Review: Munto 2 – Beyond the Walls of Time

Combined together, the first Munto film and this one, Munto 2: Beyond the Walls of Time, total just under 2 hours. It’s amusing to me to write two separate reviews for this, when I also make reviews for series with 12+ episodes, which have a combined total of 5 hours or more.

Munto 2, as you’d expect, is pretty much the second episode of this two-episode shindig going on here. It relies very heavily upon the first film. Again, this is all as you’d expect.

Will this second Munto film have the same downfalls as the first one? Or will it be able to rise above and save the franchise?

(Also, I should mention: after these two films, there is an actual 1-cour TV series that recounts the story of Munto, although it goes by a much longer name and has Yumemi as the true protagonist. These reviews obviously don’t touch on that series, but I figured I’d mention it here in case I get questions/comments later.)

An Introduction

Over a year has passed since the day everyone saw the floating islands above. They only appeared for a few minutes, and no one understood where they came from or what they are… except for one person, Yumemi.

Since that day, Yumemi hasn’t seen or heard from Munto, or anything from the Heavens above. Those floating islands are still up there, still out of reach… But all of a sudden, random memories begin appearing in Yumemi’s mind. But these memories aren’t her own… It’s the memories of Munto! Why? Why is she receiving them? Is something happening? Should she be worried?

As it turns out, something is happening. In the floating islands above, Akuto has returned to the Heavens, but war still continues. Some kingdoms and rulers are wary about how long this sudden resurgence in Akuto power will last, and have decided to strike while the iron is hot: take over the other kingdoms and lands while they still can! Munto and his Magical Kingdom once again find themselves as the defenders. But on top of that, the assailants are curious about where and how Munto even brought the Akuto energy back from, and how to acquire this source for themselves…

The Plot and Characters

Munto 2 delivered in nearly all of the ways the first one lacked.

The story flows a lot better this time around, and there’s a lot more polish here too. On both sides, it feels like there’s an actual story to tell, rather than just being some random one-day-in-the-life setup that the first Munto film had (which, to be fair, you don’t really realize it has until you watch this one). The first film had a buildup, climax, all that stuff, but it felt more arbitrary and the two sides lacked any connection at all. Here, there’s actual progression.

On the Earth side, Yumemi becomes the sole main focus; she’s had a shot of self-confidence since her first run-in with Munto, but it doesn’t matter much now that the guy that gave her that shot has totally disappeared again… until he appears again. We follow her as she tries to reach out to Munto again, and we also see how Ichiko and others around her react to her actions.

In the heavens, the war continues, with Munto and Co. as the defenders once again. There’s a lot more thought about this whole setup this time too. Characters (including the bad guys from the first film) have names now, you have a sense of the political alliances/structure there, and they’ve also explained the barrier between the Heaven and Earth. All the context that was lacking from the first film, minus some wedged-in exposition dialogue, is here now. It’s no longer just Munto’s buds sitting around giving vague commentary, either; there’s battles, strategies, decisions happening now.

The characters in general have been fleshed out a lot too. Munto, the films’ titular character, actually has a personality and backstory now, despite him being delegated to the role of damsel-in-distress here (although that’s marginally better than his constant harassment of Yumemi in the first film). Ichiko, Gus/Gass (his name was retranslated for Munto 2), and Yumemi receive some development as well, and feel more and more like actual people.

All these things are really appreciated, and it frankly makes for a much better film than the first one. Things are a lot better when we actually have characters we can connect to, and a world we can buy into.

There were also some weird decisions made as well, though.

Firstly, the addition of a new character: a guy named Takashi. He’s said to be long-time friends of Ichiko and Yumemi, but this is the first time that he ever appears (incidentally, they wrote out that line in the English dub). Either way, his inclusion still seems weird, and frankly unnecessary. His biggest role in the story is being the plot device in two scenes, but that role could’ve just been delegated to background characters rather than writing in a full character and trying to shoehorn him into this circle of friends.

Secondly, Ichiko. She becomes a lot more protective of Yumemi this time around, but also tries to shut her down a lot, rather than being Yumemi’s beacon of support as she was previously. The film explains her change, and it makes sense at the surface level, I guess, but still… I honestly suspect they changed Ichiko so that there was a source of tension throughout the film. Without her… there really isn’t any on the Earth side. A lot of this film’s conflict relies upon Yumemi trying to reach out to Munto and understand what’s going on, with Ichiko trying to hold her back. If Ichiko continued to be supportive, it’d take a lot of that tension away. It felt weird and kind of sad to see Ichiko act this way towards Yumemi though.

Suzume, by the way, is relegated to more of a background role this time, and Kazuya is barely even mentioned.

The Heavens and Earth are still definitely treated as two separate entities, but there’s a tiny bit more connection now, and it’s a connection that makes sense. Munto 2 focuses on one side or the other for a long period before switching (with somewhat smooth transitions), so it felt more like we got to dive deeper into each side than we did the first time around. The two sides don’t constantly butt in to each other (sometimes quite literally) like they did in the first film.

Pacing is still great too, and in fact is even better than the first film. The extra 20 minutes over the first film allowed more quiet, refreshing moments between the big plot scenes.

The plot and writing certainly isn’t unoriginal, but it still felt like it was lacking that something to make it seem more meaningful. I think a lot of it may come down to the climax (and I’ll be vague, despite this film being 12 years old): beyond an emotional conversation, nothing much impactful happens. Visual effects occur, and that’s about it. No battle scene, the bad guys lose, bam, that’s it. The big scene that they were expecting to carry all this emotional weight, just doesn’t have any… and it’s due to one main reason: the relationship between Yumemi and Munto.

