When a comedy goes serious, you can look at it two ways. You can judge it by the vehicle it chooses for the journey, or by how good a driver it is. There’s certainly nothing new or original about the plot twist Chuunibyou executed this week – in fact you could even say it was pretty predictable based on precedent and foreshadowing – but of greater importance is the fact that it was executed pretty well. The tone was a nice balance of humor and pathos, and while there were a few steps over the line into maudlin territory, on balance that trap was avoided most of the time. And as poet Audre Lord once said, “There are no new ideas – only new ways of making them felt”.
What’s interesting to me in watching this episode isn’t so much the backstory that was given to Rikka, but the statement the series is eventually going to try to make about chuunibyou generally and the way it relates specifically to its characters. I’ve always felt that there was an impulse here to try and look at the phenomenon if not seriously than at least wistfully, but it was being undercut by the comedy (which was mostly working, thankfully). Now we’ve got the facts laid out on the table it seems we may be headed for that sort of examination after all, because the merits of escapism are squarely at the center of where the show is now.
The opposing camps have staked out their positions pretty clearly. Touka and Grandpa are squarely in the “face reality” camp, believing that no matter how painful, life must be faced head-on before we can move on. Rikka (and Dekomori, though I consider her largely a comic device just as Isshiki is) has chosen to live her life in an alternate reality (“Break reality! Open the synapse!”) to avoid facing what’s undeniably a very painful reality. And squarely in the middle, just as a main character should be, is Yuuta. He has a chuunibyou past to rival anyone’s, and he’s chosen to abandon it for reasons entirely more shallow than what Touka has in mind. He also has a loving family that’s intact (even if Dad is in Jakarta on business) and nominally has no good reason to live in a fantasy world of his or anyone else’s making. It seems as if Yuuta is going to be the pivot point around which this conflict gets resolved, and it’ll be very interesting to see which side the author (and the adaptation) comes down on. Perhaps a measure of both – an acceptance that we weren’t given minds capable of flights of fancy just so we would stay grounded all the time, but that sooner or later all of us have to land.
There’s no denying that the humor in Chuunibyou continues to be pretty effective, and it wasn’t completely swept away in the flood of angst this time either. Isshiki seems to have been officially added to the gang, thus fulfilling the KyoAni requirement of a butt-monkey male best friend (happily, a rule that was waived for Hyouka) and the group chemistry continues to work comedically. Isshiki’s crush on Kumin is part of the mix now, and Nibutani seems to have adopted him as a secondary target, though her primary opponent remains Dekomori. Their eternal battle is always good for a few laughs, the highlight this week being the dueling sunscreen insults. Dekomori’s role is straight idiocy, but Nibutani is more interesting as the most inflated and pompous member of the group – she’s so easily goaded into the trenches with Dekomori that it’s obvious to everyone but herself that she’s nowhere near as mature and removed from the creature she was as she’d like everyone (including herself) to believe.
I like two-cour shows (and longer ones for that matter) but I think Chuunibyou is a show that might benefit from being one cour. Moderation is not a strength here, either when it comes to moe or melodrama – everything this show does is over the top, and I don’t know how well that would hold up over 24 episodes. I can see a pretty brisk and frenetic conclusion with a lot of tears happening here if the cards are played correctly, but I think moments like the big reveal of the vacant lot – covered in flowers, no less – at the end of this episode start to lose their impact when they’re repeated too often. Five remaining episodes feels just about right to tie a bow on the series and arrive at a (hopefully) meaningful revelation about chuunibyou and the role it has – and should have – in the lives of kids of all ages.