What an absolute breath of fresh air Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun [Dogakobo, 2014] was for this season of anime. From beginning to end, from Sakura’s confession to the finale’s fireworks, from the groovy first notes of the OP to the final line of dialogue, Nozaki-kun has been nothing but warm, relaxing, and hilarious. Whether it was engaging in parody, using character-driven comedy, cracking jokes about writers, or just being pleasant to watch, Nozaki-kun stands as one of the top anime comedies I’ve seen. I’m happy to give it an 8/10 (Ranking) and I can confidently say that it was my favorite show of the season.
Before I begin to gush, let me just get my qualifiers out first. Nozaki-kun isn’t quite a perfect show. The pacing of the jokes and episodes fall a little towards the slow side at times, and episodes tend to fall into the pattern of one half being utterly hilarious (often dangerously so) and the other being merely amusing. In another show, this might have been an unfortunate quality, but Nozaki-kun‘s highs are so often spectacular and the lows so solidly smile-generating that my complaint is really only a matter of degree. And while I don’t think you have to be an avid anime fan to watch and love Nozaki-kun, having at least a little bit of knowledge of the genre tropes and conventions it consistently undermines contributes greatly to the overall entertainment value of the show.
But enough of that. As a comedy, Nozaki-kun‘s humor depends almost entirely with its characters—and because the cast is so diverse and so likable, this is a great thing. The seven main characters of the show (3 girls and 4 guys), all high schoolers, are an endless source of hilarity because they’re each a little bit crazy. Keeping humor fresh is a struggle many comedies end up losing, but Nozaki-kun is adept at cycling through pairs of characters, alternating match-ups, and switching straight men. This is probably the element I admire most in Nozaki-kun: the constant shifts in framing that highlight just how nutty each of these characters are, and then spin things around and make them look like the normal ones. It’s a fantastic technique, one that allows the audience to see multiple sides of each character. At any moment a character can be staggeringly oblivious to their own craziness, and in the next be perceptively seeing their friend’s foolishness.
Dee over at The Josei Next Door has an absolutely fantastic piece of gender criticism on Nozaki-kun, and I couldn’t say it any better than she already has, but I just want to note in my own words how much I personally appreciated Nozaki-kun‘s willingness to go outside of traditional gender roles in its eagerness to parody the shoujo genre. Like a negative photo of how Nozaki sees his friends as characters in his manga, in Nozaki-kun I see myself and my own friends reflected in varying degrees. In Nozaki, I see much of my own dysfunction as a writer. In Mikoshiba, I see some of my own tendency to totally stick my foot in my mouth. In Hori’s responsibility, I see a friend of mine. In Kashima, I see another. Nozaki-kun‘s willingness to set traditional archetypes in characters of the opposite gender not only provides ample opportunities for humor, but also (I think) stocks the show with a much wider range of more realistic characters.
And all of this exists within a rom-com format that both gives us three (I say this with love) disgustingly cute couples to ship and endless romantically-tinged hijinks. Nozaki-kun‘s humor is impressively smart, and it’s also happily varied. We get totally absurd situations, we get clever reversals, deadpans, characters trolling each other, ironies, and a plethora of amazing reaction faces. We get jokes about editors and the struggles of authors and Nozaki’s delightful blurring of the lines between reality and fiction.
For me, this is the classic brand of Dogakobo 4-koma adaptation that I love—lots of clever, clean humor in a show entirely devoid of fanservice. On the production side of things, there are a number of tracks on the OST that I love; the OP and ED are great and wonderfully matched to the show; the artstyle is packed with Dogakobo’s stylings and the animation with solid throughout, occasionally brilliant; and the vocal performances are great (huge props to Sakura’s VA, Ari Ozawa, a newcomer in only her fourth role ever). It’s a rare anime these days that can bring this sort of complete package to the table in terms of content and presentation, but Nozaki-kun really is a gem of a show, even more so in this abysmal season.
And that about sums it up. Nozaki-kun is many things, but first and foremost it’s a comedy anime with a really kind heart. You can see it in the way it cracks its jokes, in the way it portrays its collection of loony characters, in the way that it teases the audience with hints of romantic progression without being frustrating or annoying about it. And that sort of authentic warmth goes a long way in pushing a show past the realm of funny into the realm of lovable.
A highly recommended comedy among the best anime comedies I’ve see to this point. It’s a charming watch, filled with bright personalities and clever subversions of gendered genre tropes. A much smarter show than it appears on the surface, and no less hilarious for it.
Reasons to Watch:
- Do you like shipping? This show is a shipper’s dream.
- A diverse, likable cast, each with their own quirks.
- Wacky comedy; good for at least one tear-inducing laugh an episode.
- Clever comedy; parodies and trope takedowns abound.
- It’s also pretty cute; the flashback to Sakura and Nozaki’s first meeting that occurs in the final episode is a triumph of heartwarming anime.