Nichijou – Episode 21

Holy shit is it ever time for Nichijou. This is my first post-election Nichijou episode, so I’m really counting on Nano and Yuuko to bail me out of these incoming apocalypse blues. The world could very conceivably end in the next several years, but you know what, at least our species created one super funny cartoon. That’s gotta count for something in the grand scales, right? Nichijou is pretty good.

Alright, enough frighteningly justified doomsaying. LET’S NICHIJOUUU.

Nichijou

And we’re back to starting at school again, opening with Mio and Yuuko in conversation at lunchtime. Halfway into the second season, this seems to mark the point where we no longer have to start with something Nano-related to articulate some stage of her integration into the group. Nano’s existence at school and in their friend group is now the new normal

And Yuuko once again has forgotten her homework. An extremely standard scenario for Nichijou, placing us in the most mundane of starting points for whatever comes next

What happens next is ENDLESS SLAPSTICK. Sometimes Nichijou just subtracts the punchline, and sometimes it iterates on that punchline a million times to the point of absurdity, aggravation, and renewed comedy

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Of course, “insane execution” is partially the punchline, as it so often is. Nichijou is equal parts refined absurdist/minimalist comedy and the animation version of a seven minute guitar solo

And things get mundane again immediately after, with us visiting Tsundere’s little sister

It’s interesting that this sequence begins with the little sister but then immediately jumps to Tsundere and her friends upstairs. It’s a small choice that adds a pretty significant sense of solidity to this world, by emphasizing once again how even the side characters have full lives, and interact with each other even when the camera’s not on them. It’d be interesting to see a less comedy-focused show that still takes Nichijou’s approach to worldbuilding – giving incidental characters something approaching internal, private lives without the need for narrative focus. That sounds like it’d be a very unusual production, and one that would probably get criticized for a lack of narrative focus, but narrative isn’t necessarily the principle goal of storytelling. In this case, Nichijou can get away with these tricks without incident because people don’t expect a skit-based gag comedy to obey genre rules of narrative cohesion

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Of course, all of these “rules” don’t really exist outside of genre writing (fantasy, scifi, etc). One of the reasons I tend to get down on genre assumptions is that they’re so arbitrarily limiting – literary fiction has its own structural issues, but it has far fewer assumptions about how narratives “should proceed,” and what elements should be given focus. One of the reasons I like Yamada’s work in particular is she seems to have roughly my own level of respect for how narratives are “supposed” to work – dedicated slice of life shows like K-On! are one thing, but Tamako Love Story demonstrated a refreshing lack of adherence to traditional narrative structure even in a classic romantic comedy shell. I’d be happy to see more of that in anime, especially since its visual storytelling toolkit can often take the place of overt narrative storytelling (like in Flip Flappers)

Whoa, really dynamic shots here with the hyper-closeup reaction images. This episode’s directed by Eisaku Kawanami, apparently his only episode for the show!

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This sequence is pretty heavy on those striking closeups. They’re an interesting choice – they actually make this sequence feel a bit less cozy than it might otherwise, since they’re so disruptive

The angry eyes used for these characters are interestingly not generally used for the main crew. Possibly because the main crew doesn’t get angry in this particular way – this is a more conventionally anime comedy dynamic than the main three

Weboshi likes the guy with the mohawk

She likes the wild guys. Nobody tell her the mohawk’s hereditary

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Weboshi appreciates the gap moe of Mohawk looking like a punk but actually being a sweet guy

Helvetica Standard is back to its original font, having learned nothing about what helvetica looks like on its rambling journey through other choices

Really nice low-angle shot from the banana perspective. Kinda an “essence of Nichijou” moment: a guy slipping on a banana peel, framed from the most dynamic possible location and executed in the fewest possible microseconds

These Love-Likes are so good! They have such a vague relationship with the rest of the show, and exist basically as tonal buffers, but they’re all like tiny little microfictions, depicting adorable moments in stories we never see. They’re situated on exactly the kind of cute, quietly momentous moments you remember from other KyoAni shows, and executed with charming respect for their characters

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Followed swiftly by microcomedy, a spraycan firing a bullet at a fly instead of bug spray

Nervous teacher is wearing tiny pigtails, which are the most adorable things in the world

