Imagination in Chuunibyou, Love and Other Delusions
“Are you familiar with the phrase ‘eighth grader-syndrome?’ Children are most prone to it around the end of the eighth grade. It’s an adorable, yet dreadful disease resulting from new-found self-awareness mixing with an overly active imagination that results in the peculiar behavior we’re all quite painfully familiar with. Like the guy who only read weekly manga mags up until yesterday, then suddenly starts reading the original English versions of books. Or someone who has absolutely no idea what coffee tastes like, but still tries to develop a taste for drinking it black. And then there’s those who believe that they possess special powers, and become obsessed with the occult stuff overnight…”
Remember when you were little, around the age of thirteen, and subscribed to one of the above-mentioned acts. Around that age, kids attempt to deal with puberty the way they know how, by using an active imagination to force storytelling in an otherwise mundane life of school and play. There was the sudden change that you suffered around that age that you now look back on with embarrassment, putting up a ridiculous act of imaginary powers, living in your own world completely different to what was considered the mundane one you were used to. We all had it.
Chuunibyou, Love, and Other Delusions is a slice-of-life romantic anime adapted from a light-novel series starring a boy named Yuuta. Done by Kyoto Animation, the same masters behind The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, this is a slice of life anime focusing on two central characters, Yuuta and Rikka. In eighth grade, Yuuta was a classic example of a child with eighth grade syndrome. He used to go under the title “Dark Flame Master” and carried a pretend sword, wore dark clothes, frequently pretended he had immense power, and took on the role of a Dark Lord, changing his voice and wore his hair over his eyes to give him a dark, mysterious look. That was the power of his own imagination and the more powerful it was, the harder he tried to hide it one year later when it abated and he tried to begin anew.
Though the anime is mostly Slice of Life, it contains elements of imaginative fantasy in it. These elements are shown in the scenes cut off from the reality that is their lives. These scenes, taking place strictly within the characters’ imaginations, show supernatural characters, elements, and otherwise thigs that would never be seen in real life. A dark anti-hero, a protagonist, an evil overlord called the High Priestess and side characters along the way to propel the two characters up. In this sense, Chunnibyou tells two stories at once. One is realistic and about the romantic relationship between Yuuta and Rika. The other is fantasy and tells the story of Rikka’s search for the Ethereal Horizon (the afterlife.)
The main character, fresh out of eighth grade, begins high school. He moves to a High school none of his Middle-school friends chose in a hopeful attempt to start anew, to forget his past, and to hopefully move on. This effort is made more complicated than it needed to be from his first day, before he even enters the classroom. There, it becomes apparent from the first episode that Yuuta cannot escape his past so easily, if it is at all possible and it can all be attributed to the one cute girl with an eye patch with a colored lens underneath who sits at the front of the class. Fair warning: This article contains real spoilers for the anime Chuunibyou, Love and Other Delusions.
Upon first glance, the imaginative scenes may seem to be placed there purely for the sake of attracting an audience more interested in fantasy elements. However, this is not necessarily the case. Imagination plays a deep, profound role in the romantic tale of Chuunibyou, and in the lives of the main characters. The anime is first and foremost a romance but it is not the mushy kind of romance that sends kids gagging and mature adults rolling their eyes, it is a unique kind of romance based off an interesting premise few have done before.
The anime introduces two characters. One is a girl with a similar history to Yuuta. Going by the name of Nibutani, it is quickly discovered that she used to go by the name Forest Summer when she herself had eighth grade syndrome. She had the same bright idea as Yuuta of going to a faraway school in hopes of abandoning her past. At the same time, the audience is introduced to Rikka, a girl his age but who still seemly suffers from very severe eighth grade syndrome to the extent she wears an eye patch and pretends the eye underneath holds immensely dark powers. Few episodes in, Rikka’s friend who is still in eighth grade, named Dekemori, plays the role of Rikka’s servant in this syndrome and uses her overly long pigtails as weapons. The anime also introduces an older student named Kumin who naps through the day spent with the imaginative characters.
The power of imagination has an immense hold though. Rikka ropes an unsuspecting, even unwilling Yuuta and Dekemori as well as Nibutani and an older student who naps all the time to form a club where they can explore magical powers. Since magical powers do not exist, the five kids basically do nothing in their clubroom but talk, imagine, and even fight with their overly active imaginations. Because what gives rise to the romance is the overly active imagination, this is what will be focused on because the anime shows just how special and powerful the imagination can be, and how envious some adults can be of such High school kids who saw fit to lock themselves in a carefree world of magic, darkness, angels, fairies and alternate dimensions.
