A Review of Nichijou, or, My Ordinary Life (日常)
Guest writer Ethan Snell posts about the “ordinary life” of Nichijou, and how are our ordinary lives are anything but.
The title threw me off in the beginning.
I mean, it’s called Nichijou, which literally translates to My Ordinary Life! Who would want to watch a show like that, even if it has Kyoto Animation behind it?! (I should have looked up the director, Tatsuya Ishihara, who has a pretty significant directing history: Kanon, Clannad, and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzimiya, among others. That would have given me a little more hope.) But let’s face it. A show called My Ordinary Life run by American comedy TV would be less than interesting… and probably inappropriate.
So when I finally decided to watch the first episode, it was with no small amount of trepidation. (You know how it goes. “I’m just going to watch the first episode to see if I might maybe sorta kinda like it.” Sure. Whatever.)
What I found was a show that significantly changed the way I look at entertainment, and perhaps even changed my perspective on life.
Nichijou spends most of its time in the ordinary interactions between characters, but in a way I’ve never seen before. It doesn’t give a straight reality, but rather shows what the characters are feeling, or how they imagine the situation to be.
Reality thus becomes very distorted. Characters with a fiery temper literally explode, pulling hand grenades and machine guns out of nowhere. Situations that characters perceive as confusing become impenetrable, and something that’s only slightly painful ends up extremely drastic.
We feel her pain… rather, the entire solar system does.
Because of this, Nichijou comes across as somewhat haphazard. It does not follow a straight storyline, but jumps between moments. It can be jolting at first… don’t expect a linear storyline. It is a funny, random show, with a little story taking it along.
Nichijou follows the antics of several characters as they go about… well, their ordinary lives. The main players include three high school girls, whose personalities balance better than any other comedy trio I’ve seen recently. Other main characters include an eight year old professor who invents ridiculous creations just as fast as her imagination comes up with them, and her robot guardian, who may be the most human character in the show. Their talking cat is an unexpected, but hilarious addition.
The story is extremely character driven. Mio, one of the high schoolers, struggles with the lack of confidence she has over her drawing skills. She longs to draw manga, but must overcome her shyness. Nano, the robot, desires to simply have friends while dealing with the professor’s antics. As the characters reach for what they desire, incident after incident occurs, bringing the characters closer together.
There are a few questionable scenes for Christian audiences, with same sex characters pretending to be attracted to each other and a scene with a raunchy magazine, but thankfully, due to the close ended nature of the random, short episodes, these scenes are short and easily dismissed. Another issue, at least for American viewers, is language based. Several scenes depend on puns, or jokes on the language, which don’t come across well in English subtitles. I was able to appreciate what was happening for most of it, even if I didn’t completely understand it. (Unfortunately, Bandai dropped the ball on picking this one up, so there will be no English dub anytime soon.)
Just from this, the show doesn’t seem like much. A fun comedy, for sure… with perhaps some great writing. But what blows my mind is the simple philosophy of Nichijou.
As a film student, I’ve heard entertainment media and film described in various ways. One however, struck me: “Film is ‘life’ with all the boring parts cut out.” But that means film doesn’t depict real life! Life isn’t exciting. It’s filled with ordinary exchanges between ordinary people.
Nichijou takes a completely different approach. Early on in the show, a character dismisses a question with the enigmatic statement, “Our everyday life may be a series of miracles.” Nonsensical as it seemed in context, this statement underlies the entire show. My Ordinary Life is not about exciting moments, but about the beauty of everyday events. Nichijou shows ordinary life as something funny and entertaining, but in doing so gives it value. Simple actions, like ordering coffee, are given weight we couldn’t even imagine.
As a Roman Catholic, I have the benefit of tradition. One of the first things that I thought of when watching this show was St. Therese, who coined the “Way of the Little Flower.” She knew that she was not capable of doing great sacrifices, of fasting 40 days without food, or giving her health, body, and life to the poor. Instead, she came about it a much simpler way; every act in her day became an act of love for God. Everything that she did, she did it as a sacrifice for her Lord.
As ordinary people going about our lives, life can be boring. But as Christians, we understand that life means so much more. Even if we live in an ordinary world (and we don’t), we are not of it. We go about our daily lives with grace, given by God. Our every action becomes a movement toward salvation and eternity, giving weight to even the most normal moments of our lives, indeed, even making the eternal a ‘normal’ part of our lives. We are not Christians on earth to sit in our rooms and be bored with our lives. In Paul’s final blessing at the end of 1 Thessalonians, he asks us to pray always, give thanks in all circumstances, and to rejoice at all times. Rejoice. Christians are to be the joy of Christ on this earth, rejoicing and giving light in all things, especially in the ordinary.
Nichijou gives us a world where ordinary life is anything but ordinary. Simple moments mean everything when we are in them, and boring moments are the ones that are the most important. Nichijou‘s ability to strike the imagination with the beauty of the ordinary is one of the most profound expressions of art I’ve seen in the past five years. I find myself praying often that I could approach the world in my ordinary life the way the writers of Nichijou did, with joy and love, looking for little miracles in every moment.
Ethan Snell is a small-town country kid whose passion for art, media and animation led him to Southern California. While studying film at a small Catholic university, he made an unlikely friend in Japanese animation. He continues to better himself as a student while looking forward to working in the entertainment industry.