Azumanga Daioh and Pani Poni Dash. Just look at the design of the Professor/Hakase – if that doesn’t look like Becky from Pani Poni redrawn by Kiyohiko Azuma like one of the Yotsuba&! kids, I don’t know what does. And fittingly, that’s how the humour seems to sit, as well – not quite the bewildering flurry of weirdness that is Pani Poni Dash, but certainly a few steps more surreal than even the frenetic first episode of Azumanga.
And like both of those series, my first reaction to Nichijou was confusion, followed by a knee-jerk reaction of not wanting to like it very much, and then finally as the series settled down a little into character development and stopped trying harder than it needed to, loving it. Well, okay, that last part is mostly reflective of Azumanga Daioh – it was what, in the end, was missing from Pani Poni Dash and could have made it much better.
Nichijou – a term that after learning it here I keep hearing in Japanese speech – means ‘everyday life’, ‘daily life’, ‘day-to-day life’ or any variation thereof you might like to choose. It means the ordinary and commonplace elements of one’s life, and thus the irony here is that the everyday lives of the schoolgirls here are extremely weird. At the centre of the piece sit the three friends, clutzy Yuuko, cheerful but hot-tempered Mio and quiet, mysterious Mai. They go to school and though other than Mai (who has a twisted sense of humour and odd fixation on religious carvings) they are fairly normal girls, very strange things happen around them – for example, Yuuko will happen to witness the school principal having an epic wrestling match with a deer, ultimately revealing that even the tiny bit of hair left on his balding head is a wig. Around them, things are weirder. A robotic girl’s everyday life features the sardonic talking cat Sakamoto-san and her eight-year-old creator, the selfish little girl they call Hakase (‘Professor’). One boy likes to ride a goat to school, accompanied by a butler, occasionally coming into contact with a girl from the kendo club whose tsundere character is so exaggerated that when she gets flustered she produces heavy weaponry and lays waste to all around her. Other segments involve the unfortunate boy whose hair only grows as a Mohawk, a teacher who wants to hunt and disassemble the robot girl, the various people who take a part time job selling little buns and have to wear a bun mask, the extended brilliant fantasy sequences set on a zeppelin Yuuko has about Mio’s hair and the misadventures of the ‘go-soccer club’. As you can likely tell, all very strange.ゐ.
The series really comes into its own in the second half, when things become a bit more coherent and all the disparate parts come together – adorable robot Nano starts going to school, making friends with the main trio and uniting the two major worlds. The boy on the goat becomes the object of Mio’s affections, making for some of the cutest scenes, and her rival is in the kendo club with Mio’s big sister. Things start to make more sense in a larger context, and the humour is increasingly based on character quirks rather than random things happening, which works better, and the incredible overreactions become ever funnier, especially when Mio thinks her filthy yaoi drawings are about to be revealed.Lucky Star, I feel that this second attempt by KyoAni to make a simple-looking comedy series was by far the better, and when they segue into huge, absurd action sequences with sweeping cameras and explosive special effects, it works fantastically. I’m a little sad that the DVDs reportedly didn’t sell well at all, as that means we’re unlikely to see any more Nichijou, and it’s a much better property than Lucky Star overall. It probably just didn’t hook enough people in at the start, as after all I too took a long while to really get into it.