Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is an absolutely stellar anime that is one of the strongest titles in the comedy/slice of life genre. This is the third time I’ve watched the anime, and every time I see it, I find my evaluation of it reaffirmed. It’s really rare to find an anime of this type that is consistently strong from beginning to end. Part of the fun is the fact that many of the characters are twists on their genre’s archetypes. In order to get the full experience, I’d recommend this anime to someone that is familiar with the tropes and character archetypes. That said, if you’re new to the genre, you will still find that it’s great fun.
Purpose: Masterpiece. This was an example of a high-risk, high-reward attempt that really paid off. They were faced with some serious difficulties in creating this anime. Firstly, pure comedy anime is very hard to do and can easily stagnate, many often do. This one manages to keep everything interesting and fresh throughout, providing a good deal of depth to the characters in the process. Secondly, this anime was adapted from a 4-panel manga. For them to pull off what they did without any hiccups is truly spectacular. They had a clear idea of how this was supposed to work and made sure that all the elements were pulling their own weight.
Characters: Masterpiece. You can begin with any character and describe them on several levels. There’s the “face value” level, where they are an archetype of a character common to the genre, such as the “prince-type.” But they’re so much more. Everyone has a distinct personality, with strengths and weaknesses. They think about things and react to things in a highly individualized, yet internally consistent way. Characters reacting to other characters’ actions is the heart of this anime. Basically, you’re having these characters’ personalities bounce off each other. But what makes this anime exceptional is how the hilarity also serves to deepen our understanding of the characters. This is where the anime breaks from the genre. In general, slice of life anime are like sitcoms – it’s relatively flat, but crazy characters reacting in crazy ways to ordinary, everyday situations. Instead, our understanding of the characters is constantly evolving while we’re laughing.
World: Excellent. The world is always hard to spot in slice of life anime, especially ones that are in our world. The strength of this world was that it never felt limited or constrained. Even though lots of events happened at the school, it never felt as though we were bound to the school, like some imprisoned spirit. Events happened in a variety of settings that presented unique opportunities to show off the characters. What was particularly skillful about the handling of the world was that the transitions felt seamless. Anime in this genre will often write in some sudden or random reason to change the setting like the “random date scene.” In those cases, it acts like drawing the curtain on a stage play – it’s somewhat abrupt and it serves as a break in what’s going on. When Nozaki-kun changed settings, it felt as though it was a part of the natural course of the story – it never felt forced.
Plot: Excellent. Plot is another hard to spot element in this genre. Slice of life generally are on an episode-to-episode plot arc. However, Nozaki-kun takes a different approach, exceptionally rare for this genre. Generally speaking, plots were on a half-episode basis. The episode level plots were also usually arranged based on theme – usually a character. In addition, there were some overall character and couple plot arcs that took place over the course of the anime. What’s really interesting is how all that isn’t exactly clear at the time you’re watching it. Nozaki-kun is one of those anime where you recognize how far you’ve come by looking back. As if they knew this ahead of time, they provide some perspective at the end that really highlights the distance traveled.
Storytelling: Masterpiece. The storytelling is exceptionally clear and clean. They provide a solid progression and development of the characters and the story throughout. Surprisingly, there’s very little telling going on – they don’t really tell you about the characters, they show you through their antics. The best example is how they develop Nozaki. It’s abundantly clear that he absolutely loves what he does. His actions shape and mold our opinion of the character to the point that the character comes alive.
For the comedy part, the gags are varied and unique. Many of the gags are very different from the standard slice of life stuff because in Nozaki-kun, they really enjoy playing with expectation. This is accomplished, in part, by setting up common situations and events, but then twisting it in an unexpected way. The viewer isn’t the only one that ends up being thrown for a loop. The characters are often affected by these unexpected events, leading to more hilarity.
Pace: Excellent. They covered a lot of ground in only 12 episodes. Part of this was accomplished by the fact that the plot was in half-episode chunks. But the real reason why the pace was so strong was the arrangement by theme. This allowed them to keep up the momentum through the entire episode. Since they shifted gears between episodes rather than between gags, they never lost forward momentum. As a result, the series just flew by, but in a good way.