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Inou Battle Has the Best Chuuni Characters

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I don’t know about you guys, but I normally find chuuni characters kind of obnoxious. You know the ones. They just go on and on with their delusions in a way that the anime generally tries to make seem quirky but ends up making you wonder if they need psychological help.

My discomfort with the chuunibyou archetype stems not from any particular dislike of juvenile fantasies (I mean, hell, aren’t we all chuunis on the inside?) but from anime’s general obsession with glorifying some pretty gross antisocial behaviour. To date, I still haven’t seen an anime that has dealt with chuunibyou in a way that has fully satisfied me. Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! managed to successfully walk the tightrope between empathising with chuunibyou and romanticising it, but it lost all of its balance in its disastrous second season. Aura by Romeo Tanaka attempted to portray chuunibyou in a more serious, dramatic light, but its themes were unambitious: at its core it was simply a “nerds being bullied” story.

So admittedly, my hurdle for a “good chuuni character” is not very high. Inou Battle is far from perfect, but it did manage to pleasantly surprise me in quite a few ways. It’s just a little bit more sensitive, a little bit more intelligent, a little bit more polished than the norm. I also feel like it manages to approach chuunibyou from a number of different angles and that it takes full advantage of its seemingly generic setup.

When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, Cute Girls Went Back to Doing Cute Things

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For a world where supernatural battles are supposedly commonplace, there isn’t an awful lot of supernatural battling going on in this show. So far, it’s been a silly slice of life school show with harem romcom sensibilities.

And you know what? That’s not actually a bad thing.

Inou Battle deliberately portrays the supernatural as part of the mundane. The characters barely ever use their powers, despite how OP they are. Personally, I’d kill to have Tomoyo’s time-stopping powers. I’d get 100% on tests all the time! But nope, the characters use their powers in the silliest of ways, mostly as they muck around with each other as friends do.

The girls’ casual, offhand treatment of the special powers occurs even as our protagonist Andou continually romanticises them and acts out his delusional fantasies. In other words, he is still a chuuni yearning for more excitement in his life, even though he and his friends already have superpowers.

Admittedly, his ability is a piece of crap

Admittedly, his ability is a piece of crap, though

This contrast is what highlights the show’s meta-commentary on chuunibyou, and it’s actually a pretty nuanced perspective. Chuunibyou is a part of ordinary life. It can’t be taken away from you, even if your wildest fantasies came true. And because it is such a mundane thing, chuunibyou isn’t pure escapism – or at least, it shouldn’t be treated as such. These characters strive to live as ordinary high school students despite having superpowers – that is the point.

And where does chuunibyou itself come from? There’s an interesting conversation in episode 3 that really neatly sums up the chuunibyou mentality (according to the show):

Hajime: What is “chuunibyou” to you?

Andou: I see it… as not lying to myself.

Hajime: Good answer, but a bit abstract. Chuunibyou comes in varieties, but they share a core. It starts with self-denial. Creating a different self and a fictional setting, because you can’t accept yourself and the world you live in. However, those emotions are also a fierce craving for self-affirmation. You wish for someone to accept you, just as strongly as you wish to be someone else. This unresolved paradox for self-denial and self-affirmation is the root of chuunibyou.

A bit wordy and pretentious (after all, a chuuni character is saying all of this), but surprisingly on point. Chuunibyou is an unresolved paradox, and that is why it cannot go away. I quite enjoy the degree of self-awareness in this anime.

More Than Just Anime Tropes

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But of course, self-awareness does not make a good story by itself. After all, pointing out that something is a cliche as you use the cliche isn’t exactly fresh or exciting. Inou Battle needs more than just an interesting core philosophy to be a good anime – it needs to present these ideas in an engaging way. And while it doesn’t quite rise to the occasion (there is a lot of superficial junk in each episode), it does nail the basics of character animation and voice acting. This is what makes the characters come alive and feel like something more than just tired anime tropes.

Inou Battle is Masanori Takahashi’s first time directing a full-length TV series, but he’s working alongside chief director Masahiko Ootsuka, an industry veteran from Old Gainax. It’s Ootsuka’s experience that comes through most strongly in the animation work here – he constantly makes use of quick transitions and smears, knowing exactly how long to hold each shot before shifting the camera’s attention elsewhere.

