Aug 29, 2012

Anime Review: Nichijou

Group shot of the main cast and several secondary charactersLet’s get this out first thing: Nichijou is like the spiritual cousin of Azumanga Daioh. There, I said it. Comparing the two is not only unavoidable, in my opinion, it’s also a pretty big compliment. Because Azumanga Daioh was absolute gold. And Nichijou? Well… it’s definitely a precious metal, too.

So many stylistic similarities exist between the two shows it’s uncanny and I was shocked to find out that they have nothing production or origin-wise in common. Different manga artists, different animation teams, you name it and nothing matches. And yet, clearly, Nichijou just might be a second season of AzuDai, only with no returning cast.

Both series have that odd mix of slice-of-life and randomly-bizarre with their humor. They both flit about a bit episodically, even within episodes, with only a vague sense of plot. They both have an all-female school-age main cast. Nichijou might just be a bit more random and nonsensical, though - the hyperactive one of the two. AzuDai tended to go for the more awkward route. But it’s a close call.

Nichijou, translated as My Ordinary Life, follows three friends at school, a child prodigy (who goes by simply “professor”) and her self-made robot Nano (who, aside from a giant wind-up key on her back looks like a normal high-school age girl) that acts more like a care-giver, and lastly quite a number of secondary characters all mostly from the same school. In the second half of the series (episode 14 onward) Nano joins the school too and becomes friends with the main trio, trying to keep her robot nature a secret.

Cover of the first manga volume showing students at their desks reading their books and, for no apparent reason, an elk standing on top of one of the desksAnd that’s about it for story. Like I said, very little plot, basically just enough to connect characters and some vague passage of time. There are some slowly developed things, like Mio’s manga artist aspirations, Nano’s desires to be normal and fit in, or Misato’s crush on the weirdly formal and over-the-top Sasahara. Mainly, though, the series thrives in short vignettes, sometimes lasting mere seconds, others that last a third of an episode. Most are on the order of a few minutes and are separated by scene titles (again, just like AzuDai – sorry, can’t stop comparing!) and all which run the gamut of weird. Sometimes it’s simple gags, sometimes it’s nonsensical and pointless, and sometimes it’s heavily played up action. You really never know, but after awhile you get a feel for the kind of things they like to do. If after two or three episodes you don’t like it, don’t expect it to change. It’ll still continue to surprise you with weirdness but the style and delivery will be quite well known by then.

One of the main cast punching her sister while crying as her sister flies backward shown from a dramatic over the shoulder view of the sister

The animation, done by the always fantastic Kyoto Animation, is… interesting. Seemingly, it has a very plain, simply drawn style with an ever so slight de-saturated look. But, this is Kyoto Animation. When it needs to be, and even when it doesn’t, it surprises with fluid animation, crazy style changes, and dramatic angles and forced perspectives. The deceptively simple appearance belies the extreme attention to detail and quality. It’s certainly quite enjoyable, but still-frame screen captures won’t do it justice.

Nichijou is funny as hell and was a lot of fun to watch, but I don’t think it quite tops AzuDai. I don’t think I’m just being a slave to nostalgia, either. AzuDai focused a lot more on the main characters and by the end of it you really felt like you had gotten to know their many quirks and seen their friendship grow and solidify. If you paid attention, you saw the overarching plot that did exist through the passage of time: seasons, summer/winter uniforms, new school years, and so on. By the ending graduation, it was a sweet little stopping point to punctuate the end of a great series. Sure, it was random and weird along the way, but it was very human and had a lot of heart underneath. It’s not that Nichijou doesn’t also attempt this, and to some extent it does a fine enough job, but it tends to favor the random vignettes and other tangents more so. By the end you’ll also be treated to some subtle but sweet closures (sort of) and a similarly nice sentiment, but it fails to reach the deepness of AzuDai’s.

The main three girls from Nichijou dressed and colored as Azumanga Daioh characters

In a lot of ways, Nichijou is but a shadow to AzuDai, but it’s a big shadow to fill and a great one to be in. It can’t quite fill the shoes, but it does a helluva job attempting. It’s flaws, if you can call them that, stem primarily from just amping up the weird and random at the cost of character attachment. But either way, if you liked one you’ll definitely want to check out the other.

As of this writing, you can watch Nichijou for free on Crunchyroll. Do give it a try!

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