If I had to explain to my five-year-old self about why I no longer play pretend, I’d probably start with “It’s complicated.”
Perhaps the most clear-cut and awfully bittersweet parts of growing older is that we tend to grow far out of touch with our beloved childhood fantasies. While I would love to believe that I’ve still retained the fantastical universe that I’ve imagined in my younger years, my ability to act them out has certainly gone away. But as I grew older, the world around did as well, slowly building an odd, insurmountable wall of shame and judgement from my peers when those short bouts of “chuunibyou” leaped out. In the process of cozying into my place as a fully functioning adolescent, it began to feel odd to leap out of the alignment even if I had once expected that it would my fellow friends, who’ve experienced life at the same pace, to understand. But even then, when the fear of shame did fade, finding the time to act on my impulses is nigh impossible, especially when I’ve hardly found a suitable amount of time to catch up on my current hobbies. Fortunately, at the behest of several peers on Twitter, I finally managed to scamp what little time I had to watch Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shita.
And I absolutely loved it.
For me, Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shita hits right at home, and pretty damn hard. While Rikka’s and Yuuta’s imaginary escapades have brought up several awkward bouts of nostalgia in the anime community, watching the two has brought up truths and stories that I would rather forget as a teenager. I used to be one of those rascals who glided everywhere with the annoying pair of Heelys shoes. I used to pretend that I was one with shadows and was completely invisible to the naked eye. And of course, I used to always mutter embarrassingly “dark” incantations and firing off imaginary swords at mythical beasts especially in the post-grade school, but pre-high school era. Even worse, I thought that having all of these ridiculous powers and juvenile gizmos and gadgets actually made me into a total badass. I had all the power, all the wealth, and all of the hilariously undeserved arrogance that two brought with it. Although in eyes of my family I was an odd, little shit of a kid, in my mind I was the king of a thousand winds, almighty deity of Ergon 7, and the samurai ninja hero of feudal Japan.
The greatest thing about being a kid is that when you unleash every ounce of your vivid, inspired fantasies, shame is hardly even afterthought. Whenever I would let loose and imagine, I’d give little to no fucks about how people thought of me. The presence of others completely failed to embarrass me; in fact, I reveled in it. I loved that bystanders would stare or roll their eyes when I strolled by in a cape at the age of seven. I loved that everyone noticed that I wore ninja costumes every Halloween for nearly five years straight. Peculiar looks from my onlooking residents meant nothing to me and I was oftentimes so lost in being a stealthy ninja-child or an emissary of the gods that shame was no longer an obstacle. In those short, first few summers of complete innocence, there was no shame to be felt when I engaged my ghastly, otherworldly duties or nonsensical witchcraft. Whether you call it ignorance or innocence, I hardly felt the need to keep any skeletons in the closet.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time and place at where my fabrications started to get embarrassing. When you grow up alongside other kids who are perfectly willing to do just as much silly things as you do, you’d think that they’d be fine with continuing on forever. Unfortunately, something natural inside us completely stopped the delusions of grandeur when we boarded the first bus to adulthood. Although I can’t determine whether this happened gradually over time or in the in a matter of seconds, those times certainly did come to a stop. Eventually I changed from the vivid, imaginative dreamer into a pretentious, biting teenager who would have mocked my younger self. If I ever do give into an imaginative impulse, I find myself just as embarrassed as the people around me. And even if I may have never been obsessed with growing into a functioning adult, the willpower to and linger in my childhood dreams and become another Peter Pan has already faded and passed. No longer can I imagine myself getting into LARP, Dungeons and Dragons, or any role-playing games of the sort as I’ve regrettably grown beyond those times (and plus, medieval role play is for pansies). While I love delving into well-written fantasies and oftentimes use my imagination for the purpose of enhancing an image or idea, I’m hardly ever able to give myself to my fantasies completely and get swept away like in my younger years.
Briefly flying off of a tangent here, my problem with shows like Sword Art Online is that they require the viewer to cut and paste themselves into the role of a usually catatonic lead character instead of telling a satisfying story. This peeve of mine often carries over to heavily fanservice-oriented shows and the other “wish-fulfillment” shows of our era, where the screen screams at you to feel jealousy or envy towards the lead. In the end, they’re just tastes of what we want but can’t touch, what we can look at, but can’t perceive. They rely on the viewer to mentally picture themselves as the protagonist instead of immersing them with the world naturally and I’ve always found that the majority of characters written along those lines are far too idealistic, far too rarefied, and far too fake to look up to as a role models. I don’t need a jejune, blank slate of a character so that I can write myself into a story or setting. I have a something far better to utilize instead of those preset fictions: a brain. What you can create (and undress) with your mind can and always will be better than any of those hackneyed Mad Libz-esque stories which are so popular amongst us fans.
In the sea of anime series optimistically screaming at you and the characters to fulfill your wildest dreams, it’s rare to find one which accurately portrays how silly and embarrassing your fantasies really are and even rarer to find one which manages to celebrate such memories as well. While Chuunibyou casually mocks Yuuta’s and Rikka’s fantastical illusions and uses them to great comedic effect, at the same time there’s a surprising level of respect and reverence towards their insane bouts of role-playing. Unlike Sword Art Online, which calls on the viewer’s current desire to be placed inside the story, Chuunibyou relies on the embarrassing, nostalgic memories of our younger years. When Rikka busts out an umbrella in place of sword or when Yuuta has a horrifying recording of him played out in front of a girl, although the direction plays off of our fond, beloved, or even most horrifying memories, it also reminds us of how completely outrageous and wonderfully silly those times were.
At the end of the day, I can’t help but admit that Chuunibyou strikes some sort of emotional chord deep in the back in the back of my mind. Although it doesn’t inspire any flowing tears or manly fist pumps of hot-blooded inspiration (in fact, it’s comes FAR from doing any of these things), the first two episodes of Chuunibyou have managed to dig up some musty old feelings of nostalgia. Although I’d rather not pretend that I’m pensive sage who’s far older than I really am, no matter how far away you are from your childhood, the topic always brings up fond memories. Our childhood fantasies are oftentimes double-sided coins; on one side lies fond memories of a sweet pretend times past while on the other lurks a rather long series of flattering stories, enough to dye several cheeks red when one speeks of them. It’s only fitting that the two protagonists of Chuunibyou represent those two sides: the glorified, the unbridled fun of temporary youth which we leave behind and the lingering feelings of embarrassment which we take with us.
As odd as it sounds, the only thing which can make a memory less embarrassing is a willingness to share. Pass your stories along to friends.