Reviewby Theron Martin,
Monthly Girls' Nozaki-Kun
BD+DVD - Complete Collection [Limited Edition]
Pint-sized Chiyo Sakura has been fixated on tall, somber Umetaro Nozaki ever since an encounter at the beginning of high school, and she's finally worked up the courage to confess. Two problems arise, however: 1) in the heat of the moment, she flubs and says “biggest fan” instead of “like” and 2) Nozaki interprets it literally and gives her his autograph – but that autograph lists Sakiko Yumeno, the name of a renowned shojo manga-ka, instead of his own. The shocked Chiyo soon realizes that Sakiko is Nozaki's pen name, and an invitation to come to his apartment turns out to be a recruitment for Chiyo (who is in the Art Club) to be one of his assistants on the popular shojo manga he writes. Since it means being close to Nozaki, Chiyo can't turn down this opportunity. That draws her into his world of manga creation and other oddball assistants, editors, and peers, while she also helps expose him to some of her oddball friends. As various romances percolate around the two, Nozaki finds it all to be suitable fodder for his manga (albeit often in off-kilter fashion) while remaining seemingly oblivious to his own potential love story.
With most anime comedies, the discussions are about whether or not they are funny enough consistently enough for them to be considered among the season's (or even year's) funniest titles. With this 12 episode offering from 2014, the discussion is instead about where it ranks among the all-time great anime comedies. It does so many things so well that giving it any lesser consideration would short-change the wonderful effort that has brought Izumi Tsubaki's manga into animated form.
The true brilliance of Nozaki-kin lies in its ability to appeal equally well to those who adore shojo romance stories and those who abhor them. The former crowd will find a deep passion for shojo storytelling tempered by a keen insight into exactly how ridiculous some of its formulas, tropes, and style points are, which results in a loving parody of its stereotypes and the production which goes into creating them; one great series of jokes in one episode involves Nozaki's difficulty with doing his own background art, for instance. For all that the parodies lacks a mean spirit, though, they still firmly skewer the conventions which can engender intense dislike, such as the flowery effects for emotional emphasis or the corny proclamations of princely characters. That can bolster its potential appeal to the latter crowd, to the point that I would recommend the series especially for those whose understanding shojo romance has led them to hate it.
The series does not just depend on parody of shojo content for its entertainment value, though; it also milks plenty of humor out of its core cast of eccentrics and their equally eccentric relationships with each other. The writing excels at this in part because it does not heavily rely on the same tried-and-true stereotypes and routines as every other title out there; in fact, many of the characters have fresh twists to them, often in the form of utterly contrasting characteristics. For instance, Chiyo's friend Yuzuki Seo is brash and insensitive to the max, a demon child who laughs at tragedy and is used to help sports teams practice dealing with difficult players, but she also has an opera diva-grade singing voice. That leads her into a bizarre relationship with one of Nozaki's assistants, who was terrorized by her on the basketball court and yet is unknowingly also soothed by her singing voice. Meanwhile, Nozaki's friend/assistant Mikorin is an aloof charmer who can freely flirt with girls and spout eye-popping levels of mushy pandering, only to get intensely embarrassed about it moments later. (That he is, unbeknownst to him, the personality model for the heroine of Nozaki's manga is one of the series' running jokes.) The “prince” of the school is actually a tall, boyish-looking girl who can easily charm other girls but is totally dense when it comes to the Drama Club senpai that she's fixated on, resulting in a relationship where they regularly misinterpret each other's behavior in comical fashion. Even deadpan master Nozaki gets in on the fun with a one-track mind about his manga which borders on the pathological, and seeming straight woman Chiyo's obsessive interest in Nozaki shows up humorously whenever the viewpoint makes her the subject rather than the source.
The situations the characters can get into during their downtime are also highly entertaining. One of the series' funniest routines involves Nozaki and Mikorin playing a dating sim and realizing over the course of the game that the best match for the main character is an unconventional choice, while another early sequence involves Chiyo getting caught off guard by an unexpected variation on riding a bike together with a love interest. Even something as basic as sharing an umbrella is fraught with laugh-out-loud difficulties, and two of the series most gut-bustingly funny individual moments involve gross misuse of a sailor-styled school uniform and a pair of mittens getting used in a way other than what was originally intended. (That mittens were even considered for such a use is, of course, part of the joke.) Every once in a while the series does deliver a more sincere note, and those are surprisingly effective in their impact, too.