Eighth grade syndrome is of course the central pillar of the anime but where did it start?
In spite of his frequent attempts to forget about the past and put it behind him, Yuuta is the one who started the current madness. Back when he called himself Dark Flame Master, he was unknowingly spied on by none other than the female love interest Rikka. Yuuta was very deep into this syndrome. He played the role of Dark Flame Master, a gothic Mage who uses the powers of flames and wears a bandage which, he says, seals away the Dark Flame Dragon. This used to be an enormous pain on his sister who suffered a lot of grief trying to stop her brother from getting into trouble.
Having spied on him, Rikka took the imagination to heart and became who she calls herself now, Tyrant’s Eye. Having forged a contract with her self-proclaimed mentor, Dark Flame Master, she swore to awaken the Dark Flame Dragon within him. Upon doing so, their relationship is allowed to move to the next level. Due to the inherent connection between Yuuta’s past chuunibyou and Rikka’s current chuunibyou, Yuuta finds his soul mate in the present. In this way, neither Yuuta nor Nibutani can regret their pasts due to what they find in the present based entirely off their past.
The spreading of the syndrome does not stop there either. Rikka, as Wicked Eye, takes on a servant called Dekemori who is inspired off yet another girl who tries to forget the past named Nibutani, who used to go by the name Forest Summer. Even between those two, there lies an implicit relationship between the two. As the two are bitter rivals, however, the two mask their feelings with hostility and resentment, though it is stated there is underlying respect there. The characters, without knowing, spread their own imaginative powers to those around them, and without realizing it, assured their future selves that the syndrome would return to their lives one day. This enables Yuuta to awaken his Dark Flame Dragon with Rikka’s help, thus setting their relationship in stone and allowing them to continue in what I exactly a healthy relationship, worthy of the envy from the audience itself.
The audience is able to relate to these characters because of their overly active imaginations. This anime harks back to a time in everyone’s lives where they nurtured their imagination and allowed it to take over during the beginning of adolescence. It is part of the transition between childhood and adolescence, therefore a social part of growing up. Remembering such a time, even praising that time speaks volumes about the meaning behind the anime and its basis. By allowing the characters to have such friends and even lifelong companions in the case of Yuuta and Rikka, it shows that childhood is what makes people who they are and who they become. By embracing their childhood and their past imaginations, they embraced their present selves and enabled themselves to grow up in a healthy manner.
The power of imagination is frequently shown in the anime. Every time a confrontation, whether physical or verbal happens, the anime cuts to a magical fight scene, showing firsthand what the characters see in their minds as they duke it out. This is done frequently when Rikka’s impatient sister, Touka tries to put an end to the syndrome and indulges her in her games by fighting with a serving spoon. Rikka views her sister as the High Priestess standing as an obstacle to her finding of a place called Ethereal Horizon, which represents the endless search of comfort that Rikka is bound to as she goes on through her High School life.
In fact, contrary to Touka’s hopes of bringing her younger sister back to reality, she ironically and inadvertently encourages such imagination. For example, whenever her sister Rikka runs off on one of her courageous adventures within her imagination, Touka goes after her with nothing else other than a spoon. And she uses that spoon to forcefully bring her sister back home (anyone with a sane mind would see that spoon as a weapon in those circumstances.) In these attempts, she fails in every way possible. During one episode, Rikka is presented with a very harsh and unforgiving side of her reality and in one of the most powerful and effective speeches Touka gives, she delivers the message loud and clear. Rikka is living in a reality where her father is dead. Rikka’s response to this reality was:
“Blast reality. Burst into shreds. Banishment this world!”
This cued another fight between her and her spoon-wielding sister who Rikka views as the High Priestess. In Rikka’s view, the High Priestess seeks to halt her advance to finding the Ethereal Horizon where Rikka believes her father is waiting for her. This represents a sort of belief in Rikka that Touka does not seem to possess: A hopeful belief in an afterlife, symbolized by the Ethereal Horizon which is Rikka’s ultimate goal. This gives new meaning to Rikka’s overly active and powerful imagination and new meaning to her developing romantic relationship with Yuuta, who was once the Dark Flame Master and slowly sees that encouraging Rikka’s fantasy is more effective than fighting it.
