Yuuta Togashi suffered from a condition known as Chunibyo in middleschool where he pretended he was the Dark Flame Master and had magic powers. Now he’s going to high school and he’s chosen one where no one from his middle school will know him looking for a fresh start as a ‘normal’ student. Unfortunately for him, on his first day he meets Rikka Takanashi who not only seems to have Chunibyo, she’s determined to drag him into her delusions as she searches for the Unseen Horizon.
If you’re thinking from the overview that this is another high school kids learning how to grow up and find out who they are anime, you aren’t entirely wrong. That is at the core what this show is about. How we grow as people and what we give up or choose to hold onto as we transition between being a child and being an adult. In that sense this show is truly wonderful because it looks at this idea from a number of different views that I’ll get into later but that isn’t all the show has on offer.
I actually watched this anime after watching an AMV someone had put together about it. I knew nothing else going in so was kind of surprised about the more serious topics in the anime. The AMV had essentially clipped every scene of make believe, the visual representations of Rikka’s fights against the Priestess (her older sister), and other ‘delusions’ the characters have throughout the series and it made it seem like the show actually was a fantasy. Actually, even watching the show, at times you had to question whether the twist at the end was going to be that these characters actually did have some unseen power because they intensely believe and buy into their own concepts at times and the way these play out are quite brilliant. But no, not a fantasy. And the characters aren’t actually all that delusional given at their core they know the difference between reality and their dream but at times choose to take refuge in the dream. The only difference between them is how strongly they deny certain aspects of reality.
So this show offers some fairly complex questions about characters, how we perceive and accept reality, and also some excellent visual spectacle resulting in some truly awesome fight sequences that bring quite a bit of excitement in short bursts throughout the series.
Still, the selling point of the show is undeniably the characters themselves. Yuuta and Rikka are absolutely charming in their lead roles. While Yuuta has decided to accept the world’s definition of normal at the start of the series and has packed away all of his paraphernalia collected during middle school into boxes, Rikka is truly still embracing the world she herself has created. The contrast between the two and their initial clashing as Rikka tries to convince Yuuta that as the Dark Flame Master he is essential on her quest and his insistence that she act a bit more normal plays out well. And the series could have left it as being that simple. Guy who previously strayed from being normal guides weirdo girl back into the world, thus saving her from social ridicule. But that isn’t where this show chooses to leave its narrative.
Yuuta’s vision of what it means to be normal might more firmly align with the rest of the world, but it is a vision he has constructed of a ‘normal’ high school life. It is every bit as delusional as his idea about being the Dark Flame Master. It’s a new role with a new costume and new rules, but it is just another role he is playing, and even he realises at times that his insistence that Rikka is in the wrong early in the series is unfair. At the same time, he doesn’t allow himself to all totally back into the delusion because he does have to function in society. By the end of the series, Yuuta very clearly takes on the role of a bridge between Rikka and the rest of the world. He understands where she is coming from but finally realises that imposing his view of normal upon her is equivalent to destroying or denying her very identity.
This isn’t a transition that happens instantly and Yuuta sways back and forth between the normal and delusional poles crafted by the show. Early on he’s convinced not to throw away all those boxes and he puts them back in his room. Later they get opened and some of the objects get put back into use. He isn’t entirely casting aside a highly significant part of who he was. The thing is, he’s happier as he accepts his past and those aspects of him that still feel the need to strike a pose when holding a toy gun or sword. Rikka may be ‘weird’ but by being with her, he finds a way to accept himself and some of those parts of him that others might deem childish or delusional.
In contrast, Rikka stays true to who she is for most of the series. However, the final act delivers the inevitable. The understanding that to get on with others (in this case her mother) and to move on in the world, Rikka realises she needs to be ‘normal’. What follows is a truly bizarre couple of episodes where this once vibrant person becomes a shell of who they are. Questioning everything they do and say and trying to determine what is normal anyway. Seeing Rikka in this state is distressing and watching Yuuta encourage her efforts while being inwardly torn (because while he understands this is part of growing up – or at least he thinks it is – he actually misses Rikka being Rikka) is almost heart breaking.
For Sanae, one of the supporting cast and another character who has fully embraced Rikka’s delusions, she is genuinely heart broken by this transition. Seeing this enforced and highly artificial normalcy and the impact it has on these characters sends a truly powerful message about our expectations of people and how we view the world.
It is a shame that we view Rikka’s internal struggle through the eyes of Yuuta. Admittedly, the story would have been far too fractured to be affective from her perspective, and we would have already known why she chose to embrace her particular delusion if it had been from her point of view, but in this sequence seeing her thoughts on this process would have really hit hard. Still, Yuuta’s own inner conflict as being the catalyst for a lot of this pain has a pretty powerful impact and it takes away the potential argument that Rikka wanting to return to how she was is a selfish act. If it had been her perspective, it would have been too easy to write her off as willful. Viewing the conflict externally and through others really allows you to feel true sympathy for her as a character.
This theme of everyone embracing a delusion to a certain extent is carried across most of the support cast and becomes part of a conversation between two characters toward the end of the season. I honestly think the show would have been better without that conversation as it kind of took a message that had been powerfully demonstrated and hit us over the head with it like a blunt instrument, but at least thematically this show is very cohesive.
I haven’t touched on many negatives with this anime. They exist. Some of the characters will wear on your nerves at times while others you’ll find charming. Development of characters outside of Yuuta and Rikka exists but to a far lesser extent and some characters remain very much a one line descriptor. Certain events early in the show really do end up being just filler and there’s a few obligatory high school anime moments that don’t really add much to the overall narrative. Still, I had a lot of fun with this show. It won’t be for everyone because it is a high school anime with cute girls and all the usual tropes, but I think the overarching narrative here had enough solid ideas to really keep my interest and the visual spectacle of the delusions playing out certainly keep things exciting.
I’d strongly recommend at least giving the show a go though it won’t be for everyone. There are some very cool moments, some very funny moments, and if you make it through to the end of the season you will probably cry at least once. There is a season 2 of this which I will review after another rewatch (I’ve only watched season 2 once so need to watch a bit more carefully). I don’t like it as much but it actually does take Yuuta and Rikka’s relationship a bit further and continues the overall idea of what growing up is like.
If you’ve seen this anime I would love to know your thoughts so please leave a comment below.
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