Friday, 6 June 2014

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

Chuunibyou was popular enough to warrant a continuation, but continuing a series that focuses on romance is always difficult. From Da Capo to Clannad, second seasons have often struggled to find a way to continue while keeping up dramatic tension when a series has really revolved around which girl a central male character will get with.

Comparatively, it was more obvious who Yuuta would end up with in the original series, but where Chuunibyou could go after its central couple got together was a tricky point, one explored through these twelve episodes. And personally, though Chuunibyou Ren was still pleasant to watch and likeable, I can’t think of many ways the series could have continued its love story that I would have found more tedious.

There’s psychoanalysis to be done with this, to be sure – about the otaku culture’s love for the pure, unadulterated female character, who wants to be in a romance but finds it all too embarrassing and hides away like a frightened mouse or, y’know, a twelve-year-old girl who despite her canonical age she rather resembles in how she’s drawn. The series begins to revolve around how despite having been in a relationship for months, Yuuta and Rikka haven’t so much as held hands. She’s too bashful to kiss, and right at the end of the series they build up to her kissing Yuuta on the cheek. Sure, it’s all very adorable, except that I don’t see it in terms of Rikka’s interesting character and neuroses as an individual, but rather in terms of the male audience, the ‘male gaze’ as Tumblr types would put it, and that Rikka isn’t behaving this way because yes, there are girls that averse to intimacy and it’s interesting to consider it, but because (a) the romance story will otherwise lose momentum, and (b) anime has inherited from aidoru / wota culture absurd ideas of purity and innocence. It all feels to me like a desire for an easily-controlled girlfriend with no prior, threatening sexual experience, and rather makes me long for another anime like REC. There’s coy, and then there’s annoying – and it all takes me out of the story to think about the audience this targets.

Aside from this rather strained central relationship, spiced up with the addition of a bland rival in love, childhood admirer Satone, who fancies herself a magical girl and calls Yuuta ‘Yuusha’, meaning ‘hero’. Conceptually this works as a foil but she never really develops an interesting enough relationship with another character to fit into the fold.

What is really good about the series, bizarrely enough, is its padding. Several episodes are devoted to the minor characters, and in particular episodes about the rivalry / affection / sexual tension between Dekomori and Mori Summer. These are rich and amusing enough characters that, crucially, seeing them out of character is very entertaining. The girl whose personality is defined by sleepiness and the hapless boy courting her lose what charm they had in the first season, though, and come over as very tiresome.

The times that the characters’ delusions are represented on-screen remain very entertaining parts. Visually they are great fun and the ridiculous, huge weapons remain very funny. That the new girl Satone brings more opportunities for this, as well as jokey transformation sequences (in the Lite omake animations), which is one reason to be somewhat pleased she exists. As usual, KyoAni provide some excellent animation and pretty art, and the shots of the characters rotating in the intro are technically pretty impressive.

There’s a lot going for Chuunibyou and I actually wanted this second part to be good. The trouble is that the romance part makes the whole thing seem stagnant, though, so all the well-done peripheral parts feel like without something solid to lean on, they only fall down. KyoAni seem to need to learn that sometimes, one season is just the right amount. Just look at K-On!...and Haruhi...and, though this is only a premonition, most likely Free as well.

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