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Review: ‘Nichijou,’ vol. 1

Nichijou 1Nichijou, vol. 1
Writer/artist: Keiichi Arawi
Vertical Comics; $10.95

When it comes to manga about high school, Keiichi Arawi’s Nichijou occupies a perfect sweet spot on the strangeness spectrum. It’s far, far away from the non-stop nonsense of, say, Cromartie High School or, to name a personal favorite, School Rumble. But it’s not, despite the title, just a straight, perfectly normal school comedy, a la Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh, either. Rather, it’s somewhere between, and closer to Azumanga Daioh; it’s essentially a realistic high school comedy that’s just weird enough, a dash of the bizarre thrown into almost every story to make it absurd.

Some of the supporting characters are themselves the strange part, like Nano Shinonome, a robot high school student trying to pass as human (and failing, mostly because of the huge wind-up key that sticks out of her back), or aristocratic drama club president Sasahara, whose family butler trails behind him.

Most of the stories center around a trio of students, each assigned a one-word description upon introduction: Mio Naganohara (“Normal”), Yuuko Aioi (“Cheerful”) and Mai Minakami (“Quiet”). They will sometimes have to deal with the strangeness of Shinonome or Sasahara, but sometimes they merely witness strangeness from afar.

For example, one story finds Aioi standing in the hall for punishment, composing terrible haiku in her head (Each of which ends with the same five-syllable line, “Mogami River”). Out the window she sees the principal locked in a life or death battle with a deer, played out over successive rounds in which her principal seems to repeatedly get killed, only to survive in order to try another tactic.

Many of the 19 short gag stories feature jokes in which no real weirdness beyond that of the actions or thoughts of the characters comes into play at all though, and instead center on a character thinking another is ignoring her when she’s really just wearing earphones, or the terribly awkward welcome speeches given by a few members of the faculty.

Arawi’s art is perfectly modulated for the “just-surreal-enough” stories, with the extremely cute characters–even the principal with the male pattern baldness or the menacing, blank-eyed animals look cute in their depiction–all more-or-less evincing a binary deadpan/shock emotional range that gives the occasional strangeness its extra oomph.

Gently paced and casual, even blase in its absurdity, Nichijou is an extraordinary comic about the ordinary life of high schoolers. Or should that be “ordinary” in quotes…?

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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