In the first episode of Nichijou, high schooler Yuuko holds up the final octopus weenie in her lunchbox, smugly announcing that she saved the best part of her meal for last. She moves to eat it—only to have it slip from her chopsticks.
With DRAMATIC slow motion and INTENSE music, we watch Yuuko and her friends’ FUTILE ATTEMPTS to save the sausage from the floor, followed by Yuuko’s HEROIC DIVE to scoop it up within the “five-second rule” time frame. She does, and TRIUMPHANTLY scarfs it down (to best friend Mio’s horror).
It’s over-the-top. It’s ridiculous. And it’s an absolutely perfect representation of what it feels like to watch a piece of delicious food fall from your grasp to the cruel, unforgiving ground.
This sketch sets the tone for the rest of the series and highlights what Nichijou – My Ordinary Life does best: uses the surreal to capture the emotional reality of everyday events. Adapted from the manga by Keiichi Arawi and vibrantly animated by Kyoto Animation, this comedy featuring robots, talking cats, and murderous deer initially sounds far from “ordinary.” However, Nichijou‘s dedication to finding reality through absurdity—to showing how things feel rather than how they literally are—grants the series an authenticity that many grounded YA dramas struggle to capture.
More to the point, it accomplishes this with a cast largely composed of high school girls—in particular, the central crew of Yuuko, Mio, Mai, and Nano. Through these girls’ diverse personalities and adventures, Nichijou not only showcases many common (and not-so-common) trials and triumphs of modern female adolescence and friendship, but also expands the narrow idea of what it means to be a “normal” teen girl in fiction.
Speaking in broad, historical terms, mainstream media has often struggled to depict adolescent female characters with sincerity or authenticity. There are exceptions, of course, but a lot of “realistic” fiction over the decades presented them as shallow and flighty or fastidious buzzkills; figures to be mocked and looked down upon in a way that teen boys rarely were.
Now, series specifically targeted at teen girls did treat their lives seriously, but they were also often stiflingly bleak or sensational and tended to focus on relationship drama (be that a fraught romance, friendship, or familial bond). In anime, the moe boom of the late ‘00s also saw plenty of stories where high school girls weren’t scorned, but these often-sentimental, often-hyper-feminine series were intended to invoke a sense of protectiveness from the audience and, as such, weren’t exactly rooted in reality.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with teen melodramas or moe iyashikei series, mind you (I’ve certainly found value in them at times), but they are naturally limited by their narrow scope. For years, finding a story that contained a fuller range of “everyday” experiences, simultaneously sympathizing with teen girls while also inviting them to have fun and laugh at themselves, was like looking for a needle in a haystack—and is still relatively rare even today.
Enter Nichijou, where female adolescence can be bizarre, loud, laid-back, horrifying, sweet, and just about everything in between. It can be Yuuko, an energetic, blustery lover of bad jokes with a streak of insecurity as wide as the Amazon. It can be Mio, a seemingly down-to-earth girl with zero athleticism who secretly draws steamy BL manga (and is absolutely horrified that others might find out about it).
It can be Mai, a stone-faced eccentric whose hobbies include reading, carving Buddha statues, and relentlessly messing with her friends. It can be Nano, a shy newcomer desperate to hide her physical differences from her classmates lest they reject her for it (yes, she’s a robot, but Nichijou often operates in the realm of fantastical metaphor). And on and on.
We’ve talked before here at AniFem about why it’s important to let girls be crass little shits in fiction, and Nichijou’s willingness to depict its gals as pun-spouting, thirsty, trolling, slapsticky clowns is in many ways a forerunner to recent series like Pop Team Epic and Asobi Asobase. It’s not quite the same thing, though, which is worth some discussion.
The girls in Nichijou are not always “cute,” but they are also not anti-cute (they can be downright adorable, in fact). Unlike Pop Team Epic or Asobi Asobase, Nichijou isn’t a response to (and rejection of) the moe boom. It’s also not interested in exaggerating a single aspect of its characters for comedic or dramatic effect. Instead, it wants to exaggerate every aspect of its characters, both the cute and not-so-cute, to create a richer image of just how much an “ordinary life” can entail.
This allows it to include scenes of teen girls being loud, rude, or violent, yes; but also scenes of anxiety or embarrassment, like Yuuko’s disastrous encounter with a Starbucks menu; or frustration and sadness, like Mio fleeing halfway across the city when she thinks her crush is interested in somebody else; or even sweetness and affection, like Yuuko and Mio’s fight morphing into them shouting compliments at each other. By focusing on every aspect of the everyday (ridiculous as they may be), Nichijou gives its teen girls a refreshing amount of depth and breadth.
Nichijou‘s wide variety of comedy styles and sketches also gives it a unique edge in the way it depicts female friendships. While the series isn’t entirely void of romance, it’s very much at the periphery. Female friendships are the core of the show, serving as the basis for many of the jokes and conflicts as well as the story’s emotional beats.
Yuuko, Mio, and Mai already have an established relationship when the series begins, but they quickly bring Nano into their group when she starts coming to school. Their relationships are not defined by the passive-aggressive competitiveness that was so often present in Western fiction for decades, nor the perpetually gentle sweetness of the moe boom. Instead, it’s… well, about as authentic as I’ve seen an anime get to my own experiences with close teen friendships, honestly.
They tease each other. They pry into each other’s business. They get frustrated and angry and sometimes say downright nasty things to each other, and then quickly make up and go back to their usual easygoing dynamic. They have long conversations about trivial topics, get overly invested in games, and tell terrible jokes to try to make each other laugh.
But they also support each other, like when the gals agree to help Mio finish her manga (even if they do make a mess of it). Or when Yuuko finds proof that Nano is a robot, but instead of calling her out on it, simply assures her that “Nano is just Nano” and that’s all that matters. Or, in one of the anime’s most touching moments, when Mio suffers heartbreak over her crush and her friends all come together to remind her she’s not alone.
Nichijou knows how to hilariously capture the emotional reality of life’s little dramas. Events that seem minor to outsiders become the momentous exploits they feel like within our own minds. But the series also knows when to cut through the absurdity and draw out the sincerity beneath, highlighting what really matters: the people we care about and the support we give each other.
In doing so, it walks a careful comedic tightrope, simultaneously encouraging its audience to laugh at the “trivial” highs and lows of daily life while also suggesting they aren’t that trivial at all. “Don’t take yourself too seriously,” Nichijou says, “but don’t belittle yourself, either.”
It’s a worthwhile message for anyone, but the series’ decision to primarily tell its story through the eyes of a group of high school girls provides a secondary level to it. Nichijou, along with a growing volume of recent stories like it, serves as a counterpoint to decades of fiction that ignored, mocked, or over-simplified the interior lives and day-to-day trials of teen girls.
It tells them they can be silly and crass and anxious and horny and kind and heroic, one at a time or all at once. It tells them their ordinary dramas matter just as much as those of the teen boys who dominated young adult fiction and comedies for so long. It tells them to laugh and have fun, but not to disparage themselves. Just like the goofball girls of Nichijou, they too can be the stars of their very own everyday epics.
Editor’s Note: As many of you know, on July 17, 2019, Kyoto Animation was devastated by a horrific arson attack. As we honor those lost and pay tribute to their works, please also consider sending a message of support to the staff; or, if you’re able, buying high-res digital images which fund the studio, sending money directly to KyoAni’s bank account, or donating to Sentai’s GoFundMe.