Director Mitsue Yamazaki and screenplay writer Yoshiko Nakamura, who also teamed up on the less special Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East, do a superb job here with the timing and presentation of the jokes. The animation effort by Doga Kobo (probably best-known for the Yuruyuri and the Koihime Musō franchises) provides a sharp, clean visual look which features rich coloring, character designs which are not strictly beholden to stock features, and some outstanding visual gags; some of Chiyo's dismayed expressions are classics. Every once in a while its animation does allow a quality control slip, but the animation in the rare action sequences can be remarkably robust. Overall, this was one of the upper-tier titles of 2014 on visuals, too.
The series also sounds pretty good. Hip, jazzy opener "Kimi Janakya Dame Mitai" is a winner on both audio and visual fronts, although closer “Uraomote Fortune” has a more generic J-Pop sound. In between each episode effectively uses an eclectic mix of fun little ditties and gentler, more softly passionate numbers for its occasional serious scenes. It is always on-the-mark for generating the appropriate effect, though it does get a little repetitive with the themes after a few episodes.
Despite a notable shortage of experience in the English dub cast – the only two cast members with substantial anime résumés are Monica Rial as the princely Kashima and Chris Patton as Nozaki's manga character Suzuki – it proves up to the task. Juliet Simmons (Myucel in Outbreak Company) does occasionally come across just a little shrill as Chiyo but otherwise fits the part well, while Scott Gibbs absolutely nails Mikorin's mix of poutiness and over-the-top cheese and the raspy delivery Joanne Bonasso (Akari in Chaika – The Coffin Princess) uses for Yuzuki may even be an improvement on the original performance. English interpretations of the jokes zing just as much as Japanese versions do, too. This may not be a spectacular dub overall, but it's plenty good enough.
In an apparent acknowledgement that this is one of their premiere releases for the season, Sentai Filmworks is giving Nozaki-kun the rare deluxe treatment. Regular DVD and Blu-Ray versions are available, but the premium is a Limited Edition box set which has both versions (in separate DVD cases) as well as a three-disk soundtrack set. The latter devotes two disks to a comprehensive OST and the third to a (largely unremarkable) set of character songs. The sturdy artbox also includes a sticker set featuring chibi versions of Nozaki and his assistants, a 13 by 19 inch series poster, and a hardback book with 82 glossy pages loaded with so many Extras that it even has a Table of Contents. Detailing all of them would be time-consuming, but they do include numerous interviews, extensive character and location profiles, translations of song lyrics for the OST, and a wealth of other analyses, all peppered by commentary from the director. To get a more thorough and extensive companion book, you'd have to go to an absolute top-of-the line Collector's Edition release, such as Bandai Visual's gold-boxed Patlabor 2: The Movie set from a few years back. On-disk Extras included clean opener and closer, various promo videos and commercials, and a full set of six “Bonus Footage” shorts, which collectively detail the whole gang planning and executing a trip to the beach. (Significantly, they are also dubbed.) As the print Extras point out, it's the only time in the entire series where the whole main cast is together. While the price of this Limited Edition set may still be on the high side (Sentai has never figured out how to do Blu Ray/DVD combo sets as economically as Funimation does), it isn't as outrageous as Aniplex and Pony Canyon offerings are and you actually do get a quality set of add-ons. Besides, this is hardly a trivial series.
I have watched Nozaki-kun through completely twice: once in subtitled form for its original stream and once in dubbed form for this review. On both occasions I found it to be one of the most consistently funny anime titles that I have ever seen, with several individual episodes having as many laugh-out-loud moments as the entire run of many other comedy series. That it complements those with the occasional sweet scene is an added bonus, and it never really has a weak point. You may not get an involved story or romance between the two leads, but when everything else is good enough to make this my #1 pick for 2014, that doesn't matter.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ One of the funniest anime series to date, great characters and quirky relationships between them.
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