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?

18 Replies to “Why Nichijou Doesn’t Quite Work”

  1. Ahh, the first dissenting voice on this anime that I’ve read so far over the past week! I always find it refreshing to get opposing opinions on a topic that seems to hold a strong consensus.

    While I am in the camp of loving the humor of Nichijou, I admit to agreeing a bit on your point about the overdone, action-oriented humor. At times, it totally works for me, and it times I sit there tapping my foot waiting for the moment to finally end. Example: Episode 00 and the whole beginning scene of the grade. I found this scene completely stretched out ; they just kept bashing me over the head with the dramatic horror of the low grade, then of the attempts to liven up Yuuko’s low self-esteem. On the other hand, I think the dramatic worked quite well in the official first episode with the 3-second rule joke.

    I’m very curious about whether or not the style of humor will remain fresh or start to wear on me later on in the season. I haven’t seen the 2nd episode yet, so I also wonder if I’ll feel similar to you about the whole notebook scene.

  2. Thanks a lot for the reply, Marina! 🙂

    I’ll admit that sometimes the extreme exaggeration approach of Nichijou may work, but at best, it is hit-and-miss I think. I loved Azumanga Daioh when I first watched it several years back, and I felt that it was just absurd and exaggerated enough.

  3. I agree that it’s a cockblock, at best.

    They fail at call-backs. The formula is this:
    – set up the premise of the punchline
    – do something distracting to set up the call-back (and perhaps enhance it)
    – deliver the call-back as a punchline just as we’ve forgotten about it

    But man does it fail at delivery:
    – the premise is FAR more interesting than the distraction, so we haven’t moved on
    – the punchline is incredibly weak, so we’re left hanging
    – the distraction wasn’t rewarding, so we’re left angry or at least frustrated

    The result is that I find it frustrating as a comedy, and boring or tedious discounting the comedy. In short, it’s lame.

  4. You’re right, Hogart.

    They fail at call-backs because the premise IS far more interesting than the distraction, so you don’t forget the premise. And so I find myself wanting them to get back to the premise, and when they finally do so, the final execution is sometimes the lamest way possible to resolve the joke.

    In the case of this Episode 2 notebook scene in particular, I found it very frustrating.

  5. That’s pretty much the quibble I have with Nichijou. They tend to overdo stuff until you don’t care anymore (other examples: the gun escalation near the end of ep.2; the atom bomb explosion in ep.1…).

    The pieces that work well for me are the quieter ones, as the step game in the beginning of ep2, or the blue haired girl’s sister in a bear costume (although that came dangerously close to overdoing it, it still worked for me).

    The sausage scene in ep1 is a tad different, because overstatement is what makes the joke. (It still doesn’t work for me, but that’s who I am, heh). It’s scenes like this that make me wonder whether the makers of the show are going for Stanely Kubrick (some of the visuals in 2001, or the atom bomb explosions to sentimental music at the end of Strangelove).

    I do like the way to put utterly out-of-place music into the show, though. I can’t quite work out why I like it, but there you go.

  6. Very well thought out response to this show.

    I, personally, have been underwhelmed by Nichijou. Maybe for the reason you describe, and maybe because I just don’t see its appeal. I often enjoy oddball comedy, and have had fun with many KyoAni shows in the past, but this one is leaving me cold.

  7. Second episode is better then episode 1. I think I’ve been capture by the humors and jokes in this series. Random comedy, no real storyline, its like watching the second lucky star although its not the same. ^.^

  8. I think it’s the fact that I have trouble appreciating Japanese “lolrandom” humour that it’s completely flying out the window for me. It happens that I didn’t really enjoy Azumanga Daoih back in the day, whilst Lucky Star only gave me a few chuckles. SHAFT comedies also seem to miss a lot for me.

    I guess it depends on what your taste in comedy is like because for me, I like wit, deadpan humour and sarcasm in my comedy, and Japanese humor in general seems to lack this. Just by watching Japanese TV I can see that most comedies revolve around gags.

    It also doesn’t help that I’m a dramaholic either and tend to like the “serious” forms of entertainment. Oh well, maybe next time KyoAni will adapt another Key VN series or something.

    -PocariSweat-
    -Alternative ID: Acejem-

  9. Hmm… I would agree that the humor in Nichijou doesn’t quite work, though I think we have different reasons as to why. I didn’t think that the wiener drop or notebook retrieval were amazingly funny, and they were both pretty overdone, but I did kind of like them because of their absurdity. Personally I feel that the biggest ball and chain around the show’s leg are the professor and robot segments, since they tend to go on too long without a lot of purpose beyond being cute and lack much of a comedic payoff. The best scenes to me have been the shorter gags like the jump-rope segments in each episode because they make me laugh and leave before the overstay their welcome.

