Why Nichijou Doesn’t Quite Work

Note: This will be a short post, but slightly spoilerrific.

Nichijou, being the latest work of the lofty Kyoto Animation, has received a fair bit of attention. It has already been compared to such comedic luminaries as Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star. And it does in fact share much in common with both of these famous anime works.

However, I think that it has a key flaw that prevents it from working as well as those two did. In this blog entry, I will explore that flaw, while also stating how I think it says something of essential importance about Kyoto Animation itself.

It should also be said, though, that Nichijou is not without its strengths. It has a certain chaotic creativity to itself, and to its humor, that I think should be acknowledged. A couple of its characters also have more depth to them than what you may expect of characters arising from an adroitly absurd, sketch comedy. So, as I watched Nichijou’s second episode, I saw genuine garish glimmers of potential. They may be faint, but in the hands of an animation studio of a more sublimely subtle sophistication, they could have grown into something brighter and sharper.

As is, however, Nichijou is undone, paradoxically, by being overdone.

 

The most important elements of comedy are timing and execution, the two being inexorably linked to one another. And this is why the most important part of a joke is the punchline.

The problem with Nichijou is that its comedic punchlines too often become full-blown, and long drawn-out, action scenes. And the shame is that the idea behind some such jokes are impressively creative and funny.

Let me give you an example of this from Episode 2 of Nichijou.

 

This is funny!

This is not.

 

There’s a sketch in Nichijou that’s all about a girl having an embarrassing but well-drawn doodle of a naked male teenager lying on a bed, looking somewhat familiar to a classmate of her’s. That doodle was done inside of her Math workbook, but she forgot about it.

So when she lends her Math workbook out to a fellow female student in order to copy off her notes, it soon after occurs to her that she absolutely must get it back before anybody else sees the doodle.

This, my friends, is comedy gold. It’s very clever, and it’s the sort of joke that seemingly can’t possibly go wrong.

And yet, somehow, the Nichijou anime manages to turn what should be a gloriously guffawing gregarious time into one where you’re wondering when it’s going to be over.

The problem, of course, is that what was once a joke quickly turns into an elaborate chase scene that would leave most Hollywood action film producers green with envy.

Now, for some, adding two awesome things together gives you something even more awesome, and I appreciate that.

But for myself, and for some other people as well I think, it causes the joke to fall apart.

There’s two reasons for this:

1. The punchline of the joke becomes, for all intents and purposes, the chase scene. And hence, the punchline here simply goes on for far too long, lacking an element of quick, effective execution that typifies most good humor.

2. This scene ultimately becomes the comedic equivalent of a cockblock. By that, I mean, practically everybody knows how hilarious it would be if that doodle was to be seen by other students. As such, by having it remain hidden from them, the joke ends up much less humorously than what it could have been, and many a viewer will pick up on that.

The second flaw may be a flaw inherent to the idea behind the joke, but I think that the first flaw speaks to how, frankly, Nichijou and Kyoto Animation are not necessarily a good match for one another.

Why do I say this?

I say this because Kyoto Animation has a real fiery flare for the dramatic. In most cases, this is an incredible strength for them, as it added so much to The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie (Ryoko Asakura pirouetting while spinning around a blade dripping Kyon’s blood is a scene that would make The Joker himself blush).

However, in the case of Nichijou, Kyoto Animtion’s flare for the dramatic is causing jokes to be overdone. To be overcooked, to use an analogy.

The joke I described above comes across like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, only on steroids, and drawn out to ridiculous extremes. In Scott Pilgrim’s case, that sort of humor worked, because it was about important relationships and actual threats to his life. But in Nichijou’s case, it feels horribly over-the-top given what the joke is about. Sure, having your classmates see an eyebrow-raising doodle may be embarrassing, but is it worth engaging Ludicrous Speed for?

Nichijou’s humor, like Azumanga Daioh’s humor, would be best presented by slight exaggeration, but not by a degree of slowly drawing out that would put William Shatner’s speech patterns to shame.

In fairness, I know that some viewers love this aspect of Nichijou, but I do think that even for those who currently feel that way, it may grow old fast.

This is partly why, I think, Kyoto Animation needs to get back to doing animes that would benefit from its flare for the dramatic. It needs to do more animes like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, or challenging VN adaptations (Little Busters comes to mind here), or perhaps something completely new and with a sci-fi and/or fantasy streak to it.

Nichijou, at its heart, is a sketch comedy that effectively plays on how we humans find humor in the absurd. As others have mentioned, that probably would best be handled by SHAFT, although I also think JC Staff could probably handle it well.

 

This is not to say that Nichijou is a bad anime. As I said before, I see glimmers of real potential in it and in some of its characters. But glimmers are often most effective when they are short and quick, not long and drawn-out.

Still, I will concede this, Kyoto Animation does know how to market an anime…

Kyoto Animation’s famous dance number routine may help this anime like it did Haruhi Suzumiya’s. So it could sell very well.

Even if so, though, I have real doubts that this is the right sort of material for Kyoto Animation to be working with.

What do you, good reader, think?