Very little changes in Kenji Seki’s daily routine. Every morning, he takes his dog to the beach in the hopes of catching a glimpse of his classmate, Kahori Harukawa, while she surfs. Afterwards, he meets up with his neighbour and childhood friend, Natsuki Suzuura, and they walk to school. In essence, he lives an idyllic life where the only thing he has to worry about is how to finally confess his feelings to Kahori.
The routineness of Kenji’s life is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious transfer student. Ryouichi Kyougoku, who claims to be a psychic, has both the charisma and popularity that Kenji has always dreamed of. Before long, Kahori begins to show feelings for Ryouichi, and Natsuki becomes distant whenever Kenji tries to talk about his feelings.
As Kenji’s life is thrown into disarray, how will Ryouichi’s arrival impact those around him? Nerawareta Gakuen follows these formerly typical high schoolers as they become involved with the supernatural.
Nerawareta Gakuen, like much other anime, begins with a transfer student arriving at a Japanese high school. In this case, we’re immediately tipped off that he’s not from Earth, nor from this time; he possesses a large glass jewel resembling an hourglass, which can turn into a dog-like animal that talks to him.
But the transfer student is far more interested in the world he’s arrived in, which is ostensibly our own, but transfigured by the film into a lambent kaleidoscope of gorgeous colours flaring off virtual lenses.
The look has been compared to Makoto Shinkai’s anime, but if so, it’s to his more far-out visions, like the cosmic sunset midway through 5 Centimetres per Second. However, Gakuen’s character animation is far more expressive than Shinkai’s, its youngsters bouncing with energy.
Despite the science-fiction set-up, and despite having a science-fiction plot of sorts, Nerawareta Gakuen is most successful as a wistful romantic teen drama. It’s the kind where everyone is unrequitedly in love with someone else, trapped by feelings they long to have returned.
During the film, the high-schoolers rehearse A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the alien boy identifying himself with Puck; but Dream, remember, is a comedy about characters falling for the wrong people.
One anime that Gakuen recalls is the 2012 series Waiting in the Summer, another story of an alien joining an unknowing group of teenagers and wondering at the dreams of adolescence: sun and sea, friendship and love. The setting is the coastal region around the Japanese isle of Enoshima – exactly the same location as another new Anime Limited release, Ping Pong, but drawn very differently here.