It would be wrong of me to criticize this episode of Chuunibyou for being heavy-handed, because this series has never postured towards having a light touch in anything it does. When it was a comedy it was balls-to-the-wall insane, when it was a romance it was full of “I love you” confessions and on-stage ones, and when it became a drama it fell back on dead parents and sad songs sung by bonfires. Chuunibyou does everything it does the fullest, without reservations, burning itself out in one cour like a meteor streaking across my computer screen.
So now as it enters its final phase, the inevitable tallying up of just what chuunibyou stands for and the role it should play in life, it’s only right that we should see everything play out in black and white. Just as Chuunibyou only has one gear, when Rikka turns the “small-c chuunibyou” off the tap doesn’t even drip – when that contact lens comes out, she’s as straight as an arrow. This is presented in what I what normally call overly sentimental terms, complete with long emotional outbursts from Dekomori, soaring sting soundtracks and Nibutani assuming a sort of “wise elder” role more or less out of nowhere – but I don’t think any other terms would have suited the series. That’s just how large-C Chuunibyou rolls.
This episode, for certain, is where the show bangs its head against reality, hard. The truth is that the imagination isn’t something that can be turned on and off like a faucet – not in a 50 year-old salaryman or grandmother, and certainly not in a 16 year-old high school student. Nor should it be, which is rather the point – but again, both the show’s nature and its premise make a middle-ground an elusive goal. The circumstances surrounding Rikka’s father make for quite the dilemma, both for her and perhaps even more for Yuuta. He’s the one trying to do right by her, to support her – and after all, she’s done what he’s more or less been pushing her to do since day one. And no matter what your opinion of chuunibyou is, I don’t think it’s right or healthy that Rikka should deny her father’s passing – one way or the other, she needs to accept it before she can move on. So when she told Yuuta her mother asked her to visit his grave, my instant reaction was that no matter what else you believe, that’s something she should do. It’s only right.
The dilemma, of course, is that Yuuta – and we – can see that a certain light has gone out in Rikka along with the Tyrant’s Eye. Whether it’s the acceptance of the harsh reality of her family situation or the loss of the fun crutch she’s been leaning on, she’s definitely diminished in spirit – and that’s hard on Yuuta too, who blames himself for it even as he intellectually defends it. That’s the hard question – is this diminishment of spirit an inevitable part of growing up, a compromise we make to enter the world of adulthood? In truth I do think a middle-ground exists. I watch anime and read “Game of Thrones”, but I don’t role-play fantasy scenarios under the professed belief that they’re actually true. And more straight-laced adults than me watch TV dramas or read romance novels and exercise their fantasy life in their own way. Life has to be bigger than what we see in front of us, or we go crazy – it’s the blessing and curse of being human, the product of the imagination that evolution or God or whatever you choose to believe has bestowed upon the human race.
But how do you explain that to a confused first-year high-schooler who’s just given up a fantasy alter-ego she relied on for years? In many ways Yuuta, as someone who’s made a similar journey, is better equipped to be Rikka’s spirit guide than most – but he’s a kid too. I’m not wholly on-board with the use of Dekomori as the major dramatic device to try and nudge this plot forward, because she’s such an absurd character that it’s hard to see her desperate flailing to keep Rikka from growing up as anything other than pathetic and a bit of a distraction. But I do like the fact that Chuunibyou is tackling this head-on, and I remain curious as to how it will resolve its position in the end.
I think the most elegant and subtle scenes in the episode – though admittedly a bit melodramatic – were Touka’s apology to Yuuta and Rikka and Yuuta packing up her room in preparation for her mother’s arrival. Rikka says “I don’t know what I can and can’t keep”, and that line as much as any in the series reaches a kind of profundity. It sums up the nature of the chuunibyou paradox as well as it possibly can be in a single sentence – that’s the question we all wrestle with at one time or another (and maybe another) time in our lives. I suppose the answer is different for everyone – as for Rikka and Chuunibyou, I’m hopeful that it can draft one that escapes the traps of sentimentality and predictability and sheds real light on the experience. Based on the first 11 episodes, I’m cautiously optimistic.