I personally would have preferred a more balanced recipe from the beginning, with the obvious implications of chuunibyou – which were always the elephant in the room – being explored a little along with the comedy in the first half of the series. I think that would have worked better than the whipsaw, all-or-nothing transition we’ve gotten, but there’s no denying that the comedy was usually pretty funny and the drama has been rather effective. It’s as Isshiki says, “You never know what kind of pasts are going to come out”.
As I’ve said before about this show, it doesn’t do anything halfway. When it was a comedy it was unbelievably broad and outlandish. Now that it’s a romance and a serious look at disassociation from reality, it’s once again leaving nothing in the tank – which as I said makes me think this is well-suited to be a one-cour show, because the lack of restraint would cause serious burnout otherwise. What this approach leads to here is a no-holds-barred episode – full-on confessions for both pairings (one with an “I love you”, the other with a microphone), life-changing events, angry confrontations, sentimental songs by the light of bonfires. Subtle it wasn’t – stylistically anyway – and a lot of this is pretty familiar territory, as is the usual KyoAni overdose of kawaii. But the fact that the commitment is undeniable makes the whole thing work pretty well.
I’ll get to the big events that are surely causing great discord and vitriol in the Chuunibyou fanbase in a minute, but one thing that struck me here is the sort of Peter Pan Syndrome that exists in anime, and how chuunibyou (small “c”) fits rather neatly with that. Once again (and this is not a condemnation, because it’s nearly universal in anime) we see a ridiculously idealized portrait of high school romance – one where the boys have never touched a girl and the mere though of a hug makes them melt, and where the girls are chaste and shy (in a non-threateningly sexy way, of course). I don’t think anime producers – or fans – believe that high school is really like that, and if that’s the case it must surely be a sort of wish-fulfillment to pretend as if it is. And I think chuunibyou is something like that, too – a reaction to the impending terror of adulthood by clinging desperately to a fantasy that we know isn’t real, but gives us something to cling to in our insecurity. The fact that it’s “Eighth-Grade Syndrome” isn’t a coincidence, as that’s typically the age when the full-bore onset of puberty really kicks in. Chuunibyou is mostly portrayed as a kind of self-aggrandizement – and it surely is in part – but I think this desperate clinging to innocence is part of it too.
I could go on about that topic endlessly – one of the finest anime of all-time, FLCL, is a fascinating look at the notion of trying to fight off the terrors of adolescence told from a very different perspective – but since this is a post about Chuunibyou Episode 10 it’s more important to discuss it in context. I think we can see that in Rikka’s case she has very obvious reasons for her specific case of chuunibyou, but she too has this fear of adulthood that’s a part of the issue, and we see evidence of it in her reaction to her feelings for Yuuta. In fact, it may be the onset of romantic love that finally forces her to come to terms with the loss of her father, because she can’t step boldly into adulthood in one respect and stay behind in the other. We see her last futile grasping in the scene with Dekomori in the clubroom – one last-ditch attempt to lose herself in her fantasy, which in Dekomori’s case is at least age-appropriate – but we can see even here that Rikka knows the battle has been lost. In a way, I view this as Rikka saying goodbye to her Tyrant’s Eye persona – though I suspect we haven’t seen the last of it (or the Dark Flame Master).
Now, surely, comes the blame game. Who’s in the wrong here – is it Touka, for deciding that she must accept the career opportunity in Italy? Is it her mother, for thinking she can slide back into her daughter’s life with a bento she doesn’t even deliver herself? Is it Rikka, for refusing to see her mother despite repeated apologies? Or is it Yuuta for initiating a confrontation, which we see only in flashback? While I’m sure Rikka’s cute-girl armor will protect her from most fan wrath, it’s my view that no one is really in the wrong here – everyone is doing the best they can under very bad circumstances. Touka and the mother certainly made mistakes, and they bear more responsibility than Rikka because Rikka was – and is – still a child. But Touka can’t take care of Rikka forever, and she’s clearly at her wits’ end – we can see how exhausted she is by the way she humbles herself to Yuuta, realizing he knows Rikka better than she does now. That can’t have been easy for Touka, and I won’t condemn her for what she’s doing – she has a life and a career, and Rikka has a mother who wants to be a part of her life. Touka has tried her best and given up a lot already, and I think what she’s doing here is understandable.
As for their mother, while we don’t know her very well, I don’t think there’s much doubt she was in the wrong in hiding her husband’s condition from Rikka. But let’s be clear, he surely was in on that decision – he may even have insisted on it. We just don’t know enough yet to say whether she’s fit to take a place in Rikka’s life again, but I see nothing in her actions in the episode itself that makes me judge her harshly – just as I see nothing in Rikka’s refusal to accept her peace offering that makes me judge her harshly. She’s confused and in pain, and while she might be in the wrong in freezing her mother out (or not – we can’t say yet) even if she is, it’s impossible for me to blame her. As for Yuuta, we don’t know exactly what was said between he and Rikka and without that knowledge it’s hard to say if he acted wisely or not. But it is fair to say he’s been Rikka’s best friend and support, and extraordinarily patient and indulgent of her, and in his way he was trying to help her come to grips with things that can no longer be avoided. Yuuta is still a child too, like Rikka, and he made the best decision he could based on limited experience. No blame for him, either.
What – nobody’s wrong? How boring! Maybe, but that’s life – and in fact, everyone involved is wrong in their own way, but that isn’t what’s important. With two eps left I’m the first to confess I don’t know how this is going to end, which is rather fun. It seems small potatoes, but I’m even curious to know why Kumin turned Isshiki down (rather bold confession, I thought). I’m most curious to see how the series will judge the actions of the characters in this episode, and what role it will decide chuunibyou should play in Rikka’s (and everyone else’s) life. She may have taken the Tyrant’s Contact Lens out, but I don’t see an outright rejection of fantasy in the cards here. In a sense, it’s a matter of keeping both the ones we’ve lost and the child inside us alive that drives our attraction to fantasy – and I think those are worthwhile ends that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.