So… what exactly is chuunibyou? We hear it all the time and it varies from case to case, but what does it actually mean? It has to be big because there are whole characters dedicated to it and we even have an anime about it, but with a fantasy spin. Is it something that is just funny to laugh at, or is there an actual underbelly that is a bit more sinister? Let’s not even wait and dive right in.
Chuunibyou can be written a myriad of ways such as 中二病, 中２, or 中二. It literally means “second-year syndrome” and is used to refer to second-year students in middle school who act a certain way. Middle school in Japan covers grades 7, 8, and 9 in the west. Most of the time in the eighth year is when this behavior begins, but more recently it has been spreading backward to first years, and even sixth graders in elementary schools in Japan. People who have chuunibyou usually exhibit one of three characteristics that begin to slowly isolate themselves from their classmates, teachers, and family members around them. While not technically a mental illness, there are worrying signs recently and it is being discussed that maybe chuunibyou is in fact, a mental illness, as cases are on the rise. It has reached a point that people are discussing the best method to treat these disenfranchised individuals, and how to bring them back into reality as a fully functioning member of society.
The Origins of Chuunibyou
Chuunibyou was given birth way back in November of 1999 when it was coined on a radio program called “Hikaru Ijuin’s UP’S” where the host, Hikaru would talk about various topics. That week, in early November, he referred to himself that he may be contracting Chuunibyou as if it is was sort of contagious disease. The next week, he launched a segment on his show where he would read out what listeners had written in about their chuuni experiences. The age where this happens the most is around the second year of junior high school and thus a meme was born. Eventually, people started to claim that they had or had seen others with variations that began in the second year of elementary school or high school. Overnight, it began to explode as a cultural idea and then became one. Hikaru pointed out years later that he no longer had an interest in the word and the meme as it had become hijacked and no longer represented the manner in which he had used it.
Chuunibyou began to evolve further and there was even a manual that was produced explaining the three main types as well as what they mean and how to dissect them. However, the focus of the fact that this could be a mental health issue, was hidden. Pop culture gave birth to these unique characters and suddenly they began popping up in manga and anime as characters until “Chiinibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!” was created. The entire “another world” archetype is pure chuuni. Re:Zero Kara Hajimeri Isekai Seikatsu, Sword Art Online, Youjo Senki, and more are proof of this. There are more than the top three stereotypes, but we will take a look at the most glaring ones. Let’s dig deeper.
The Three Types of Chuunibyou
Chuunibyou comes in usually three cases as explained by the “Chuunibyou User Manual”. People who have worked as an ALT or a JET will be able to tell you that you can usually see students with Chuunibyou coming from a mile away.
The first type of Chuunibyou’s are called DQN. DQN is defined by jisho.org as a “dumb-ass” or “a delinquent; a violent person or a rough looking person.” Depending on where you have been in schools, and what you see in anime, this is the archetype is very common. Normally these people will pretend to be antisocial in class or want nothing to do with what is happening, but they have friends that they love to be around and will be social around them. They will often pose as delinquents within the classroom regardless of whether or not they have actually street cred. While there will be actual students that are involved in that thing, yes, I have witnessed this firsthand multiple times, most will still have friends that they will pal around with. It is just for some reason or another, they do not want to study, they do not want to participate, and sometimes, they want to distract others. The closest literal translation to DQN is “annoying delinquent”, but most people do not think of them as the latter of those two terms. A good example of this character is Squall from FFVIII.
Second on this list are Subcultural Chuunibyou sometimes referred to as the “hipster chuunibyou”. Subcultural chuuni’s are people who develop a false interest in things that they actually could not care less about. This is so that they can fit in. They often will also further evolve this image by trying to establish themselves as unique or more of a hardcore fan. Think of one-upping with your friends, but to the extreme. While the DQN otaku also wants to be special in their own way, it differs in that Subcultural are trying to make themselves fit in with everyone and keep the cool factor so that others like them. “Oh, you like this singer? I have all of their CDs and have been following them since pre-debut.” Think of it as being very similar to a hipster; it’s not that you actually care, you are just so concerned with your image that you come off as a massive raging douche. A good example of this character is Tomoko Kuroi from Watamote.
The final one is the most prevalent and largest source of humor. A perfect example of the “Evil Eye” Chuunibyou is either Rikka Takanashi from Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! or Shun Kaidou from Saiki Kusuo no Psi Nan. These final major branch of Chuuni focuses on having some sort of special power that is “sealed” by some usual flimsy bandage as seen by Rikka’s eyepatch or Shun’s bandages. Through the presence of their bandages, they are able to seal away their powers thus saving the lives of all of those around them. The strangest part is that they truly do believe, more often than not, that they really do have powers. They can also be referred to as the delusional type as their views and claims are not rooted anywhere in reality.