There really isn’t any chemistry between the two; the only interactions they had with each other in the first film is Munto appearing out of nowhere to bark at Yumemi until he disappears again. These two films say that he gave her the strength to believe in herself, and so that made her want to see him again, but that just wasn’t portrayed well in the first film at all. Since this relationship is what the second film depends upon for some conflict, and especially for the climax, unfortunately, this is where the second film falters.

It’s not even entirely the second film’s fault, either. It comes back down to the writing problems the first film had, and how poorly (and forcefully) that film executed its ideas. Munto 2 is such an improvement in so many ways, but since it depends upon you feeling a connection between Yumemi and Munto that the first film failed to create, its impact is considerably lacking.

However, at the end of the day, what really matters is whether I enjoyed my time with this film. And, honestly, I did.

Munto 2 improved in every single way that the first Munto didn’t, and I enjoyed that highly flawed film. There’s so much more to latch onto and soak in while you’re watching, with a more complete world and more interesting characters. It’s a shame that Munto 2’s biggest problem is a reliance on something the first film failed at, but it’s a fun time. I liked it, and, honestly, isn’t that good enough?

The Atmosphere

Just like the writing, the visuals got a very notable upgrade in this sequel too.

The art and animation looks dated by today’s standards, of course, but for 2006, you can start to see Kyoto Animation’s trademark high-quality work appearing. The backgrounds are a lot more detailed, you can see subtle changes in characters’ expressions and demeanors, and the visual effects continue to be good.

That’s not to say every shot and scene is great, high-quality stuff, but in comparison to Munto, this film very much feels like the studio has gotten a hold on their process, their style, and they’ve started to execute it well. Action scenes are still a weak point here, as a lot of them are simply one or two flashy effects and that’s it. You can sniff out some corner cutting and a few pain points, but you can easily look over those too.

Visually, it feels like KyoAni was definitely trying to be more ambitious. While a lot of the first film was generic small-city Japan scenes mixed with generic fantasy ones, there’s a decent bit more this time around. The climax takes place in a half-destroyed amusement park, for example. There’s more outfits for main characters and more background characters in motion. A lot of this ties into the improved worldbuilding too, but even the more-standard-looking small Japanese city locations feel more like an actual place, and the scenes and different countries up in the Heavens seem more fleshed out too.

Even if the climax ultimately didn’t give me much emotion, you could still definitely see the emotion in the characters’ expressions and movement. It’s a nice touch, and it’s something that’s now become standard for KyoAni.

Like the first film, music was used rather sparingly here – mostly only being brought out for the most dramatic scenes. Almost all of the pieces were piano-heavy; they do sound pretty decent, although it isn’t exactly a style I’d listen to much on my own. There was some melancholy and sad tones in there, which was fitting, and the pieces all blended into the film well in such a way that it wasn’t really even that noticeable when a music piece started or ended.

There is a main vocal ending theme this time around, but, frankly, it’s mostly forgettable.

The entire dub cast returns from the first film again, and a lot of my thoughts there apply here. Sean Schimmel somehow fits in a tad bit more as Munto now, but perhaps that’s just the Stockholm syndrome talking. Big shoutout to Kelly Ray as Ichiko this time around; her character got a lot more focus this time, and she hit it out of the park this time around. Ultimately, I’d still recommend the Japanese voices over the English dub, but the dub feels a bit more adequate this time around.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Munto 2 is everything the first Munto should’ve been. It has two interesting worlds, characters with depth, and much improved visuals to back it all up. There’s all the polish and quality here that makes this a much more enjoyable film over the first one. Unfortunately, the main conflict still heavily relies upon the first film forging a connection it failed to create, and this ends up sucking out a lot of emotion in the climax.

If this film wasn’t so connected to the first one, I’d recommend it in a heartbeat for any fan of mid-2000s anime. Honestly, I may still recommend people skip over the first film and go straight to this anyway. The Central Park Media DVD includes a “Munto 1 Recap” special feature that you just need to watch beforehand and you’re set. With that said, I say to give Munto 2 a shot.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ much needed polish, improved visuals, focus between two worlds shifts better
— relies upon first film, Ichiko’s personality change, Takashi

Review: Munto

(Editor’s note: Do you know how hard it is to find a good usable image specifically from this 2003 film? It’s harder than I thought it’d be. So sorry if this one isn’t of the best quality.)

I’ve been a big fan of Kyoto Animation for years now. From my reviews of Nichijou, Chunibyo, and Dragon Maid, you’ve probably heard enough of me giving them praise. But one particular work stuck out to me.

Munto was a 2003 short film created and produced entirely within the doors of Kyoto Animation. This came years before they started publishing their own novels and anime, and even unlike those, this is a completely original film. Some say this was done to showcase the talents of the company (although a quick Google search couldn’t confirm this). Among all of the works KyoAni animated, even their lesser-known ones, this original anime is practically never discussed or mentioned.

It felt elusive, and so I was intent on seeking it out one day. … And ironically enough, my local library had a copy of the DVD release. I guess that wasn’t too hard to find after all!

An Introduction

Floating high above the clouds in the sky, are the magical islands of the Heavens.

There, human-like beings live, blessed with a magical power given to them by the gods: the power of Akuto. Akuto flows everywhere around us, and can be harnessed by these beings to bend and twist the fabric of reality. It’s a magic as powerful and fantastic as you can imagine… but, as the beings soon found it, it has its limits.

Akuto isn’t renewable, and every time they perform magic, a bit of Akuto is used up. Worried about the rapid, inexplicable depletion of their magical source, war broke out, and has continued for thousands of years. (Because, of course, using up more of your Akuto energy to fight this magical war is really going to make it last longer…) One faction of the magical lands decided the solution was destroy one of the magical kingdoms off the map so the remaining people can preserve the Akuto energy – the kingdom they chose was that of Lord Munto.

