Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou – Series Review

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I really want to thank Sunrise for producing this series, because I honestly have no idea what they were thinking.

There’s a very interesting difference in the way the studio and director Takamatsu Shinji elected to adapt Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou, as opposed to the way other popular 4-koma comedies were brought to anime.  Series such as Shinryaku Ika Musume, Mitsudomoe and Minami-ke all featured stories that were greatly expanded from their manga counterparts, making them almost as much anime-original material as canon.  For the most part Takamatsu-sensei (who also wrote the adaptation) left the material very much as is – short skits were short skits, and very little of the comedy in the anime wasn't already present in the manga.

There are a couple of impacts from this.  Most obviously, those other series tended to run in three-chapter format – three roughly 7-8 minute sketches made up an episode.  That led them to have a more traditionally “episodic” feel than Danshi Koukousei, which as often as not ended up having six or eight 3-4 minute skits per episode, and was much more of a “gag show” in the mold of, say, Seitokai Yakuindomo.  Another impact of this is that while Shinryaku Ika Musume, Mitsudomoe and Minami-ke all had enough manga material for at least one sequel, this series machine-gunned through almost all the manga material in 12 episodes.  I don’t know if the BD/DVD sales (with this show I suspect the latter) would justify a continuation – the end card of the finale certainly teases it – but even if Sunrise were committed, they’d likely have to wait at least two years to produce it without going anime-original.

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.

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9 comments:

  1. Spot on review Enzo. Those were the two main reasons why I thought the show lost part of its charm in the middle. I like our baka trio better when they were a trio. It just wasn't as funny without Tadakuni's occasional voice of reason.
    I'm definitely on board if we do get a second season. Hopefully Gundam AGE's disastrous sales figures doesn't burn too big of a hole on Sunrise's cash pile.

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  2. They're fine - Horizon and T & B are huge cash cows for them. The bigger issue is a lack of source material.

    Free Tadakuni!!!

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  3. Wow, this has been tough.......saying farewell to so many favorite shows.
    I sincerely hope there will be a comedy in the new season to take the place of Nichibros. I have to confess, as the season rolled on I came to look forward to the funky high school girls the most of any of the skits.
    Yanagin in particular is one of the greatest female characters ever. I cant recall there ever being a female character as abraisive, nasty and stupid......but thats what made her my favorite. Thanks for taking the time to blog this show, Enzo. Looking forward to what you'll blog for the new season.

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  4. If one were to plot this series on a "laugh graph," so to speak, the humor quality would be parabolic with high eccentricity with a few outliers causing discontinuities.

    That is to say, I was laughing non-stop for the first several episodes. The middle calmed down a bit, but was still funny here and there. Sometimes I just stared at the screen without a sound (Hidenori's manga), and other times (Literary Girl) I had to pause so I could laugh for a good 3 minutes before continuing. The ending was superb and left me wanting more.

    I'm glad this show was made, because any time I need a good laugh or two, I can put on an episode and instantly make my day better. Thanks for your coverage Enzo!

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  5. Welcome Jimhawk (an Outlaw Star fan, maybe?) and thanks for commenting. I agree about the parabolic wave effect. The Literary Girl sketch were Hidenori knocker her unconscious was by far my favorite from the mid-season lull.

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  6. I disagree Enzo. The supporting have stopped being side characters, they was and are main characters in their own right. Just cause the anime did not start with them does not mean they can't be their own mains in their skits.
    There you have it. My opinion
    Free feel to reply
    Deafd

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  7. Hey, comedy is personal - more than any other genre, seems to me. I happened to think the show was funnier with a main trio at the center - you liked having no specific MCs. Both are valid opinions.

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  8. I would agree that some of the sketches were kind of hit-or-miss mid-way, but Takamatsu did well to pick up steam near the end to finish on a high.

    No comedy is bad when Sugita is in it - I continue to stick by this adage when choosing whether to watch a comedy. XD

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  9. This series was so adorably random. Loved most episodes and skits (while others just left me with a 0_o face), it's going to be another show in need of a good replacement. Thanks for blogging this show, GE. ^^

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