East Meets West #10: Nichijou .vs. The Looney Tunes

This week I continue my next batch of posts for the East Meets West series, dedicated to comparing/contrasting anime and Western media of similar premises, and, based on a specific set of criteria, decide which of the two is, in my fallible opinion, the superior version. Some shows are the type which one is expected to sit back as the characters on-screen throw themselves into various situations which are designed to make the viewer laugh, suspend their belief in reality, or both. Realizing the lack of physical limitations of their world, this allows for multiple possibilities on how the comedy can be built. Such is the case with Nichijou, an anime production by Kyoto Animation (as is the case with last month’s rendition, Lucky Star) which showcases the daily, extraordinary living of three schoolgirls, two housemates, one black talking cat, and other residents; and the timeless staple of Western animation, The Looney Tunes, a series of short skits involving anthropomorphic characters dunking on each other through various means of slapstick, physics-defying routines, and fourth wall jokes, although not in the same extent as Nichijou does. Given the similar nature of both series are non-sequitur, completely random as to the plot of the day, and yet so memorable, I feel it deserves a spot in this month’s publication as two shows of similar comedic caliber.

EASTERN COMPETITOR #10: NICHIJOU

Five schoolgirls going about on comedic adventures unlike any other KyoAni production.

Kyoto Animation‘s slice-of-life/comedy production Nichijou can be traced back to a series of manga comics published in the Kadokawa Shoten magazine, and circulated from 2006 to 2015 in the form of comic strips drawn by Keiichi Arawi. It focuses mainly on the story of different groups of people who, despite the seemingly normal setting of their quiet town, seem to get involved with multiple incidents which test their ability to suspend belief in reality. These include high school students and trio of best friends Yuuko Aioi, Mio Naganohara and Mai Minakami, whose daily doings typically involve random awkward situations and pranks; the Shinonome Laboratory gang of Hakase (Japanese for professor), Nano, and house cat Mr. Sakamoto, who has the God-given ability to communicate with her human owners; and various other students such as rich kid Sasahara, his love interest Misato, skeptic Nakanojo, and various others. Like Lucky Star, those who choose to venture into this series will more likely than not find themselves enthralled in the characters’ daily lives, and the various antics that accompany them.

Recently, the series has received a significant cult following in the anime community, and it has often been referred to as one of Kyoto Animation‘s lesser-known works, especially when compared to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star, K-On! and Violet Evergarden. However, it’s good enough to have received recognition as being among the top anime of 2010 by Crunchyroll and a positive review by Anime News Network. In my opinion, it’s a fun, relaxing show in which you’ll be surprised if you don’t find characters who are much like the ones you come across in this series.

WESTERN COMPETITOR #10: THE LOONEY TUNES

The Looney Tunes: America’s timeless cast of lovable comedy figures

If you’ve never heard of this show before, chances are you’re living under a rock, or on a remote island with no access to electricity. Looney Tunes is one of the most widely-recognized Western animated shows, with a history that spans more than 90 years – and it’s all thanks to Warner Bros. for having amassed its circulation. Originally created in 1930 (albeit in primitive form) by animators Rudolf Ising and Hugh Harman as a rival to Mickey Mouse of Disney fame, in contrast to the former’s happy-go-lucky theme, Looney Tunes focuses on animating the fast-paced, simple stories of its expansive cast of beloved characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester The Cat, Tweety Bird, Porky Pig, among others. Expect to see various segments such as the famous chase segments (think Wile E. Coyote .vs. The Roadrunner or Bugs Bunny .vs. Elmer Fudd, for example) or their zany adventures across different lands.

Although the last original Looney Tunes short was released in 1969, that has not stopped their widespread popularity and the characters’ recognizability. They are still aired today thanks to modern syndicated television series such as The Bugs Bunny Show; and has been rebooted from time to time as well – most famously, through the 1996 basketball film Space Jam featuring then-popular NBA star Michael Jordan, Looney Tunes: Back In Action from 2003 featuring Brendan Fraser, the 2011 series The Looney Tunes Show whose direction aimed to be more like sitcoms such as Friends or Seinfeld, and most recently, the 2021 film Space Jam: A New Legacy, which like its 25-year old predecessor film, features NBA superstar LeBron James playing hoops with the show’s cast. If there’s one animated show which highlights the U.S’s comedy legacy, this one has to be it.

