Mary sue is a loaded term, which is why when appropriate, chuunibyou seems like a much better alternative when describing TV anime; “chuunibyou” is sufficiently new and foreign enough that most people aren’t quite sure what it is yet. To the point, both terms address fundamental complaints in terms of realism and suspension of disbelief.
Of course, when we deal with anime, certain things are going to be taken as is. Realism in this context has to do with the way the audience engages the material. For instance, most of us attack late-night TV anime as character and drama pieces. We care about character development, and often times you see people try to approach even gag 4koma adaptations from that angle, resulting in a mismatch and the resulting 3rd party chagrin. When I watch Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood I watch for what’s happening to who and what plot is being unraveled and realized, and how are the good guys going about to do their thing as far as the hook goes. I don’t really care about the type of ammunition being used in the frozen environs versus the desert, or the type of socks the military issue to soldiers in those environments–but somehow I am suppose to care about the automail people wear, because it’s kind of an plot device. I guess I’m not suppose to sweat the small stuff.
With that in mind, let’s look at choir drama Tari Tari. In a recent episode, a petty thief was subdued by the power of costume play and hot-powered vocals. The marathon bike chase scene where the costumers chased, on foot, the biking thief that leads into the vocal performance probably did not help either the pursuers and the criminal. Still, we are suppose to believe that the guy on the bicycle is some how even more tired than the high school 3rd years in their tokusatsu outfits. When the second bar of the song kicked in, we are to believe the thief was mesmerized by Wien’s brave visage in front of the setting sun, in some way. Perhaps we can swallow that Sawa’s mother somehow had these outfits, that happens to fit these one-size-fits-all Japanese bodies (along with their one-size-fits-all character designs, maybe), along with the opportunity to make some money on the side. This is drama, we can chalk all that stuff up to coincidence, right? Just like how there’s a thief who’s pocketing something in public, during a public event, right? What’s Japan’s crime rate again?
I suppose it is much better to care about petty things like that, than where would Sawa ride Saburo around–there are not a lot of places around there to fit a fine animal like Saburo without running into people. It’s like the scenic shots across Enoshima, with the Choir And Sometimes Badminton Club running up and down the seaside mostly by themselves. It’s strange because it’s probably full of people if you ever visit Enoshima in real life. To Tari Tari’s credit, thankfully we don’t typically ask these kinds of questions, because we are preoccupied with Konatsu’s plight and the characterization of the group. That’s how we engage with Tari Tari.
But why would I ask these questions? Because I was thinking about it. This is the strange tension between going all Chitanda on something, versus checking your brain at the door and just enjoying something without asking too much questions. The former is great if you can get the audience engaged but you probably don’t want them to ask too many questions and poke through the thin veneer–a beautiful production may be reduced to its component gear-works. This is basically what has happened to SAO for me. This is why being too chuunibyou in the story is problematic. It makes the audience ask the wrong kind of questions.
A better example of this is actually Guilty Crown. In that case, the chuunibyou factor was not extreme, but it was enough, that when combined with its convoluted web of messy plot devices, conspiracies, and strange character dynamics, people have no choice but to engage with straight questions that GC’s flimsy web can’t handle. And once we see the underlying mechanics, we can’t help but to point out where it could’ve been better, because we all have seen it done better somewhere else.
On the flip side, you can see how a story like Hyouka can be very engaging without letting people know its ultimately chuunibyou underbelly. After all, it’s just a boy-meets-girl story where the boy feels like he holds all the cards, and the girl is at least kind enough to let him know about how she wants to approach the situation without outright manipulating him. The end result was a less-predictable life for the boy, a knock and a notch down from that specific, middle-school disease. [If you read my blog and you didn’t know Houtarou starts out in Hyouka with a Type A case of chuu2byou, well, now you know.] It’s very Japanese too in how the men have all the face, because the women are great people who save them.
As an aside, this is partly why I have a hard time watching shows like FMA and mainstream shounen stuff, because precisely I think too much, and those shows ultimately reveal their underbellies if you batter it enough for long enough (most things do). From experience, outside of One Piece, it’s probably never pleasant. I think there are shows that also target this specifically, to their benefit: Simoun comes to mind as a great example. I also think of certain meta shows like Seitokai no Ichizon as a way to both celebrate that problem and bring to catharsis that sort of frustration.
Lastly, I don’t have to explain about shows where that do require checking your brain at the door, right?
PS. I think I just used chuunibyou two different ways in my post, I hope you didn’t get confused.