26 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

Comedy with meaning and why Nichijou’s longevity bothers me

LQ2PrI have a perhaps naive belief in the power of comedy to say something. Through the disarming capabilities of comedy you can push past barriers that you could only otherwise cover in the gravest of tones. It’s why I try to argue against the belief that comedy is some kind of mysterious thing where enjoyment and taste can’t be broken down and explained why. It may be dry and dull to explain a joke, but I’m a critic so that’s what I do. It’s because of this belief in the depth of comedy that I despair at so-called “random” comedy. Where the joke is entirely in the construction and not in the meaning.

Or to put it another way, I feel very depressed that common anime fandom opinion is that Nichijou is a comedy classic and Watamote was some forgotten, briefly popular thing.

I have read some very fascinating posts breaking down the comedic construction in Nichijou. How the use of timing, reactions, exaggeration at the right times, all flow together into creating a sketch. But the laugh generated feels hollow to me because there’s no reason as to why its funny outside of the form. Asked to explain why it’s funny or what you can take away from that joke leads to dead ends. Some jokes do have a theme behind them that ties into some kind of general social commentary, but these are so few and far between that it feels more like it stumbled into these jokes by accident rather than intentional wit.

When I say depth behind these jokes, I don’t mean everything has to be a scathing critique of the capitalist system or anything so highbrow as that. Even a joke as old and typical as “black people do this but white people do that” at least has something behind the joke. ‘Different cultural upbringings result in different behaviors and attitudes’ is a solid basis behind a joke. It doesn’t necessarily need to use that joke to then go on to talk about deeper layers of racism that generate these differences or anything, although it might hit stronger and be more memorable as a result. So long as it has something it’s commentating on, that joke works for me.

Watamote uses comedy to talk about crippling anxiety. It doesn’t disarm the subject in doing so since it can be stressful and almost depressing to watch, even though it might make you laugh. Comedy is just the medium it uses to tell that story. Nichijou meanwhile uses the skin of comedy to tell nothing. It is the structure of a joke with no meaning behind it. Every laugh felt hollow until I eventually grew frustrated and gave up. I figured people would just forget Nichijou because it has nothing to it. It’s not memorable because no joke sticks with you as there’s nothing in real life it’s commenting on.

Turns out I was wrong. Several years later Nichijou is still held up as some kind of comedy classic, with Youtube videos shared of iconic scenes from the series. It looks like one of those series that has withstood the typical memory span of a rapidly regenerating anime fandom, so newer fans are returning to that series. It’s not like I was expecting the entire world to love Watamote or anything, since it’s a cringe-inducing comedy that’s active torture to watch at times which makes you uncomfortable. Writing about Watamote here is as much to explain to the surprisingly large number of comments I get from people wondering why I hold the series in such high regard.

But Nichijou’s perseverance bothers me. Yeah maybe that makes me a bad person because I’m annoyed people like a thing I don’t like. But it’s got to me because it tells me that all my talk about the power of story through comedy isn’t shared by fandom as a whole when you can dress up emptiness in the clothes of a successful comedy and it will do just as well.

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25 Comments

  1. DP
    Posted February 9, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. Personally, I would put both shows in my top ten favorites. I don’t think loving one precludes loving both. In fact, I would probably argue that they share more in common than you’re allowing.

    Watamote is, as you note, a commentary on social anxiety, and as such much more focused in laying out its narrative.

    As a bunch of loosely connected sketches, Nichijou is far different in the way it moves through its themes.

    But Nichijou very much HAS a common theme running through every sketch and every episode: “You may not think so, but your ordinary life is really pretty extraordinary.”

    Watamote, on the ther hand, takes pains throughout its run to show that Tomoko’s anxieties are almost wholly of her own making, because for the most part, the people in her world aren’t judging her nearly so much as she’s judging herself.

    In other words, the world is a much nicer place than she gives it credit for being. Tomoko just needs to accept it. In fact, there’s a hint at the very end of the anime that just maybe she’s starting to see the light.

    Nichijou, of course, has KyoAni’s brilliant animation, which undoubtedly helps sell the show to a wider audience – certainly more so than Watamote, which while very well directed itself doesn’t have nearly the resources behind it – and, of course, is also heartbreakingly sad pretty much throughout. (Honestly, I cried at several junctures.)

    Myself, I love both shows unequivocally. In their own way, each represents anime at its best.

