Warning, there will be spoilers for Nichijou ahead. Note: this means very little in a practical sense because Nichijou is wall to wall insanity and trying to explain the plot is like trying to walk on the sun, you burn out long before it happens. Joking aside, there isn’t too much to analyze in terms of plot for Nichijou so this Unpopular Opinion will be a little different from the norm. I’m going to explore what Nichijou does and explain why I think it works, in comparison to your typical, everyday slice of life show. Let it begin.
Understand first that I really like Nichijou, it’s one of my favorite slice of life shows and among my top picks for anime comedies. This also means it’s not for everyone because I take a perverse pleasure in deviating from community consensus on what shows are good most of the time. It’s also a show I think you will appreciate best if you are a proper otaku, I’m not putting down new or casual fans but I think this show was written with otaku in mind and that a lot of its success as a comedy hinges on the fact that the viewer is an otaku. Ok that’s enough preface, time to begin for real.
In order to understand why Nichijou works you have to understand some of the basics of the slice of life genre, particularly slice of life comedies. The basics are as follows. An abundance of or reliance on tried tropes and archetypes like tsunderes and beach episodes. The setting is usually high school and most of the show involves club activities or other day to day life events. Typically the humor follows the common Japanese comedy model where there are members of the group who are somewhat crazy or lack common sense and it’s the job of one character to play the straight man, who reacts to their shenanigans with shock and some kind of rebuke or suggestion. If you want to see how this model works very clearly watch D-Frag, that show masters the routine and even has a few fourth wall jokes about it. For a normal slice of life show, the key is finding the proper balance between realistically depicting everyday life and throwing in enough anime hallmarks to please the anime fans. This is an oversimplified generalization but whatever, it makes my next point look cooler. Nichijou is essentially an inversion of the typical slice of life show. If a typical slice of life show asks “how can depict everyday real life in a believable way and still have just enough ‘anime’ stuff to keep the fans coming back?”, then Nichijou asks “how do we make everyday real life as anime as possible?”. And it answers its own question with daring and aplomb.
Basically it means that anything a slice of life show would do, Nichijou will overdo. It will overdo it with Gurren Lagann levels of over the top animation. Nichijou refuses to restrain it’s everyday events with realism, it makes them as awesomely overblown as it can. For example there is a scene where two people run into each other and the result is a huge explosion. In a typical slice of life the tsundere will get embarrassed and say things like “it’s not like I like you or anything… BAKA!!!”. In Nichijou a tsundere will literally pull cannons out from thin air and blow away the target of her affection in her embarrassment. This is part of the reason I think Nichijou is for otaku more so than newcomers or casual fans. It plays up all the tropes we know and love to a ridiculous level and if your tolerance for such things is low, well you likely didn’t make it far in this show. This style hinges on the audience knowing and to some extent loving the tropes of the slice of life genre and being sufficiently exposed to the weird and ridiculous parts of anime.
Another thing Nichijou does differently is that it generally doesn’t follow the conventional model of comedy. Nichijou is more eccentric and prefers non sequitur humor over the traditional goofball and straight man gags. It also has plenty of WTF moments and jokes or mini-stories that seem way out of left field. But despite all this grab-bag of nonsense and insanity there is a common feature to many of Nichijou’s seemingly random jokes, they generally involve parts of Japanese culture that pops in more typical slice of life shows. For example many slice of life shows feature a festival episode, in Nichijou they have a running gag with a particular festival stall and its attendant mascot. A school camping trip is also common to many slice of life shows and Nichijou has great little spoof of a typical camping trip. This is the other main reason I think Nichijou is aimed at otaku, it expects the fans to recognize the situations and settings being used in its gags and it’s way funnier if you can see how the usual trope is either spoofed or inverted. This even extends to the characters to some extent. Yuko is an extreme form of the usual genki character, Mai is dandere troll and Mio is a fujoshi. If you’re an otaku you probably already know what them Japanese words mean and I don’t have to explain. But in case you don’t here’s the translation. Genki = energetic character, usually good at sports but kind of dumb. Dandere = quiet lady type, think Rei from Evangelion. Fujoshi = a young woman who enjoys Yaoi stuff, literally means “rotten girl”. This is a show for otaku, probably made by otaku considering much of its style and humor. What does this mean in a practical sense?
It means the show is both extremely well targeted but also narrowly focused. It’s a niche show for a niche crowd and in that regard I think it did a really good job of marking itself out to its intended audience. It also means the show is very unique and that’s not something I usually get to say especially where slice of life is concerned. There’s a huge over-abundance of slice of life shows and more keep coming out every season, so I can understand why many of you out there would be tempted to pass this show up. However I highly recommend it, provided you consider yourself a proper otaku and feel you are ready for the insanity you will find here. Slice of life is not my genre of choice but Nichijou is something special and I think you owe it yourself to give it a shot. Anyway that’s about all I have to say about Nichijou. Hopefully you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.