THE SHOWDOWN

You might be wondering how I’m going to assess a 10-year old anime against a series which has a legacy that spans multiple generations. But here at East Meets West I don’t rate the shows based on their cultural impact, but how well they performed based on several categories – of which this week, five of them will be key. These include:

  • Best Characters
  • Best World
  • Best Prank War
  • Best Sideshow Segments
  • Best Entertainment

CATEGORY #1: BEST CHARACTERS

Nichijou: many characters, plenty of comedic possibilities

To start things off, I will address the question of characters. One of the defining features of Nichijou and The Looney Tunes is the distinctive personalities assigned to each character, and how from episode to episode they largely remain true to their roles and values – almost like if they were chess pieces on the board. From the moment you see them, you know with moral certainty how each of them are going to turn out or do. In Nichijou, for example, Yuuko will end up often as the butt end of the joke, given her strong tendency to fail at life – forgetting her homework, unable to read people well, and a general klutz; Mai takes the role of the trickster, always trolling away at anyone who crosses her path; Mio remaining the “only sane person” of the group; and minor characters like Sasahara and Misato get their spotlight with their own clichéd segments. The same goes for Bugs Bunny and friends – you can expect to see Bugs’ witty self tied to his Brooklyn accent, Daffy’s egotistical ramblings, Yosemite Sam’s short-tempered Southern caricature and Tweety’s naive self, among many others, depicted in the show. While characters like Wile E. Coyote or Elmer Fudd have stagnant roles as the victim of the joke, sometimes, characters like Bugs, Porky, or Daffy can dynamically adapt themselves to different roles depending on the story.

For the Looney Tunes cast, their best merit lies in their ability to deliver humor dynamically, but in terms of the characters themselves, they’re rather dry and wanting for more when it comes to personality. They don’t really offer much; the characters are many in number, but personality-wise, they’re basically the same trope coated in different colors – Bugs Bunny and Tweety, for example are practically expys of one another as the “chased” as much as Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam/Sylvester the Cat serve as the role of the “chaser”. Some characters like the Tazmanian Devil, Wile E. Coyote, and The Roadrunner barely get any lines to them and it’s hard to sympathize with the likes of those. Nichijou, one could say, has characters which practically look alike each other minus the facial features, but none of them are duplicates of the other – Yuuko is the only Yuuko, as much as Hakase is the only Hakase, and Nakanojo is Nakanojo. You’d be hard-pressed to find characters which are more or less same in personality in this series, and that’s about as much as you can get from them.

Looney Tunes: many characters, many zany and memorable tricks up their sleeves

Whereas the characters’ established roles are one thing, their likability is another. Sure, the Looney Tunes characters might be more recognizable than the former, but it’s hard to appreciate them when you could classify multiple of them under the same category – which Nichijou does best with, successfully incorporating visuals and personalities that are unique to each character.

NICHIJOU 1, THE LOONEY TUNES 0

CATEGORY #2: BEST WORLDS

When looking at the worlds of these two shows, I will look at them from a visual and fantastical perspective. If Nichijou‘s characters were more diverse and uses that to its advantage, then what Looney Tunes thrives in is its ability to expand its universe and make good use of the skit’s story. When you’re watching one of the many zany adventures of Bugs, Daffy, Porky, or their friends, they’ll try to incorporate different settings and time periods into the mix. Desert landscapes (as is common for Wile E. Coyote/The Roadrunner and Speedy Gonzalez), suburban views (Paris, New York), rural backgrounds (near Dixieland), and even space are some of the places that you can expect to see in the Looney Tunes universe. What’s more as well is the show’s famous use of cartoon physics, including but not limited to: walking on air until you realize the blunder, unrealistic technological mishaps, and of course, the uncanny ability to survive artillery attacks. These are the staple features of a standard Looney Tunes episode.

Nichijou on the other hand is heavily lacking of diverse locations. Its setting, the town of Tokisadame, can be best described as an ordinary city with extraordinary happenings. Obviously, the production values of the town are much more detailed than the various locations of the former, and very reflective of the modern mix of traditional Japanese elements and 21st-century architecture as opposed to the generic style of the Looney Tunes world. From a physical standpoint, everything more or less reflects reality, except in the instance of the Shinonome Laboratory, where anything goes – talking cats, 8-year old genius scientists, and lifelike robots with various features and gadgets to them. Other than that, it’s a quaint old town, and the end credits scene from episode 14 onwards really tries to drive that home despite all the shenanigans we just saw.

Conclusively – if Nichijou‘s characters were the meat of their show, then Looney Tunes has the advantage in world-building, because of its ability to drive imagination to the fullest. Because of this, the characters will be able to have multiple adventures and potential for various funny segments. To put it succinctly: the sky’s the limit for this kind of production.