Munto, as you’d expect, isn’t going to just stand and take this, but he has a solution. Through divine sight, he found the solution to all their problems: a young Japanese schoolgirl, living on the Earth below, named Yumemi. Yumemi is the only Earth human who’s had the ability to even see the magical floating islands above, but little does she know of the power she truly holds.

And so Munto jumps from his island, down into the clouds and the land below, to a place where magical beings have never returned from…

The Plot and Characters

A lot of the introduction above discussed the issues of the magical world above, but Yumemi has an issue of her own:

One of her best friends – Suzume, the most childish one of the three – announced that she would be getting married to her delinquent boyfriend, Kazuya. And the marriage would be tomorrow.

As Yumemi and her other best friend, Ichiko, travel around the city to hunt down and confront Kazuya… and as the two of them simply process through this situation in general… this is where Munto appears. He appears suddenly, demands Yumemi hands him her powers, and gets upset when she doesn’t understand what’s going on. Frankly, I think anyone in her situation would be lost and confused, and even more so when Munto suddenly disappears moments later and Ichiko is left there wondering who the hell Yumemi was talking to.

Beyond this, there is absolutely no connection to the two worlds. On the one hand, there’s the magical Heavens in the middle of a war, and there’s the Earth, where Yumemi and Ichiko are dealing with what’s happening with Suzume.

Excepting for Munto coming down to harass Yumemi into submission, there is absolutely no other connection between the two worlds. Munto and Yumemi are the only characters from the two sides to interact, and literally no one else even sees Munto; on the magical side, only two other characters know of Yumemi’s existence, and that’s primarily only because they sit and commentate through everything the entire time. This strange dichotomy between the war of the Heavens and the domestic issues of Yumemi’s friends comes at odds sometimes; there’s one scene in particular where Yumemi and Ichiko are running around on-screen while a narrator exposition-dumps something about the magical world. It’s two distinct entities that just aren’t blended well together, primarily because they just have no connection to one another at all.

All in all, this film’s writing just seems to lack polish. The two sides lack any connection, Yumemi is (for no apparent reason) just “the chosen one”, Munto yells his demands at Yumemi rather than helping the poor girl understand what’s even going on (even though he realizes she doesn’t understand), the only character who has any depth whatsoever is Kazuya, and beyond his sudden appearances, all we see of Munto is him laying around on a rock. Finally, in the end, Yumemi just decides to help out Munto anyway, despite him giving her barely any explanation and she still believing him to be a hallucination.

Ultimately, I know that this is just a 50-minute film, and there’s only so much you can do in that time. But if they took this from a different angle – played around with this idea while sticking to the concept of “Munto must travel to Earth to have Yumemi save his world” – we could’ve gotten something interesting. Instead, we ended up with this mish-mash of two very different settings and two very different problems, with an insensitive (and mostly absent) titular character.

That’s not all to say I despise this film though. There’s enjoyment to be had here.

Although the two aren’t blended together at all, you get caught up in the drama surrounding Kazuya and Suzume on one hand and the plight of the magical people on the other. It may’ve been because Kazuya was the only character with development, but you begin to root for him and Suzume during the marriage scene. They may’ve relied upon the “chosen one” trope, but you do get some cool moments where Yumemi contemplates her role in life and the idea of responsibility.

On top of that, the film’s pacing is good, for as much as they have to squish into 50 minutes. Excepting for a surprisingly fast beginning, things move at a pretty good pace; fast enough to get everything in there and keep people from being bored, but slow enough to allow people to digest what’s going on and to allow scenes to have the impact they deserve.

In the end, I wouldn’t consider this a film to avoid. But I’d also consider it one not worth your time to go out and see… unless you really want to see everything Kyoto Animation has ever done.

The Atmosphere

This film is indeed animated, and fully created, by Kyoto Animation.

For a 2003 work, the animation is pretty decent. For a studio that is commonly associated with high quality visuals, however, KyoAni’s work with Munto here seems more standard-fare for 2003 than above-average. There’s not much of an attention to detail here, the backgrounds look relatively plain (although it is all bright and colorful), and characters – especially background ones – just aren’t very animated. There are, of course, exceptions to each point I listed. There’s a magical being named Gus who is at the front lines of these magical wars, and there’s been a lot of detail applied to him – especially his weird arm markings – and he oozes character in his poses and movement. The next character that comes close, animation-wise, is Suzume. As well, the backgrounds used in the magical kingdom are also pretty detailed, as well as some background work down on Earth during in the climax of the film.

The rare times visual effects are used, they’re top notch for 2003. This includes Gus’s arm markings, floating screens used in the magical world, as well as some effects in the action scenes and the climax. The 3D models used at some points do stand out quite a bit (especially the moment Yumemi’s mom parked her car during the marriage scene), but they’re used sparingly enough to not really cause a problem.

The film’s few action scenes are handled not too well, although this was a weak point for KyoAni in this time period (in my humble opinion). The first fight scene features Gus against an entire army, and a lot of white-light visual effects were used rather than animating much fighting. There’s a fight that occurs between Munto and an assassin robot, but that’s done almost-entirely off-screen.

All in all, the animation and visuals certainly aren’t bad, but they’re average. And for KyoAni, especially given their reputation today, that’s saying something.

There’s not really much music used throughout this film either, honestly. I could count with my ten fingers the number of times a song is used during a scene, including the song used for the ending credits. The songs aren’t bad, but they’re definitely forgettable. The ending theme (which is also featured in the DVD menu and all of the DVD’s special features, and also the included trailers for the anime) utilizes what sounds like generic MIDI instruments (and it also gets a bit grating when used literally everywhere in the DVD).

