Sep 25, 2014

Anime Review: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun title/logoIt’s no secret that I tend to gravitate towards simplistic comedy series featuring plenty of pleasing cutesy girly shit. I admit, it’s an easy trap to fall into, no less because anime has evolved over the years to perfect it. Hyper-realizing embodiments of moe has become the default approach these days and it can be both frustrating and fun. The interchangeability of most series might be more distressing if they weren’t still generally enjoyable.

Nozaki sits at his drawing desk at home calmly holding a cup as Chiyo stands before him holding some manuscripts. In the foreground, Mikoshiba is sitting bored, hand on chin, at the table in the middle of the room.

Which brings me to Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun (lit. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun) which has got to be the most refined fluff piece ever. Seriously, this thing works so hard to be as likable as possible. Its unifying feature is “safe”, making no attempts to rock the boat or branch out into new territory. It is everything you’ve seen before a million times. And it’s still really good.

I feel like I need to knock it down a peg because of its scientifically engineered mass-appeal but even so I cannot deny that it works. GSN is fun, lively, colorful, and an absolute delight. The music is above average, the opening is funky fresh, and the voice actors all do a splendid job. Animation quality rarely impresses so much as it is just consistently very good. It’s classified as a rom-com but there’s hardly any real romance other than what serves the paper-thin narrative. The actual appeal is in the characters, the animation, and the execution.

Nozaki stands facing Chiyo, our view over her shoulder, in the orange glow of evening

Someone holding a copy of Nozaki's manga, Koi Shiyou, with the main character Mamiko smiling on the coverOur story revolves around our primary heroine Chiyo as she attempts to confess to a tall, dark-haired, dead-pan-ish guy in her school. In nervousness she mistakenly blurts out that she’s a “fan” of his and he responds by nonchalantly giving her his signature. This confuses the Chiyo.

It turns out the boy, the eponymous Nozaki-kun, is actually a fairly successful shoujo manga artist. He hasn’t really kept it a secret, rather most everyone just doesn’t believe he could be. Because she likes him and is still trying to muster up the courage to correct her earlier blunder, she jumps at the chance to befriend and hang out with him. As such Chiyo gets wrapped up in his antics helping him out after school doing inking for his manga along with a bevy of other bros who show up later as other assistants (one does backgrounds, one does screentones, you get the idea).

Wakamatsu, Hori, and Chiyo sit around Nozaki's table going over background composition and continuity

A female student leaps dramatically in the school hallway while wearing a bull's mask and carrying a male student horseback-styleThe show toys around with you here and there about Chiyo’s unrequited crush on Nozaki but you can tell very early on that it has no intention of ever making progress. This bums me out but I understand why: the comedy is the real focus. The cast of characters are great fun together and the antics and back-and-forth dialog is always light, tight, and right. I can’t say that any of them are particularly original, but it works because the meta-joke going on is that Nozaki uses all of them as inspirations for his shoujo stories. As such, the series pokes fun and plays around with various shoujo tropes by showing a lot of characters who sort of fit them but mildly and how he takes these and runs with them in the manga. It’s not quite a deconstruction or a critique of the shoujo genre but it does do a good job of riffing. If anything, the strength of the characters seems to come from the fact that they specifically don’t fall directly into the tropes like most shows do explicitly. Instead they are a bit more level-headed and grounded in reality. But only a bit. Things are still plenty crazy around their school.

A close-up of Chiyo's glowing happy face as bright pink bubbles fill the background

And it would be remiss of me not to mention the high delight that is Chiyo herself. Ho-lee-shit is she a goddamn gem. In no small part is that on account of her voice actress who, despite being essentially a newbie in her first major role, knocks it out of the fucking park. Plus, Chiyo’s design is just engineered to be cute without being so cute it verges on obnoxious. She’s like Mao from GJ-bu but without being quite as loli and without the token tsun. She’s a lot of fun as a character and steals all the scenes with her dynamic reactions. As much fun as she is though she can be extremely shallow as she has little going on other than “I like Nozaki and omg whats goin on here guise”. But it sure feels like there’s more to her than there really is. I guess that’s still a criticism but I guess it also kinda means it doesn’t matter much. The show and Chiyo are too enjoyable as you’re watching for any retrospective to spoil it.

A dramatic evening scene in the school infirmary between Kashima and Hori

But maybe that’s the biggest complaint I could lay on GSN: it’s a bit too shallow. It’s not quite the hollow creampuff as shows like HenNeko or K-On! but it certainly doesn’t have a lot of meaningful depth. All of its strengths are in service to making an easy to watch and easy to enjoy mass-appeal show (as mass as you can get in the niche anime world I guess). Is that really so bad? Eh, I suppose not. I still liked it and had fun watching it. But it does mean that in the end, the appeal is transient. There have been plenty of other light comedies to come before it and many more to follow in the coming seasons. In a few months, will GSN really stick around in anyone’s memory strongly? Even so, I’ll gladly take a second season if they ever make one, but it won’t be with bated breath.

As of this writing, you can watch Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun for free on Crunchyroll.

*Also, yes, I know: what the hell, I actually wrote a timely review for a show that finished airing less than a week ago? What’s wrong with me? Don’t you worry, I’m still procrastinating on posting eight other fully written reviews. Damn screenshots and formatting.

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