LOONEY TUNES 1, NICHIJOU 1

CATEGORY #3: BEST PRANK WARS

“Rabbit Fire” from 1951 is about as Looney Tunes as you can go with the slapstick

By “prank war”, I’m referring to one of the central features of comedy in the show: characters instigating conflicts with each other, resulting in one of them getting visibly agitated while the other delights in it. Those who grew up with Looney Tunes see this through the charades of Bugs Bunny, such as in the famous Rabbit Fire (“Rabbit season / Duck season”), Elmer Fudd’s Restful Retreat (home of the Big Chungus meme), and Sahara Hare skits; each time going up against those who try to capture him, usually humans like Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam for food or revenge purposes, and triumphing through a battle of wits. As for Nichijou, while there’s no chase scene like the former per se, the prank wars manifest themselves through the character of Mai Minakami, and the various tricks she plays towards her friends Yuuko and Mai. Throughout the series she implicitly goads people to react to her outlandish performances, owns two dogs with interior mean streaks (biting people who try to pet them with hilarious results in episode 22), and defeating them through flawless combinations in simple games of red light/green light by saying nothing after “Red light” (episode 10), arm wrestling (episode 3) or word-stair climbing (episode 2).

Both segments are entertaining to watch, and their executions are equally as bombastic to the other, albeit in different ways. Looney Tunes is more direct with having Bugs triumph through sheer willpower, careful planning and positioning of his would-be captors, always having them make the first move before striking. The trick usually goes as such: Bugs annoys Elmer/Yosemite, which triggers the latter to chase after him; he lures them to his intended trap, and from there it’s hook-line-sinker as they fall for it and face the consequences. Rinse/repeat, enough times before the charade gets old and they call it quits, and Bugs ends the story with a one-liner directed towards the audience.

Mai completely pwns Mio with her one-move win tactic
Ditto for Yuuko.

On the other hand, Mai doesn’t rely much on traps or the classic visual illusion of “paintings disguised as pathways”; instead, she relies more on subtlety than direct attacks. Challenge her to an arm wrestling match? It turns out she’s actually stronger than she looks, so be prepared for a beatdown. Ask her to draw a manga scene? She’ll give you something other than what you asked for. And for the love of God, don’t assume anything about her if she’s ignoring you, lest you want to make an arse out of yourself. The best part is that even though her victims, usually Yuuko and Mio, manage to express themselves over her ruses, she doesn’t even make emotion herself after the charade ends – she keeps the same straight face all throughout, unlike Bugs’ humored look. Unlike him, she makes the first move to garner the reaction, and no matter what the situation is, it’s guaranteed to turn heads and generate reactions.

Mai perfects the system through creative methods of pranking while not having to explain the joke; instead, she’ll allow it to explain itself to the viewer. That’s not to say that Bugs isn’t funny – he can certainly make use of his surroundings and use them to his advantage. However, when it all comes down to it, humor is much funnier when it’s innovative or least expected, and for that Mai gets top credit as being the better player in this.

NICHIJOU 2, LOONEY TUNES 1

CATEGORY #4: BEST SIDESHOW SEGMENTS

Yuuko, Mai, and Mio aren’t the only other characters with interesting lives to lead, just as much as Bugs Bunny is not the only character that defines his franchise. The other characters also play smaller roles through different quantities. In Nichijou, you can expect to see stories of Nakanojo trying to disprove the supernatural, only for them to backfire and end up with opposite results to his original hypothesis; the doings of the Go-Soccer club, and Misato / Sasahara’s tension-laden interactions with each other. Along with these are a set of characters from Mio’s fictional Fey Kingdom, an airship-based nation home to a royal family and their dim-witted, green-sweater-wearing servants. In all these we get a glimpse into the inner workings of the Nichijou community. But perhaps the most significant of these is that of the relationship between Hakase, a self-proclaimed professor with the physical and mental stature of a child, her discretely robotic housemate Nano, and their pet cat Mr. Sakamoto. Unlike the previous series, their arc is the only one that comes close to an actual story, with Nano trying to live her life as a normal girl – with school, friends, and a taste for adventure rather than being stuck at home – and having to put up with Hakase’s tantrums alongside Mr. Sakamoto’s criticism. She’s as close as you can get to a character with actual development, and for a slice-of-life show, that’s saying a lot.

