012 anime feature from Sunrise that got a big push at the time but has languished with overseas pickups until this past year or so. The property itself is interesting as it’s based on a 1973 novel from Taku Mayumura that has seen multiple TV dramas made and two live action films as well. Each of them adapted to their time and this one does that in a big way since it places a lot of emphasis on mobile phones and the growing disconnect from humanity and communication that a lot of people have. Which, frankly, was just a poorly developed subplot that felt like it was written by adults who have not taken a shine to all the positives of the new form of communication.
Focusing on a group of middle school students amid a period where the school is banning mobile phones due to an incident the year prior, there’s some interesting dialogue within the first ten or so minutes about it between an accessible and frankly charming male teacher with his students, something you don’t often see, as he tries to get them to realize that they’re anxious without their phones as a sort of security blanket. Through this, we meet the core cast which is made up of Kenji, Natsuki, and Kahori. There’s a familiar triangle of sorts here as Kenji is kind of taken with Kahori while Natsuki has been relegated to the girl next door that has lived her life next to Kenji and is just madly in love with him but unseen in that way. It’s something that’s brewing to a point of boiling over here but we get it gradually.
The catalyst for change within this is the arrival of Ryoichi, a new male student that has a vastly different goal than anyone else here. He’s from a relative near future where the world has ended and the remains of humanity reside on the moon. This period in time is close to a tipping point and thanks to psychic powers that have grown in his time he’s able to come back to try and see if he can fix things. That fix is actually interesting in a kind of sideways view as he’s not trying to change it personally but rather “activate” a range of other people of the same age that have psychic abilities to be unlocked and have them work together to save the future. Of course, even with the limited humanity in that future that exists it looks like there are opposing sides and conflict, so there’s also that usual humanity is unsalvageable element to everything.
What the film wants to do is explore the connections people share, which we get in the tighter piece of the relationships between the core cast, and the disconnect in humanity as we see the students – and then the teachers – struggle with the new regulations being laid down in regards to their phones. It also comes as other events are moving along that causes a lot of students to simply stop coming to school and the emergence of psychic powers that are also being put under regulation in order to keep some sense of order about school. There are some neat things that are delved into from time to time but the unfortunate piece is that the core characters aren’t really developed enough early on to really feel engaging – just how much can a middle school student really offer without some kind of tragic backstory or something really unique about them, something none of them have – and that keeps it from making a strong personal connection. There are a lot of comparison to Makoto Shinkai’s works with this film and that’s justified, visually, but it misses the mark on the human connection that Shinkai’s films really reach out and engage you with.
But really, it doesn’t matter. There’s more than enough character material here to make it work and keep you involved with it. That’s the superficial layer to some degree as the real meat that wins over is the animation itself. It has such an ethereal feeling to it, so otherworldly in its richness of color and design, that it’s hauntingly beautiful to watch unfold. There are just so many scenes where it’s like life taken to the tenth power in our view of everything that it can be overwhelming at times. There’s so much to take in and savor that it really is a fascinating piece. In some ways it reminds me a bit of the film What Dreams May Come with how it plays with color and design to evoke the emotional response as it does it so exceptionally well here. That’s what resonated with me far more than the actual story, though that helped to blend the two together well enough to make it an enjoyable overall experience.
While I have issues with the depth of character and the engagement of the story itself, Psychic School Wars is a film worth owning and experience, particularly in high definition. It is a pretty badly named film in some ways because it reminds me of 80’s anime films that were all about brutal fights. But what we get here is a vividly beautiful and alluring film that just does a whole lot right in showing the power of the medium to deliver something emotional. If it had been able to deliver more on the characters in making them well rounded it would have been a lot stronger of a work. Funimation’s release is definitely solid and it brings to the market a film that has waited far too long to come out here. Definitely recommended, though with the aforementioned caveats.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Promotional Videos, Teaser, TV Commercials, Theatrical Trailer, US Trailer, and Trailers
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: November 1st, 2016
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.