I love Chuunibyou. If I’m being honest, it’s because it’s cute. But if I’m being more reflective, it’s because the show is rich with character. Chuunibyou is a show that you remember, whether in small snippets or larger strokes. The cute visual gags, the shrewd homeroom teacher, the iconic clubroom, the recurring practical jokes, the catchy lines, the sunset-bathed streets, the shimmering lights on the horizon…
…and the characters: Yuuta and Nibutani, who just want to get over their middle-school delusions, and Rikka and Dekomori, who are at the peak of their own. I think we can all relate to the overwhelming shivers of embarrassment Yuuta feels whenever he recalls a particularly awkward moment from middle school. (At least I can.) And though it’s a little embarrassing to admit, I’ve picked up on the way Rikka narrates mundane moments as crucial events in her chuunibyou world.
But more than the personalities of the characters, I find myself drawn to the journey that they’re on. Everyone calls every anime a “coming-of-age” story, but Chuunibyou‘s story is especially genuine. When there’s joy along the way, the show relishes in it. When there’s grief, the show lingers in it. When there’s difficulty, the show works through it—even if it sometimes doesn’t find an answer. There’s honesty in the way Yuuta and Rikka and Dekomori and Nibutani travel that leads me to pause and ponder about my own journey.
(Beware: spoilers for Chuunibyou lie ahead. Traverse at your own peril.)
In particular, Rikka’s journey involves her coming to terms with personal loss. We find out later in the show that her father died of a grave illness three years prior. When he was ill, he requested that Rikka be shielded from the news; his death completely shocked Rikka, so much so that she adopted her chuunibyou personality out of denial. At least, that’s what Touka, Rikka’s sister, theorizes. In any case, she needs Rikka to get over it. Papa’s dead, and no Unseen Horizon or Tyrant’s Eye is going to reverse that.
Yet, for Rikka, it’s a little more complicated than that. Her delusions may have begun out of denial, but she can’t imagine living without them anymore. She’s trying to get over it, but it’s not easy. And besides, she saw her father the day after he died. Standing out on the pier, looking out at the shimmering lights on the horizon, she saw him. Watching over her. So she goes out, night after night, searching for the Unseen Horizon—for her father. It’s the best she can do.
As for Yuuta, he doesn’t quite know how to process all of this. But he cares about Rikka, enough to join her on her journey wherever it leads. And one particular night, at Rikka’s behest, it leads into a quaint neighborhood, down a side street, to a small plot on the side of the road. “My base,” she explains. “The place where all of us were.” She approaches with eager anticipation. Memories flash before her eyes: her childhood home, her father smiling, her family complete, the way it was meant to be.
Instead, she finds an overgrown field. Wildflowers bloom in place of pavement; tall grass in place of her porch. A For Sale sign in the middle, claiming the land upon which her house once stood.
This isn’t how it was meant to be.
And even as Rikka begins to recite her chuunibyou transformation phrase, standing her ground against a reality she can’t possibly take to be real, she can’t help the tears that stream down her face.
A few years ago, my grandmother died, and my family traveled overseas for her funeral. I recall the scene vividly: the bright tropical sun, the brilliant white church where they gave the eulogy. Children running around in boredom, not sure what the fuss is all about, grave diggers carving a spot out in the centuries-old graveyard, the silent sounds of tears.
As I reflect on my conflicting emotions that day, I find myself sympathizing with Rikka. This isn’t how it was meant to be. We shouldn’t have to deal with loss; we shouldn’t have to grieve. And yet, we’re faced with a For Sale sign in place of the life we’d wanted. We’re presented with reality, and we’re forced to move on.
We all manage it in our own ways. Part of the story Chuunibyou tells is that, on this journey of moving on, everyone’s managing it for themselves. Touka manages it by adopting a strict mindset: head down, accept reality, live as you can. But not everyone’s built for that. Rikka certainly isn’t. And so she manages with her chuunibyou mindset, hoping that one day she’ll find the Unseen Horizon: the peace she’s looking for.
In a sense, isn’t this what Christianity offers us as Christians? Isn’t Christlikeness a sort of chuunibyou behavior, a managing method we’ve adopted to deal with the realities of sin and death? Isn’t the Christian life itself a journey whose hopeful destination is heaven: the peace we’re all looking for?
I want to be careful here. I do think all of these things are true. The Christian faith certainly offers us a solution for our struggles in life. Death is defeated; our sins are forgiven. We struggle along the journey of redemption, working out our salvation in hope that we will receive the eternal salvation of our souls. But this all sounds too much like Rikka’s delusions, doesn’t it? What’s the point of believing that death is defeated if people die anyway? How can our sins be forgiven if we still feel guilty? How can we face the For Sale sign with real confidence?
Chuunibyou‘s answer is simple: you can’t. By the end of the show, Rikka does come to terms with the death of her father. With Yuuta’s help, she’s able to look inward, finding enough peace in her chuunibyou delusions to move on. But the peace she finds is more of a tired resignation, like checking into a run-down hotel at the end of a long day of traveling. And at the end of the day, her chuunibyou fantasies are still delusions. She’s made them up to comfort herself. She denies the reality of the For Sale sign, but it still stands. Chuunibyou is unflinchingly honest: the only confidence we can ever have to face our difficulties is a tenuous confidence we’ve made for ourselves. And I respect that honesty.
But, I think our faith offers a better way. First, the Christian life isn’t a coping mechanism because it doesn’t deny difficulties along the road. The For Sale sign is real; we don’t cite creeds like transformation phrases against hard truths. Instead, we join with Rikka and weep. This isn’t how it was meant to be. And we know that.
But there’s a reality more real than the grave: the empty tomb. “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death.” Our salvation doesn’t come from believing a delusion we’ve made for ourselves, but from entrusting ourselves to a fantasy come true, sealed by Christ. In him we find new life; in him all things are being made new.
We still struggle along the journey. We have moments when salvation doesn’t seem real, and it’s important to be honest about those moments. There are no easy answers, after all. But that’s natural, for the answers come from beyond us. We, too, stand on the pier, looking out at the shimmering lights on the horizon, knowing that our Father is watching us from afar. And in his house there are many rooms.
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