The anime’s emphasis on visual humour and detailed character animation also does a lot to elevate the otherwise cut-and-dry humour. Instead of spamming the audience with goofy, exaggerated reaction faces as Nisekoi and similar anime comedies are prone to do, Inou Battle takes care to depict its characters as fluid entities, constantly moving their entire bodies as they interact with each other.

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The result of this is that the characters actually do feel more dynamic and the character interactions also have a lot of spark to them. The great voice acting helps a lot too. Nobuhiko Okamato struts his stuff as Andou, nailing both his chuuni side and his dorky nice guy side. He does a much more graceful job of it than Jun Fukuyama as Yuuta in Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! and the difference here is pretty striking. Where Yuuta was only really effective as a tsukkomi character, Andou’s energy manages to outshine all the other characters – some bland harem MC he is! He pretty much carries the entire show by himself.

The female characters are pretty much stock anime archetypes for the most part, but I was  impressed with how Tomoyo turned out. She’s a tsundere, but her love for Andou isn’t her most highlighted trait – Tomoyo is constantly struggling with her inner chuuni. To accept Andou would mean accepting inner self as well. At the same time, she manages to be very honest about her insecurities and shows a genuine desire to move forward.

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Easily Best Girl

Although Inou Battle is a comedy and does pretty well at that, it’s actually in its more serious scenes that its character interactions shine. I compared Inou Battle to Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! before, and I’ll do it again here: I think Andou and Tomoyo make a better chuuni couple than Yuuta and Rikka. Andou and Tomoyo are friends before they are love interests, and their relationship comes across as equal, rather than the weird sort of father-daughter dynamic Yuuta and Rikka had going on.

Part of the reason for this is the way the anime visually frames Tomoyo. Unlike Chu2koi, where Rikka is forever portrayed as an infantilised and quirky entity from afar, we’re allowed to see inside of Tomoyo’s head and for the camera to linger on Andou the way she sees him. When she talks, she actually communicates.

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tldr; they are the best chuuni characters.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think Inou Battle is a particularly accessible series. Too much of the content consists of in-jokes for the otaku-literate audience. But it fully succeeds under the constraints it has set up for itself, and it stands out to me as one of the better LN adaptations of recent memory. I love Andou and Tomoyo, if that wasn’t obvious already. And I can get behind the story’s portrayal of chuunibyou, because it never forgets that these comedic character tropes are people as well.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of this show as it unfolds, although I hope that it remains a laid-back school life show and that the supernatural battles stay in the background. It’s a funny thing to say about an anime that so seemingly squanders the potential to do something outside of high school antics, but I find the quiet character moments to be the most compelling parts of the anime so far.

Inou Battle gets the basics of good characterisation down and I like it. You should give it a shot if you haven’t already.

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Posted on November 12, 2014, in Anime Analysis and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Yep! Very much agree with this one. Inou Battle is a much cleverer anime than it’s getting credit for. Warning, unorganized text ahead.

    I think Andou’s ability kind of cuts the whole chuuni philosophy to the core here. Andou, the biggest chuuni of them all, has by far the lamest power. But sans Hakoto (white), his power is also the flashiest looking. The difference there is that when he activates Dark and Dark, it serves to emphasize him. None of the girls powers do this. While they make cool things happen, you see it in the world around them, but not in the girls themselves. It doesn’t emphasize them the same way Dark and Dark does Andou. And that’s why he thinks his power is the best. “Because it looks cool”, and it makes him look cool. And that to him, is the entire point to being a massive chuuni. It’s not actually about believing you have powers, it’s about having fun and looking cool. His power literally allows him to be a chuuni because it’s all just cool looking posturing. The true nature of Dark and Dark is that it makes him an even better chuuni than before.

    The best part here is that the characters genuinely understand that it’s all just a bit of silly fun. Andou and Tomoyo spend far more time being regular people than they do as chuunis. They know it’s not real, it’s just something that they have fun doing in their downtime. Inou Battle neither insults or romanticises chuunibyou; it just demonstrates it for what it is. Kids messing around. And the kids know it’s all pretend. And that is why I think it has the best chuuni characters.

    Also glad to see you’re enjoying the show!

    • Yes to everything about this comment!

