For the uninitiated, what’s wrong with you? If you haven’t already watched it, don’t continue reading… there’re spoilers here. Go watch it. Trust me, it’s great.
A brief look at the synopsis would check it off as the same old high school romance anime with all the clichés from characters to plot. And to this extent you’d be correct; Chuunibyou definitely does carry very similar motifs to its genre brethren, a fairly predictable plot and story arcs. Especially since the episodes tend to revolve around the same repertoire of settings every single high school anime seems so eager to utilize, the beach during summer vacation, the essential cultural fair, and the vistas courtesy of the local highway bridge.
In fact, Chuunibyou has so much in common with another particular title, that you’d be forgiven if you muttered “I think I saw this somewhere else before…” while watching. Does Yuuta having an embarrassing past, which the female lead finds out about in the first episode, or that he initially prefers another main character instead of the female lead, ring any bells? No? How about the fact that Rikka has a troubled past involving her father, while being something of a poorly understood social outcast, and whose best friend is an an airhead that’s a lot smarter than she looks? Oh, but why stop there? When Nibutani is essentially an attractive yet seemingly two-faced character who seems affable on the outside but is totally different otherwise.
Still unconvinced? Consider this then: Both the confessions in Chuunibyou and Toradora happen under a bridge, both have scenes where the female protagonist sings unexpectedly in front of a large crowd, and both have their female and male lead living incredibly near each other. Not to mention that this is basically about a girl whose obsession with the supernatural leads her to start a club…
Chuunibyou quite clearly treads on familiar territory; besides an eponymous gimmick, there is little out of the way of being unique from any other Romantic-Comedy anime. And unless you’ve not watched enough High-school dramedy animes, you’ll be as clairvoyant as Rikka’s Wicked Eye when it comes to what’s going to happen next. Usually following the same footsteps as its predecessors is a recipe for losing points with any viewer, with similar plot, characters, and situations, but there’s one thing that Chuunibyou does differently- it does all this very very well.
To start off, the amount of characterization and development achieved within it’s hardly sufficient 12 episodes, is nothing short of artful. As with typical Japanese comedy, the humor in Chuunibyou is usually achieved through the marriage of hyperbolic situations, exaggerated situations, and even more aggrandized outcomes. Yet, Chuunibyou has somehow been able to create a balance between exaggeration, and stunning realism of character. And with the unfortunate exception of Kumin and Makoto, the main cast is wonderfully realized as lifelike three-dimensional entities, whilst still retaining it’s potential for caricature.
Adroit direction is evident in every scene, and every frame oozes with the skillful cameraplay and a cinematic style reminiscent of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and more recently, Hyouka, leveraging copious amounts of subtlety. And although, I previously called the premise gimmicky, it’s at the very least a very useful gimmick; the series is punctuated with fight sequences that would have made Goku proud, a feat I can quite assuredly say, unachieved by any other romcom anime. Even with all the attention that each scene receives, some of the scenes still manage to stand out from the pack for their extraordinary excellence. In particular, the ending sequence of episode 7, where a sensory assault of cuts between flashbacks of happier times, and a Cheshire Rikka running towards the “ethereal horizon”, ends with an obnoxious “land for sale” sign, hits the viewer as hard as it must’ve hit Rikka.
However, for all it’s merits, Chuunibyou still suffers from a set of problems but they’re perhaps just side-effects of its excellence.
The humor, though largely welcomed breaks in the drama, sometimes tread the line between comic relief, and facetious disturbances to the dramatic flow of the series. And on more than one occasion even falls down into annoyance.
Regrettably, the first 6 episodes are tragically somewhat bereft of the qualities given above, and worst of all, only serve to establish the main cast. In fact Rikka doesn’t even feature prominently from episode 3-6, being relegated to a supporting role, while the interaction between Rikka and Yuuta is kept to a disappointing minimum. This doesn’t bode too well with it’s emotional second act, which would have transitioned much more smoothly with better buildup.
Episode 12 is another black sheep, overshadowed by the sheer quality of its direct predecessor, which was probably the most emotional 20 minutes produced this year. This of course doesn’t mean that the final episode was bad, but the emotional buildup of episode 11 just didn’t receive the sufficient closure during the final climax of episode 12. You end up ending the series beckoning for more- the last few Pringles™ crumbs at the bottom of the can that your damned sister casually ate, the photo finish that ends with silver.
But for all this, the most tragic flaw remains: the fact that it ended.