  2. fathomlessblue
    Posted February 9, 2017 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I think a chief reason for this is availability. Nichijou was never previously made available in the west, while Watamote was quickly churned out by Sentai. In a way it’s the Last Guardian/Final Fantasy XV of anime: the more it was left dangling in front of people’s faces, the more they exalted its virtues and ignored the flaws.

    However, saying that, I do believe Nichijou is still a great comedy, it’s just the opposite of everything you appreciate. The entire point is by having virtually no stakes, the show is allowed to focus on mood and play with a lot of neat visual ideas. It has the same sense of intimate sentimentality, nostalgia & vibrant energy that most Kyoani franchises. I generally sit on the fence with those types of shows, being largely unimpressed unless something particularly effective like a Nozaki-kun or Non Non Biyori comes along. The crazy stylistic touches and stunning animation ultimately serves as a foundation of security & warmth, which is basically the opposite end of the spectrum to Watamote’s social bite.

    I completely understand only seeing the appeal in one show over the other (I couldn’t handle Watamote due to a natural aversion towards cringe-comedy). One favours cutting realism while the other offers fantastical escapism. I think there’s merit in both & I generally appreciate either approach as long they don’t descend into identikit moe pleasantries or mean-spirited squirm humour. Many people found Watamote deeply unpleasant or personally upsetting, while the most a detractor could say about Nichijou is that it’s boring or thematically empty. The former might leave more of an impression but also the possibility of avid rejection rather than vague indifference.

    In the end they’re two very different shows with entirely different aims, with the end purpose of the jokes being so completely different that it’s probably easier to see them as two separate genres, rather than a point of comparison. Nichijou offers an all-inclusive hug, while Watamote’s is a cynical smile aimed towards the dejected and self-depreciating. I can’t say I’m surprised that more people flock to the show that makes them feel a little better about their lives for a short period.

  3. El Goopo
    Posted February 9, 2017 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    Now you know how I feel whenever people talk about the likes of Nichijou or One Punch Man, but take one look at Tentai Senshi Sunred’s intentionally low-rent artstyle and won’t watch it.

    I’m not afraid of saying like it is: anime fans tend to be very shallow. Give them pretty animation and fluff and they’ll call your mediocre show a masterpiece.

    • lmm
      Posted February 11, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think it’s shallow to care about animation. It’s a visual medium, animation is as much a part of the artistry as writing is.

    • Ze Toshiest
      Posted February 15, 2017 at 1:09 am | Permalink

      A lot of my love for Nichijou comes from its production values and how they contribute to the show’s sense of humor, but appearances definitely aren’t everything. I’m glad you mentioned Sunred, not just because I’m glad to find a fellow fan (THOUGH I AM GLAD), but also because the series has some of the most natural comedy and dialogue I’ve ever seen from a half-length anime. There are short gags, but most of the punchlines come about as a result of characters going about their daily lives (which are already entertaining in and of themselves). All this on a small budget just adds to my appreciation of it.

    • Gan_HOPE326
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      Yeah, pretty much. It’s a bit like saying “heh, if the Mona Lisa was a smiling stickman figure you wouldn’t *care* that much!”. I mean, of course, but that’s because form and function are not as easily separable as people make them to be in these cases.

  4. Robert
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    I too feel that the best comedy tells some important truth about our state of being and I too love Watamote but I love Nichijou more. It is about many things but if I had to choose one overarching theme, it’s about the absurdity of the impersonal universe and our search for meaning in the face of its profound meaninglessness. Pretty much the deepest, most existential topic you can have. The recently started manga, “City,” by Keiichi Arawi, the author of Nichijou, has confirmed this for me. It’s doing the same thing but with more adult characters.

  5. Adamar
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    Personally the problem I had with nichijou wasn’t the lack of meaning or depth, it was simply that it wasn’t funny. Or at least, far too hit and miss in terms of successful skits.

    Also the Professor was a little shit.

  6. Ramiel
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    I don’t know about you, but I found a lot of the comedy in Nichijou strangely relatable. I felt like most jokes had some sort of concept that could be understood; it wasn’t just pure LOLRANDUMBXD

    There’s a reason its compared to Monty Python, in that it takes some sort of real life situation and then makes it completely absurd, with perfect execution to boot.

    On the flip side, I felt like Watamote suffered because while it could maybe be seen as more relateable, its comedic delivery was sometimes bad. I still feel that the manga of Watamote did a better job of serving the jokes than the anime.