Touka has a friendly relationship with Yuuta’s older sister and can relate to her since both have younger siblings they fretted over. Touka often leaves and thus serves as a trigger for why Yuuta and Rikka can spend so much time together. In fact, at some points they even live together in spite of what appears as a conservative relationship. She also leans on Yuuta quite a bit, however, and when she tries to bring Rikka into reality by confronting her with the reality of her father’s death, she relies on Yuuta to help. This fails and he inadvertently helps Rikka realize the reality of the Ethereal Horizon where she believes her father waits for her.
In this way, ironically so, Rikka’s imagination helped her get through her father’s death. This did not happen by hiding from reality. Usually, the story in any similar anime would involve coming back to reality and accepting its presence. Rikka and Yuuta reconcile imagination with reality and in so doing, allows Rikka to accept the tragedies in her life. Touka, in other words, The High Priestess standing as an obstacle in Rikka’s way, truly did stand as an obstacle to recovery without meaning or realizing it.
Who better than Yuuta to encourage this behavior? He was the one who started this imaginative quest. Starting as Dark Flame Master, a silently watching Rikka observed and emulated him. He grew out of it but she went on, as a last fragment of Yuuta’s childish imagination. Rikka’s behavior inspires Dekemori’s behavior who acts as Rikka’s apprentice of darkness. Dekemori had her own inspiration. She took inspiration from a polar opposite of hers, Forest Summer who is now the older and mature Nibutani. In this way, the main cast (or most of them) are all connected through the imagination in more than one way and all of this started because of Yuuta. Imaginative fantasies thought up by children brought the cast together a year later.
Dekemori’s relationship with Rikka gives further light to the imagination. The two are easily best friends, but only because they connect in their combined imaginations. Dekemori is in eighth grade and therefore liable to have that syndrome. Not only, but she hangs out with her friends in the High school. Dekemori frequently uses the term ‘deathly’ when she speaks. In fact, it’s her usual way of speech. This choice of word is interesting, always harkening back to death and darkness, which is basically Rikka’s life. This means that Dekemori is Rikka’s inner emotions personified, dealing with the death of her father and her eternal search for the ethereal horizon.
Dekemori has a polar opposite too. A year ago, she too was inspired to develop this syndrome. As Rikka took after Yuuta and gave rise to a romantic relationship between the two, Dekemori took after a legendary girl called Forest Summer who ran a blog preaching pacifism and peace. No one would have guessed that Forest Summer was in fact the mature and impatient Nibutani. As opposed to Dekemori’s deathly speech, Forest Summer, ala Nibutani speaks of life and nature. Due to how Nibutai is now, Dekemori refuses to acknowledge this. This makes the relationship between Dekemori and Nibutani tense and in some ways, implicitly romantic (though this is subject to interpretation.) thus creating a parallel to the main couple of Rikka and Yuuta.
The next in the group is Kumin. Kumin is usually the one at rest. Throughout most of the show, she is used purely for comical purposes as all she wants is a place to nap. She does not comment on the activities of the other more imaginative members of the club. However, one episode titled Let the Napping Competition Begin had a special focus on her and it was through her napping tactic that the other members were able to clear their heads and allowed their imaginations to take charge and win the day through a very epic imaginative dream-showdown. This is possibly an implicit suggestion that it is when the body rests when the mind becomes more active, especially for people like the main characters such as Yuuta and Rikka.
A lot of people dislike romantic storylines in any medium be it anime or books. Romance, they say, is best done as a side plot to something else. Harry Potter did it to a small degree, Naruto did it in its final movie wrapping up the manga, and even The Mortal Instruments has a major side plot of romance but it is second to the wider storyline. The exception is Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray which are both successful and have a cult following, but both are controversial and have a wide base of people who hate both with a passion.
Romance, in many cases, is disliked because it’s been done too many times. People tout Romeo and Juliet as the best love story ever told but that is simply a lie. It’s not even a realistic portrayal of love. It’s teenage angst that leads to suicide, something that very rarely happens even in the real world (and if it did happen like that, humanity is in danger.) Love in other cases is just too lame and mushy. It’s predictable. Everyone knows the couple will get together in the end. They have to. It’s a tragedy if they don’t. So, what does romance exist for?
