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’s song was planned to be used, but after some band members publicly insulted 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 this new animation was made to go with O-hi-sama.

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

Review: Nagi no Asukara (A Lull in the Sea)

I’m sure we’ve all had this happen: you experience something (i.e. a movie, a TV show, an anime, a video game) and whenever you think back to it after finishing it, you just think about how great it was or how much fun you had during it. When you decide to come back to it for the second time, especially when showing it to a friend, the thought comes into your mind “This isn’t as great as I remember it being”. Maybe the art wasn’t as amazing. Or the writing wasn’t as stellar. Or, worse, it wasn’t as fun this time around. You had it built up in your mind as something better, more awesome, or even just smarter than it really was.

Nagi no Asukara is a show I watched week by week, episode by episode, as it aired (hence, I know it better by its Japanese name, rather than the English name it ended up getting). I was hooked from the moment I saw the PV on Crunchyroll. It was pretty fun, being a part of the forums, the comments, seeing people react with you as you’re watching this show. It left a really positive impression in my mind. I rewatched it, in two bulk sessions, recently, and, well… I can’t really say the same again.

An Introduction

In this alternate-universe, we see two villages tucked away in some area of Japan. The first is Shioshishio (say that five times fast), a sizeable village of people who live underwater. Yes, like fish people; they look exactly like humans though, except they have a special layer over their skin called Ena (which allows them to breathe underwater and swim super-well). The other is Shioshishio’s sister town, Ooshioshi, which is above the land and is filled with people, many of whom have never seen the underside of the water surface.

The story centers around five (well, seven) kids. Manaka, Hikari, Chisaki, and Kaname are four best friends who have known each other since childhood, and together find themselves having to go above the water to attend middle school there (as Shioshishio’s middle school closed). At Ooshioshi’s middle school, they meet Tsumugu, a boy who lives on the land but loves the sea and everything below the surface. They also cross paths with two younger girls, Sayu and Miuna, who seem to hate anything related to the sea people.

A rift exists between the sea village and the land village. Each year, they together perform a festival called the Ofunehiki, where they offer sacrifices (usually just wood carvings nowadays) to the Sea God. However, this year, neither village wants to do it, blaming the other village as the reason why. While there’s yelling and name calling on either side, our protagonists get caught in the middle, for better and for worse. As well, though, there’s underlying emotions with these seven too, as they try to navigate through their own feelings, and figuring out how to confess their love…

The Plot and Characters

One of the first issues of mine with this show was something that popped up early on in the series. Hikari, the character that the show likes to follow the most, is, well, kind of a jerk. He’s angry, aggressive, sometimes arrogant, mercurial, and likes to be in charge; he’s closest to Manaka, who’s more of an airhead, and he likes to boss her around, yelling at her if she does the slightest thing wrong. His jerk-ish-ness put me off for the first few episodes of the show, although the plot picked up later on and kind of swept the issue under the rug.

And yeah, the show starts off a bit on the slow side. When showing it to friends, they seemed bored by the first few episodes, not really seeing what the point of any of it was, but slowly, but they got more interested by the time episode 9 finished. A lot of the show’s more dramatic points were in the latter half of the series, from episode 14 and onward. It’s not to say that the first 8 episodes aren’t dramatic, as there are some big moments, but even the show’s biggest moments won’t necessarily get people sucked in, as they sometimes do feel melodramatic.

The writing for this series, as much as I love it, is less than stellar. After the first episode, all conversations exist only in service to the main plot, or the ensuing love-hexagon (as triangle is not nearly enough to describe it). In episode 23, for example, we see Miuna and an angry Sayu, walking down the street having a discussion. After Hikari comes by to say something, Sayu suddenly goes “oh, I have homework to do, see you!” and leaves the other two to continue on the plot. It felt like Sayu artificially said that line simply because the writers didn’t want her present in the next scene. I wish the characters spent more time talking about anything not tying directly into these key things, as it would help to give them the depth and roundness that they really seem to lack at times. I do wish the story took even more of an advantage of the setting too, with the two different worlds (the sea village and the land village) coming together in this way.

Although the issues with the Ofunehiki drive the plot forward a lot of the time in the first half of the series, the second half sees more time focused on the love-hexagon, as people try to figure out their feelings and decide (or not decide) to confess their feelings to one another. All of the main cast, frankly, feel and sound immature at times, resorting to hiding from each other and talking around people rather than confronting issues directly. All of a sudden in the last two episodes, though, they all act like they’ve learned something important, when really all that’s happened is their issues finally came to light after so long.