Chuunibyou in Real Life
Shockingly, anime is yet again a medium for a portrayal of real life. Chuunibyou does exist in reality and the numbers are steadily growing. The main factor in causing chuunibyou, and by looking above you can see how is that children or teens want to feel special. That is where these feelings come from. The problem though is how it is treated.
With the subcultural, it is easy to blend in because you can just come across as a music/food/language/culture/anime/manga otaku and hide provided that you do not meet an actual fan that challenges you to a battle of wits or information. The DQN is easy to spot as they will put on tough airs, but in reality either be very sweet or be surrounded by friends. Of those who fall into the DQN category maybe only…. 10% make the leap into actual delinquency. Yes, this is a source of headaches and pain for teachers, educators, classmates, and parents. Remember, as we have said before on the site, the school is responsible for the student before the parent is, so when a student makes this leap, it’s serious. The final delusional one is also easy to spot as they are often ridiculed by classmates, or they will stand out. They too, though, are in danger too of never being “cured” and here is why.
Japan is a very uniform society. Through elementary school, students are for the most part, able to wear whatever clothes they want and only have a P.E. uniform. Then they graduate and become middle school students. Individuality is squashed fast with the introduction of uniforms, classes where everyone is placed on the same level, testing that leads to grades as opposed to just taking them for no consequence, and those who are special needs are isolated into other classrooms away from everyone else. This is further compounded by parents who demand that their child is special or that they must be special and work harder than anyone in their class. Yes, telling every single child that they are special is not realistic nor healthy, and the children gain false senses of self which can be, and more often than not is, crushed by those students who actually do study hard, work hard, and produce results.
Thus, regulated to not as good, average, or worse, these students fall behind. Mounting pressure from parents to catch up, or lack thereof, as many parents have been caught neglecting their children across the country, leads to an emotional breakdown and sometimes subsequent isolation along with the desire to be special. This culminates in a rejection of reality around them and leads them to believe they need to be/are special. Then the fire only gets hotter as they move into the third year as they need to not only buckle down and prepare for the high school entrance exams, but they also have to do better. The same rigidity carries on into high school.
If people are not “cured” of Chuunibyou by the time they get to high school, it will certainly take longer for them to recover if they even can. This can lead to people not getting into a good, or even decent, high schools creating a black hole where you cannot get into a good high school, which means not getting into a good college, which means not getting a good job. Or at the very least, significantly reducing your chances of being able to make it. This mental state or affliction is growing. That is the real problem.
We cannot call Chuunibyou a mental illness because it has not been qualified as one nor is it clinically diagnosable. However, talk has been on the rise in Japan of treating it as a mental health issue and stemming the problem. The reality, though, is that they need to find out a way to help students deal with what is crushing reality and the need/desire to be special. One prominent proposed method is to treat it as a mental illness, but focusing on the core issues of what has made it exist thus far would be more beneficial. That is to make sure that children are getting enough attention as well as that the parents are not being too overbearing while making sure their children study, is a good start.
Chuunibyou and the West
This section will be short. Sometimes, people will be quick to point out that this is around the same age that most people start puberty, and thus it could be linked to the emotional moods that people find themselves in, in middle school. While yes, it is possible, they are not the same, and by doing so it does reduce the importance of the situation. Teenagers in the west do go through their own struggles in finding out who they are as people and individuals, and they want to be special or liked, but they are not the same due to the surrounding circumstances. To mix the two under the same label is an insult to either side and diminishes the struggles, regardless of how real or unrealistic they may be, each person may be facing.
As we asserted above, Chuunibyou cannot be classified as a mental illness, but the signs are certainly there. Next time you see someone struggling, they very much could be struggling with the crushing reality of their current situation as well as what they perceive that they need to be. While it is okay to laugh at characters, remember that some of them are drawn from real people, so it is hard to discern what is real humor and what is actually anguish. It is always best to pause with these characters and wonder would it be funny if it was you and/or whether or not you know someone like it.
We laugh at chuunibyou characters in anime, but it is healthy to be realistic about it. Chances are if you would be pissed off about someone laughing at you for being like that, it may not be that great to laugh at as it turns into a double standard. Though, these larger than life characters are not as bad in real life, so you don’t have to spend hours brooding over it. This is simply food for thought.
Chuunibyou has been around for years and as you can see it is not going anywhere. What would be a good way to handle it? Tackle emotionally distant parents? Fix the broken education system that seems so many students fall through the cracks? What do you think? Should we have a different method for treating all of them, or should they all be handled the same?
We hope you liked this Editorial Tuesday on Chuunibyou. Be sure to let us know your feelings in the comments below along with your favorite chuunibyou character! We are fans of Shun Kaidou. Till next time.