Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – 11

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Boy, there’s sure one hell of a lot going on with this series.

It’s nice when a show you peg as a sleeper comes through, and even nicer when it happens for all the reasons you suspected it might even without knowing the source material.  Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun has been just that, a series that’s handsomely paid off on all the elements that seemed to give it a quirky and genre-busting edge.  Where it’s exceeded my expectations, though, is in just how genuinely subversive it is.

Subversive is a term I don’t use often with anime, because to be frank very few of them rise to the definition.  The ones that do tend to be comedies, and often those with a meta side to their humor – Watamote comes to mind, but an even more obvious example is Jinrui wa Suitai ShimashitaGesshounoku is subversive in a different way, but make no mistake – this series is all about questioning our assumptions and biases when it comes to traditional gender roles.  And not just in the world of manga and anime, but Japanese society in general.  By no means does a series have to be subversive for me to hold it in high esteem, but I certainly have a lot of respect for those that have the ambition to try and the chops to pull it off.

There’s a nice little Hors d’oeuvre featuring Ken-san to start this episode, which doesn’t necessarily break any new ground but does offer a great gag (Nozaki-kun’s idea of “keeping his distance“) and a real sense of just how scarred he was by his time with Miura Maeno.  The meat of the episode is perhaps the strongest chapter yet when it comes to pushing the Nozaki-Sakura paradigm – it pretty much checks off all the cliche boxes like making bentos.  Of course as usual all of this is part of a subverted scenario – Nozaki is trying out various surprises on Sakura to gauge her reactions.  My favorite of these, certainly, was when he made himself her chair at the start of the day.

The interesting development here comes when Nozaki offers to walk home with Sakura, leaving her seeing potential dangers in every corner.  But the “surprise” is at the very end, when Nozaki says “I just wanted to walk you home” and strides off.  Yes, there’s a research element here too, but as much as anything that’s happened (not counting this week’s preview, which I’d bet is a huge troll) it seems intended to make us take this pairing as a serious possibility.  Normally I’m all for seeing relationship advancement, but I kind of like the fact that Nozaki is totally oblivious to Chiyo’s feelings – it gives Gesshounoku a certain specialness, and seeing them enter into a relationship might make the show as a whole feel a lot more conventional.

It’s the second chapter which for me sets off all the series’ genius points.  Honestly, being Nozaki’s friend is a dangerous and exhausting experience.  Why?  Because everything and everyone is a research opportunity.  I’ve compared Nozaki to a less-annoying Sheldon Cooper before, and if you can imagine Sheldon writing a shoujo manga I really think it fits – there’s this alien quality to Nozaki where the course of normal human emotion seems inexplicable yet fascinating.  He’s an observational writer who betrays no evidence that he’s ever personally touched by the feelings he writes about.  Nozaki-kun is the eternal emotional outsider, yet he’s found an ingenious and often hilarious way to turn this to his advantage.

Of course, this last chapter also works beautifully both in character and comedic terms.  A sudden rainstorm has forced Mikoshiba and Waka to seek shelter at the Nozaki estate, where Hori is already planning to spend the night and work on the manga.  One of the great things about Hori-sempai is that he’s aware of the madness around him in a different way than the rest of the cast is, and he provides a kind of audience proxy in the strange evening that ensues.  We have a first, second and third-year guy, each very different than the other, and the additional angle of Hori needing to keep his involvement in the manga secret.

Mikoshiba – who’s never met Wakamatsu-kun – immediately sizes him up a rival (but for what?).  There’s a kind of awkward feeling-out period between the boys, then Mikoshiba takes it on himself to try and create a typical (as defined by manga) male-bonding experience.  For him this means looking at gravure and talking about what their type is, but when he asks Nozaki for material what he gets is first Nozaki’s manga magazine, then a collection of his color covers, and finally his middle-school yearbook.  The clincher here is that Nozaki is – naturally – using all this as a rare opportunity for research.  He plans to turn what he sees into a pajama-party chapter for his female characters, and he has no problem using the boys’ behavior as a literal model for this.

See, that’s incredibly subversive because it works on so many levels.  It plays with the audience’s expectations of the characters themselves, with the ways boys and girls are generally different (and not so different), and it sure as hell dissects the tropes attached to the demographic labels we stick on a manga or anime.  Plus, it’s hilarious – especially when Nozaki refuses to let the others go to sleep because he wants to see them talk about their love lives, then passes out himself just when they’re going to ask about Chiyo (a superb troll executed).  There’s just so much happening in this series all the time – it’s incredibly smart and fearless material and it always has a purpose behind it, while still managing to be consistently funny in a straightforward way.  That’s a foolproof recipe for success, and it’s no wonder Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun has ended up as one of the best shows of the season.

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  1. S

    In this sense, one of the most hilarious moments had to be the showing of the yearbook – Wakamatsu going "I like the girls who are pure of heart" when Mikoshiba was trying to push for a good ol' stereotypical discussion "about girls" was great XD. But yeah, I might actually end up saying this was the best non-sequel anime of the season. Aldnoah.Zero is showy but the writing is getting dumber by the episode, and Zankyou really hangs on the ending for me. Nozaki-kun has been consistently funny and 'itself' through and through, though.

  2. J

    Best non-sequel anime this season … no mention of Barakamon? Even with the hatchet job they've done to the adaptation (reading the manga isn't too far off taking the red pill) it's good by the standards of this year. Therein lies the problem I suspect.

    But I'd agree, this is the summer show I look forward to the most. Nozaki putting the boys' conversations into his manga word-for-word and how they fit so well was brilliant.

  3. For me the two best non-sequel shows are probably this and Majimoji Rurumo – though that depends on whether you call Kuroshitsuji a sequel.

  4. S

    I haven't watched Barakamon, maybe will once the season is over. I'm not a huge fan of s'life usually anyway, so I wouldn't be surprised if my judgement still stood after that.

    And yeah, I'd consider Kuroshitsuji a sequel, being a 3rd season and all, though I didn't watch that either… I know there's a first manga adapted season and a second filler season that everyone despises, but is it all good? Or was Book of Circus better – and in case, what would I need to enjoy it fully?

  5. E

    A superb episode. The highlight for me was how the classmate see Nozaki and Sakura's relationship. A girlfriend who demands her boyfriend to shock her all the time?? lol.
    Last time we have store clerk mistook them for a couple who's into costume play.
    I hope there will be more misunderstanding to be seen.

  6. K

    This is my favorite show of the year so far. I realize there may be better shows but no show this year has filled me with as much joy as this one. I also love the entire cast.

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