Speaking of the DVD, this is a Central Park Media DVD. And you know what that means: an okay-to-bad CPM dub. And this dub… is pretty meh. Veronica Taylor does decently well as Yumemi, Dan Green and Micheal Sinterniklaas play Gus and Kazuya pretty well, respectively… but Kelly Ray’s interpretation of Ichiko was weird-sounding at points, and Sean Schemmel’s voice just didn’t really match up with Munto at all. Overall, I’d suggest watching the Japanese voices if you seek out this show.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Munto is a film with two stories to tell, and not a good way to tell them together. In the end, we get this weird mish-mash of magical world battles and Earth-side romance quandries, with both only being bridged together with Munto, the titular character, jumping from one and trying to butt into the other. Polish and direction is what this short film lacks, and it isn’t made up by the visuals or sound work either.

If you’re interested in the complete history of Kyoto Animation and want to see every work by this company, that’d be the primary reason for watching this show, I feel. Beyond that, it’s a lesser-known, poorly executed, 50-minute, 2003 anime film that really doesn’t need your time. Don’t go out of your way to avoid it, but there’s better stuff out there.

Rating: Poor
Recommendation: Don’t Watch
+++ Kazuya and his storyline, Gus and his storyline, great visual effects
— storylines don’t connect together at all, everything Munto, action scenes not great

Review: Daily Lives of High School Boys

My first experience with this show was during my freshman year of college. I had a friend for a short while whom I’d spend a lot of time with, and she was a huge anime fan (especially One Piece). One day, while going through her to-watch list, she picked this one out and we decided to just go through it as much as we could. We completed the entire series in 2 sittings, but honestly, most of those 2 nights were a blur. The show did stick with me, though, and eventually I decided to buy the premium edition Blu-Ray release.

After my recent rewatch of Nichijou, I decided to jump straight into rewatching this show afterwards. I didn’t remember much of this show, but I did remember it being similar to Nichijou, and I wasn’t ready to be done with sketch comedy anime yet.

(Edit – 29 August 2018: This review was updated to complete a paragraph I apparently never finished. How professional I am lol)

An Introduction

In a sleepy, average Japanese town, our main character Tadakuni runs out the front door of his house, toast in mouth, knowing he’ll be late for school. He soon runs into his two best friends, also running late: Yoshitake and Hidenori. … But rather than the traditional toast in mouth, Yoshitake is running with a plate of curry and Hidenori is slurping up a bowl of noodles.

And on top of that, a light beam comes out of the sky, destroys half the city, and the three boys find themselves face to face with a giant mecha. Luckily for them, a magical book appeared, transforming them into warriors and wizards, ready to fight. Yep, just another day in their normal lives.

… Wait, that’s that normal? Then, what does the average life of a high school boy look like? Well, I’m glad you asked, because this anime will gladly answer!

The Plot and Characters

It’s kind of hard not to compare this show to Nichijou, and it’s especially harder when you watch them back to back as I have.

On the surface, the premise of the two shows is similar: a sketch comedy series focused upon the surprisingly-interesting daily events of a group of high school friends (and others around them). What sets Daily Lives of High School Boys apart from Nichijou, though, is that while the latter tends to be absurd and go beyond what’s physically possible, this show more focuses on social issues and perceived societal norms. (This doesn’t necessarily mean this anime doesn’t ever have absurd moments, nor does Nichijou avoid social topics, however.)

Ultimately, Daily Lives feels like the “manly” version of Nichijou. It lacks the playfulness and purity present in Nichijou, and this is apparent out of the gate with the very first sketch featuring the main three boys trying on Tadakuni’s sister’s underwear. Masculinity (and quasi-punkishness) runs rampant throughout the series, both in the sense of “guys doing guy things” and acting tough, and also with guys struggling to conform to societal pressures of what a guy should be/do. Although that sounds deep and philosophical, the show rarely ends up going far that direction, though; this is a comedy, after all.

And the jokes here aren’t half bad… most of the time. Most sketches in Daily Lives last over a minute, so the funny ones have the time to build up to a great punchline, but the unfunny ones… they can cause me to lose interest in the show altogether. However, this most likely comes down to the show’s tone just not matching up to my sense of humor, though. I honestly have to say Daily Lives has some pretty dang good writing, even if every joke wasn’t to my taste.

What helps this anime stay intriguing is the constant influx of new situations we’ll find characters in. Jokes and sketches certainly get reused, but I’d say there’s only about one-to-two per episode. New characters get added, the same characters are presented new challenges, and are sometimes put into new settings. There’s a certain level of unpredictableness and new situations in Nichijou, but a lot of it would still result in an overdramatized (although still funny) reaction. Here, though, they’re truly unique and different situations, and you see new characters deal with new problems they’ve never encountered before, and it’s just fun to watch.

There is a wide cast here, and as I mentioned, new characters are added at the rate of about 3 per every 2 episodes. In the end, it does mean we end up with some characters (including supposed “main character” Tadakuni) not even appearing for some episodes. Each character has their own personality and traits, though, which allows the writers to approach various situations and topics from a variety of angles. (Although very few end up being very deep, which is both to be expected but yet disappointing). Some characters are one-trick ponies, and the various personalities more felt like checking off a list (which is admittedly extensive) rather than creating organic relationships.

The main trio of Tadakuni, Hidenori, and Yoshitake are basically just the straightman and two jesters. The show doesn’t stick to the “funnyman and straightman” schtick though, and it honestly has more comedic variety than Nichijou itself. Beyond the main three, there’s other boys, like the student council (including Motoharu, the intimidating-looking-but-kindhearted; Karasawa, the stone-willed one with the hat; and the council’s president, who is charisma incarnate) and characters from other high schools, such as Literature Girl – a girl who wants to see her own written stories acted out in real life, with strangers unwittingly playing the main role.

