The teacher, Nana, orders Rikka to improve her grades by threatening to disband the club if she fails the test. After the usual pool-cleaning antics, Yuuta and Rikka score poorly on the test only to realize that the class average is just below theirs. The episode ends with a hint of romance between the main protagonists.
Though lacking the gorgeous combat animation that KyoAni spoiled us with for the last two weeks, this episode maintains the expected mix of comedy and cute. As with K-ON, Chuunikoi shines when it comes to comic timing. The dynamic of an unenthused male protagonist playing the tsukkomi to a group of oddballs isn’t new to KyoAni, but the punchlines—be it Yuuta’s one-liners to highlight absurdity or more visual jokes like Dekomori and the magic circle—have the 4panel timing that amuses on a gut level rather than an intellectual one. The lack of originality hasn’t lowered my opinion, even if the jokes are only funny once. Despite not being a fan of slapstick, the comedy in Chuunikoi works wonders because it holds your attention while the wider narrative of the episode unfolds (as opposed to being the main point of the episode in and of itself).
It’s still tempting to say that the show is only relevant because of its visuals, but let’s not forget that “visuals” extends far beyond budget. The attention to detail and colouring in the post header and this shot is obviously impressive, but I was more drawn to the handheld camera used when Rikka pulls out the gun in her room. The camera wobbles slightly in imitation of the handheld shots used during tense moments in crime and action flicks. Likewise, the close-ups during the gag with Touka imitate the similar drama cliché. The gags and direction cooperate to provide simultaneous punchlines: one narrative (why did Rikka pull out a gun? That’s ridiculous!) and one aesthetic (why is this show pretending that this is a tense moment? That’s ridiculous!).
Speaking of attention to detail, I liked the sound effects on Rikka’s out-of-focus ahoge in this shot. Yuuta’s expression catches the viewer’s eyes immediately, but the shot lingers, and as there’s not much else to think about, attention drifts toward the cartoonish sound effects of the bouncing hair. It’s these subtleties that make the show ten times more amusing than your everyday romcom LN adaptation.
The (almost) midway point of the series is as good a place as any to develop the inevitable romance. I can’t say I’m too excited for it, but that’s largely because I’m not fond of light novel romances in the first place—the feelings don’t have a strong enough motivation, and Yuuta hasn’t struck me as more than a (still entertaining) descendent of Kyon. Rikka is, of course, adorable, but I’m here more for the zaniness than the attempt at romance. Perhaps I’ll warm up to the idea if Rikka’s backstory turns out to be more than the expected half-hearted sympathy bait.