Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions was one of those things that was just so dang cute I watched it all the way through.
Then, since my tolerance for cute is extremely low, I watched it again to see what the heck there was in it that made me watch it the first time. Fortunately I think I’ve figured it out, so the next time I watch it I can watch it just to watch it.
I wonder if I can do that…
ANYWAY, Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions is a pretty simple romance/first love story on the face of it. They meet cute (yeah, that’s a trope) when Yuta finds Rikka climbing down to his balcony. He’s a gent, she’s cute as a bug’s ear…You know they’ll be in love L-U-V by the end of the show.
The problem is getting some creative tension in there.
I mean, a First Love story always have some tension to it because if it’s written right the lovers don’t really know what they are doing and so there are opportunities for them to screw it up. That’s certainly the case with Yuta and Rikka, since they are, among other things, the geek and the geekier.
That’s the first place chunibyo comes into play. As I understand it, it’s kids being powerful wizards and warriors…not D&D, not role-playing, not cosplay, but actually acting out the life, at least for brief periods of time. In LC&OD they are actually animated into those roles, with the sorts of geometrically patterned spells you would see in a magical girl show; then they cut away to what others see: kids waving soup ladles and falling on the ground twitching.
It’s actually kind of mean on the part of the director, when you get down to it.
The deal is that Rikka fell for Yuta while he was doing his chunibyo and sees his character as her chunibyo’s master. She views herself as his subordinate in that world.
Now, there are a couple gimmicks about to come into play. Watch the rabbit they pull out of the hat:
In the real world they aren’t a complementary couple where the strengths of one compensates for the weaknesses of the other. Instead, Rikka is a girl with real problems, the most important of which is that she has no self-esteem whatsoever. She’s not very smart, she’s not athletic, she’s tiny and has no bust-line to speak of, and she’s so introverted that outside of her chunibyo buddies that she has trouble making friends.
In short, Yuta is superior to her in every way just by being average. And since she has no self-esteem, she can’t believe that he would want her in the real world.
In the chunibyo world he’s still her master BUT – and this is a big but – in the chunibyo world she has a place in his life. She serves him is a loyal retainer, a witch of power enough to be his ally.
BOOM. See it? In the chunibyo world she has VALUE. In the real world, nope. Nuttin’.
Okay, now here comes the problem: Rikka and Yuta have just moved up from middle school to high school (making them about fifteen). In middle school he had the reputation for being a geek because of his chunibyo. He’s setting out into a brand new life … and he doesn’t want to be seen as a geek anymore.
So here comes the gimmick that makes LC&OD different from any other First Love story. Ready?
Yuta is falling for Rikka, but dislikes chunibyo.
Rikka is falling for Yuta, but likes chunibyo.
See it? Their mutual affection drives them together. Their feelings about chunibyo drive them apart. That’s tension. So far, so good.
There’s that old theory of attitudes, Heider’s Balance Model, that says of you have two people and an object the relationship between the people is stable if you have an odd number of “likes.” A likes the object, B likes the object, A and B like each other…three likes. Stable. A hates the object, B hates the object, A and B like each other … one like. Stable.
Yuta and Rikka like each other (one), Rikka likes chunibyo (two), Yuta hates chunibyo. Um. Yeah. Oops. Unstable.
The trick is, of course, that it’s not a simple matter of liking. If it was that easy, Yuta, the dominant member, would just say, “Cut that out,” and meek little Rikka would follow right along. Hasta la vista, chunibyo.
Dang, I just wrote a complete sentence in two non-English languages.
But Rikka doesn’t just like chunibyo. She NEEDS it. It’s the only place in her life where she has agency.
This is explicit in the series. At one point she is separated from her delusion – and she manifestly enters withdrawal, barely functioning in the real world, a cute little blank-faced robot.
Rikka NEEDS chunibyo and cannot give it up. Yuta doesn’t want chunibyo but wants Rikka. NOW we have tension.
To make the story end we have to resolve that tension somehow, and this is the really sneaky bit. Ready?
Rikka’s got nothing, right? So far as she is concerned she is a total loser. Yuta is better than she is in both her worlds, the real world and the chunibyo world.
Except in exactly one way. She can make him choose between the girl he loves and the chunibyo he hates.
And she’s SERIOUS about it. When he tries to fake it for her, she calls him on it, bitches him out seven ways to Sunday. As far as she’s concerned, he can’t just play at playing, he has to live it honestly.
That’s it. That’s all the power she has in her life. But it’s just enough. What it does is put them on common ground. Remember, he wants to leave chunibyo behind because he’s afraid the other kids will think he’s a geek. She says, metaphorically, “But I’m a geek. If you leave geekdom behind, you leave me behind.”
She can force him to make the choice that resolves the tension and completes the series. If he chooses the real world, he can’t have her. Tragedy. If he chooses her, he has to have chunibyo as well. Comedy.
He chooses her. Good for them!
Now, that sounds more than a little manipulative on her part, but there no indication at all that she understands that she has this power. She’s not devious; she’s desperate. From her perspective she has nothing in her life except Yuka and chunibyo, and getting them together is her only hope for happiness.
But that’s how they did it. He’s the entire mansion: looks, brains, a future, stability…whatever a fifteen-year-old girl is looking for in a boyfriend. Now, I think she’s pretty good but from her perspective she has nothing, not one god-blessed thing …
Except the key to the mansion door.
That’s a really neat construction. What it does is make their First Love story different from any of a thousand others, gives it a level of structure that’s one step deeper. It’s just one extra element to their relationship, that in the moment of truth the weaker member of the relationship is the stronger. And that tiny difference is what sets Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions apart from a hundred other stories.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.