Similarly, in Looney Tunes you can see these kind of everyday gatherings through the lens of other characters like Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, and many others. Stories of Porky and Daffy’s cross-country travels, Pepe Le Pew’s chase for romance, Tweety and Sylvester’s tumultuous coezxistence, and the like are plenty and numerous. Add to that feature-length films involving them playing basketball or searching for lost treasure, and it’s no surprise why its legacy is far and wide. In addition to the more accessible range of stories, another benefit they have compared to Nichijou is that each skit has a cohesive story to them – as opposed to just a disjointed collection of random-access skits. The impact is that I’m able to remember a lot of the stories, even years after I’ve watched them – even if the jokes did come off as corny, and the slapstick a bit tedious.

What sucks is that Nichijou had a really good sub-story involving Nano’s life, and to be honest I would have loved to see a spinoff series around that premise; it’s charming, eloquent, and genuinely had something good going. Unfortunately, the way it was classified in the episodes was in the form of a diamond in the rough. Meanwhile, Looney Tunes goes ahead and establishes multiple spinoff films which tries to retrofit the characters and reinvent the franchise, unafraid to try new ventures into different genres while mixing its comedy flavor.

LOONEY TUNES 2, NICHIJOU 2

CATEGORY #5: BEST ENTERTAINMENT

You know you’ve reached the top when the NBA shows interest in marketing you alongside its superstars.

Nichijou has become one of those shows which has been shelved by the wider anime community, save a few circles. Years have passed on since it first aired in 2011, and despite its wacky attempts at procuring humor, it failed to break even through its DVD sales, leading to the eventual abandonment of any hope of further seasons. I as well can attest to the lack of interest in the series through another medium: fan conventions. In August 2019, I went to Fan Expo, where there was a Kyoto Animation themed photoshoot outdoors. People cosplayed Haruhi Suzumiya, Rikka Takanashi, Violet Evergarden, and the cast members of K-On or Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid – but no Mai Minakami or Hakase cosplayer ever come to the spotlight. That, to me, is a testament of how severely underrated and underappreciated this series is. If you can find people cosplaying characters from anime series that are over 20+ years old, like Dragon Ball, but not this one – that’s indicative of a problem with its popularity.

On the other hand, no one who is familiar with media can downplay the superb legacy of the Looney Tunes. It’s practically a trendsetter in the world of animation, and its success can be seen by the fact that it has transpired through multiple generations long after its original creators have passed on to eternal judgment. Many will remember the stories of Bugs Bunny triumphing over the various challenges he faces, the Roadrunner’s successful getaways, Speedy Gonzalez’s fast-paced action, and the traditional cat-mouse feud between Sylvester and Tweety. Who wouldn’t enjoy such simple, yet entertaining classics? There’s no rocket science involved, nor any plot holes that need clarification as with most movies around the same time. I’m absolutely certain that years from now, the Looney Tunes originals will continue to be aired on TV, and celebrated through various reboots and new merchandise.

Enough of that, however. With all that said, Nichijou still managed to captivate my senses the most. Yes, I grew up with the Looney Tunes and can even remember first watching Space Jam on the television as a kid, not to mention re-runs of the old shorts packaged together after school. The stories were fun, captivating to the imagination, and the mannerisms are certainly iconic. However, I fail to see how it’s any way unique when other shows like Tom And Jerry or The Adventures Of Sonic The Hedgehog also existed which mimicked its format. Nichijou, on the other hand, is one-of-a-kind when compared to most other series around it, and most importantly, there are important lessons embedded into it: live your life to the fullest, balance your needs with that of others, don’t always believe what you see – I can’t recall any Looney Tunes flick with the same message.

Behold the greatest scene in Nichijou: a testament to how not so seriously it takes itself.

All in all, Nichijou is a show that’s beautiful both interiorly, and exteriorly – and that’s more than enough to surpass a show with a timeless legacy behind it, and that’s good enough to clinch the win.

FINAL SCORE: NICHIJOU 3, LOONEY TUNES 2

CONCLUSION

The world of Nichijou is a wonderful one, which capitalizes on its comedy and pleasant characters. While it’s true that Looney Tunes is more diverse in its worlds and plotlines, up to a certain point the tropes will be so hashed out, that it basically becomes diluted after several showings or so. Not so the case with Nichijou – every episode tries to make extraordinary what seems ordinary, and aims to reinvent what’s already been established as funny, and take it to new heights; hence, why it has emerged here as the better – if not, more developed – version of America’s most cherished group of animated comedy cohorts. If other WordPress anime bloggers can even recognize this, then that’s already an accomplishment on its own terms. I guess that’ll be it, so to officially conclude this post, I’ll sign off with the traditional ending delivered famously by Porky Pig himself: “*incoherent stuttering* That’s all, folks!”

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