      You know, I think one of the reasons the show resonates with me is what you said: the kids know it’s pretend. It’s just their way of making life more exciting for them. I think Andou manages to be come across as so honest because he is open about his lies. And you can see from those times he makes up those dorky names that he’s using his chuuni tendencies to bring others together. It’s not his way of running from reality – it’s his way of facing it and living alongside it.

      The character dynamics in this anime remind me a lot of Seitokai no Ichizon. Like Sugisaki, Andou gets teased a lot by his fellow club members, but when it comes down to it, they all admire his honesty and integrity. You can feel the genuine love and affection they all have for him. They’re more than petty love interests – they are all truly friends. I think that’s what I enjoy most about the anime.

    • “The true nature of Dark and Dark is that it makes him an even better chuuni than before.” The absolute truth…

  2. Thanks for sharing your opinion :) I’m glad my simple words could inspire you.

    I believe InouBattle also shows that superpowers cannot solve everything. I mean:

    -Chifuyu (the loli) can create anything out of thin air but she can’t use it to reconcile with her best friend ;
    -Tomoyo can manipulate time but she still has inner struggles and anxieties ;
    -Mirei can steal any superpower but can’t steal Andou’s heart.

    That is kinda wise and mature (and sad).

    You also gotta love how Andou is carrying everyone’s burden. When they got superpowers he was the one to help them all out and create rules. This guy deserves his harem.

    • Agreed that Andou deserves his harem. I think he’s up there with Kanye West as my favourite MC of the season.

      Also, good point about superpowers not being able to solve everything. That’s a pretty common theme in stories that deal with superpowers so I didn’t think too hard about it at the time, but now that you mention it, it does point to the theme of ordinariness they were going for.

  3. Have been thinking about watching this, but after reading your blog, I give up that idea.

    A pair better than Andou? I doubt that.

    Hmm… The notion of accepting your inner-self has been around for millennia – the Hundred Schools of Thought era. Do you notice one common notion: The less complicated your way of seeing thing is, the better would this process be? Do you think that this series has that notion?

    • Aww, I was trying to make the series out to be cool and I feel bad that I discouraged you from watching.

      As for your question, yeah, I think Andou, at least, subscribes to that view.

  4. I see this as a fairly light weight show but I’m enjoying most episodes on that level. This is a good analysis for people who want to look deeper.

  5. I agree with you on how Inou Battle human drama was one of the most interesting part of the show, but i found its a bit lacking. In a way it feels the struggle of each character doesn’t have anything to do with our main characters gaining superpowers (Chifuyu with her friend, Andou and Tomoyo on their chuuni-ness etc) despite it being the suppose main selling point. So it feels that the series is one half comedic superpower hijink and the other half is a somewhat grounded human drama without any connection in between.

    I am with you about Andou though. His chunni-ness isn’t something that define him, rather its a reflection/part of his personality and outlook on life. Which make him both likeable and also human

    • Fair enough. I feel that the two different sides of Inou Battle complement each other, but I can definitely agree that it comes across as clumsy and disjointed. And the human drama side is much stronger than the comedic side.

      Glad to hear you like Andou too, though. He’s such a great character XD

  6. Sorry if this is a bit wall-of-texty, but this post got me to look a bit closer at the show. So: typically, a chuuni character is a chuuni character in that all of their other character traits are there to support the chuunibyou and bring it to the front; alternately, you could say that the chuunibyou is treated like another character trait on a checklist: the imouto, the childhood friend, the tsundere, the loli…. I’m a bit warmer on the generic chuuni character than I think you are, but agree that most of them are just plain poorly written.

    But the conversation you quoted got me thinking: it’s fascinating how obsessively they (Hajime in particular) seem to theorize their own chuunibyou.The usual chuuni character seems to suffer from a deficit in self-awareness; these characters seem to be, if anything, too self-aware. Heck, if there’s one thing I think Chuunikoi got right, it was this: the show’s characters are never ignorant of the fact that their delusions are just that. Hence the effort they put into maintaining these delusions.

    There’s a Henri Lefebvre quote I came across recently that I think might be worth sharing:

    In the great classical dramas, by virtue of a contradiction for which they offer a magnificent solution, characters are not characters. They are utterly sincere, authentically sincere, even when they are pretending. They are not acting, and this is why actors are able to impersonate them completely. The audience can identify with well-defined ‘beings’ and ‘natures ‘. Conversely, all around us, in real life, characters really are characters… We are dealing with people about whom it is impossible to say either what they are or what they are not….

