Wednesday, 26 December 2012

中二病でも恋がしたい! / Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! / Second-year Illness aside, I want Love!

Chuu-ni-byou, ‘the illness of the second year of junior high school’, is a very funny condition. It’s the mental delusion in young teens where their adolescent angst makes them create a fantasy world filled with ridiculous attempts to be cool. In the case of main character Yuuta, that meant calling himself the ‘Dark Flame Master’ and donning a big trenchcoat, trying to imbue fancy swords with supernatural powers. When the story starts, he is deeply embarrassed by that past, blushing and cringing right down to the floor when he thinks of it, which is a very endearing trait. When he goes to his high school, he gets it out of his system with one last display on a balcony – but the one person who sees it is of course the girl who is still mired in the worst delusions of chuunibyou, cute little Takanashi Rikka. With his secret revealed, he is drawn into the strange plans of this girl, joining an odd club with another more energetic chuunibyou called Dekomori, a sleepy girl called Kumin, a clownish boy called Makoto and a popular cheerleader called Nibutani who is initially an antagonist of sorts, but becomes an ally largely because she, too, has a past as a chuunibyou and the others have blackmail material on her.

From the offset, the odd couple comedy is rather like ToraDora clashing with Black Rock Shooter – an unlikely match of a misunderstood guy and a girl with a damaged history who acts out, overlaid with another world that allows for bravura animation with huge, silly weapons. It also struck me as rather like Shakugan no Shana if the supernatural action had all been imagined. But the hook of this embarrassing past is a wonderful one, and I had some of the biggest, most affectionate laughs I have had in any anime since…probably Ika Musume, which had a similar direct and ingenuous way of presenting humour.
Part of the initial hook of Chuunibyou is attached to how that sort of escapism is likely to resonate with the target audience. 
The greater part of anime fans must either have done embarrassing things in their youth or know people who come over as delusional, which adds to the humour. I found it all immediately appealing, and thought this perhaps the ideal mixture of Kyoto Animation’s previous styles – the romantic big-eyed Keyadaptations, the wacky anything-goes humour and the gentle but dull cute-girls-doing-cute-things with adorable art. It had humour, spectacle and romance, and for the first time a male lead who was not sarcastic and handsome and standoffish but as cute and goofy as the girls – though the harem he assembles here is particularly childlike and adorable and in design terms owes a lot to K-On. It didn’t hurt that occasionally the show would present delusions as if real, especially when the ice-cool, detached big sister character would come to knock some sense into Rikka with a ladle, and that as well as Rikka’s umbrella would be transformed into huge sci-fi anime weapons.

Of course, after about half its short 12-episode run (plus six cute little internet shorts), Chuu-2 did what almost all anime in its style inevitably do, and swung towards drama rather than comedy. I must say, I wish the comic element had lasted longer, even if that meant a longer series or the dramatic parts more truncated – as it was, they were paced fairly slow, anyway. Ultimately, it becomes apparent that Rikka’s illness is a result of repressed feelings of grief – of course, for it can’t just be a nice, light story – and by living in her silly dream-world, she is hurting her family and putting off truly being able to mourn.

The way this issue is ultimately dealt with – an irritating half-measure where the status quo can be restored and Rikka finds catharsis and a way to confront what she has repressed while within her fantasy world, rather validating it and removing the interesting angle of ‘If she doesn’t grow up and leave this behind, she can never truly mourn for her loss,’ which was kinda the whole point of the serious turn. Add in the unfortunate turn of a funny sleepy character behaving very oddly – apparently a character original to the anime – and a very unlikely moment in the classic anime tradition of ‘We’ll hold them off here – you go on ahead!’ and it all struck me as very hollow and artificial.
Which is a shame, because until the very last three or four episodes I really enjoyed Chuunibyou. It was a neat little set-up with great potential for humour, utterly adorable girls and a couple of adorable boys as well – all doing cute things – and some very memorable images. It was on course for being one of my favourites in years, winning big points from me especially because of the way Yuuta and Nibutani would get so embarrassed when they remembered their past silliness, and how even as one who disliked Geass I can find it funny when Fukuyama Jun put on his Lelouche voice for his daft past self, usually much more in his adorable Riku-from-Onmyou Taisenki / Aruberu from Gankutsuou / oh god that hideous creature from Okane ga Nai mode. But just like Sword Art Online, when it changed tack and took some risks, it went too far, and ended up rather spoiling what went before it. What a pity, for I had hoped for a bit of a classic here.
Still, I’ll definitely want to catch the OVA next year, and any future animation. Hopefully they’ll have a less seizure-inducing opening animation, too. 


  1. It's funny how people are divided with Chuunibyou over whether they like the first half better or the second half better (unlike SAO, where I don't think anyone likes the second half better =P) More people seem to be like you and liked the humorous first half better. I know you read my review of Chuunibyou, so I guess I'm in the minority as far as enjoying the dramatic twist in the latter part. But I do agree with you that there were a lot of good laughs to be had in the first part and the final episode was kind of bumpy, especially the "We'll hold them off, you go on ahead!" thing you mentioned. Oh, and the Lite episodes were great fun too XD

  2. I didn't mind the fact that they went was more just that I don't think they did it very well, especially with how they resolved Rikka's issues. 

    And yeah, I really doubt that the second half of SAO has any big fans! It's interesting how the two series both have such a significant divide.