I am the bone of my sword.
It’s hard to put Inou Battle in a box, because it refuses to go into one. Slice-of-life, probably, and harem and comedy too, but what of the drama, the heartfelt feelings, or the surprisingly brutal turn at the end? It’s hard to define, but one thing’s for sure: It was entertaining all the way through.
Slice-of-Life In Spite of Its Premise
The premise is a solid one. “A bunch of high schoolers get supernatural powers, and then … continue with their everyday lives.” The tendency of stories is that, when the main characters have awesome powers for whatever reason, they’re going to do something awesome with them … I should know, I wrote a book that did exactly that. And that’s a trope for a reason, because it works damn well. But Inou Battle subverted that, and in doing so carved itself out a niche that immediately grabs attention.
That it was able to resist ever becoming an action show, even when it occasionally indulged in action bits, was to its credit; it kept it from losing what made it unique. The superpowers weren’t the sum total of these characters, but merely an aspect of them, as was explicitly noted in the ending narration by Tomoyo in the final episode:
“We might have special powers that normal students don’t, but everyone has something that’s a bit different from others, right? But we still worry, get angry, and laugh like normal, and spend similar yet slightly different days together.”
Superpowers are the selling point, and they keep the characters together, but it’s the characters themselves that hold up the show. Their superpowers are just one small part of them. When I get to the end and realize there were whole episodes at a time where Chifuyu, Hatoko, and everyone else didn’t use their powers at all, it becomes even clearer.
Building a Harem Without Becoming a Harem Show
Calling something a harem show has a very specific connotation, and that’s another thing Inou Battle avoids. In the (by the end) six different girls and their growing feelings for Andou, it never turned into Infinite Stratos or High School DxD. It reminds me of Log Horizon, where one day you realize that Shiroe has three women interested in him, and three makes a harem … but it’s still not a harem show. Even when the harem is more of the focus, like it is here, I think it avoids becoming a “harem show” because it paid attention to every character to such a degree that it wasn’t about Andou and his harem, but about Andou, Tomoyo, Hatoko, Sayumi, Chifuyu, Kudou-san, Kuki, and all the others. It’s not about Andou’s haremettes, but about the girls’ feelings … who just all happen to be directed at the same guy.
To evoke another of my favorites, consider Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo. Even when it became clear that Mashiro and Nanami were both vying for Sorata’s heart, it never felt like “Oh, that lucky dog. He has two girls.” No, it was about Sorata’s feelings, and Nanami’s feelings, and Mashiro’s feelings, and how they intersect and would become resolved. There’s a certain amount of respect for the characters in all of these examples that prevent them from becoming harem shows, even when ostensible harems develop.
Seriously Not Serious
But the most delicate trick was in the tone. Somehow Inou Battle managed to throw out some surprisingly dramatic moments without making it feel at odds with it’s usual light tone. I think it’s resistance to classification earns the credit again—because it never sat comfortably in the mind as a “slice-of-life show,” when deeper things happened, it didn’t jar. Still the best moment of the series was undoubtedly Hatoko’s explosion in episodes seven. It was so well-paced, well-direction, and filled with emotion as to make it uncomfortable to watch. The good kind of uncomfortable—the type that makes you realize it’s speaking to something true. But this last episode did it as well, when they used a flippin’ guillotine not once, but twice. Because Inou Battle refused to tell us why Andou promised to not use his evolved power for so long, when it finally came around, I was so curious … and wow. Shock and awe. Mostly shock. I didn’t expect that, and defying expectations is a great way to wow people.
But it never lost its generally carefree air. It remained funny, the characters remained relatable, and it remained upbeat and optimistic throughout. That let the moment of drama stand out, while the rest was a pleasant ride.
I haven’t a clue who to suggest Inou Battle to, save to say that I enjoyed it. It defies categorization, but it’s stronger for it, because it doesn’t take shelter (wholly) in any one genre’s tropes. It’s character-driven before all else, it’s optimistic and its core, but it packs a surprising punch. It’s easily in the upper third of shows I watched this season, probably the upper quarter, and it’s one I easily, effortlessly, and enjoyably watched as soon as it came out. I wouldn’t say it changed my life, but I would miss it if I hadn’t seen it.
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