A number of episodes also end with a segment called High School Girls are Funky, which features three girls who, like Tadakuni, Yoshitake, and Hidenori, just hang out together and do stuff… although a lot of that “doing stuff” usually leads to harassing Karasawa (one of the few characters who appears in both this segment and the main show).

The entire show carries the same tone, even in the High School Girls sketches, despite the content of various sketches and mannerisms of characters being completely different. It never feels like you’re not watching a Daily Lives episode. The show’s pacing is also excellently done (and surprisingly consistent) up until near the end of the show. In the final episodes, it felt like they were starting to run out of steam and padded some of the sketches so the punch line didn’t arrive too early. It’s a difficult balance not having a joke run too short or too long, and the writers came so close to doing it perfectly for the entire series.

All in all, though, I can’t praise the writing enough. If you’re a fan of sketch comedy anime, including Nichijou, this is the next show you should watch.

… But don’t watch them back to back as I have. Watching them back to back made me hyperaware of the (even minute) differences between Nichijou and Daily Lives, and showed a few more cracks in Nichijou than I had even expressed in my review of the show (and, likewise, a few cracks in this show as well). No show is perfect, of course, but I feel that Daily Lives of High School Boys stands best when it’s not put directly beside another show.

The Atmosphere

The animation and art for this show is, surprisingly, average. Again, this may be the result of me jumping straight to this show from Nichijou, but characters don’t move as frequently (or fluidly) as I expected them to.

The background art has this strangely clean, almost-blocky look to it – due to the usage of perfectly straight lines everywhere, with no blemishes or imperfections anywhere unless it was intentional. It almost feels a bit surreal and manufactured, rather than a lived-in place, and didn’t seem to match up too well with the somewhat impure, punk-ish tone of this show. This problem is further exacerbated by the bright color scheme used throughout as well; the background colors look mostly washed out, though, and overall seems a bit too watercolor painting-y.

This is contrasted by the character designs which tend to feature darker, deeper colors, and (despite their simplistic look) display more expressiveness and individuality. The characters do sometimes have a problem of looking a little bit too similar, but the show constantly reminds us that it doesn’t matter for us to keep track of who is who (a sentiment I don’t necessarily agree with, especially given the ending sketch).

This is not all to say that Daily Lives is a bad-looking or poorly-produced show, no. This show is truly enjoyable, and there’s no “in spite of” at the end of that sentence. It just surprises me a bit to not see more invested into the visuals side of things, although I’ve certainly been very spoiled by the absolute fluidness and quality of Nichijou’s visuals.

Daily Lives’s soundtrack relies heavily upon electric guitar, unsurprisingly, but it all feels very same-y to me. I’m certainly no guitar aficionado (especially of the electric kind), but the music just kind of blends together and nothing really sticks out… excepting for the pieces that actually introduce other instruments, such as piano. All in all, the soundtrack is pretty decent, though, and it blends beautifully into the energy and tone of the show (as a good soundtrack should), but the lack of any individual track standing out keeps me from really wanting to listen to it on its own.

The opening theme is Shiny Tale, by Mix Speakers Inc., and it’s pretty good, if not a bit too action anime-esque (although I’d bet that’s probably the feeling they’re going for, as the opening animation also is quite action anime-esque).

However, the ending theme – O-hi-sama by Amesaki Annainin – frankly sounds a bit too quirky and cheery for this show. It’s a totally fine song in its own right (although, honestly, it kind of sounds like two people who found some cheap instruments online and decided to jam one day in a garage), but I’m always taken out of my suspension of disbelief once the song starts. Despite the show’s consistently good writing, O-hi-sama (and the accompanying ending animation) is the one exception to the consistent tone; it just feels strange and too different from everything else and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Funnily enough, O-hi-sama wasn’t originally intended to be the ending theme of Daily Lives. A different band was meant to perform the ending theme, but after some band members made a blog post publicly insulting the show and one of the voice actors, their song was taken out and Sunrise improvised together a clip show for episode 1’s ending while a new ending song and animation were made.

Daily Lives shines spectacularly with its voice acting, though, and I have to give major praise to the voice actresses of the three girls in the High School Girls segments: Yuu Kobayashi, Chiwa Saitou, and Yukana. They do absolutely wonderfully in their roles and sell their characters 110%. Tomokazu Sugita does a great job as Hidenori as well.

If you’re looking to buy this show in physical form in the US, NIS America is the company that holds the license. NIS America tends to do good work when they bring over anime to the West and this is no exception. There is no dub here, but that’s alright. However, you should save yourself the trouble and not bother with the premium edition box; not only is weirdly long (which makes it awkward to fit onto an anime collection’s shelf), but the included art book has little more than a character list and an episode list. Granted, the entire book is written in the tone of a survival guide for high schoolers, which is amusing, but none of it is worth the extra time/money to try to find and acquire.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Daily Lives of High School Boys is another example of a well-executed sketch comedy anime. The writing is awesome, even if not every joke lands the mark. The show’s presentation is marred by unnaturally-clean background art and an out-of-place ending theme, but there’s twice as many positives as there are negatives.

As I mentioned in the review proper, Daily Lives is seen as the “manly” version of Nichijou. Cuteness and cheerful purity gives way to punk vibes and discussion of social issues. Unless the cuteness is what keeps you attached to Nichijou, you’ll be sure to find some laughs in Daily Lives. This is another comedy anime that should be put onto your to-watch list.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ excellent writing throughout, character designs, High School Girls
— weirdly too-perfect background art, ending theme, not every joke lands

Additional Thoughts: The Success of Nichijou

This wasn’t planned to be a long post, but it’s turning into one… either way, I just wanted to share some additional history and trivia that you might not know about this show.

