Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
My Ordinary Life
Episodes 1-7 Streaming
Life in a small city needn't be boring. Not when your city is home to a host of deeply odd people. Granted some residents, like high-school buddies Mio and Yuki, are fairly normal. Yuki is an world-class space-case and Mio has an unusual mastery of wrestling and boxing, but... okay, so they're odd too. Together with fellow residents such as Nano, the frequently modified robot of five-year-old genius the Professor, talking cat Sakamoto (that's Sakamoto-san to you!), and their own friend, the poker-faced lunatic Mai, they lead provincial lives that are perfectly mundane and thoroughly bizarre.
My Ordinary Life has other charms, some quite potent, but a pretty good case could be made that it is rescued from whimsical oblivion mostly by Kyoto Animation. The series is alive with movement, displaying a genuine love for animation that is rare in anime. Strange that a directionless, ultimately inconsequential comedy should be the strongest expression in some time of the love of the art for its own sake. Though no stranger than anything else in the show.
My Ordinary Life runs on strangeness. It's a series of vignettes of variable length that combine mundane events with towering weirdness, to generally surreal effect. A given episode will dabble in precious snapshots of schoolgirl life—a short piece about playing a stair-climbing game, perhaps, or a bit on Yuki forgetting her homework; break them up with seconds-long flashes of the principal discovering a voodoo doll stuffed with natto or a kid with a mohawk tearfully protesting that his hair just grows like that; and then form it all around a couple of extended riffs on things like deer-wrestling and the world's most elaborate plan for heckling a sibling. Rocket toes, a tsundere with a thing for military-grade weaponry, and unheralded inserts from the series' anime-within-an-anime also feature into the mix. One of the series' favorite ploys is to treat objectively bizarre occurrences (usually involving Nano and the Professor) with slice-of-life ordinariness while ramping up ordinary situations (usually involving Yuki and Mio) until they leave reality behind. At its best, the series dances with playful abandon between the real and unreal, unearthing punchlines of purest insanity and incongruous mundanity. The result is authentically strange.
It isn't, however, necessarily that funny. It just as often runs to meaningless whimsy as to fruitful hilarity, and it frequently mistakes weirdness for humor. A great many of its vignettes never make it past the mild amusement stage, particularly Nano and the Professor's, which tend to focus more on pure cuteness than big jokes, but also the teacher-in-love sketches and many more. Some jokes go on too long before being saved by their punchline (episode seven's extended fantasy parody) while others go nowhere at all (Yuki wondering why her zingers don't work on Mai). All together, enough holes open up in the series' laugh factor that one is occasionally left casting about for something else to hang on to. Only to find nothing. The series has no plot. The cast is far too dependent on preexisting stereotypes—straight man, happy-go-lucky idiot, the silent weirdo who is freakishly good at everything—to be compelling. Its characters have no meaningful interactions; the closest thing to an interesting relationship is that between motherly Nano and her tyke of a creator. It doesn't pay to notice such things, particularly once you start wondering why, for instance, Mio and Yuki continue to hang out with Mai when she obviously harbors no affection for them.
And that's where Kyoto Animation comes in. Even the series' lamest, tamest sketches are full of animated inventions and elevated by the joy of pure movement. The art tends to be simple, particularly its distinctive (and deadly cute) character designs. The background art is beautifully designed, evoking the old-fashioned charm of Yuki and company's school and the semi-rural atmosphere of their town with ease, but also disappears Azumanga Daioh-style on occasion. That's as far as the concessions to the series' television budget go, though. Tatsuya Ishihara and his animating buddies take My Ordinary Life's anything-goes brand of comedy as a green light to do whatever they please. In many cases that means simply applying a perhaps unhealthily acute eye for cuteness to the movements of the cast. A good deal of effort went into individualizing their body language, expressions, and locomotion, giving birth to mind-melting doses of adorableness such as Nano and the Professor's recurring games of rock-paper-scissors. Sometimes it means raising a puffy piece of meaninglessness up a notch or two with a funny flourish (memorably with a ESPN-worthy camera swoop during a game of tabletop soccer). And sometimes it means transforming everyday events into epic showpieces of peerless physical comedy.
That's when the series truly excels. When the pursuit of incriminating math notes leads to a race that out-shonens most shonen series, or a simple sojourn in the hall culminates in a demonic human vs. fauna wrestling match, complete with exploding black auras and charging beasts rendered as hatch-marked juggernauts, the series leaves its less successful bits behind and enters the rarefied realm of the truly inspired. And even when it isn't, it is so well-executed and unfailingly interesting just to watch that it's pretty easy to forget that it's essentially an empty comedic spectacle. That's the power of love for you.
Yuuji Nomi's orchestral score, by the way, is a classy treat, utilized with good humor and commendable restraint.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : A
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Slice-of-life comedy with a penchant for lunacy and a taste for huggable cuteness; a rare chance to see talented animators fully indulging their love of the art.
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