I was more than a little excited when I got the chance to finally cover a Kyoto Animation series for Annotated Anime. I fell in love with Hyouka, and Full Metal Panic Fumoffu and TSR are two of my favorite shows from the last decade. No, I haven't loved everything that KyoAni has produced (not a Lucky Star fan), but I have a deep respect for their filmmaking skills.
I came into Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! expecting a beautiful looking but generic harem anime. What I found was something much, much better.
Chuu2 surprised me in a number of ways, but none more so than the fact that it completely avoided turning into a harem anime. I've spoken about this in Annotated Anime on a number of occasions, but the set up for a traditional harem series is all there; a host of female characters that outnumber the male ones. KyoAni's first step toward avoiding this pitfall is Yuta, the main character himself. Rather than creating an empty vessel of a protagonist, the staff at KyoAni (and original novel writer Torako) instead wrote a likable, even charming character who goes through as much change as anybody else in the cast. He's not overly dense, and once he realizes his own feelings for Rikka, he's quick to act on them.
Rikka can be hit or miss with people, but for what it's worth I loved her. I mentioned this in my First Impressions piece, but I have many students who act quite a bit like Rikka or even Dekomori. Sometimes they drive me a little bit crazy, but they're charming kids with big imaginations and bigger hearts. Rikka's characterization, while slightly exaggerated, was right on the ball. Watching her develop throughout the series was a total blast, and I found the reasoning behind her 8th grade syndrome to be fairly compelling. Chuu2 spends just enough time on her back story that it doesn't grate.
The rest of the cast, while not nearly as well developed as the core couple, all have their quirks and traits that help to make them feel a little more like real people. In a move that totally blew my mind, KyoAni avoids having any of the other female characters fall in love with Yuta. That's right, there are no love triangles to be had in Chuu2! Instead, the focus is thrown on a group of friends, each person with their own silly little high school problem that they're trying to take care of. Nibutani is attempting to leave her junior high past behind her, Makoto is trying to find true love, Dekomori wants to hold on to her fantasy world, and Kumin just wants to nap. Throw all these weirdos together and the results are as fun as they are action packed.
While it never quite reaches Hyouka levels of visual polish, KyoAni clearly put the work in, as Chuu2 is a visual feast for the eyes. They've produced many shows that take place in school buildings, and their experience certainly shows. But where Chuu2 really impresses is in its action (?!) sequences. A sight for sore eyes, the lavishly animated action set pieces serve as a reminder that while KyoAni has been away from the genre for quite a while, they've still got it. Overall cinematography remains a high point, with some stunningly beautiful shots in the second half of the series. If you're looking to pick up Chuu2 for the eye candy, you won't be disappointed. Just don't expect any traditional fanservice; there's none to be found here.
The musical score unfortunately isn't nearly as solid, though it hardly offends. Composer Nijine crafts a soundtrack that seems content with being firmly in the background. This is a little bit disappointing considering Kohei Tanaka's fantastic work on Hyouka, but for what it's worth, it works perfectly fine within the show. The opening and ending are both solid, but the former is nearly ruined by the awful editing of the visual component.
Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! really came out of left field. Based on a light novel that nobody had ever heard of and only two volumes long, it seemed odd to me that KyoAni snatched it up. Romantic comedies have been really hit or miss for me over the past year, and I've grown sick of the harem formula getting in the way of an otherwise decent story. KyoAni doesn't disappoint though, as Chuu2 is a tight, twelve episode series that's heart warming, action packed, and an overall delight to watch.
While the cute visuals might seem off putting, give Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! a shot. You might find yourself just as pleasantly surprised as I was.