Nichijou: My Ordinary Life
Shounen – Comedy, sci-fi
10 Volumes (complete)
A robot who is trying to hide her true identity. Her child creator. An energetic idiot. A deadpan girl. A closet yaoi fan. A farmer’s son who acts like a rich boy. A girl with heavy artillery. A talking cat. This is a story about an ordinary town and its ordinary school and its ordinary students.
It’s been a long while since a manga made me laugh so much.
There are a lot of different school-life comedies. Some are of the “cute girls doing cute things” variety (Azumanga Daioh), others are about a crazy club or group (Ouran High School Host Club), and then there’s the just outside of reality / nearly absurd stories (My Neighbor Seki). Nichijou: My Ordinary Life, despite its title, is definitely in the latter category, and it quickly shows how crazy its world is. We meet the couldn’t-be-more-obvious-she’s-a-robot robot who ends up crashing into a guy. Since this isn’t shoujo, she doesn’t fall in love at first sight; instead, Nano causes an explosion that makes a series of debris fall on an unlucky classmate’s head. Not only does Nano lose her hand, but both she and the student she crashed into end up stranded in high places. Oh, and I can’t forget Unlucky Girl (aka Yuuko) is slightly depressed no one is remarking on her foreign greeting. And all that is just the first chapter!
Nichijou mainly focuses on two groups. The first group is made up of the energetic idiot Yuuko, girl with a crush and a secret Mio, and quiet deadpan prankster Mai. Nano’s home life with her creator, the Professor, and their talking cat, Sakamoto, are the second group of major characters. While Nano is a classmate of Yuuko and friends, it isn’t until later in the series that they really become friends. Meanwhile, the manga gradually introduces more of their classmates and teachers like faux aristocrat, the tsundere-to-end-all-tsundere who blasts him with heavy artillery, the teacher who tries to capture Nano and always fails badly, the mohawk guy who believes everything has a scientific explanation, the members of the go/soccer club, and more. It’s an ensemble cast, and while their personalities were easy to remember, the names certainly aren’t. This isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but pretty much everyone is “that one character who…” Mai is probably the hardest to describe, as she is somehow an unusual combination of capable, random, sneaky, quiet, and real-life Internet troll.
The characters rotate, but so does the humor as well as the format. Lots of chapters are slice-of-life adventures where Yuuko forgets her homework or gets stuck in an elevator with her friends. Then there’s the strings of misunderstandings and unfortunate coincidences, like when Mio tries to hide her doujinshi. Another classmate provides plenty of comedic violence in the form of her guns pointed at Koujirou, Nano and the Professor provide the sci-fi elements, and then it goes full surrealism when the principal and a deer have an epic wrestling match. Nichijou sometimes even goes into 4-koma or silent comic format. I really never know where the story was going to go! It’s random, but it’s funny random.
A lot of comedies are also on the short side and are best enjoyed in short doses. Well, Nichijou doesn’t have either of these issues. Three of the first four volumes are all around 175 pages, the fourth about 160 pages. That’s not too bad, especially if you compare the volumes to, say, My Neighbor Seki. Despite both titles being available from the same publisher, Nichijou Volume 4 looks like a good 30 pages thicker than any volume of My Neighbor Seki. The revolving cast and types of humor keeps the manga fresh.
However, there are two caveats: first, some of Nichijou‘s jokes rely on Japanese knowledge. There’s a final panel in the sushi chapter that I still don’t get, and I doubt many people are going to get why the Professor wanting the Akutagawa award is funny. As I will discuss below, the adaptation doesn’t always do a good job of explaining some of the less Western-friendly humor. The final two volumes also have a completely different feel to them. Chapters are even more strange and eclectic; it’s like Arawi just threw everything but the kitchen sink at the story. I understand wanting to end the manga with an actual conclusion, but I enjoyed the last two volumes significantly less. So just be aware that there is a mood shift toward the end.
As I mentioned, Nichijou is a mix of manga types. While the traditional form appears most often, 4-koma and silent comic formats also appear. No matter which one, though, the art is designed to be on the simplistic side. Screentones are nearly nonexistent, and eyes are pretty much just oblongs. But what first grabbed my attention were Yuuko’s and Mio’s character designs. Yuuko could be a dead-ringer for Tomo from Azumanga Daioh, especially since they are a lot alike in personality. I also thought Chiyo had migrated from there in the form of Mio. While Mio is older, the two girls both have pigtails that cause their friends to wonder what is the true meaning behind the hairstyles.
Anyway, one thing Nichijou does that Azumanga Daioh doesn’t is throw in some retro art. Characters will sometimes look as if Nobita appeared or they stepped out of a Tezuka work. Other comedic expressions are also done well, especially Yuuko’s shocked and Mio’s angry faces. Keeping characters straight tends to be a problem in ensemble casts, but with mohawks, afros, and cube ponytail holders, most are easy to identify. Sakamoto the cat is drawn much like Kuroneko-sama from Trigun, but other animals are drawn in a more realistic way. All in all, like most comedies drawn for a general audience, it’s simple and clean, exactly the type of art you want to see.
No honorifics are used. So “Sakamoto-san” becomes “Mr. Sakamoto”, etc. Only a few footnotes are included, so it’s up to readers to get why the Professor wants an Akutagawa award. How does this not get a note but kappa does? You could argue that “selamat pagi” could use a footnote as well, but Mio doesn’t understand what language Yuuko is speaking either.
Shiritori games lose their impact, especially when Yuuko leads off with “mikan” (orange) which ends the game. This scene doesn’t make much sense in English. At least one pun uses the Japanese word to keep the humor, but most others are replaced. Even the “K” boards to represent strikes is replaced with “S” signs.
Also, is it just me, or does it seem like the girls curse a lot? I know it’s hard to determine when swear words are appropriate, but it just seemed like the translator generally chose swear words over other insults.
Interestingly enough, it looks like there was some disagreement over whether Nano’s creator should be “Professor” or “Hakase” in the first draft of the English translation. Team Professor won.
Mix every “cute girls doing cute things” story with school life comedy, and now make it even hilariously bizarre. The result? A blast in the form of Nichijou… as long as you’re willing to accept you’re probably going to be missing some cultural jokes. Also be aware that the last couple volumes are different, and personally, I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much. This is one series I could see just buying the comedy-heavy volumes.
FUNimation released the anime. Vertical, Inc. is also releasing Helvetica Standard, a related follow-up to Nichijou.