    • Anon
      Posted February 11, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      “There’s a reason [Nichijou] is compared to Monty Python”

      By who, Helen Keller?

  7. DarkEnergy
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I wholeheartedly agree that Nichijou’s “comedy” is shallow and it’s popularity is undeserved. I feel similarly about Shinsekai yori (From the New World) which I saw for the first time over the course of 283 days from 2015/3/31 to 2016/1/7. I’ve seen a lot of praise and high ratings for it (e.g. Scamp and Shinmaru gave it an 8), so I had moderately high expectations for it. My father and I watched the whole thing together and ended up very disappointed. WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THIS ANIME? I have a bachelor’s degree in Physics, so I’m used to understanding relatively difficult ideas. I was very confused watching Shinsekai yori. I felt the characters were very uninteresting generally and their actions were idiotic and nonsensical at times. How do their powers work? Why don’t the adults do more? How does this society function and why do they have such strange rituals and customs?

    I doubt I’ll ever understand why some things get critical acclaim, popularity, and success while other things get forgotten or ignored.

    • lmm
      Posted February 10, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think you can simultaneously complain that it was both confusing and uninteresting – those tend to be opposite issues of going too fast and assuming too much versus going too slow and overexplaining.

      Asking how their powers work is missing the point. This is science fiction; the whole point is to posit an idea and then show the consequences of it (and, usually, to ultimately come to some point about human nature that would be too controversial to make directly).

      The adults are evidently active and powerful – we see this in terms of the children ending up getting away with less than they thought they had. At the same time we’re talking about a low population, agrarian society. The society has those customs as a result of having to deal with the powers that are the whole premise; we don’t get a full explanation from outside of the rituals because the children wouldn’t get that themselves either, the story is supposed to give us their perspective.

  8. Posted February 10, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    WOW you stick in the mud, reading that just made me unable to laugh ever again for at least a thousand years, arigato, senpai.

  9. ANON
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    ..since it’s a cringe-inducing comedy that’s active torture to watch at times which makes you uncomfortable..

    There’s your answer. People tend to avoid pain, Watamote is painful to watch, even I gave up after the 2nd episode I think, Nichijou isn’t offensive and is easy to recommend to people as a “lol so random dumb comedy” series.

  10. Shikamaru
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I like both shows pretty much equally. Isn’t that an option?

    When a joke in Watamote works it works really well. When a joke doesn’t work or goes too far it becomes painful to watch. It’s really weird that I don’t like Watamote more. I usually like black comedy a lot. I have nothing against incest, cancer, rape or pedophile jokes. I have read “Cyanide and Happiness” for over 9 years and they have some really dark jokes. The only jokes that I can’t laugh at (at least right now) is suicide jokes and depression jokes. Okay I can laugh at them, but it’s also painful at the same time. And don’t try to tell me that Tomoko isn’t depressed.

    In Nichijou there aren’t any jokes that “go too far” and that’s why it’s much easier to enjoy it. Some of the jokes might not be as good as they are in Watamote and there are more jokes that don’t work or you don’t get, but it’s always easy to watch and enjoy. Also there are some really cute scenes involving the professor. You don’t probably enjoy those cute scenes, but some people do. Still the main selling point is the “random” comedy. I actually own 6 Nichijou volumes and I really rarely buy manga.

    Why is Gintama so fucking popular? That’s the real question.

  11. lmm
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I tend to think the opposite: it’s possible to write a good comedy with meaning, but the best comedies don’t have it, or come to it accidentally. Humour has to be the highest priority, and people who create a comedy with the intent to Make A Statement inevitably end up compromising the humour. I feel the same way about art in general really.

  12. Ken
    Posted February 10, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Last week it dawned on me that the world’s first funny bit was probably a pratfall. Some cave man probably saw another cave man slip on a banana peel or something, and so the ultimate lowbrow humor was born.

    I’m not saying that Nichijou is all lowbrow humor, but it seems like it when compared to Watamote. I personally enjoyed both but regard neither of them as a classic. Watamote would sometimes make be depressed and there were times when Nichijou was too meaningless.

  13. Posted February 10, 2017 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I thought I sounded like I was getting old and crotchety. :)

    Of course a show like Nichijou is going to be popular on Youtube. It’s well animated and can be broken up into little chunks and is instantly relate-able.

    Question, Scamp how often do you sit down and rewatch Watamote?

