Growing up is not an easy process, and there are always moments that one looks back upon with a sense of embarrassment and regret. One might ask what it is that truly marks the transition into adulthood: the ability to live independently, or maybe the conformity and adherence to social norms. Are the people who remain true to their childhood interests not grown up, then? Perhaps. But is there anything wrong with that? It's hard to say.
There's a strange term used in Japanese internet culture. "Chuunibyou", or more literally "Eighth-Grade Syndrome", refers to matured individuals with an absurd self-created persona. Remember the times as a child when there was a TV character you found appealing and you pretended to possess their superhuman abilities in real-life? A chuunibyou is a teenage or adult form of that, but to such an extent that the fictional persona defines their entire lifestyle. Certainly, behaving this way in public would make for some embarrassment, and recovering from such a past even more so.
It's an experience that he knows all too well. After suffering from chuunibyou throughout middle school as the "Dark Flame Master", he makes the decision to move on from the past and attempt to live his highschool years as a normal student. To ensure victory and start anew, Yuuta applies to a high school where none of his middle school classmates are attending. It may have been a successful plan, too, if not for the unusual appearance of a beautiful girl on his balcony.
Her name is Takanashi Rikka, a current chuunibyou, representing everything that Yuuta used to be and desired to forget. Worse, she recently moved into the same apartment complex and overheard Yuuta's last days as the Dark Flame Master, ensuring that it is not a past he will escape so easily. He unwillingly gained Rikka's interest in him as a result, and his attempts to make a pleasant first impression at his new high school are interrupted by Rikka's chuunibyou provocations. The fact that Yuuta wants to forget and start anew is irrelevant, because for her their relationship is a destiny revealed through her "Wicked Eye". Perhaps she wasn't entirely false, either, occult terminology aside.
Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai, shortened to Chuu2-Byo, is a title that stands out for the interaction between these two characters. It's nostalgic (and often times embarrassing!) to see the characters act in silly ways reminiscent of childhood, though without the endearing cast of characters this would probably seem like little more than a neat gimmick. Yuuta and Rikka are what make the anime, and their interaction is nothing short of adorable and hilarious. Both of them have substance and play off of each other in creative ways, such as Yuuta using his abandoned Dark Flame Master persona in order to cheer Rikka up when she's feeling depressed, or her playing around in awe with his old gear. It's definitely cute, and cuteness is something that Chuu2-Byo has no shortage of.
An important addition to the character dynamic are the side characters who each fulfill their own role in the series. Sanae Dekomori, ace middle school student and proud chuunibyou, behaves as servant to Rikka and her Wicked Eye, possessing a weapon of considerable danger in the real world: her excessively long pigtails. Kumin, a senior with a fondness for napping, and Isshiki, Yuuta's jealous male friend and classmate, also highlight the cast. The most important of these characters, however, is Nibutani Shinka. Despite initially being the only character in the anime truly definable as 'normal', she is actually an ex-Chuunibyou herself, much like Yuuta. When her dreaded past is discovered by Yuuta, she throws away any notion of kindness in order to keep him from spilling the truth. As Rikka develops her own feelings for Yuuta, though, Nibutani begins to display a much more compassionate and benevolent side to her personality, even going as far as to use her old persona to help them progress.
Appearances often mislead, and Chuu2-Byo is exemplary of this. What seems to be a cute slice of life revolving around the chuunibyou lifestyle is actually structured as a love story. Comedy is predominate during the first six episodes, but hints of Rikka's feelings for Yuuta are consistently displayed as the series progresses. Love is an emotion that she is not familiar with, and amidst the confusion there is often an overlap between her sensitive side and her chuunibyou side, often using this persona to hide her embarrassment. It's very endearing to watch her feelings develop as she realizes that these are emotions not of respect, but genuine love. The romance is exceptionally subtle, while consequently there is no overbearing drama used to advance their relationship.
At least for the first half.
There's often a problem with drama in anime, especially since it tends to hit the viewer with all the subtlety of a speeding subway. Titles like Toradora and AnoHana are a couple examples of drama on overdrive, and occasionally Chuu2-Byo can feel a bit like those titles in the last six episodes. Is there anything inherently wrong with excessive drama in an anime? Certainly not. After all, it depends on the execution itself and other aspects such as the characterization and dialogue. But what when the drama comes from nowhere, undermining the appeal of the series and turning it into something else entirely? This is where problems occur in Chuu2-Byo. What starts out as a lighthearted comedy with subtle romance becomes an exhaustive high school drama in the second half, and it really hurts the series as a result.
Why change it, then? It's a question that I might never find the answer to. It's not as though the anime was lacking in substance before that point, or that it needed to make a sudden switch to develop the characters and their relationship. Yuuta and Rikka were steadily progressing, and there were still the occasional dramatic moments that felt natural to the show. While there isn't so much an issue with the execution of the second half (exaggerated crying and yelling aside), it is a problem when the anime feels like two entirely different shows in one. It might have been less of an issue if aspects of the first half still subsisted, but the comedy is unfortunately tossed aside in favor of drama. Which is disappointing, as the lighthearted character interaction is what made the first half of the anime so special.
There are also some other minor complaints if one were to nitpick, such as Kumin being a pointless character and adding nothing besides a few cute scenes of her sleeping, or the contrivances of some of the dramatic situations (receiving a letter written years ago at the most convenient time — really?), but on the whole it doesn't do much to detract from what is an otherwise well-written and heartwarming experience.
On a more positive note, the lavish production values customary of KyoAni do a solid job of enhancing the emotional value of each scene. Character designs are appropriately cute while the animation has an extraordinary level of polish and finesse, particularly during the faux action sequences often illustrated whenever Rikka has a confrontation with another character. More commendable, though, is the storyboarding of some scenes. There are a few moments in the anime that are truly breathtaking, such as Yuuta and Rikka quietly sitting together under a bridge and watching the lights of society shine and flicker along the river.
A fundamental piece to any good love story is the presence of an emotional soundtrack, and Chuu2-Byo does not disappoint with its music. Fitting tracks are used for both the lighthearted and dramatic moments, and there is a particular piano piece that will manage to pull your heartstrings a bit whenever it is used. The opening and ending sequences are also quirky and memorable, and these songs will most likely be glued to your head for quite a while afterwards. With that said, it's always a little amusing during the second half of the series when the upbeat ending song plays immediately after a dramatic scene. It really represents the disparity of the two halves.
Chuu2-Byo is certainly not a miraculous or flawless anime by any means, but it is easily above the vast majority of anime out there (the romance genre especially). Perhaps the drama won't upset you nearly as much as it did with me, or it could possibly enhance the experience for you, even if changing the entire tone of an anime midway through will no doubt cause some concern.
But if I'm to be rewarded with a genuinely heartwarming story, six episodes of unadulterated fun, and one of the best romantic pairings in the past few years— is it worth a little bit of frustration? Probably.