“Used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that.
Now you’re all gone, got your makeup on and you’re not coming back.
Can’t you come back?”
-“Anthem for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” Broken Social Scene
There are many unspoken rules involved with being “an adult.” One of the more universally accepted of these is that adulthood is far less fun than being a child.
While in secondary schooling – and to some extent, university – we are taught that growing up will give us the agency that we desperately seek as children. As we age, we are expected to give up the magic of our childish dreams in favor of more lucrative avenues. In acquiescing our childhood, we also accept that adulthood is stodgy and serious, but “real” in comparison. The space between the two, magical and real, is the cozy home of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! and its second season, Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren.
Pictured above is Shinka Nibutani campaigning to become the student council president. The first words she speaks to a class of first-years, in her attempt to garner votes, are of now nostalgic being in a first-year classroom is. The implication behind these words is that Nibutani is already on her way to being an adult. It is this position that will make her a serious and reliable candidate. As an audience, we are called upon to identify with Rikka, knowing that she’ll eventually be forced to “grow up.” Within the series, Rikka is coddled by nearly everyone – and therefore allowed to extend her childhood that much longer – but rarely is she taken seriously. In order to be seen as serious by others, one must adopt an air of responsibility like Nibutani, even if those airs are more of a performance than anything else.
“And I know nobody really gets this about her, but she’s very wholehearted and serious about what she does, just like a napping club. In our Far-East Magical Napping Society – Of Summer, we nap hard, we play hard, and we banish hard.”
-Kumin Tsuyuri, Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren, episode 5
The fifth episode of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren finds the core cast scrambling to save their after-school club from being disbanded. It is, for the most part, entirely filler, allowing the series to focus on the tertiary character of Kumin Tsuyuri instead of exploring the progression of Rikka Takanashi and Yuuta Togashi’s relationship. However, it also encapsulates the energy of secondary schooling, with Kumin’s pep-talk marking the rare instance that Rikka is taken seriously.
To Kumin’s point, secondary school is one of the few places where one has just enough agency to do what they want to without the presumed burden of a job, or making enough money to keep themselves alive. They are allowed to do what they love to do wholeheartedly, even if that love is for something presumably unproductive, like imaginary magic battles or napping. One of the reasons that secondary school is such a common setting is directly tied to the amount of focus that one is able to have at that age.
For another example, both the anime and manga of Chihayafuru follow Chihaya Ayase’s love of karuta, an insular card game that, while not as isolated as a napping competition, offers very little in the way of a career or future. While Chihaya has a laser-like focus on being the best karuta player she can be, her sister, Chitoge Ayase, attempts to be a successful model. Modeling is a volatile career choice, but it is also shown to be lucrative. Chitoge inevitably draws strength from her younger sister’s devotion to karuta, but there is the unspoken sentiment that Chihaya will eventually have to find something else to do following high school in order to keep herself alive.
This isn’t to deride Chihaya’s efforts in any way. In fact, both the manga and anime celebrate her dedication. However, Chihaya is able to be as focused as she is due to her high school setting. Similarly, any manga or anime that is set in secondary school allows for its cast to focus on whatever they want to, be it karuta, baseball, basketball, tennis, becoming an idol, designing clothing, pursing love, or even napping.
Once one crosses the unseen threshold from child to adult, the possibility of keeping up that wholehearted focus diminishes exponentially. Our undiluted love of whatever we chose to pursue in secondary school is replaced by a fractured focus of working a job, keeping ourselves alive, or perhaps raising children of our own and making it as easy as possible for them to seek out their own dreams. We may remember that love in a hobby, but it’s all-too-often something that must be pushed the periphery of our daily lives, as other, “real life” things now take precedent.
In their sleep battle, Kumin’s opponent recognizes her dedication to napping, saying that she could aim for the world napping title if she were serious. Kumin’s simple reply is that she loves “that place,” presumably meaning the figurative and literal space occupied by the Far-East Magical Napping Society – Of Summer. In her final year of secondary school, Kumin will soon have to leave this magical setting where she can wholeheartedly pursue napping, and will have to forge her own way in the world.
Regardless of whether they attempt to embrace it (Shinka Nibutani and her student council run) or eschew it for fantasy (Rikka Takanashi and her titular chuunibyou delusions), the characters of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren have already accepted that being an adult is the reality that lies before them. In that acceptance, they also follow the unwritten rule of adulthood: being an adult gives you power, but that power replaces the magic we wield as children, where something as casual as napping can occupy the whole of our hearts.