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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
tldr; they are the best chuuni characters.
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.