Love, Chūnibyō & Other Delusions

In Japanese pop culture, a “chūnibyō” is a person – usually in their early teens – who, in order to escape or stand out from the conformist pressures of school, home, and society, falls into a delusional state in which they believe they possess supernatural powers and/or are the subject of plots by extra-dimensional forces. Yūta Togashi used to be a chūnibyō: in junior high, under the influence of a girl named Satone Shichimiya, he developed the delusion that he was the “Dark Flame Master”, a being possessed of supernatural powers engaged in a never-ending battle against hidden evil forces. Now, as a first-year senior high school student, he has abandoned his delusions and transferred to a new school where no-one knows about the past he now finds embarrassing. What he didn’t anticipate, however, was that one of his new classmates would be Rikka Takanashi, a neighbour who lives with her older sister Tōka in the same apartment complex as Yūta; he recognises immediately that she is a chūnibyō, and that the reason she wears a patch over her right eye and bandages on her left arm is because she believes she is possessed by an entity called the “Wicked Eye”. What he doesn’t know is that Rikka’s delusion is, in part, a product of trauma – the untimely death of her father with whom she was very close – and, in part, a product of his own influence: Rikka observed Yūta during his own chūnibyō phase and decided to mimic his behaviour. Unexpectedly drawn to Rikka, Yūta decides to befriend her in the hope of helping her set aside her own delusions so that they can pursue a conventional relationship – but the task proves more complicated than expected. On the one hand, Rikka’s best friend, Sanae Dekomori, a semi-chūnibyō in her final year at senior high, fears that Yūta’s growing influence on Rikka will mean the end of their friendship; on the other hand, ambitious and popular Shinka Nibutani, herself a refugee from her own chūnibyō days, wants to ensure that Rikka and Sanae don’t expose her past and thereby leave her vulnerable to ridicule. Add Yūta’s libidinous classmate Makoto Isshiki and narcoleptic rich-girl Kumin Tsuyuri into the mix, and the stage is set for a series of complicated adventures. And that’s when Satone re-appears, still chūnibyō and still insisting that Yūta has a destiny to fulfill… 

Based on a series of illustrated novels by Torako and Nozomi Ōsaka and produced by fan-favourite Kyoto Animation, “Love, Chūnibyō & Other Delusions” aired on Japanese television between October and December 2012. A second series aired between January and March 2014; an animated feature re-telling the first series from Rikka’s perspective premiered in September 2013, while a second feature (subtitled “Take On Me”) continuing the narrative from the second series appeared in January 2018. Animated in Kyoto Animation’s trademark lush, mangaesque style, “Love, Chūnibyō & Other Delusions” contains all the narrative, visual and behavioral tropes we’ve come to expect from the high-school romance/comedy/slice-of-life/coming-of-age genre. What elevates it above the ruck, however, is both the element of psychological and emotional delusion that characterizes the reality of young people afflicted with a chūnibyō state of mind (and the darker consequences – such as descent into full “hikikomori”, or social recluse status – to which it could give rise), as well as the non-judgmental acceptance and compassion displayed by Yūta toward Rikka throughout the series. This isn’t to say he doesn’t find her annoying and frustrating; but there is an understanding born of experience in evidence which makes their story less about his attempt to change her and more about how she is able to grow and change through encounter with a non-dominating other. Thus, the series contains moments that are genuinely – and surprisingly – moving, a powerful undercurrent to the overtly chaotic narrative that both humanizes the characters and makes their surreal adventures relatable. By turns anarchically comedic and touchingly affective, “Love, Chūnibyō & Other Delusions” is, at heart, a sweetly-natured meditation on the theme of the “wounded healer” whose own healing comes through the unexpected gift of love and friendship.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.