I liked 2012’s Chunibyou pretty well – better than thought I would at the mid-point, anyway. It didn’t hit my Top 20 for the year, but it didn’t miss by all that much. It ended up being a worthwhile show, if altogether lacking in subtlety. In my mind Chuunibyou was a great premise that was limited by writing that never transcended “pretty good”. In different hands I think there was an idea here that could have made a really special anime – but it ended up being a better one than I feared it might, in any case.
There are a couple of issues that have me torn about the idea of a second season, and none of them are resolved by the premiere. In the first place I thought that Chuunibyou, more than most anime, had an ending that really felt like an ending. It struck the right tone by not trying to answer a question (whether chuunibyou itself is desirable) that has no answer. It left the story – and the main couple – in a good place. As well, for me personally Chuunibyou is at the level of enjoyment where one season of a series tends to be my limit – unless things get substantially better in the second (and with sequels more often than not things go in the other direction) I lose interest pretty quickly.
So that leaves us with Chuunibyou 2. The premiere was fine – right on a par with the almost entirely comedic first half of the first season. But it’s also a reminder than there’s a very thin veneer separating this from being nothing more than another KyoAni straight-to-doujinshi moe show (the OP and ED make it absolutely clear that priority #1 is to keep that audience happy – they buy the Blu-rays, not just the doujinshi). The veneer is still in place, but I don’t know if it’s enough to hold for another cour. It feels to me as if this staff has gotten as much mileage as they can out of this premise, and there was a lot in the first episode that already felt pretty repetitive.
On the other hand, you’d have to be pretty out of it not to see how much more spark and energy Chuunibyou has than all of the creatively tired efforts Kyoto Animation has aired since this show’s first season. Maybe it isn’t setting the bar high enough simply to compare this to other recent KyoAni series, but it certainly clears it – the jokes are still pretty funny, the comedic timing is generally good and there’s a visual flair that’s more than simply the glossy look and smooth animation KyoAni can churn out in their sleep. Mailing it in is always the biggest problem with Kyoto Animation, and whatever problems it may have Chuunibyou has never – not yet, at least – felt like it was being mailed in.
The second season does find some material changes. Tooka has indeed moved to Italy, and issues with her old apartment have forced Rikka to
shack up become roommates with Yuuta (secretly). Nibutani, still desperately fleeing Mori Summer, has dyed her hair and started saying “Go kigen you” in an attempt to be an ojou-sama. Makoto has gone for spiky blond Johnny Rotten hair in an attempt to win Kumin’s heart. Dekomori has moved up to high school, the same one as the others.
The problem is, though, that in reality nothing has changed. Everyone is pretty much in the same place where they were when we left them – which, for me, kind of cheapens the message behind the highly successful (IMHO) ending to the first season. Rikka is still chuunibyou, she and Yuuta still don’t act like a couple (why in the world shouldn’t second-year high-schoolers living together fool around a little?). Nibutani may have changed her methods but she’s still running the same unwinnable race against herself, Makoto is still a butt-monkey and Kumin still sleeping in the clubroom, Dekomori still an annoying cheese-hating moeblob who worships the Tyrant’s Eye. Where was the personal growth implied by the way the first season ended?
It’s certainly not too late for that to change, of course – though coming back to the same characters in the same place months after we left them feels like moving backwards. The jokes are still pretty funny, the chuunibyou fantasy sequences artfully done, and the dialogue pretty snappy. It’s far more lively than anything the studio has done since we’ve left these characters. But I do hope we get something more than half a season of comedy followed by half a season of drama, and the characters wrestling with the same issues they did the first go-around. I have my doubts whether Chuunibyou has the firepower to really craft a second season that feels in any way essential, but I do like this show and it would please be greatly to be surprised.