    (Not gonna bother with the rest of the quote, as it’d be sort of irrelevant, though interesting: he’s talking about Brecht and Marxism.)

    In a nutshell: everybody’s playing a character nowadays (might’ve also been true of people in Sophocles’s time, for that matter), and this is sorta really important, methinks. So I can’t really agree when somebody gets mad at a show for being ‘too self-aware’ or anything like that (which is something I see pretty often): rather, the problem is having the right sort of self-awareness. And the comparison that this show brings to mind for me was Oregairu, of all things. It would’ve been so darn easy to simply condemn Hachiman’s rather unpleasant worldview in a moralistic (“This is bad, kids! Don’t be like this!”) or a self-deprecating (“This is pretty darn awful, but we’re still doing it. Aren’t we terrible?”) fashion, but the show seemed to me to do a great job of empathizing with him even as it implicitly critiqued him. This show, I think, does something rather similar with its characters. Even Hajime, the jerk. The key is that it has a reason for why somebody would want to act that way. The chuunibyou doesn’t dominate their character. Nor is it treated as incidental to the rest of their character. It’s an organic part of who they are.

    I guess you could say it seems to treat chuunibyou as being a part of the human condition. If that’s a sort of melodramatic way of putting it, then I think it fits.

    Also yeah Tomoyo and Andou make for a pretty damn great couple and I agree with every word of what you said about them. The same stuff that makes Andou’s character click is at work in Tomoyo: she uses the chuunibyou rather than it using her, and the tsundere is also treated as a part of her character rather than being her character itself. I think I’d be fine with the show just being about those two, really.

    • Great comment! And before I begin responding, HOLY CRAP MAN, DID YOU SEE EPISODE 7? HAYAMI SAORI’S TEARS MAN

      Anyway.

      It’s funny that you mention the show as being too self-aware. I got another reader telling me that Inou Battle’s depiction of chuunibyou defeats the purpose of chuunibyou, because chuunibyou is all about lacking self-awareness. Thinking about that a bit more, I think this show does miss the raw immediacy of the chuunibyou experience. It’s aimed more at people like me who have become self-aware about chuunibyou but are still obsessed with the concept. (And that’s most human beings, right? I mean, we never really move on from our self-centered chuuni instincts.)

      Then of course there’s your quote and the second part of your comment, about being the right kind of self-aware. I’d say you need to be aware before you can be empathetic, and I think that’s what Inou Battle is certainly trying to be as well. The human drama is a bit clumsier than Oregairu’s, but this show’s heart is definitely in the right place. It’s one of the few “meta” light novel adaptations that actually succeeds in telling a human story in its own right, I think.

      Also, I really love that Henri Lefebvre quote. Reminds me of this novel I’ve been reading lately about Adolf Hitler suddenly coming back to life in modern times and becoming a Youtube star. A silly premise, but there was something really fascinating in how Hitler owned his role as himself so well everyone assumed he must be acting.

      • OH MY GOD MAN THAT EPISODE. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry or rage or what. HOLY SHIT MAN. Not to mention that I feel even more sure that this show is doing stuff on purpose. Which makes a huge difference, believe me.

        And I may’ve misexplained myself: I think it totally makes sense to me to have chuunibyou characters theorize themselves constantly. It’s just the wrong sort of theorizing. ‘Self-obsessed’ or ‘self-conscious’ might be better than ‘self-aware’ here. I guess I was just trying to work through an awkward parallelism between a show’s self-awareness and a character’s self-awareness, which aren’t entirely analogous.

        But as of Episode 7, it’s rather odd to talk about Andou’s awareness (of himself and of others): he’s great in some respects (episode 6 did the whole drama-around-misunderstandings thing but made me love it precisely because he went out of his way to clear things up and not be a dick; that never happens) but terrible in others (‘you don’t understand’, eh?). God, I love him.

  7. My favorite thing about this series is that Andou is consistently shown to deeply care for his friends and to be willing to go to great lengths to support them. Everytime one of the girls has a problem, he is among the first to offer his help, usually immediately dropping whatever chuuni rant he’s currently engaged in. Not once is he jealous of their far more useful powers, nor does he ever make any comment about one being definitively better than the others.

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