Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later – Chuunibyou gives us what by its standards is a serious episode. So – was it any good?
As I’ve said, I think Chuunibyou – at least in theory – wants to work as both a completely frivolous screwball comedy and as a semi-serious and poignant look at adolescence. It’s not an easy balance but a really great writer could pull it off – and in the absence of one, I think the two elements have been working in opposition rather than support with the comedy aspect winning handily. The result hasn’t been unpleasant by any means, but the suspicion was always there that the series was going to try and level the playing field at some point. My main question is whether this episode marks the first step in a journey in that direction, or a one-week detour that we’ll see repeated once in a while as a change of pace.
In truth, what we got this week wasn’t so much an episode dedicated to the deeper implications of the whole chuunibyou phenomenon, but a straight-up teen romance episode. And it was a pretty solid one – nothing special, but not too cloying and with enough funny moments remaining to keep things from feeling ponderous. There were certainly the first signs of actual romantic interest here on Rikka’s part, as she was clearly jealous when Yuuta was spending too much time talking to Nibutani in the pool. She recognizes where the threat lies, at least – but frankly it’s hard to take Rikka too seriously as a romantic figure. She’s certainly cute – Chuunibyou is up to its eyeballs in cute – but she’s at the maturity level of an elementary school. And unlike many emotionally immature teens (like Dekomori, somewhat shockingly) she doesn’t seem especially book-smart either. In short, she’s a high-schooler who for all practical purposes (apart from hormones, presumably) is a grade-schooler.
Still, it was an episode that featured a bit of growth for Rikka as she realized the fate of her club society rested squarely on her shoulders after her rousing 2% score on her math midterm. That information was made public by Nana-sensei, who may just be my favorite character in the series for the perfect way she plays the sweet and slightly dim hot teacher when in fact she’s whip-smart and ruthless. Things like romantic jealousy and guilt are emotional steps forward for a girl as stilted in her growth as Rikka, and even if she doesn’t exactly throw herself into studying she at least realizes she has a responsibility to try.
There is this problem with Rikka, and with Chuunibyou, and I think it stems from too much focus on the madcap comedy and not enough on the more profound aspects of the condition – I really don’t feel sorry for a girl so fixated on her fantasies that she can’t be bothered to at least study hard enough for a midterm to get into double digits. Rikka is entertaining but I don’t exactly find her sympathetic. Yuuta at least comes off a little more so this week, as he shows some real cleverness in realizing that a carrot will be much more effective than the stick he’s been using (sometimes literally) on Rikka. He even brings out the Dark Flame Master in paying off his bribe to her for applying herself enough to get the average grade that’s the condition of the Society’s survival, slipping into character to deliver her new cell phone ID (“Black Raison D’etre”). Perhaps it’s a sign that Yuuta is relaxing his you-know-what just enough to let the stick loosen up a little bit and come to terms with the fact that the Dark Flame Master didn’t come into existence by accident – he’s a big part of who Yuuta is. Or perhaps that’s just a little too philosophical for this show, and it was just a comedy bit. I’m looking forward to seeing that question answered, too.