    For me, I discovered that it’s not the “great” shows that I keep rewatching but the enjoyable shows. The extreme response to this is Grave of the Fireflies. It’s a “great” movie, it’s an important movie, it’s also a movie that I refuse to ever rewatch. I’d rather rewatch Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday and have done so 3 – 4 times already.

    And the shows that get rewatched are more likely to be the ones I keep talking about and the ones that, if I had a supercool blog, future fans might decide to tryout.

  14. Nagisa33
    Posted February 11, 2017 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    Hmmmm, there’s room for both. This has to be one of my favorite comedy scenes in anime for its absurdity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jumnkhck7Uo

    A scene with more substance is the Welcome to the NHK conspiracy scene where I laughed and also felt sorry for Sato, which is not dissimilar to the feelings evoked in Watamote. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tzI1iysdkA Sato’s social anxiety cripples him which shouldn’t be funny but it is here bc the ridiculousness of scene coupled with Chris Patton’s scream. The scene serves to help the viewer empathize with Sato but also laugh at the situation despite it being messed up.

    And then there’s this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5m2fmLdyDo
    and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EG0wQRsXLi4
    and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHmBSfci0yE
    and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWMO3rAD98k

    Comedy takes many forms.

    • Gan_HOPE326
      Posted February 23, 2017 at 1:02 am | Permalink

      But Detroit Metal City is exactly the opposite of the “empty” comedy Scamp complains about! DMC is a single, long, hilarious joke about the silliness of musical “counter-culture” (and heavy metal especially), about the entertainment industry and the way we relate to it.

      • Nagisa33
        Posted February 25, 2017 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        Yeah, that’s another view as well. I think the beauty of comedy or really any work is that you can take from it what you want and it’s all correct. I noticed that aspect but it really wasn’t what I appreciated. The main reason why I enjoyed it was because this wimpy guy has this other persona that takes over in ridiculous, socially inappropriate ways.

        Also this scene is gold. The difference in what the translator is saying and the guy is saying is pretty great. Then there’s the snakes that slither on him and are part of his character that add to the insanity of it all.

  15. Posted February 11, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    As someone who loved Nichijou the first time, and loved it again in each subsequent rewatch (I’ve lost count now), my opinion may be biased, but here are my thoughts on this.

    On the surface, Nichijou seems to be taking the route of slice of life (hence the title) based in high school: nostalgia for times when you didn’t have to worry about anything except having fun and what to eat. While leaning more heavily into the comedy than most.

    But in the long run, the series is very much about self-acceptance. Almost all the characters (with some notable exceptions: Mai) start the series with some insecurity about themselves: Mio’s yaoi drawings, Nano’s screw, etc. And by the end of the series, many of them have accepted their quirks and opened up to their friends about who they are and what they love.

    And the broad cast – as opposed to Lucky Star and K-ON, other KyoAni series that focus on a very tight group of female characters – helps bring to mind that both teens and adults, male and female, struggle with similar problems their whole lives.

    I believe that the inherent lack of significant negativity is a core strength of Nichijou and Japanese comedy in general. There is enough negativity in the world, and comedy such as Nichijou can be an escape and encouragement in humanity’s ability to ultimately be good.

  16. Ragdollomega
    Posted February 12, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I can’t put a finger on what happened between the manga and the adaptation of Watamote, but it just made it unwatchable for me and I love reading the manga. The level of cringe in the anime was just somehow elevated to an intolerable point for me.

    As for Nichijou, what’s wrong with fun for the purpose of fun? Just because it’s not your kind of humor doesn’t make it bad. Something something high horse something something.

  17. gedata
    Posted February 13, 2017 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    Watamote is a challenging mood-piece of a comedy (not a bad thing but some people just don’t want to feel like shit in the way Watamote might do so) and Nichijou is easy to make silly gifs out of. This isn’t complicated nor is it particularly wrong.

    Idk, this post just sort of presumes that there’s a “right way” to do comedy and I’m just not feeling that. A joke doesn’t need to be “smart” to be funny. It needs to be funny to be funny. It all has to do with what you’re up for at the moment and maybe something like Nichijou that doesn’t expect anything in return can do just that for someone.

    At best all I can see this as is just another case of something “good” falling by the wayside compared to something popular, which happens all the time anyway.

  18. Quantumrei
    Posted February 25, 2017 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Bless this article. I never was able to get into Nichijou myself so I can’t comment on it as a whole, but I’m surprised not many people talk about Watamote anymore! I expected it to be so much more popular. Watamote won over my heart, and I would easily rewatch it.

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