Ninjas are the ultimate paradox. On the one hand they don’t give a crap, but on the other hand, ninjas are very careful and precise.
- Robert Hamburger, REAL Ultimate Power

Leave it to the Japanese to devise another term for a nearly ineffable feeling.

Chuunibyou, or “Eighth Grade Syndrome,” encapsulates the power fantasies of adolescence: The longing to be special, mysterious and different from the common people (But surely you remember being fourteen).  In anime, it’s the distilled essence of why Light found the Death Note, why Lelouch received the “power of kings,” why Ikebukuro is so crazy and random and has a psychopathic metrosexual pulling all the strings.

You aren’t automatically immature if you happen to like Death Note, Code Geass or Durarara!!, of course.  But some stories are just better at drawing down the thunder of the pubescent psyche.  They are chuunibyou.

This concept applies to individuals too.  After all, what is Kuroneko’s “Dark Childe of the Nyght” act, or Okarin’s obsession with white-coated mad science, if not the effects of chuunibyou turned up to embarrassing levels?  It works so well precisely because they’re portrayed as part of the otakusphere, and we’ve seen real people who act this way among our kind.  It’s endemic in the fandom.

It wasn’t too long ago in America when “mundane” was the term of choice for non-fans.  As in, “Put the D&D books away, guys, there’s a mundane coming tonight.”  (The great irony being that in my experience, fandom includes some of the most painfully dull people I’ve ever met.)  What is it about the scene that makes people put on such airs?  And now that it’s become so acceptable, even chic to be a geek, does that mean we’re going to see more chuunibyou than ever?

Maybe.  But it seems to me that the essential ingredient of chuunibyou is compensation for fear.  Yes, it’s a bit pathetic to pretend you have special powers.  But behind the awkward feigning is always a sincere struggle for grace.  Okarin’s mad genius persona is the social armor of a sensitive, self-doubting man who’s in way over his head.  Ruri Gokou is shy and bad at making friends, but when she’s Kuroneko the Black Angel, she can be above it all.

And anytime I want to, I can be 2DT.  See?  Like that.

Further reading

Omo (on his new blogspace) turned me on to the concept of chuunibyou in context of Type-Moon and the Nasuverse.

Chuunibyou: a comprehensive guide, brought to you by Pixiv.

Ah, the childhood friend!  In a dazzling panoply of beautiful, available young women, there she is, the wallflower, so often overlooked in favor of the more flamboyant blossoms of the cast.  She cooks, cleans, takes good notes in class–  everything the main character needs to ignore the fleas of life and get on with the pressing business of harem-building.  But rarely does she have an actual chance.

Fans cry foul: “Why, if I were Kyousuke in Ore no Imouto,” they say indignantly, “I would love Manami like no other, all night, every night.  If I were Yumeji in Dream Eater Merry, I would never let Isana know a single day without a shower of my kisses!  If I were Yuuji in Baka to Test…”  And so on.  You get the idea.

But on the contrary.  I say you’d do no such thing, if you were in their shoes.

To say nothing of the freakishly long memories some of these girls seem to have. Source is "Second Wife" by Inoue Kyoshirou (H-manga).

According to Dorothy Tennov, there’s love, and then there’s limerence.  Love is affectionate and voluntary; limerence is passionate and unexpected.  While love builds relationships, limerence is what keeps you up at night when she doesn’t reply to your text messages (which you spent all day obsessing over to convey the perfect mixture of flirtatiousness and plausible deniability).  Sexual desire is a separate thing, technically, but it’s hard to deny that limerence resembles a kind of waking wet dream for romantics.  In plainer terms, it separates love from the phenomenon of the “crush.”

In the long run, time destroys limerence and promotes love, and from that perspective a childhood friend ought to have the advantage: a better foundation for a stable and long-lasting relationship.  But in the short term–  especially the teenage short-term that most anime series assume–  it’s a massive disadvantage, because limerence is intrusive.

To put it more directly: Of course Yumeji more or less abandons Isana to be with Merry.  She’s the new hotness that enters his thoughts unbidden, and he’s not going to use the extra calories it takes to remember the loving childhood friend who lives with him.  Not unless he sticks with Merry longer, to the point where her donut-scarfing and lack of common sense starts to get on his nerves…

Or, you know, it might not.  Limerence can become genuine love, in which case Isana’s just out of luck.

Sorry, kiddo. Maybe next lifetime.

I’ve realized recently that Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga nai! is a cleverly disguised harem anime.  I wouldn’t say that the harem elements overshadow the “fantasy little sister” angle—not by a long shot—but thinking of the show this way brings out some interesting nuances.

First, let’s look at the control sample.  Aragaki Ayase sees a guy she finds attractive.  She arranges some one-on-one face time.  They establish basic chemistry, and then she takes the initiative to exchange numbers.  We could then assume a standard courtship: A dinner date or two, progressing to a day trip of some kind, and eventually, maybe, they’d become a couple.

Hooray!  Too bad Kyousuke is the engine of his own destruction.

Normal girl and her normal ways.

Now let’s move on to the geek samples, because to me they’re much more interesting.

First, Kuroneko.  Oh, poor Kuroneko.  Her method I’m going to call the fascination style, because it relies on cultivating a personal mystique that intrigues and draws people in.  This suits geek sensibilities, especially our terrible anxiety regarding the social graces.  After all, why reach out and possibly get burned when you can beckon and bring the flame of love to you?

But unfortunately, reality falls short.  To be purposely attractive, you have to know what attracts people, and Kuroneko doesn’t really know.  She only knows what she finds cool in her favorite anime.  It’s painfully clear that Kuroneko is really just a shy, geeky girl who wants to be seen as sophisticated and mature.

“If I act this way, he’ll think I’m really dark and interesting!”