(Also, as a quick update, I did update my review for Nichijou to add and change some stuff, as I wasn’t happy with how it was. No changes in opinion or anything, but wanted to let you know.)

So despite how much people seem to be enjoying it in recent years, Nichijou actually didn’t see too much success right out of the gate, either in the US or Japan.

Japan

In 2011, the Nichijou anime was about to start airing. This anime project came after tremendous success with the producers’ two previous shows: Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star. Haruhi Suzumiya blew up like nothing else, and people around the world clamored to get any tiny bit more Haruhi anything they could get their hands on. Lucky Star, although it rode a bit on the success of Haruhi Suzumiya, was a great hit in its own right and helped to define the genre of “slice-of-life anime”.

Naturally, they expected Nichijou to be another hit out of the park. A lot of time, money, and work was put into getting that 3rd major success: many character single CDs were made, advertisements were put all over, they opted for a full 26 episodes right off the bat, it was aired and streamed everywhere, limited edition DVD/Blu-ray boxes were lined up, merchandise (and video game) deals were made…

But it didn’t turn into the success they wanted it to be. Manga sales were actually pretty good, maybe some of the music CDs did well… but in general, people weren’t buying up the DVDs, other music CDs, and merchandise as well as they hoped.

This didn’t mean that Nichijou was a complete financial disaster, however. It still performed pretty alright. Other anime production committees would probably be pretty happy with the numbers Nichijou brought. … But it wasn’t on the level of Haruhi or Lucky Star. And with how much extra money they poured into this, expecting it to be on that level, it just didn’t return as much money as they put into it.

There’s a lot of speculation and theorizing on to why Nichijou didn’t play out as much as expected. It could’ve been that the content is more suited for a Western audience rather than a Japanese one. It could’ve been the fact that the show was split into 13 separate DVD boxes sold over a year which people didn’t want to get behind. It could’ve been the over-usage of the then-already-overused voice actor Minoru Shirashi in the bonus content on the DVDs. Either way, that’s what it was.

The manga division of Kadokawa, which published the Nichijou manga, certainly saw some success, and Kyoto Animation and Klockworx probably came out alright… but Kadokawa’s anime division, along with Lantis and Movic (who produced the music and merchandise, respectively) probably didn’t see the numbers they wanted.

Kyoto Animation would soon after move into producing its own shows, but it’d be wrong to say that Nichijou was what caused them to do so. They were planning the move into self-production for a while, starting with a book writing contest that first ran in 2009 that gave way to shows like Chunnibyou, Free!, Beyond the Boundary, and Violet Evergarden.

Japan – NHK-E version

The following year (2012), though, the TV station NHK re-aired Nichijou. They cut down the original 26 episodes, taking the best sketches from the show and reorganizing them to fit into 12 episodes. This ended up being referred to as the NHK-E version or Director’s Cut version of Nichijou.

Ultimatemegax translated a compiled listing of what made the cut in the NHK-E version.

(Side note: isn’t a “Director’s Cut” supposed to be like… longer than the original (theatrical) release? Have extra stuff? The 12 episode re-release is half as long as the original 26, but yet it’s sometimes referred to the Director’s Cut…)

The NHK-E version of Nichijou actually performed well enough that they ended up re-airing that version again later that year and also releasing that on DVD. So at least the Nichijou anime did have some success in the end… even if that meant cutting half of it out.

United States

However, now we turn our attention to the United States. Other overseas regions, like Europe and Australia, don’t necessarily apply here. (Madman Entertainment released Nichijou in Australia in 2013.)

In the early 2000s, Bandai (yes, that Bandai) had an anime distribution division in the US, and released DVDs just like Funimation or Sentai. Bandai were the ones to bring over Cowboy Bebop, Haruhi Suzumiya, Code Geass, and K-On! to the United States. For Haruhi’s 2nd season, they even did live events and promotions for it.

When 2011 came around, Bandai would acquire the license for Nichijou with plans to release it in 2012. However, it would end up not to be.

Around 2011 is when the American anime industry was hitting a problem: people just weren’t buying DVDs as much anymore. The Internet was becoming the next big thing, and piracy and torrenting sites allowed people to watch anime without paying a dime. On top of all of this, as well, was the larger economic recession happening in 2010/2011; people just didn’t have the extra money to spend on things like DVDs (and why would they, when they could just hit up their favorite site and watch a show with just a click of a mouse).

For Bandai America’s anime and manga division, this wasn’t an obstacle they could afford to overcome. The parent company back home in Japan wasn’t happy with how things were turning out, and when they decided to merge all their Japanese anime companies into one, they also decided to leave the American anime industry in steps.

The discs for Nichijou, Gosick, and Turn A Gundam were cancelled in January 2012, and all of the manga they were publishing were cut short. In August, they stopped selling all of their DVDs altogether, and by December 2012, they were totally out of the American anime industry.

Nichijou would still end up on Crunchyroll (under the translated name My Ordinary Life) as part of their premiere lineup for this new “legal anime streaming” thing they were trying out. But there was no company in the US to advertise and support the show, to make and put out DVDs and put it into catalogs and on retailer websites like Amazon. And so for the US, the show never raised above cult hit status, and in 2014 when Crunchyroll lost the license to Nichijou, there ceased to be a legal way to even watch the show in the US.

Things seemed to change around a little bit when Vertical Comics announced their acquisition of the Nichijou manga at AX 2015. It still wasn’t the anime, but there was at least some way for people to enjoy Nichijou. I excitedly purchased the first 3 volumes right away from them, and I still support them now (especially since they also have the Monogatari series books too).

