When Kyoto Animation’s Nichijou came out in 2011, the “slice-of-life anime based on 4-panel gag manga” genre had grown a little stale. Several series rose up to copy Azumanga Daioh‘s format, and while most were not bad, exactly, none really succeeded in matching its quality or memorability—until Nichijou. It used several devices from Azumanga—the quick sketch-based scenes, unexpected comedic twists, and great diversity and chemistry in the main cast—and added a surreal element reminiscent of Western comedy like Monty Python (the good parts, not Holy Grail). It was able to get weird without getting too weird, going the way of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo or any number of Adult Swim stoner comedies; the humor still resided in the quick wit of the dialogue or the snappiness of the animation itself. Unfortunately, Nichijou was not exactly a best-seller, crushing any hopes of getting a follow-up season. The manga would end a few years later in 2015.
When CITY was announced as being the followup by Nichijou‘s mangaka, Keiichi Arawi, I knew instantaneously that I would be reading this. Starting in September 2016 in the Weekly Morning magazine, the first volume was just licensed and released in English by Vertical Comics last week. The book is as tall as a standard manga volume but with pages about an inch wider. The first few pages are in full color, and while the colors are very simple, they are bright and vivid, complementing Arawi’s style. It may not be as “shiny” as KyoAni’s adaptation of Nichijou, but it works very well.
CITY continues the tradition of surreal gags but introduces something that Nichijou only dabbled in: a plot. The robot Nano’s story revolved her becoming a real girl ala Pinocchio and going to school with the rest of the main cast, but that plotline only really started at the end of Nichijou’s first cour. CITY, on the other hand, introduces its storyline from the first chapter. The deadbeat Nagumo, in an attempt to simultaneously evade her rent-demanding landlady and bum the money from her neighbor, chases said neighbor Niikura around town. The chase involves not one, but two weird clay statues, a dubious pawn-shop proprietor, and an old man in control of a vast network of hidden cameras and microphones throughout the shopping district. The chapter ends with Nagumo being coerced into taking on a part-time job at a local “Western cuisine” restaurant. CITY does not maintain this breakneck pace throughout the whole volume, however, allowing chapters to breathe, with themes such as enjoying the smaller things in life, and the effects on duckface on feminine charm. This is still an Arawi manga, after all.
Just like Nichijou, CITY provides significant focus on its side characters. On top of the ones mentioned above, the reader is introduced to the members of the Makabe family, who own the restaurant Nagumo begins working for, a fresh police officer who finds himself in for more than he bargained, and an artist struggling to come up with ideas for his serialized manga. Each of these characters gets at least a chapter devoted to them. CITY manages to flit between these characters from chapter to chapter easily, using inventive transition panels to let the narrative flow through the entire book rather than jump from scene to scene. This flow allows us to see why the work is called CITY: it is about the community as a whole and how these characters interact with each other, rather than just about one particular character or group.
Overall, CITY is an absolute treat to read. The art and character designs are pleasingly simple, and the narrative, while certainly weird, is neither deep nor confusing. Fans of Nichijou will readily appreciate its gags, but even those who were turned off by the earlier work’s frenetic weirdness can enjoy the more linear plot and character development. I highly endorse CITY and am looking forward to continue reading Vertical’s release of it.