The character that saw the most growth, though, is Chisaki (and in more ways than one). All she ever wanted was to see her group of friends stay together and be happy; she doesn’t want anything to change. She does come to realize that she has to allow change by the end of the series, but one would’ve thought she’d realize that earlier, given a key thing that happens to her in the middle of the series (although, really, a whole bunch of stuff happens to her). Tsumugu does seem to grow and become more mature when you’d expect him to, though, although he did feel really mature from the very start. Out of all the characters, Chisaki was my favorite.

So what do I love about this series? The premise is pretty cool. And it does pose some pretty interesting ideas, especially some stuff shown in the last three episodes of the series. And all in all, it still has some entertainment value. Once you get past the slow beginning, the show has a decent amount to throw at you. I can’t guarantee it’ll keep you hooked, but those who stay will witness some pretty enjoyable moments. Unfortunately, I just can’t guarantee super deep, quality writing.

The Atmosphere

If this were made by any animation studio other than PA Works, the results wouldn’t turn out nearly as well as it does here. The colors blue and white, unsurprisingly, dominate the art here, with a lot of the buildings and architecture using that blue accent. There’s also some brown wood colors too, which helps bring some well-needed warmth into the right scenes and places. All in all, the background art is astonishingly pretty, even on PA Works’ off days. One does wonder if maybe they were a bit too heavy with making everything seem old and worn, though.

For the character designs, they were generally pretty good, but not “oh my goodness look at this!” great. I really liked the uniform designs that Manaka and Chisaki wore; the white dresses just looked good (if not a bit short). In fact, I’d say those two characters, overall, looked the best. The designs of Hikari and Kaname were not bad either, although I kind of disliked Kaname’s hair color. I could care less about the uniform designs that we see most of the other characters wear, as the orange, brown, and white just felt weird. Having all the sea people have blue eyes seemed a bit odd to me, but it’s nothing something I really thought about until I noticed it later on. I liked the subtle change of drawing the characters with blue lines when they were underwater, though.

The character animation seems clean, standard, just fine. If more exaggeration or expressiveness was used in some spots, I think the show would be better for it. On top of that, it’s obvious that action scenes are not a strong suit of this show’s animators. A key example is a scene in the latter half where Hikari knocks Sayu over. It shows a flash of images, going too quickly for us to even think about, and then Hikari running off into the distance. We would’ve never known that he knocked her over if it weren’t for the sound effect used, and the fact that Sayu was shown knocked onto the sidewalk afterwards, yelling at him. This series doesn’t really have much in the way of action anyway, but the moments where it tries to do action and fails definitely leaves a bit of a stain on its otherwise quality appearance.

I liked the voice work for this show in Japanese, although, admittedly, I’m used to the Japanese side a bit more (having watched it as it was airing). Ai Kayano and Hana Kanazawa have some shining moments of their own as Chisaki and Manaka respectively, but I wish Tsumugu, voiced by Kaito Ishikawa, sounded less monotone to begin with. The English side isn’t bad either; I particularly like Michelle Ruff as Manaka, but dislike Max Mittelman as Hikari (and Chris Niosi as Uroko-sama). I wish they used a more boy-ish voice for Hikari. Honestly, though, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with either language you go with. Luckily, this is one of those shows where Crunchyroll does have both the dubbed and subbed version (although the Dub uses the English name, and the Sub uses the Japanese name).

The background music sounded pretty good; it won’t be the most memorable music you’ve ever listened to in an anime, but I can recall a few songs as I sit here and write this. It was perhaps a bit generic when the dramatic strings showed up, during more tense music, but I loved the piano pieces when they were present. I also love both of the opening and ending songs a lot, and I wish NIS America brought the full versions of the songs over when they brought the soundtrack.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Nagi no Asukara, also known as A Lull in the Sea, unfortunately suffers from some less-than-stellar writing, only showing its characters being caught up in the issues of the plot or their own crushes. While seeing this play out as a big love story between a bunch of characters was fine, I wish they took more advantage of the setting and premise they set up here. It’s a nice start though, and still provides some entertainment. The art looks wonderful, and the music was pretty nice as well. I can tell you that I don’t regret buying the premium edition box set of this anime.

At its core, this is a drama show. Those who like drama will feel right at home here; seriously, I don’t need to add another word to that thought. The drama and romance has a decent amount of twists and turns, and the sea people versus land people thing is an added bonus. Those wanting more of a show that handle more mature situations or with well-rounded characters will probably not find what you’re looking for here. Trying it out for a few episodes should tell you more than enough as to whether you want to continue it or not, but do keep in mind that it does pick up later on.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ great art, interesting premise, Chisaki (and Manaka to a lesser extent)
— subpar writing is focused only on main plot and romances, doesn’t really take full advantage of setting, action scenes done pretty terribly