They’re really giving this teacher some focus. Skits that take place over multiple scenes like this are a little rare, particularly outside of the Shinonome lab

Yuuko is the perfectly worst person for them to run into, good

And we even get a “The Next Day” note for the next transition, something that’s never happened before. Once again, a gag character is being promoted to meaningful side character in the second half

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Kind of an underwhelming conclusion to this sequence, though it was altogether a bit more slice of life than comedy anyway

Nano and the professor’s personalities are clear in their posture as they sit at the kotatsu. Nano folds all her limbs inwards, acting both polite and somewhat fearful/timid. The professor sprawls across the table, sloppy, comfortable, and somewhat disconnected from her own limbs

Nano’s lewd-watching posture is very cute

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Oh hey, it’s that one crow

The science teacher has now graduated to abducting her students on their days off. The science teacher desperately needs a new hobby

And now a “2 Hours Later” bubble. An odd choice that feels a bit more awkward than what the show usually does. Normally, Nichijou would convey a great deal of time passing by briefly shifting to its interstitial shot, and then returning to the previous scene. Actually spelling out the fact that a serious amount of time has passed is less graceful than that, and essentially explains the joke

And yes, I’m aware that’s a very common comedy structure. But being a common structure does not mean it’s a particularly good one!

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The science teacher doesn’t remember the male teacher’s name. How criminally forgetful of her. I’m disappointed

Being called cute unexpectedly causes her to retreat. A weakness has been discovered!

Also, once again a character with a single gag is applied to a scenario where that gag isn’t put into practice, and instead they’re humanized in an entirely different direction. Nichijou is probably a show that could theoretically go on forever, because its pattern is very sustainable – the longer it goes on, the more characters move from the peripheral ring of “purely a single gag” to the progressively inner circles of having multifaceted personalities, personal lives, and relationships with other characters

Oh god, Mai and nervous teacher. Nervous teacher will be no match for Mai’s deadpan. This one writes itself

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And we return to the zeppelin for a third time. They really give this one a serious formal announcement, with the evocative shot of the setting sun over the clouds. The consistent announcement of each successive “chapter” adds an element of weird import to each of these sequences, like the smaller gags are just silliness and this is “serious Nichijou”

I love how at this point, it’s easy to see how this is exactly the kind of world Yuuko would construct in her dreams. The combination of the zeppelin, royal hierarchy, and faceless numbered dudes is an extremely dreamlike juxtaposition, even compared to Nichijou’s usual fare

AH SHIT MIO ACTUALLY ARRIVES

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Wonderfully intimidating shots setting up Mio as some kind of unstoppable badass. Heavy use of fisheye, shots aimed to obscure her face, long hallway shots, presenting the camera as if it’s hiding between the legs of the men. And this guy walking up to her, playing the genre part of the punk who underestimates her before being made an example of

Is this… is this guy played by Kotomine Kirei’s voice actor? It sounds pretty close

“If we could harness her strength, it might prove to be a great weapon for our country.” This sequence is some wonderfully on-point genre parody

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They nail the DBZ aesthetic so exactly for her attacks here. The slow buildup, incredibly quick punch, slow impact, incredibly quick jump to catch up with your staggering opponent

“Explain it again!” “Yeah, explain it again!” And now we’re riffing on the classic Speedwagon-style explainer, who breathlessly tells us things are even worse than they are at every possible turn. Great stuff

How must actual action shows feel when Nichijou is outdoing their material for stupid gag sequences like this

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Oh man, I absolutely love how his momentum is conveyed with the visual effect of his movement sticking around after he’s moved past it. A brilliant mix of animation and comic sensibilities

My god, this whole sequence. Such great stuff

“Even when wasting time, talent is still talent.” An extremely Nichijou aphorism

And now the science teacher is trying to look cute. Reinforcing this episode’s bread crumbs of characterization

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And Done!

That was a very strong episode! Its earlier material seemed in large part focused on adding some characterization to a variety of side characters, but that material still had plenty of its own comedy charms. And the zeppelin sequence effortlessly joins the ranks of Nichijou Classics – its combination of fast-paced genre parodies, legitimately gorgeous execution, and baseline absurdism exemplified the show at its best. NICHIJOU CARRIES ON!

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