After living and teaching English to middle schoolers in Japan for two years, I’ve just realized that I haven’t written anything about something that, according to anime, should’ve been fairly common!
And that’s “chuunibyou” (chuuni), known in English as “middle-schooler syndrome”.
While in anime we frequently see the chuuni character in high school, I interacted regularly with the junior high school students where this illness is supposed to originate, at an age where immaturity is still rampant and such behaviour is still accepted…
Naturally, I’m writing this to detail my personal observations of such an affliction, so please read on to learn just how it takes form in reality.
Interestingly, the kanji for this is 中二病, which broken up is 中 “middle” (for middle school), 二 “two” (for 2nd grade), and 病 “sick” (for sick). One of the definitions on Jisho.org is “2nd year of junior high sickness”.
And I have no idea as to the origins of the word, but if I had to guess I’d say that it was created via media / comedy, as opposed to being an actual academic word that’s existed in the Japanese language for a long time. Possibly anime itself, or a comedy skit, or a book, or article, or so on. I could be wrong though,
One more interesting point is that according to the definition on Jisho.org, chuunibyou behaviour is “especially due to being overly self conscious as a result of puberty”. There’s no question that puberty causes the students to become more self conscious – they generally go from very loud and energetic in their first year of JHS to noticeably more quiet and reserved in their third year. Although that wasn’t always the case.
I guess what strikes me here is that the definition seems a little off compared to the image that anime provides; of the outcast student who acts in an almost deluded manner, acting like the main character of a video game (or some form of media) that possesses special traits or abilities.
But then, I guess the idea behind the definition is that the behaviour begins with puberty, and the teenager, becoming more self conscious, decides to adopt an identity that aligns with what they see as “cool”. And then… they just keep it up into high school. Which is where we get our chuuni parody characters in anime, like Kaidou in Saiki Kusuo.
Anyways, let’s get to my personal experience, and how it lines up to what we see in anime, or at least, how the JHS students’ behaviours line up. I didn’t teach high school, so I can’t speak for that.
So, I taught at two junior high schools, and over the two years I taught, I’d say I encountered about ~400 students in total.
And of the 400, how many students would I say exhibit something you could say approaches chuuni behaviour?
While the boys in particular are always messing around, wrestling, running around, making weapons out of stationery (or their imaginations), and so on, I wouldn’t call any of that chuuni behaviour. That’s just normal teenage boy behaviour! I’d even write off the occasional Naruto running. Doing wacky things is what teenage boys do.
So yeah, when it comes down to it, it’s just the one student.
Like the definition for chuunibyou, he was a second year in junior high school when I taught him.
And he really only did one or two ‘chuuni’ things at that.
First up was one day when I noticed that, using red pen (and black pen to outline), he’d drawn on his left arm to make it look like it was cut at the wrist and blood had dripped down his arm. Then, using this wood knife (not sharp) that he made in art class, he would pretend to cut his hand / wrist, grasp it in pain, and then reveal the “bloody wound”.
And he did this multiple times, to different students. Like, he’d call another guy’s name, and then act out the little skit / reveal his “bloody” hand and arm.
Basically, it was prime entertainment for me to watch him do it maybe 3 or 4 times in a single class.
And he kept that “wound” up for several classes, too, although the acting was really only in the first time. After that he would just look at it occasionally, maybe touch up the details or whatever.
The next thing he did was very similar. He drew a big scar of sorts, like before, only this time on the palm of his hand. He’d go for a high five or a handshake with another boy, and then he’d grimace in pain, grasping his hand, before revealing the “injury”.
Similar to the first one, really, only this time he didn’t need the prop knife.
He actually did this one to me, too, if I remember correctly.
But yeah, aside from those two cases, I’d just say that he was a little more animated in general. More likely to pretend he has a weapon and “fight” whoever is sitting next to him, pretend to be wounded from being “hit” by a friend’s pretend weapon, et cetera. He often drew on his own skin, like outlining his veins, or things like that.
Unlike anime, there was no dark magic, inner dragon, evil eye or anything like that though.
And he wasn’t not an outcast or anything like that, although I guess perhaps acting like a chuuni doesn’t make one a social outcast until they are in high school? I doubt he’d become an outcast though, considering he was one of the most athletic boys in his class, and was also one of the more outspoken ones as well.
That’s really the closest experience I can think of.
While my personal experiences are clearly very limited, and my schools weren’t so big (perhaps in a much larger school a student is more likely to feel outcast / exhibit chuuni behaviour), if I had to guess, I’d say that it’s not really a common thing at all.
Which of course shouldn’t be surprising, given that we only ever really see a chuuni character in comedy anime, where the character is designed to be an extreme representation of the “2nd year of junior high sickness” that carried onto high school.
In the end, it’s an interesting topic, and of course teenagers are going to do things that would fit in the realm of chuunibyou, but after all is said and done I do think it’s just a form of comedy above all else.
Still, I thought it’d be fun to share my own few experiences with something that you could possibly be considered as chuuni behaviour at the source: a 2nd year junior high school boy.
That’s all I have to write about this topic.
Feel free to ask anything in the comments.
Until next time,
Thanks for reading.