I really want to thank Sunrise for producing this series, because I honestly have no idea what they were thinking.
Whatever you think of the style Takamatsu chose, I think this series – like all comedy – is a very hit or miss, personal thing. As someone who cried out for years for more of these types of series featuring guys, I was obviously thrilled to see this series made, and to try and answer the question as to whether you could make a “guys@school” comedy and be successful. I think the answer is an unequivocal “yes” – there were hiccups, but this was certainly the funniest pure comedy of the Winter season for me. The satire generally hit the target with unerring accuracy, the physical comedy was often hilarious (not always) and the show unveiled one of the largest and funniest supporting casts in many years. But then, why did my affection for this series drop so sharply in the middle?
I think there are a couple of reasons for that. First and easiest, I missed Tadakuni. “How can the normal guy be your favorite character?” you may ask. Well, for me, Tadakuni’s normalcy – as brilliantly portrayed by Irino Miyu – framed the insanity going on around him better than anything else in the series. I loved Irino and Sugita Tomokazu together – they’re so opposite and a perfect compliment, Irino’s perpetual on the edge of panic sensibility and Sugita’s over the top craziness. I get that Tadakuni’s absence was one of the jokes in the series – the problem for me is that the presence of Tadakuni was funnier than the joke of his absence.
The other aspect is a little harder to pin down, as comedy so often is. I do think the sketches became even shorter in the middle episodes, basically one-note sight gags or physical comedy. The balance tipped just a bit too heavily towards the girls in the supporting cast, and things were spread out so much that even Hidenori and Yoshitake largely disappeared. I love this supporting cast, but love them best when they’re actually supporting – and with the main characters absent, there was no one to support. I think the satirical elements became much less important, and the humor a bit meaner and less ironic. But for the most part, that largely changed in the last two eps, which were classics more in line with first half of the series.
With all that said, I think for the most part Danshi Koukousei proved itself consistently funny and occasionally sublime. It managed to fulfill my primary hope for it, which was to poke holes in the preposterous gender stereotypes prevalent in anime today, and to mine the gender politics of high school from the male perspective for comedy gold. Part of that was doing for girls what the vast majority of all anime have been doing for boys – focusing on the most grotesque elements of their character for ironic effect. The Funky Girls omakes were the most obvious example of this, but it was exemplified by many of the recurring female cast – Ringo-chan with her cluelessness, Tadakuni’s physically terrifying younger sister, Motoharu’s Onee-san, the preposterously romance-obsessed and sensitive Literary Girl Yassan… In many ways I think this was the whole point of the series – to show girls the way boys have been shown in anime, and to take a hard but hilarious look at the way teenaged boys perceive teenage girls (and to some extent, vice-versa).
Bottom line – like so many comedies that swing for the fences, Danshi Koukousei occasionally struck out. But most of the time it was funny when it set out to be, using a mix of satire, slapstick, wordplay and exquisite timing for great comedic effect. The “Hippocratic Oath” of comedy is “First, be funny” – and this show managed that a good majority of the time, with the help of an astonishingly star-studded cast. That it was able to also provide excellent social satire and fill a yawning gap in today’s anime lexicon is all a delightful bonus. I can’t imagine this thing doing well commercially, but I’m just thrilled it was produced at all – and if it does happen to make some money, hopefully it will get that second season eventually, and even inspire other mangakas and anime studios to explore the subject of the adolescent experience from the male perspective. That would be a much-needed change for the better.