The setup of When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is simple: one day, seemingly at random, the five members of a high school literature club gain superpowers. But when no otherworldly threat appears, they decide to continue their lives as normal -- though with a bit more in the way of superpowered shenanigans.
One of the underlying themes in When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is that superpowers don't solve every problem. In normal life they are largely useless. They're not going to help you become a writer or improve your relationship with your family. And instead of going the normal superhero route of "with great power comes great responsibility," this anime takes a different view. The only responsibility they have is to refrain from using their powers to harm others -- i.e., all they have to do is continue to be normal, moral people. They don't need to go out and save the world. Instead, they are free to just enjoy their everyday lives, using their powers to have fun with their friends.
Jurai, the only male of the group, is the anime's main character and has a serious case of "chunibyo." This form of arrested development is often featured in anime and describes someone who makes up childish fantasies and pretends they are real. Chunibyo characters tend to talk about how they have dark magical powers or are being targeted by a secret, mysterious organisation, when in reality they are just normal people.
In the early episodes, Jurai's chunibyo serves as the core for most of the humour. On one level it's embarrassment comedy as we watch his over-the-top, nearly nonsensical rants on whatever ideas pass through his imagination. His shtick about having a dark power inside him would be completely baseless in other anime, but in When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace it often proves relevant as they all do actually have powers. This serves to form a second layer to the humour in those times when his delusions are surprisingly on point -- or when another character takes his rants too seriously and uses her powers accordingly.
I actually found Jurai's chunibyo to be more annoying than comedic -- to the point that I rather disliked the show by its halfway point. I've never been one for awkward/embarrassment humour, regardless of its quality. Rather than laughing, I simply feel increasingly uncomfortable. So I was as surprised as anyone when, despite all this, the anime won me over through the romantic drama of the second half.
Like many anime rom-coms, When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is a harem anime in which each of the girls harbours romantic feelings for the male lead. In the second half, the comedy starts to take a backseat to the romance angle as the episodes begin focusing on the girls and their respective histories with Jurai.
Tomoyo slowly opens up to Jurai as he is the one person who would never make fun of her nerdy hobbies or dreams. Sayumi finds Jurai to be as willful in his own way as she is and so is the person who understands her better than anyone else. Chifuyu, an elementary schooler, has always been isolated socially because of her high intelligence and develops a crush on Jurai for his accepting nature and caring personality. But while these characters and their developing relationships with Jurai are well done, it's Hatoko, Jurai's childhood friend, that completely steals the show dramatically. Despite loving him and knowing him the longest, spending years trying to understand him, she finds what he says and does to be largely incomprehensible. This comes to a head in a scene that is one of the best written and well-acted monologues I have ever seen in anime. The utter pain, bewilderment, and anger in voice actress Hayami Saori's performance is palpable and leaves the audience as shocked as Jurai himself. Honestly, this scene alone made the entire anime worth watching.
While there are technically four potential romances for Jurai to pursue, there are really only two options that seem likely: Tomoyo or Hatoko. These two characters receive the vast majority of screen time and connect with Jurai on a deeply personal level -- Tomoyo through shared nerdy interests and Hatoko due to more than a decade of friendship. Chifuyu, as an elementary schooler, is simply too young for any serious romantic consideration and Sayumi, as the responsible head of the literature club, is stuck in a role that's more maternal than romantic.
What's interesting is that one of the ancillary characters in the anime, fellow student Sagami, is aware of the unbalanced harem situation. Sagami, like the audience, is watching the various romances from the outside. Annoyed at the cliché nature of Jurai's love life, he steps in to force Sayumi into the romantic spotlight -- not for the happiness of those involved but for his own entertainment. It is strikingly sinister. But he is not the only one manipulating the main cast for his own twisted entertainment.
What the literature club members don't know is that they are not the only ones with superpowers. Others with special abilities are fighting to the death, hoping to win a magically granted wish. Fairies (yes, as in "tiny people with wings") are responsible for giving out these powers -- not to protect the world or any similar noble cause, but simply because the battles between superpowered humans are the fairies' main source of entertainment.
Of course, this bloodsport seems more than a little messed up (even though losers, after being defeated, are restored to life sans powers or memories of said powers), but it gains a whole extra level when you realise that the fairies are an analogue for the television viewing audience in general. After all, people watching TV, movies, and anime are comfortable with seeing characters battle to the death because no one is really harmed.
However, the literature club never discovers any of this. And unlike the other powered individuals, they never encounter any fairies. They are left almost completely out of the action -- seemingly by design. This is likely because they are on another "show," so to speak. While the other powered characters are fulfilling the role of violent entertainment for the fairies, the literature club's adventures are those of a rom-com. Thus you, the viewer of this anime, are one of the fairies watching the literature club's show instead of the bloodsport show. It is a fun little twist to the anime that really pulls you in once you realise what is happening.
Going into When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, my expectations were high -- perhaps unreasonably so. After all, When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is the newest anime from Studio Trigger, the people behind both darling anime Little Witch Academia and over-the-top action-adventure Kill la Kill (though When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace is a novel adaptation rather than an original work, unlike those two).
When it failed to hook me early on because of its awkward humour, I was more than a little disappointed. However, despite this, the anime still won me over in the end with its clever plot twists, excellently realised characters, and alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking romantic drama. But best of all, like Trigger's other anime endeavours, it leaves you wanting more long after the final credits roll.
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace aired on TV Tokyo in Japan. It can be seen for free with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.