Before going into Winter 2014’s Chuunibyou season 2, it’s only right to have a review of season 1.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Chuunibyou during the Fall 2012 season, my guess being that it was KyoAni + Ishihara Tatsuya (director, storyboard), who were behind other hit animes K-On!, Air, Clannad, Kanon, Suzumiya Haruhi and many more. This combination promised drama – plenty of drama, revolving around students and how through their daily lives they learn friendship, loyalty, laughter, love which are basically the ingredients of a coming-of-age rom-com anime set against slice-of-life scenarios. Did Chuunnibyou deliver? Oh yes, I’m glad to review it here that it did deliver, very much so.
So what is Chuunibyou 中二病? It’s an “illness” that chuuni (8th grade) students suffer from as part of their growing up process. As children we grow up on fairy tales and imaginary stories seen on the telly – who hasn’t thought of being a princess, on a pirate ship, fighting dragons with powerful magic cast from an ice-cream stick? Ok so maybe I was overly imaginative but you get my point. Somewhere along the years as we grow taller and stronger, our fantasy world grows smaller and weaker. We become cynical, practical and realistic i.e. adults. Chuuni is that mid-way point between leaving our imaginations behind and accepting the stark truth that is to be for the rest of our long lives, to let go of escapism and face up to reality. For those who linger longer in their delusions or refuse to let go of that imaginative childhood, Japanese society has coined them as suffering from Chuunibyou – 中二の病気.
Chuunibyou de mo koi ga shitai! 中二病でも恋がしたい！~ Love, Chuunibyou and Other Delusions!
Takanashi Rikka (Uchida Maaya) suffers from chuunibyou, believing she is a highly powerful sorceress possessed with the “Tyrant’s Eye” (with different coloured contact lense too) which she has to seal by wearing an eye patch. Togashi Yuuta (Fukuyama Jun) was a chuunibyou patient who believed himself to be the Dark Flame Master, an Evil-Eye type mage who chants spells to manage his dark flames, cursed with the Black Flame Dragon on his right arm. Rikka and Yuuta meet as freshmen in the same class at high school and as an ex-sufferer, Yuuta knows a chunibyou sufferer when he sees one – Rikka. He’s grown out of Chuunibyou and has become highly embarrassed of his Dark Flame days so he tries to dissociate himself with Rikka, who knows about his mage days and blackmails him with it to become friends. Oh and they live in the same apartment building, Rikka living on the floor above Yuuta’s. Such is the beginning of the first cour of Chuunibyou. Through the first 6 episodes, much comic relief and LOL moments came through Rikka’s Tyrant Eye escapades with her servant and actual 8th grader Dekomori Sanae (Uesaka Sumire) and her Mighty Mjolnir Maul twintails, Yuuta’s Dark Flame Master past threatening to be exposed and that of popular girl Nibutani Shinka (Akasaki Chinatsu) aka Mori Summer the mage as well as the interactions between Dekomori and Shinka. Together, they form a social club (Far East Magic something something… think fantasy & supernatural powers) and are joined by senpai and serial-napper Tsuyuri Kumin (Asakura Azumi) and Isshiki Makoto (Hoshi Souichirou), the first classmate Yuuta thought he could start afresh with since Makoto would not know of the Dark Flame Master.
In retrospect, I really enjoyed the pacing of Chuunibyou. It started off as a light-hearted comedy, building up the characters slowly as we discover their fears and flaws, taking a slow but steady dramatic turn in episode 7 (pulling it off while concurrently being the token ‘beach’ episode), with episodes 8 – 12 melodrama slowly seeping into the viewers as the source and inspiration for Rikka’s chuunibyou is explained. We follow Yuuta’s insecurities as he faces his own final relinquishments of the Dark Flame master (i.e. having to really grow up) when he justifies and stands up for Rikka’s rebellious phase (according to her family). Rikka’s confusion over her own feelings makes you want to just give her a hug already. When Dekomori rants on Yuuta, like him, you’d feel sorry for taking her master away. We see how Yuuta falls in love with Rikka, first with her delusional self and together, with her real self. Because who can help a chuunibyou sufferer better than an ex-patient? The friendships are heartwarming and genuinely felt as they each help Yuuta help Rikka on her quest to find the ethereal horizon. Growing up isn’t easy especially when you’re in the same position Rikka was in. What makes all that angst go away and to accept more and more responsibility is the presence of friends who help one another get through those pubescent years. Rikka was escaping reality and Chuunibyou showed how friends and to a larger extent, trusting someone who loves you in spite of your embarrassing behaviour, can help you face the harshness of reality and accept yourself for who you are.
This being KyoAni, the background art and overall visuals were beautiful, rich and fluid. A lot of fantasizing along supernatural storylines meant action sequences and visual effects, which KyoAni delivered so much so you’d forget this isn’t an action anime. At 13 episodes, each side character had just the right amount of screen time to flesh out their supporting roles. Kudos of course to the voice acting – Junjun effortlessly switches between Yuuta’s lighthearted bright sound and his Dark Flame master Lelouche-like lower sinister register, Uchida Maaya delivered tear-inducing tremors that’s not over-the-top, Hoshi Souichirou’s Makoto was gung-ho and full of smiles, showcasing precisely just what a high school freshman sounds like when he has a crush on Kumin senpai. Asakura Azumi’s gentle breathing as the perpetually napping Kumin senpai were not to be taken for granted as she morphed into Rikka’s Tyrant Eye sorcerer for a minute. For a character who’s voice is on a higher register, Uesaka Sumire’s Dekomori was surprisingly not irritating. Rounding it up is Akasaki Chinatsu’s tsundere Shinka, reminding me of a less tsun but more dere version of Tomatsu Haruka.
Chuunibyou deserved the hype, truly making it one of the better animes of 2012. In my books, it’s earned a place to be proudly recognized as a KyoAni production but whether or not it becomes a classic may depend on the second season. There was lots of drama but not tear-inducing enough for me (AnoHana, Sakurasou) so that’s what I’ll be anticipating in Chuunibyou de mo Koi ga shitai! Ren!