    That said I don’t know if you can pinpoint why this show does or doesn’t work as a comedy because comedy is extremely subjective. We both have different opinions on why the show doesn’t work as well as it could, and I’m sure a lot of people disagree with both of us about this. I do agree that the show is at its best with the bizarre sketches, though, and that it tends to lose steam when it goes beyond that.

  10. I like reading your blogs, they are generally insightful and informative and look at aspects of shows that many other blogs do not.

    Just for future reference though, ‘animes’ isn’t a word. Anime is both the singular and plural of anime.

  11. Late to the party.

    Anyway, the “cockblock” line of argument doesn’t work for me for one reason: despite being a sketch comedy, I don’t think this is a “status quo is God” show. Hence, Kyoto gets to reveal Mio’s fujoshi tendencies to the world once. Even if they do take that chance, I was fairly certain they wouldn’t do it this early.

    There are, I admit, other ways that this scene could have played out without a chase (ie. notebook gets passed along, making its retrivial absurdly complex), but the chase didn’t seem too bad to me.

    I should also note that this sort of “switch brain off” humour becomes funnier when watched in groups. This scene got a few good laughs from my friends, although not as much as the “loose wiener” scene in episode one. That scene, along with the absurdly cute “goat and wedding veil” thing were probably my favourite parts of the series thus far.

    As for the dance… so far my prediction this wouldn’t live up to K-On! appears to be pretty accurate. If you look at the Amazon JP top 100 blurays list, there’s strong showings from AnoHana, Tiger and Bunny, Hana-saku Iroha, Steins;Gate, and Seikon no Qwaser II (hey, otaku can’t all have good taste), along with a few hits from prior seasons (Madoka, Ore no Imouto, Gundam Unicorn, Index II and Infnite Stratos), some Hollywood movies, and bluray boxes for things like Working and Clannad AS. Last I checked, Nichijou doesn’t even make the list. I have heard it has shot into the top 100 from time to time, but so has Aria the Scarlett Ammo and nobody is expecting that to light the world on fire.

    Source here:
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/bestsellers/dvd/16378461?tag=international-ranking-22#1
    (note ratings probably aren’t cummulative, but rather a reflection of popularity at a moment in time. At its peak, volumes of Madoka managed to get all five of the top 5 places.)

    Also, the use of the term “cockblock” reminds me of one of my anime pet peeves: when harem series writers ruin an ending scene between the “leading” couple by having the harem burst in and demand attention. Give the winning girl her victory, guys. Most common in shows where the source material has yet to conclude, it seems.

  12. Even later to the party ;x

    The comedy doesn’t follow the aforementioned formulas but that formula isn’t the only way to tell a joke.

    Some of the jokes are very frontloaded, then a series of other jokes feed off of the premise; ideally before it grows old.

    Admittedly, some of them drag on too long for me, but they’re the exception to the rule. I can really appreciate the variety of jokes in that there’s something for everyone (to like AND dislike.)

    Specifically, the math homework joke was funny, then when Mio attempted to retrieve the thing, it transitioned into another joke feeding on the same premise. Another transition took place when Yuuko ran out, complete with a second of downtime so the viewer realized that the current joke had ended. Finally, Mio tripping at the end of the scene then suddenly snatching the book is the last joke.

    Of course, comedy is not universal, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it illegitimate. It might be obvious, but I really enjoyed that one.

    While it’s doubtful Nichijou will ever top any charts, it’ll likely have a much longer lifespan than most hits. Years from now people will see it and think ‘why haven’t I heard of this’, but it’s not going to get enough traction to ‘peak’ per se.

  13. A little late, but I wanted to share my thoughts. 😛 I do agree with this somewhat, though I find that the show’s real strong point is it’s slapstick. Oftentimes they have a hilarious setup, and some really funny slapstick, and then the final punchline is disappointing. I thought about it a lot and I’d probably rate the show a 7.5 from a critical perspective, looking at the show as a whole. It doesn’t really feel fair since the show is more like a sketch comedy, with some being incredibly hilarious and others not so much. On a scale of how much you should watch it/how memorable it was/how much you should buy it on DVD, I’d rate it a 9/10 though. Super memorable and has some amazing moments, but there are some really tiresome moments in between those. (For instance, those in between shots where nothing happens. They literally INTERRUPT a joke so that you can stare at a boring shot. I know it’s supposed to be humorous, sort of like ‘and now for something completely different’ but it breaks the flow, and happens like 2-5 times an episode, and just gets annoying. The only time it was remotely funny was when I was sitting there, watching the dumb in between scene, and then it freaking explodes! It caught me off guard. But they have only used that joke ONCE so far, and I’m on episode 19. (And they don’t seem to be against having running gags, either.)

  14. I agree with this. The jokes are so fast and so many, there were also quite a few I missed. (I think they really deliver the punchline to quickly half the time. Like the joke ends and they instantly cut to another setup before it can really set in.) I’m surprised the show wasn’t more popular, with such a wide range, though it seems to have quite the cult following.

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