Finally, at YoumaCon 2016, Funimation announced they got the license to Nichijou. February 2017, a month short of a full 6 years since the 1st episode aired, American anime fans could enjoy this comedy show with the Blu-Ray box in their own hands.

Unfortunately, Nichijou’s time in the limelight has passed, as there’s new shows to produce and promote, and new DVDs and Blu-Rays to make. But the show’s popularity, hopefully, will continue to grow and expand online, as more and more fans come across this awesome show.

Until next time,

Jayke

Review: Nichijou

Nichijou header image, featuring the three main leads (Mai, Yukko, Mio)

Edit: I added and changed some things in this review after its initial posting. I wasn’t truly happy with how this review turned out, and so I made some adjustments. No changes in opinion or anything, but hopefully it reads a lot better than it did originally.

Years and years ago, I watched my first ever anime: Fullmetal Alchemist (2003). I fell in love with it immediately, and was excited to see more anime from there. The second one was the romance anime B Gata H Kei (truly a generic romance show, but I still love it). And anime number 3 I completed: Nichijou.

I can’t remember when or how I came across it, but I bet it was due to me finding a random GIF or video from it on Tumblr. It intrigued me enough to look out for it, and I was happy to find that it was available on Crunchyroll at the time, and so I sat down and gave it a go!

Now, years later, I’ve been revisiting a lot of the first shows I watched, and I was excited to jump back into Nichijou again.

An Introduction

In the city of Tokisadame in central Japan, a new school year begins. Three high school freshman become new friends, named Yukko, Mio, and Mai. Yukko is energetic and overdramatic, Mai is super quiet and super eccentric, and Mio is the straight woman (and closet manga artist).

Elsewhere in the city, there’s a young eight-year-old girl named Hakase (Japanese for professor), and beyond her youthful desires for fun and cuteness, she’s super smart and has created a robot teenager named Nano. Nano wants nothing more than to be a normal teenage girl, but that’s hard with a giant wind-up key sticking out of her back. Soon enough, they are joined by a new pet cat named Sakamoto, and he’s been given the ability of speech through yet another invention of Hakase’s.

Every day is a new (strange) adventure for each one of these people, and others not listed above. With the different personalities, senses of humor, and mental states, anything is possible. While all these things may look weird to us, for these characters, this is just another part of their ordinary life.

The Plot and Characters

Nichijou is truly a fascinating show.

At its core, Nichijou is a sketch comedy show, but its focus is on the day to day lives and activities of the people in the town of Tokisadame. There aren’t really any truly dramatic moments in the show (some heartwarming ones towards the end), but one of the things that makes it great is how it overdramatizes the otherwise inane snippets of life.

There are about 10 to 15 sketches per episode, but a number of them are the shorter couple-second-long ones, like characters trying to jump rope, and some recurring segments, such as Helvetica Standard (a random grab-bag of jokes), Things We Think Are Cool (which speaks for itself), and Like Love (heartwarming stories of kindness and love). These shorter segments tend to be more straight setup-punchline jokes, while the longer segments have longer or more complicated setups and tend to be more overdramatic. These sketches can range from Yukko trying to understand a new coffee shop’s menu, to one character trying to disprove the existence of supernatural beings, to Nano figuring out what to do with a cockroach she found, to the three main girls putting together a house of cards. The wide variety and the unpredictability are some of this show’s strengths.

A sketch featuring any combination of Mai, Yukko, and Mio make up about 55% of the total sketches, I’d say, with Nano and/or Hakase (sometimes appearing alongside the main three) being another 35%. The remaining 10% are random other characters around the town, such as the main three’s homeroom teacher, or an older tsundere girl with a crush on a “rich” farm boy named Sasahara, or a club president who created the Go+Soccer club to skirt around school regulations coming to learn that Go+Soccer is a real sport.

The side characters honestly are fascinating, but although I do wish we got to see more of them at times, the show made sure they got as much mileage as they could and didn’t go any further. None of these characters overstayed their welcome, and the only one that felt underutilized was Nakamura, the teacher dead-set on proving Nano is a robot. Some of them definitely only had one or two recurring gags, though, such as Nakanojou.

However, we spend a lot more time on the main characters. All in all, I’d say they’re pretty good, but I do feel they relied a bit too heavily on one or two key traits for each of them. Mio is pretty well-rounded (and feels like an actual person with real goals and desire for order, even in this world of chaos), but still gets left as the straightman most of the time. Yukko is the try-hard comedian, but she’s constantly portrayed as lazy, unreliable, and idiotic, sometimes to the point where these traits overshadowed who she is as a person. This, unfortunately, can lead to Yukko sometimes becoming stale as she keeps being cast under the same light over and over again. The only relief she gets from this is when she’s cast as the straightman instead, which frankly doesn’t make things much better for her character. Mai is, frankly, an enigma, and can sometimes be on a level of comedy never before encountered; her actions don’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things, but she’s a lot of fun… even if sometimes her actions are counterproductive. However, of the three of them, we know the least about Mai, and she frankly feels the least like an actual person, and more like some weird caricature of comedy.

For the other three of the main cast – Nano, Hakase, and Sakamoto – they do feel like actual people, but still get stuck in their ruts. Nano and Hakase are both equal parts strange and fascinating; there’s a conflicting power structure as Nano acts as the mother figure, but yet 8-year-old Hakase is Nano’s creator and holds the keys. Hakase’s childish nature is portrayed pretty well in the show, even if it means her childishness sometimes leads to skits that all just feel the same as a result of her poorly-thought-through actions. The last addition, Sakamoto, is more like the outsider trying to wedge himself in as the top dog (err, cat) of this strange power dynamic, but is constantly being pulled down into the wackiness of the other two. Of the two main trios, this trio tends to be a bit less enjoyable to me, but I still get a lot of fun out of these three and it certainly doesn’t taint my experience with the show.

