Chuunibyou, often translated as Eighth Grade Syndrome, is an almost uniquely Japanese phenomenon. The term is used to describe children who suddenly show delusional behavior and occurs during middle school. In particular, the second of the three years (equivalent to eighth grade in the US).
There’s often the belief that some of these kids hold supernatural powers, and that’s the Chuunibyou character type most displayed in anime.
Young teenagers around thirteen acting in seemingly odd manners aren’t a new or uniquely Japanese occurrence.
The beginning of adolescence brings about all kinds of mental and physical changes. These can manifest in all types of behavior that are sometimes baffling. The main difference is that the coined Japanese word, Chuunibyou, made it a trope.
The word was first used by Hikaru Ijuin on his radio program in 1999. But he used it as a more general term for strange pre-pubescent behavior and thinking. However, the internet ran with the word, morphing it into the more specific term of delusional behavior around the age of 13.
Now it’s entirely in the populous consciousness, hitting critical mass with the anime Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions!
Individuals who enter the chuuni (short for chuunibyou) phase may display different behaviors, from simply drinking bitter coffee to pretending not to be interested in the same music style or trends they used to like. They do this to feel or look more like an adult. Some also start believing they have supernatural powers, as people report in this question from Quora.
Here are some key characteristics associated with eighth-grade syndrome:
The primary type of chuunibyou portrayed in anime is that of supernatural powers, often with the sufferer believing they have a magic eye or evil hand that must be bound. Why? So their immense power isn’t unleashed on an unsuspecting public.
They may also suffer physical pain from keeping their power under control. A more common delusion in real life is pretending to be a delinquent or a goth without knowing anything about those pursuits.
Biologically speaking, adolescence is unnecessary. The body is mainly grown into adulthood, but humans need an extended time of puberty for more social reasons. Our language and societal rules are complex, so we need much longer to grow mentally into the role of an adult.
This is partly why teenage behavior can be so baffling to the rest of us; even psychiatric professionals get confused by it on occasion. With such a confusing time in a young person’s life, indulging in a bit of delusion, especially concerning their physical abilities and importance in the world, is natural.
Many cite chuunibyou as simply a cry for attention; in some cases, it may be. But attention seeking is never a simple ordeal. The time chuunibyou usually manifests is a clue here. It usually begins in the second year of middle school, which is a break from the enormous pressure of the Japanese school system.
Elementary school starts at six and lasts for six years; then, children take entrance exams to enter middle school. This is the first step on the ladder of a child’s more formal education, with a place at an excellent middle school, hopefully leading to a prestigious high school and then university.
Immense pressure can be exerted on children to do well, with many going to cram schools or obtaining private teaching for the entrance exams. Even though middle school is compulsory, many institutions are fee-paying, and school costs continue to increase in metropolitan areas.
Knowing your parents are under financial pressure doesn’t help with the swirling vortex that’s early adolescence.
High school is not compulsory, but most attend; the fees can be huge, and the pressures of entrance exams are even worse.
The second year of middle school can be a bit of a break. The child has settled into their new school, but the pressure of the following exam round is yet to be fully realized. It's a great time to indulge in a little teenage oddity.
Chuunibyou is not only displayed by those in eighth grade, but most sufferers grow out of it. This may be because of pressure to do well at school, or as they fully become teenagers, they are likely to feel the need to fit in more instead.
For most, this phase tends to fade away as they grow older and gain more life experiences, such as events or talks that encourage or drag them back to reality.
However, some individuals may take longer to settle down and carry these behaviors into later teenage years and even adulthood.
Many become embarrassed by the memories of their thoughts and actions. A great example is in Oreshura, where Masuzu successfully blackmails Eita because she had his delusions-filled middle school diary.
Anime provides many examples of those who do not grow out of it. But they are mostly played for comedy, such as Kaido in The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.
Chuunibyou is understood as a stage of development and self-discovery rather than a psychological condition. It’s often seen as a normal part of adolescence, influenced by personal, social, and cultural factors.
All of us behave oddly at one time or another and for various reasons, especially in our teens. Chuunibyou is just an extreme example of this.
Various other examples of such extreme reactions to adolescence occur worldwide, such as Resignation Syndrome in Sweden.
Similarly, we often see, and might even remember, how children try to seem more mature or stand out during the transition from childhood to adolescence until adulthood.
The essence of chuunibyou—marked by an exploration of identity, imagination, and a desire for uniqueness—can be found in several cultural contexts at different degrees. However, it might not always be labeled or associated with a specific grade level. Perhaps just called “cringe”.
I know this phase can be a source of embarrassment for some individuals, but as adults, we need to remember how difficult it is to grow up. We should show understanding and patience as family and educators. Support and guidance through this phase are essential.
Lastly, the eighth-grade syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis. However, if there are concerns about a person's mental health or behavior, regardless of their age, it’s essential to seek advice from trusted professionals.
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