As some of you are aware of, in the daytime I double as an English teacher at Japanese elementary and junior high schools. I can say with great confidence that "eighth-grader syndrome" (chuunibyou) is a term that's tossed around all too often in the faculty room.
Every now and then, you'll have a kid who has a hard time separating reality from the fiction in their head. It typically passes by the time they're halfway through 9th grade, which is also when high school exam cramming kicks in and everybody develops grey hair despite being 14/15 years old. Sure, this kind of thing exists everywhere, but I find it interesting that there's an actual term for it in Japan.
I've been wanting to cover a KyoAni production for sometime now and after the beautifully quiet Hyouka, I jumped at the chance to write about Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! in any kind of official capacity.
Follow me after the break as I talk about that crazy girl next door.
Our main character Yuuta Togashi was once a victim of eighth grade syndrome, calling himself the Dark Flame Master and spouting embarrassingly dramatic lines right and left. With his new life in high school starting the very next day, he dumps all of the shameful relics from his past outside onto the balcony. From the apartment above drops a rope carrying a strange, eye patch wearing girl in a frilly goth-loli dress. Confused and unsure of what just happened, he watches the strange girl descend to the ground and walk off.
School starts and the thought of having a normal school life is enough to send Yuuta into a fit of joy. Having spent most of his junior high school life without friends, he audibly seals away his ridiculous catch phrase in the hope of starting anew. However much to our hero's chagrin, the eye patch girl is not only a student at the same school, but a fellow classmate as well. She spots him in class and spouts some weird lines about her eye responding to him, before crouching down on the ground in supposed pain. Met with strange glances from the rest of the students, he reluctantly takes the lunatic to the nurse's office.
The strange eye patch girl is named Rikka Takanashi and as fate would have it, she saw Yuuta seal away his catch phrase and old name. Finding it unbelievably cool, she babbles on and on about dark magic, demons and the like, leading our young hero to freak the hell out. Multiple bops on the head and instances of furniture smashing later, Yuuta tells Rikka that she can't ever tell anybody about his past.
The day ends and Yuuta is surprised and overjoyed when he discovers he's been invited to grab lunch with some of his classmates. Just as he's preparing to leave however, the teacher calls him to the front of the class and requests that he walk Rikka home as she's new to the area. Because he's not an absolutely terrible human being, he agrees to help only to find that all of her belongings have been delivered to his apartment instead of hers. After a few hours of moving boxes, his family invites Rikka to stay for dinner and they chat about Yuuta's Dark Flame Master phase, much to his shame and embarrassment. Out on the balcony, Rikka confronts him and quietly requests that he doesn't just dump all of his old belongings. Yuuta tries to explain that he's grown out of it, but eventually puts the boxes back in his room. Claiming that he'll just auction them off or something, Rikka is overwhelmed with sincere joy and the two of them head back to the living room.
I'm not sure how frequent these moments are going to pop up, but I love how KyoAni used exaggerated visual effects in certain sequences to highlight how Rikka sees the world. The moment early on when she pretends to open the train door with her powers really set the tone for the episode, particularly in how she troll walked her way into the car. I can only imagine that her odd delusions will bring about some hilarious scenes that really test Yuuta as the straight man.
While Rikka's condition is exaggerated, I definitely saw a lot of what I've experienced here in Japanese schools, just in less extreme cases. I couldn't help but chuckle whenever she started going on about magic and the like, having known several kids just like her throughout the years. It helps that she's absolutely adorable and genuinely wants to be Yuuta's friend. Seeing him outside talking to himself about Dark Flame Masters gave her hope that perhaps she wasn't alone. I can understand wanting to get close to a kindred spirit on the first day of high school. Like pretty much all of KyoAni's output, Chuunibyou is almost ridiculous in how standard the subject matter is. Yet at the same time, it has that touch we've come to expect from the studio, taking an otherwise average premise and making it something thematically and visually interesting.
While I'm getting tired of school settings, KyoAni at least knows how to make them look absolutely beautiful. KyoAni are pros at creating nostalgia via their background art. Maybe it's not exactly like where I live or the schools I go to, but it's damn near close and that's more than enough. The quality of animation is as high as always, and the subtle changes in expressions and posture tell as much about the characters as the dialogue itself does. It's rare to see so much effort put into something like a character spinning in circles on her roller skate shoes. While not everything KyoAni has done in the past five or so years has appealed to me, they undoubtedly are masters at shot choice and camera positioning. It does a lot to draw the viewer into the world these characters occupy. I refuse to believe that the artists and filmmakers at KyoAni are not fully aware of mise en scene when they construct any given sequence.
Unfortunately, while I see what they were going for, the opening suffers from a bad case of terrible. The song is fine, but the visuals are likely to give some viewers a splitting head ache. As far as I could tell, KyoAni was trying to emulate Rikka's eyesight with the patch on. The only problem is that it's a pain in the ass to keep track of, as the visuals are constantly jumping back and forth from left to right. My fingers are crossed that enough people complain so that they see there's a problem.
While I was initially put off by the character designs, there's a lot of potential in Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!. I find Yuuta to be a great leading man, and Rikka is just crazy enough that even the dullest of situations look to be a blast. My only concern is that she ends up dragging Yuuta back to his old habits, which would be a huge mistake. I don't think he's wrong in wanting to leave that craziness behind, so I'm curious as to where KyoAni wants to take this story.
Either way, I'm definitely riding this train all the way to the end.
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