Note: There is now a Full Series Review available!
Note: This article was later published in the Crunchyroll Newsletter.
I know I already have a general First Impressions post up, but Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is good enough to merit a first impressions post of its own—if you aren’t already watching this show, you should be. It’s the best Dogakobo show since Summer 2013’s Love Lab, and that’s high praise. We’re three weeks in, and Nozaki-kun has shown itself to be a top-shelf comedy anime—one based around endearing, colorful, and funny characters with the production quality to back it all up.
To date, Nozaki-kun is my favorite Summer 2014 anime (not the show I consider the best, but my personal favorite). Like Love Lab (a hugely underrated show) it brings a brand of clean character- and situationally-based humor the works on all levels from giggles to chuckles to bursts of laughter to I’m-no-longer-making-sounds-I’m-laughing-so-hard. The versatility of the humor is truly quite impressive, especially in the comedy anime and, more specifically, the romantic-comedy anime markets which so frequently rely on the same set-up: crazy character does something crazy, straight-man character reacts.
That’s not to say Nozaki-kun doesn’t use this set-up, but the secret ingredient isn’t that its crazy characters are crazier than normal or that its straight-man is particularly compelling—it’s that each of the characters, in their own way, is a bit loony. From Sakura’s adorable and endearing dilemmas over and crush on Nozaki, to Nozaki’s deadpan way of assessing everyone around him as a potential character for his manga, to Mikorin’s fierce blushing after saying something ridiculous (an experience I can personally relate to—trying to be cool does have risks), to the rest of the side characters, everyone in Nozaki-kun has a distinctive personality that lets them careen off the others like so many pool balls rocketing around.
Frame all these personalities inside of the reflective context of Nozaki’s manga creation, and you have a casually self-aware, deliberately expectation-breaking comedy. To be honest, I’m thankful that the manga thing isn’t too overbearing. Nozaki-kun places a reasonable amount of trust in the audience’s ability to recognize when it’s subverting expectations, without feeling the need to point it out and go, “HEY! LISTEN! This is a satire on shoujo tropes!”
In fact, Nozaki-kun goes both ways with twisting these characters away from their archetypes—the best example being the incredibly dense and athletic Yuzuki. Initially introduced by Sakura as someone “who’s always being chased,” we find that Yuzuki is actually being chased because she’s in trouble. Our expectations are dashed (as are Nozaki’s), but Nozaki-kun isn’t content to let Yuzuki just be a ridiculous character. We also find out that Yuzuki has a gorgeous voice, a talent that stands in stark contrast to her normal personality. And that’s how people are—very few humans are as obvious as they first appear. People have hidden talents, hidden pieces of their personalities. Nozaki-kun‘s willingness to surface these facets of its characters fills them in beyond simple archetypes and makes them feel more like real people.
Another source of comedy comes from the various brands of blissful ignorance the characters have about their own characteristics and the traits of their friends. Sakura is friends with Yuzuki, and is nearly blind to her friend’s obliviousness. Nozkai is hilariously unaware of the irony of being a guy with no love experience writing a shoujo manga. Kashima doesn’t realize Hori is always around her out of frustration, not out of love. Dense characters can be annoying sometimes, but it seems to be a common trait in the world of Nozaki-kun and the particulars of each character’s blind spots keep things fresh and interesting.
It would be a crime to finish here without mentioning the superb production values of Nozaki-kun. There’s a ton of good voice acting going on, but Ari Ozawa (who I’ve been told is a newbie) as Sakura is the standout so far. The OP and ED songs are both really good (up in the air between Nozaki-kun and Rail Wars! for best 1-2 punch in that department), and the animation? Well, frankly, it’s great.
Like the other two shows I’ve seen from Dogakobo, Nozaki-kun is bouncy, light, and fun—while also displaying great versatility in swapping between styles as the situation calls for it. Dogakobo generally seems to stick to manga source material, but as I’m not a manga reader, I can’t really speak to how much their framing or individual shots are informed by the original drawings. Whatever the case may be, the animation in Nozaki-kun does a fantastic job of enhancing the comedy and lending energy to the show as a whole.
In the end, this may just be a case where a show just lands in a sweet spot for me. The humor, the characters, the production: it all works for me. It’s charming, fresh, and fun—what else is there to ask for? I like to love shows when I can, and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun makes it really easy for me to do that.