Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jun 2nd 2012
Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos
Mahiro Yasaka is about to become monster chow when a mysterious silver-haired girl slaughters his attackers. She is, she tells Mahiro, a Cthulhu—yes, of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos—named Nyarlathotep, but to please call her Nyarko. Nyarko does indeed protect him, but she's a cure that at times is worse than the disease. She's excitable, gleefully violent, a bit touched in the head, and madly in love with Mahiro. She also comes with a suitor of her own, nubile flame Cthulhu Kuko, and a slew of other bothersome alien acquaintances. Being kidnapped by human-trafficking demons might eventually end up being a relief.
Taking the mythos built around H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu and turning it into a goofy fan-service romp was certainly a stroke of, if not genius, at least extreme originality. But you could scour the rest of Nyarko-san from top to bottom and find nothing else that remotely qualifies as original. It's mindless, substanceless romantic comedy of the most utterly clichéd sort. Not that that prevents it from being good dumb fun.
You know Nyarko-san is going to be a pile of used rom-com tropes the minute Nyarko transfers into Mahiro's class. Or maybe it's when she moves into his house. Or maybe when Mahiro mentions that his parents are conveniently out of town. Or maybe when Nyarko drops out of nowhere in the first place. Either way, the series leaves no doubt of its intention to be a slavish magical-girlfriend clone. Nyarko is the ardent alien suitor, Mahiro the reluctant human suitee, and before long Nyarko's alien friends start showing up on their doorstep to make Mahiro's life hell. Take out the names, and it could be Urusei Yatsura—the grandmammy of all romantic comedies—or pretty much any show that followed it. You know that despite her obvious physical charms Nyarko's romantic advances will be rebuffed, just as you know that despite his violent objections Mahiro isn't entirely immune to her advances. You know that before long other girls will be moving in and that somewhere along the line there'll be beaches and swimsuits and a first date.
If the show took any of this the least bit seriously it would be a pretty miserable experience. Luckily it hasn't a serious bone in its body. It isn't a romantic comedy (or even a comedic romance) so much as a comedy with some perfunctory romantic trappings. Sure Mahiro's house becomes a harem, but the second girl to move in has the hots for Nyarko and the third one is a guy. The transfer-student gimmick quickly becomes a running joke as alien after alien transfers into the class claiming to be a distant relative of Mahiro's. And the show has a grand old time with how shamelessly carnal the affections of the Cthulhu races are. Everyone is out to make babies with their paramours, including Kuko—god only knows how that works.
As for the rest of the show, it's just one madcap farce after another, each one sillier and more crammed with cultural in-jokes and comedic mayhem than the last. The first is about Nyarko's mission to protect Mahiro, the second about Mahiro's mom coming home (and being kidnapped), the third about going to the beach with aliens, and none of them is more than passingly serious and all of them are more than passingly funny. Whether it's Mahiro's mom blithely confirming one of Nyarko's goofball predictions, aliens protecting Earth for its “natural resources” (video games and anime), or a villain who drives a suspiciously familiar DeLorean, there's generally something on hand to make you laugh. It's a lot of fun just spotting the references to other anime (and movies, and games, and manufactured Cthulhu myths): Nyarko's ultimate fighting technique turns her into a sentai hero, one arc turns out to be about a galactic perversion of the X-Box/PS3 rivalry, and Mother Hydra of the Cthulhu Mythos is revealed to be a giant bikini-wearing version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Of course, the cost of cramming the series to that density with silliness is that there's no room for what the intelligentsia refer to as “substance.” Occasionally one of its stories will seem to be getting serious—say, when Mahiro's mom is kidnapped, or when Nyarko's raid on the guys who want to sell Mahiro goes wrong—but invariably something comes along that turns the whole thing into a stupid joke and makes you feel like a dupe for thinking that maybe something important was going down. Only once does the show verge on seriousness, during the beach episode of all times. It's just a brief flash of real feeling, when Mahiro's constant rejection finally gets through to Nyarko, and Nyarko's shameless exploitation of it quickly turns it into a joke anyway, but still it's interesting. Because, while it's nothing profound or powerful, it does make the Nyarko/Mahiro pairing work romantically, if only for a while. That's…promising, shockingly enough.
Nyarko-san's energy comes from joke-a-second pacing, lightning dialogue exchanges, and capricious plotting rather than high-energy animation. A lot goes on in any given sequence—red-shadowed supernatural interludes, hyperactive Nyarko-hijinks, sentai transformation sequences, lots of half-clothed fan-service “romance” (it's really more lust than romance), and loads of demon-eviscerating action—but none of it is very animated. Instead director Tsuyoshi Nagasawa's strategy is to take dressed-up stills and lots of nondescript or looped animation and cut it all together at such relentless speeds that you haven't time to notice how mediocre it looks. And curse the man if it doesn't work most of the time. Between the jumps from joke to joke, the sight gags to spot, and the sheer speed of the episodes and the visuals, there's no time to spare to think about how cheap it all is.
The fact does remain, however, that it is cheap. And terminally average. From monsters to characters to backgrounds, everything looks just like every other anime out there. Take a still from pretty much any episode, mix it with a half-dozen stills from a half-dozen shows and you'd never be able to pick out which came from Nyarko-san. The closest it gets to a visual signature is its taste for fan-service that emphasizes legs and other slightly odd sources of sex appeal (ankles and knees anyone?) over the usual boobs and butts. Even the score is a nonentity. It doesn't hurt anything and doesn't stand out; it just kind of sits there and sounds vaguely appropriate to whatever action is going down.
Despite its genesis in the convoluted world of the Cthulhu, Nyarko-san is a simple show. Take a stock romantic-comedy and hit all of the usual clichés while surgically removing most of the romance and replacing it with an unending flow of wacky situations and pop-culture references, and Nyarko-san is what you get. Don't go in looking to have your world rocked, but prepare to enjoy yourself more than maybe you expected to.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C
+ An energetic, frequently funny comedy about an evil god who takes the form of a cute girl and screws up the life of the boy she loves.
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