Every romance attempts to do something different. Twilight went for the vampire romance genre, Fifty Shades went for eroticism, where does it end? Different romance needs a spice to back it up. Something that makes the audience relate to the characters, a spice that makes the audience envy the couple shown and presented, and a reason to watch/read, even after the main plot has been wrapped up and the couple ends up together. This is what makes Chuunibyou different. The main romantic couple gets together in the middle and the rest is simply showing them as a couple. How does it remain interesting? That legendary spice referred to earlier is what keeps the audience hooked. That spice is nothing more or less than the nostalgic, childish imagination. The childish imagination leads to imaginative battle scenes making it the most epic, and at the same time, one of the sweetest love stories told. (At least it’s better than Sword Art Online.)
Another romantic anime out there is Sword Art Online. This Anime is very different from it. Where Sword Art Online focused primarily on the relationship between Kirito and Asuna, it could get very bland at times once they were established, and the main plot behind the storyline, which was originally anything but romantic, was sort of lost. The romance, as a result, felt forced and unneeded, and to some watchers, unwanted in the face of other plotlines like Laughing Coffin that were seemingly dropped in favor of the romance. Chuunibyou is much more genuine and understandable, and in some ways far more relatable.
Yuuta and Rikka’s romantic relationship is the rod of the entire series. It’s the main driving point. They connect so well because the two share an interest in the same fantastical, fictional stuff. They founded their own club to get away from the normalcy of the rest of the school. Yuuta did try to resist but Rikka is his childhood calling back to him, the reason for his current self. As they are children (in an imaginative way), the two take their relationship, (or contact as Rikka puts it) very slow and therefore, strike the audience as a more conservative couple. They are simply not ready for the sexual interactions most couples their age have. This further links to the idea that inside, the two are still children. Rikka was quickly to embrace this, Yuuta needed some prodding.
Riika even gets involved in the Occult arts, frequently trying to perform magic spells (which always fail) to summon up her powers for use. As revealed in her Wicked Eye, her relationship is a destiny, an ultimate endpoint, basically as prophesized by her fantasy persona. She was not wrong either. It may be from her own imagination but it has a basis in reality and fact. She spied Yuuta acting as Dark Flame Master when they were in eighth grade so in a way, she exists in her form because of him. The romance means so much because of this. Knowing, even from a young age, who her partner is suggests that despite all imagination and childish dreams, there lies a certain amount of maturity in knowing precisely what she wants and Yuuta, thankfully, acknowledges this.
The romance also slowly brings her back to reality. Frequently fretting over how far their relationship goes, when a kiss is ok, and even living together at certain times and going so far as to wake each other up and get ready fo school suggests the two are already ready to be independent. She knows who Yuuta is, she is not so far removed any longer. She knows Yuuta is Yuuta and his Dark Flame Master is another persona completely and this helps her to realize, however implicitly, that her Tyrant’s Eye is another persona as well. Her way of speaking as Tyrant’s Eye converts from delusions into a term of endearment, a code language only these two understand, ultimately solidifying the healthy state of their relationship.
The imagination scenes, from the Dark Flame Master’s monologues and speeches to the fights against the High Priestess’ obstacle to finding the Ethereal Horizon, (or heaven as the common person would see it,) serves to show that imagination plays a large role in Chuunibyou. It is not there simply to add an element of battle to an otherwise slice of life anime, but serve to play a much deeper role in not only the storyline but the lives, history and roles of all the characters. Their imagination does not end either. It is everlasting. The romantic couple quickly becomes a favorite of the school because inside, everyone knows the two act very well together and in a deep, almost profound way, they understand each other and have their own special way of communicating which cements their relationship and makes sure that the two will indeed always be together.
Their only obstacle: All this understanding and the two still did not share a kiss. Their best moment was interrupted and the audience is left hanging with that. It may be something missing, but that only brings the two closer together. They don’t need a kiss to know they are in love, both in delusions and reality. Their love is mutual and reconciliation between this world and the nonexistent. The fact they came as close as they did means it’s possible but they are going at their own pace and they always will. It may indeed be a lame thing to say but with all this, it is safe to say the two do in fact live happily ever after. After the way their relationship came together, so naturally and smoothly, they certainly do deserve it.
Chuunibyou is a very different romantic anime than most, and is possible to be loved by even non-romantic watchers. The imagination captures teenagers with memories of childhood and pre-adolescence. The problems in the romantic relationship are similar yet done in a very different way than most romantic lovers. It is for this reason Cunnibyou stands as a great romantic anime to get started on, and probably the only one of its kind.
What do you think? Leave a comment.