Daily Lives of High School Boys has its charm, but it is no Nichijou. The hook is similar – the title suggests ordinary lives, but actually there’s a lot of surreal comedy going on. In Nichijou it is genuinely surreal and outlandish, leading to talking cats, robot girls and many a destroyed shrine, whereas in the boyish equivalent it is largely more realistic. Occasionally some very unlikely props make their appearance, but the scale is certainly not to the same heights. Unfortunately, while in principal it sounds like this is something I would prefer, and certainly the likes of Azumanga Daioh didn’t have to get too out-and-out bizarre (beyond fantasy sequences) to be hilarious, the end result is that High School Boys’ 12 episodes turned out to be rather harder to get through than Nichijou’s 26, because they simply weren’t as funny, or as focused on a small and recognisable group.
The series essentially has three main characters – glasses-wearing Hidenori, who likes to mess with others; bleached-blond Yoshitake, who usually plays the dumb, susceptible role; and sweet-natured Tadakuni, who doesn’t tend to get the others’ jokes and quite often seems to be dressed up as a girl. One of the series’ running gags is that towards the end, despite at first being shown as the protagonist, Tadakuni hardly appears at all. Around these three are a whole variety of others – let’s see, there’s the one in the cap…the one with the face like a thug but a soft heart…the one who’s kinda dumb…the Fuku-kaichou…basically, the problem is that there’s a large ensemble cast who are more or less interchangeable and never really do anything that moves their superficial characterisation on. To compound this, there are also a number of girls, many of them drawn without eyes and characterised as cold-hearted thugs, including three who get a segment ‘High School Girls are Funky’. It’s all too much to cram into 12 episodes if the audience is to be able to care about any of the cast, and the result is that for such a short series, it really is boring – something that Sunrise-meets-Square-Enix really shouldn’t have to worry about.
The most memorable parts are ones that simply observe something amusing or silly about life, like the way girls can hurt a guy’s feelings by moving away from them on public transport as though disgusted, and how this gets reversed – or the clumsy guy who jumps into a river to save a cat only to find it was stuffed. The segment with the daft, clumsy girl who tries to meet boys on the riverbank to get them to speak lines appropriate to a novel, especially when juxtaposed with Hidenori’s cynical but panicked inner monologue, works great. Others are real misses, like most of the antics of the student council or the unlikeable ‘High School Girls are Funky’ counterparts – the latter only amused me once, at the end, when they playfully decide to have a fight to see which of them is the strongest and the quiet one subtly turns out to be the most terrifying.
The fact is that The Daily Lives of High School Boys will almost in its entirety be defined by its one most widely-shared skit, in which Tadakuni is tricked into wearing his sister’s clothes – and kinda likes it. The rest of the season, despite obviously having been made well in advance of airing, felt like a failed attempt to get away from that – like a band that has a hit single but hates it so tries so hard to step out from its shadow that everything goes awry. I’m quite glad that the series didn’t end up being a show about a sweet boy who kept ending up getting humiliated and feminised – it works in side-characters like Makoto in Minami-Ke, but a whole show based on that would not have worked. The trouble is that the show groped around for an alternative and never found it. The result of this was that The Daily Lives of High School Boys ended up every bit as indistinct as High School Girls – but luckily just about escapes the overall sexualisation of its subject.