Book Girl

For a long time, I gave grades in the lower recommended range -- B grades and B-minuses -- if a show was fairly interesting, the animation was OK, and it didn't particularly offend me. To get a C+ or worse, a program had to have a considerable failing...something had to be really off. The lower grades just showed how bad things could really get.

Maybe it's because I'm in my 17th year of doing this, or perhaps it's because my site over time has become as much a personal recollection of what I've seen as much as something for the world at large, but I don't feel the need to be overly generous any more. An anime should work for a good grade. I can't justify my time on shows that are less than something special. In years past, Book Girl might have gotten a B or B-minus, but I can't justify it. It gets some bits really right, but the things it flubs are deeply aggravating, enough that any sane viewer is going to be pulling their hair out by the end.

Konoha Inoue gets roped into his school's literature club. Normally, that happens because you like to read. In his case, though, it's because he's seen the only other member of the club -- Tohko Amano -- eating pages out of a manuscript. For a couple of years, they develop a bizarre friendship; he writes stories, and she eats them (after reading them, of course). There's also a birdhouse that's supposed to be a place for forlorn students to leave their love letters for the literature club to analyze (and maybe rewrite for them). Nothing ever shows up until several copies of a unique drawing are left in the box. Konoha and Tohko have a stakeout to find out who's been leaving the strange notes, but when they find out who's ultimately responsible, it leads them on a dark path into Konoha's past and a mysterious, suicidal girl determined to keep her claws in him forever.

While Book Girl was shown in theaters, the animation isn't big-budget. It reminds me of various Key shows, but it's nothing special. There are beautiful shots from time to time -- they certainly know how to get skyline views right -- but that doesn't make or break a show. The character designs have disappearing noses; they are created with the modern moe factor in mind. There were moments of pure beauty I enjoyed, but they seemed cribbed from better anime.

There are some decent things to enjoy in Book Girl. The storyline has an affinity for cross-referencing the literary works of the famous Kenji Miyazawa, but you don't have to have read his work to appreciate it. (It doesn't hurt to have at least watched Night on the Galactic Railroad, though.) As someone who's always appreciated the value of books, I enjoyed that element of the plot. The romantic angle does not turn out as we might expect, and though it's rarely the focus, the unique relationship between Konoha and Tohko is sweet. If anything nearly put me to the edge of recommending Book Girl, it was that I didn't see everything coming. I didn't hate watching it, and after a slow opening twenty minutes, I wasn't bored.

The problems with Book Girl are legion, though. Characters exist because they showed up in the light novel series, but they serve little purpose. The whole concept of Tohko eating books is a novelty that seems stupid in retrospect, a creation of the author to make her quirky without establishing a genuine persona. Tohko, despite being the upperclassman, comes across flighty; when she shows genuine concern at various points, it seems out of character. When ideas of a romantic relationship finally develop, they are too forced. This doesn't even mention some revelations that are simply unbelievable.

However, the major factor that really ruined Book Girl for me is the storyline's turn into the melodramatic through Miu Asakura, Konoha's unhinged friend with a death wish. Miu is a deeply unlikable person, a manipulative shrew who uses threats at offing herself to get the attention of Konoha. It's not quite fair to hate her, though, because she's mentally unstable. Her wild mood swings and self-destructive tendencies are signs of deeper illness. Doesn't mean she's pleasant to watch, especially when she overshadows everything in the latter 2/3rds of the film.

What happens with Miu highlights the unrealism of a show that seems to want to be grounded in the real world. On more than one occasion, I screamed at the screen, "Where the hell are your parents?" Miu does have a mom; she appears only once, to yell at Konoha. Other than that, she's absent. I know that mental health is treated differently in Japan than it is here, but I can say this health professional on either side of the Pacific would have left Miu untreated as she is, just sitting in a hospital waiting for her physical ailments to heal. If they did, they'd be sued for millions. But that would have gotten in the way of the plot machinations, and we can't have that.

Book Girl has some merits, and at points along the way, I thought, "Boy, that's pretty," or "how moving." But on the whole, it just ain't worth it. Every point that works is surrounded by three that don't. In a kinder, gentler world, I'd give more grace to Book Girl and praise it with kudos for doing a few original things. But I'm just not feeling the love. Book Girl is occasionally beautiful, often annoying, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Book Girl -- adult themes, including suicide -- C+