What is it with all these exclamation points in anime titles lately anyway?
OP: “Sparkling Daydream” by ZAQ
When the respective projects were announced by Kyoto Animation, there was some consensus – and it’s one I tended to share – that Hyouka would be the safer, less ambitious series, right in KyoAni’s sweet spot, while Chuunibyou would be the edgier and riskier show. I’m reluctant to jump to too many conclusions after one episode, especially because my experience with Hyouka itself is that if I’d made up my mind after the premiere, I would have had a very inaccurate (and not positive enough) impression of what the series was. I’m blogging the premiere, though, so I obviously can’t know what’s going to happen – and at this moment, it’s Chuunibyou that seems like the series that fits the KyoAni template better.
I’ve been interested in seeing what KyoAni would do with this premise as soon as I heard about it. Based on a LN series by Torako, the title refers to “Second-Year Middle-School Disease” – effectively, the period when teenagers have delusions of grandeur and come to believe that the world revolves around them and their weird ideas. It’s a funny concept to begin with, and a good basis for an anime – and the premiere is funny. At least some of the time, anyway – though I confess that for all the visual and aural noise it makes, it didn’t end up making all that much of an impression on me.
KyoAni, as they always do, has gathered the usual suspects – director Ishihara Tatsuya (Air, Clannad), Animation Director/Character Designer Ikeda Kazumi (everything KyoAni has done, pretty much), etc. I once described KyoAni as being trapped in a box of their own creation, and while Hyouka (mostly) escaped that box, it’s always a risk with any new KyoAni show. And while the premise of Chuunibyou sounds very edgy, in the end the first episode amounted to the antics of some enormously kawaii tenth-graders as they did cute things. That’s hardly a revolution for KyoAni, and it remains to be seen how closely future developments will hew to the party line. Just as reliably you can count on any KyoAni show looking great, and this one does – though for me it lacked the lush beauty and subtle visual creativity of the Hyouka premiere. You can also count on beautifully shot and inventive OP and ED sequences, though the OP here is a bit too seizure-inducingly busy for my tastes.
My initial reaction when I saw the promo shots of main character Togashi Yuuta (Fukuyama Jun) was that he looked more interesting as the chuunibyou-afflicted middle-schooler who wore a cloak and carried a sword than as the plain yogurt tenth-grader desperate to put his past behind him and fit in. And indeed, he is substantially less interesting than classmate Takanashi Rikka (Uchida Maaya) who still suffers from the affliction, wearing a Misaki Mei-styled eye patch to cover her (colored-contact-enhanced) “wicked eye”, which gives her powers of divination (and his mother and sisters seem to think the old Yuuta was a lot more interesting, too). It’s a sort of twist, I suppose, to have the boring male harem lead be so blatantly trying to be boring, and I enjoyed the fact that Rikka’s antics were borne completely of her delusion, and any discomfort she caused Yuuta was strictly unintentional. She’s a lot to take, dangerously close to moe for moe’s sake, and I don’t know if she’ll wear well. But she seems to have a good heart and that will buy some patience with me.
There are a bunch of other girls who will become major players soon enough, though only class idol Nibutani Shinka (Akasaki Chinatsu) makes much of a dent in the opener. We also have the classic KyoAni goofus male friend, Isshiki Makoto (Houshi Souchirou). KyoAni made a big deal of wanting newer faces for the female roles here, but it’s too bad they’ve made no such effort with the males, recycling old standards far too long in the tooth to play convincing 16 year-olds. I’m a big fan of FukuJun – his work in Natsuyuki Rendezvous might be the best of his career, and he’s hilarious in Shirokuma Café – but I just can’t buy him in these kiddo roles anymore. He sounds like a guy at a party pretending he’s his son while telling a joke.
The Hyouka experience certainly advises patience here. To be honest the funniest moment of the episode for me was the pre-open narration, which referred to chuunibyou as “Adorable yet dreadful” – a most apt description. There are some nice moments with Rikka’s unintentional torture of Yuuta and the animation is excellent, but the premiere felt far more generic and generically KyoAni than I’d hoped based on the premise. There’s potential here, and I’ll certainly give Chuunibyou some time to realize it, though it really does feel – so far – like another KyoAni venture aimed at shoving as much kawaii down the audience’s gullet in 22 minutes as humanly possible.
ED: “Inside Identity” by Maaya Uchida, Chinatsu Akasaki, Azumi Asakura , and Sumire Uesaka