Next is Saori and her proximity method.  She chats with Kyousuke and gives him gaming advice over the phone, and otherwise takes any opportunity she can to hang out with her friend’s big brother.  The reasoning is simple: You need lots of contact to get a fire going.  If you can become friends, becoming lovers should be that much easier, right?  It’s like When Harry Met Sally!

Sadly, not really.  No matter what your relationship is like, if the necessary attraction isn’t there, it’s a dead end.  I happen to be rooting for Kyousuke x Saori myself, but it isn’t because I think her chances are especially good.

“If we get to know each other really well, he’ll see my attractive side."

Meanwhile, with all these girls interested in him, Kyousuke continues to walk the thorny road to incest.  As Scamp mentioned in his post on episode four, why on earth would a man go through such trouble otherwise, no matter what he says?  The way he goes about his relationship with Kirino, even loudly announcing his attraction to her on the pretense that it’s just a clever ruse…

This, too, is another kind of method.  For now I’m going to call it Freudian wishmaking. What an exciting show!

"If I say it to her as a joke, maybe she'll take it seriously!" Hope springs eternal.

“Let me ask you to imagine this.  Living far from you is a beloved relation whom you have never met.  Yet this relation is so dear a kin she is known as Mother…  There are many valorous stories told of her, which enthrall grown men as well as children.”
- Andrea Levy on the British Commonwealth, Small Island

The Tokyo Metropolitan Area is divided into many different districts, each practically a unique city unto itself.  In one of these districts, formerly a black market and now Japan’s mecca of electronics and entertainment goods, a strange triumvirate of geeks are having coffee: A fashionable gal, a gothic lolita cosplayer and a tall, bespectacled tomboy.  They chat about this and that, and in the middle of the conversation, one of them asks:

Why, indeed.

Looking at the opening of Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai!, once we get past the pretty vectors and the catchy synth-pop introducing all the characters, what we find is Akihabara in montage, in famous storefronts, the JR Akihabara train station, the ubiquitous stacks of character goods.  Going by the visuals, the show seems to be more about the town than the cute girl with the fantastic nails.

The Akiba motif only becomes more apparent in the ending of episode four.  And in this very episode, as it happens, the direction also contrives to bring us to the Summer Comic Market.  It turned out to be plot-relevant, but that doesn’t change the fact that these set pieces feel de rigeur.  You just can’t have an otaku-themed show without addressing these two holy sites—one eternal, and one that springs up twice a year like an oasis in the sand.  I find this terribly fascinating.

Because if you think about it, you really don’t need Akihabara for the fandom to thrive.  Anime rides the air waves, and now it’s often as easy as picking your favorite video streaming website.  Manga is everywhere, in dead tree format and increasingly on cell phones and portable readers.  And there are more fan gatherings than Comiket; many, many more.

So why are these places so important?  How many otaku in Japan have never made the pilgrimage to the legendary Electric Town?  Or to put it in a more relevant context, how many otaku outside have never even been to Japan?  And yet we recognize Akihabara and the Tokyo Big Sight, we see the ideas they propagate, and we yearn for them.

 

Susie Hopkins, living the dream.

 

So when we see Akihabara and Comiket in the modern otaku comedy, it’s a matter of choice.  They feature so prominently because the fandom, now fifty years and running, has settled on its spiritual capital. Even if Akihabara as a physical location declines (which, from what I hear, it has), Akiba will endure in the hearts and minds of the fandom. In a way, Kirino going to Akihabara and Comiket affirms that she’s supposed to be one of us, a member of whatever virtual nation we’ve managed to concoct in our fevered imaginations.

Further Reading:

This entry was inspired by an episode of Radiolab about cities.

Valence says we live in a dream machine.

I like Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai!. For a show that I thought would promise nothing but primitive wish fulfillment, creepy sister complexes were notably absent.  Actually, can I say this?  Kirino and Kyousuke’s sibling bonding over her secret stash of eroge was pretty heartwarming!  And there’s a lot to think about here, once you start digging a bit.

So let’s do that.  But first, some basics: A glottal stop is a type of consonant sound, and a very important one for the flavor of spoken languages.  Cockney English has a lot of them, for example (pronouncing little “li-uhl,” among other things), and languages like Tagalog and Arabic wouldn’t sound the way they do without glottal stops in nearly every word.

In Japanese, glottal stops are especially interesting, because they possess emphatic power. For example, if you say “shikkari,” what you mean is “properly,” pretty much.  But if, on the other hand, you say it more like “shi—KKari,” with a strong glottal stop in the middle, the meaning intensifies to something like “really really properly.”  All it takes is a little pause between syllables.

Now let’s take this example:

Su...

... GOKU kawaii, etc etc.

Truly, the glottal stop of the gods.

But what does it mean?  Well, for one thing, it gives us a good gauge of her passion.  She loves this stuff in a way her poor, super-square brother struggles to comprehend.  Otaku and feelings of moe are tightly linked, and Kirino definitely feels a strong moe for little sister characters.  Her emotional moment near the end of the episode (which I have sampled in the first image) reads like a soliloquy of the otaku mind.

“I’m compelled; even if I wanted to stop, I couldn’t.”  You could see this coming out of the mouth of Ogiue Chika, or, for that matter, Madarame Harunobu.  It’s a neat cross-cultural moment between Akihabara and Ikebukuro, the territories of male otaku and the burgeoning fujoshi class.  Their common thread is love—and a kind of constant helplessness.

On the other hand, this glottal stop thing, it’s a moe trait.  It’s totally a moe trait.  I mean, she did it twice.  She even does it again when she says, “Younger sisters really have to have black hair and twintails!” (Yappa imouto ga kurokami ni twintails ja nai to DDAme to omou no!)  Well, I find Kirino pretty lovable, so I guess it worked.

 

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