A lot of the sketches are pretty stand-alone affairs, and little context (beyond knowing who’s who and basic connections with each character) is needed to watch most any skit. There is an overarching story, told through the My Ordinary Life segments and some accompanying ones, but it’s pretty thin. All in all, this show is more about what’s happening in the moment.

Nichijou is commonly said to just throw out a bunch of humor styles and aim to please everyone, which I once believed to be true. However, to be honest, Nichijou’s bread and butter comes down to people dramatically overreacting to events, or people zigging when you expect them to zag (and then doubling-down on it). Nichijou tends to be downright absurd and over-the-top, and it revels in it. Things explode and litter the city in garbage, planets get destroyed, and there can be a lot of yelling. The absurdity is absolutely part of the fun of the show, and it’s present throughout. There are certainly the occasional sketch that’s truly different (such as My Ordinary Life Part 33 and Part 69, and the Helvetica Standard sketches), but if overdramatization and absurdness aren’t your cup of tea, the rare moments where they aren’t present won’t be enough for you to keep your interest in the show.

All in all, though, this show is a blast, and a lot of is pretty funny or at least highly entertaining. I had forgotten about a majority of this show in the many years between my first watchthrough and this recent one, and so it was almost like I discovered it all over again. Sometimes, I’ll admit, the overdramaticness and strangeness did sometimes start to drag on a bit, but Nichijou is generally written well enough to not let anything become too stale. At the end of the day, it was just great to be able to experience it all over again.

At the end, Nichijou left the same hole in my heart as the one I had when I first finished it years ago.

The Atmosphere

I’m going to try my best to not come across as a major Kyoto Animation fan that gives them too much credit, but we’ll see how that goes. While I’d say that not many studios would be able to execute Nichijou with such consistently high visual quality, I don’t want to say it’s a show only Kyoto Animation could’ve done.

For sure, though, the animation and visuals are certainly wonderful. Kyoto Animation’s photorealistic style was dialed back to only being used in transition scenes, but it allowed them to give 110% into fluidly giving life and style to the more-simply-drawn characters and backgrounds. It feels what would be the quality of your generic slice-of-life anime’s final episode is reached in Nichijou almost every single episode. The motion is just fluid, the colors are light and pastel, and they’ll play with colors and cinematography to help make scenes better as well.

That isn’t to say that every single scene is a truly arthouse masterpiece – there’s the quieter, simpler moments too – but I honestly can’t think of a single situation where Nichijou didn’t look at least “good”.

The character designs, in general, are pretty simple; you could probably assemble the looks of most of these characters while only using basic shapes, but the rounded corners, expressiveness, and eye design still made them pretty adorable and fun to watch. The design style fits into the colorful and light nature of the show, and surprisingly doesn’t feel out of place in the more intense, absurd moments either. That’s probably helped by the fact that characters don’t necessarily stay on-model, but this happens at carefully planned times to make sure the most impact is given to the script.

All in all, with the pastel colors and fun character designs, Nichijou has a fun, bright, positive look to it. It just looks inviting and playful, which matches perfectly with the writing’s tone.

While the visuals were fantastic though, the background music left a bit to be desired. I noticed a lot of the same tracks being repeated over and over; it’s to be expected in comedy/slice-of-life anime, sure, but it felt a bit much. A lot of the tracks rely upon wind instruments, such as the flute and trumpet, although a capella singing does make its appearances at times (and those times do help set the soundtrack apart). The tracks are pretty good, but a lot of them are reused so often, though, that it’s hard for me to really know what “feel” they’re going for… although I wouldn’t go as far as to say they fail at bringing anything to the table. I just wish there was a bit more variety.

The two opening themes were sung by Hyadain, and I do prefer the first one (Hyadain no Kakakata Kataomoi-C) a bit over the second, but they’re both energetic and upbeat and fun, and the opening animation matches that as well. When it comes to the ending themes, the song Zzz was used for the first 13 episodes, and then a unique song was used for the last 13. There were actually three renditions of Zzz: the original one, the a capella one, and the bossa nova one, and they switched between them throughout the 13 episodes. I rather like Zzz (although the a capella version wasn’t my favorite) and the ending animation was also cute. The last 13 episodes’ ending themes ranged in quality, but were generally pretty alright; the ending animation for them (they shared the same one) was a bit simplistic, though, but still not bad. It was kind of fun to try to identify everyone walking along in the animation, since some of the characters were super minor.

Funimation did not make a dub for the show when they brought it over to the US, which is kind of saddening, but with it coming out on Blu-Ray in the US 5 years after it aired, I’ll take whatever I can get. Either way, the Japanese voice actors did pretty well in their roles. I wouldn’t call the performances spotless (in regards to the female leads not sticking to their voices), but all in all, it’s pretty good. Major props to Yoshihisa Kawahara, voice actor for Kojiro Sasahara, who did a tremendous job.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

This is a sketch comedy anime that other sketch comedy anime should take notes from. Although a lot of its jokes relied upon just being overdramatic, Nichijou never failed to be a fun time and to bring a ton of variety and wackiness to the table. The writing was backed by an awesome presentation put on by Kyoto Animation, with truly quality animation from start to finish and wonderful opening and ending songs.

Nichijou was a cult hit for a long time, but it’s unavailability overseas (unless you were Australia) hampered its exposure in Western markets. Now that it’s out on Blu-Ray in the US, I’m excited to see what levels of popularity it can reach now. I highly recommend everyone give it a watch, you’ll know by the end of episode 1 if it’s for you.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ awesome comedy, animation is consistently good, ending song Zzz is awesome
— Hakase can sometimes be a bit much, soundtrack lacked variety, show’s treatment of Yukko