When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is both exactly what it claims to be and nothing of the sort. A bit of a riff on supernatural battle stories, the first light novel in the series by Kota Nozomi (whose light novel series Are You Okay With a Slightly Older Girlfriend? is also being translated by J-Novel Club) introduces us to a group of (mostly) high school students who were one day granted strange powers by some unknown force…and then just sort of left hanging. The three girls and one boy – plus a random elementary schooler who hangs out in the literary club’s clubroom – one day discover that they can all wield elemental, spatial, or time-based powers but then have absolutely nothing to use them with. So they just keep on living their lives without a whole lot of difference.
The catch is that the sole boy member of the club is Andou Jurai, a raging chuunibyou. No one is more psyched than Jurai about the club’s new skills, even if his ability to summon a mildly warm black flame doesn’t really do much, especially when compared to the girls’ powers. He promptly names everyone’s skills in the most over-the-top way possible and begins coming up with backstories, incantations, titles, and other bits and pieces to enhance what he’s sure must be coming: a battle for the soul of the world. The girls are mostly annoyed by his antics, but do let him muddle along; because if nothing’s really changed, why should his personality be any different?
While this is fine on the surface, what makes the story work as more than just a fluffy commentary on the norms of its genre is Jurai’s self-awareness. He’s absolutely aware that he’s living in his own made-up world, and he can code-switch from chuuni to regular high school boy with alacrity. We rarely see him interact with people outside the club, but as the novel progresses, we can gather that he’s really only a chuunibyou in front of people he’s comfortable with or whom he needs to make an impression on. Since most of the story takes place in the clubroom or within the confines of the club as a social group, that means that we’re simply seeing that side of Jurai a disproportionate amount of time. There are hints that he occasionally acts out in class, but that’s framed as more of a class clown situation – a mild bid for attention rather than a wholehearted belief in his delusions and imagination games. Once we realize that, Jurai’s interactions with the girls take on more of a friendly tone – yes, he annoys them, but if they hated him, they’d take pains to get rid of him. Mostly they just accept him for who he is, and a couple of them even enjoy talking with him, although you’d likely be hard-pressed to get them to admit it.
The story therefore takes on a theme of embracing what you love even if you know it’s not, shall we say, becoming. Jurai’s first-person narration lets us know that he’s fully aware of how others see him – he even refers to his “Blood Bible” notebook as the girls’ do at times: a “Cringe Compilation” of his own world building and mythologizing. He does encourage his clubmates to play along with him and to talk about their own nerdy interests, but for the most part it’s simply about Jurai doing his own thing while kind of hoping that someday there really will be an opportunity for them all to use their new powers, preferably in a way that mimics JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
There are a lot of references to other stories, mostly without any of the cutesy attempts to obscure a copyrighted work that we typically see. JoJo is probably the reference made the most often within the text, but One Piece is also namedropped a lot, alongside Dragon Ball, Bleach, Death Noteand Bakuman. The only title that’s deliberately obscure is Sword Art Onlinewhich is renamed Swords Aren’t Online (its motto is also paraphrased in the text), which of course only makes the reference stand out more. While all of the references do a good job of grounding the story in the here-and-now, it also does get a bit grating, feeling like the author is just throwing titles at us to prove that this isn’t a far-flung fantasy adventure.
That is the major downside of this volume – it spends so much time and effort establishing Jurai’s personality and the fact that the story takes place in an everyday world that’s basically ours that it forgets to actually develop the plot. Even if this is deliberate, it makes the book drag on to the point that it feels much longer than it actually is, and while the final chapters do advance the plot more than the rest of the novel, it’s a bit of a “too little” , too late” situation. It’s not boring, exactly, but it is a bit of a slog at times, and that hurts the readability quite a lot. Jurai is also a lot to take as a narrator, although it’s worth noting that when the first person narration switches a couple of times, it’s not immediately clear that it has; differing character voices are not one of the author’s strong suits.
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace could very well be a series that finds its feet in its second volume. This one takes a little too long to fully establish its plot and characters, and it definitely finds its own schtick a little too funny. But it has a solid premise and could go some very fun places. While the idea is better than the execution here, that may just mean that it has room to grow.