It’s very easy to (or perhaps impossible not to) get thrown by the first couple of episodes of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki. What first appears, through it’s zany and high-energy opening theme, fast-talking characters, and ridiculous premise to be a crazy slapstick comedy series is spliced with what comes across as very forced and overdone drama. After all, while a show about a man and a loli-tacular ‘god’ becoming parents to surrogate children including an innocent young girl, a gay teenage boy, a high-powered humanoid robot built for destruction, a lion, and a jellyfish might not seem like something you wouldn’t expect to have some messages about family togetherness and such, you probably wouldn’t expect it to start in the form of the young daughter being ruthlessly bullied at school and consistently getting the shit kicked out of her, especially by a sadistic older sister. A lot of people dropped this series in the first few episodes precisely because of that drama – I was somewhat included, though my inability to watch things as they air also had to do with it. Nonetheless, Kyouran Kazoku Nikki was one of a few ‘dropped’ shows that I added to my ‘finish or fail’ list to give them a second chance. And I was not disappointed.
What becomes apparent in the first ten or so episodes of the show is that the drama is way over-the-top on purpose, and that’s kind of the point. Kyouran’s goal is to turn everything it does up to eleven. The comedy has to be as insane, uproarious, and turbo-charged as possible, and the drama should never slack behind. Unlike most comedy which either try to stave off drama to keep things lighthearted, or focus on black comedy to give everything a sense of irony, Kyouran plays both it’s comedy and drama completely straight and never, ever holds back.
This is off-putting for a few episodes, but it very quickly shows results and works. The series truly needed the extreme drama to drive home it’s ultimate point. It’s a show about a group of eight unlikely ‘people’ who come together to form a ‘cozy family’, because it was something that each of them truly needed and desired. All of the characters have fairly traumatic pasts that come back to haunt them, and rarely are they far behind. To give some examples of how far this goes, take the 3-year-old humanoid robot Hyouka, who is trying to learn instincts beyond ‘murder’. Hyouka falls in love with a human girl in an early episode, and their feelings seem to be mutual – it’s a fluffy, comedic time until it turns out that the girl’s sister, who hasn’t returned home in years, was actually murdered by Hyouka during the testing phase of his creation. You can imagine the kinds of shocks this brings along, but ultimately, it is brought around again to deliver a warm, fluffy, fun, and funny message about family and togetherness etc.
What would usually feel like forced drama to elicit an emotional reaction actually works in this series because of how thorough it is, and because the drama and comedy are intricately related. The characters don’t simply forget about their troubles one minute to be funny, and then remember to be pouty later – the worries and traumas are always waiting right behind each person, and will drive them and teach them along the way.
Another part of what makes this work is that the comedy and randomness does not exist for no reason. No mater how absurd a plot element might be, chances are it will still come back later and will still be important to the plot. An early two-part episode has the family go to an island resort for a honeymoon wherein they are taken care of by a kind young chef and then end up tangled in an adventure involving a castle in the sky flown by a mad scientist who is mind-controlling an army of monkeys to kidnap the family’s daughter, Yuuka (who always find herself in hilariously near-rape situations), to alleviate his loneliness. It turns out that the scientist was part of the team that created Hyouka, and he does some evil stuff, before redeeming himself just in time to be crushed by rubble as the castle collapses, which leads mother/god Kyouka-sama to declare the chef ruler of the island and the monkeys his troupe of companions. In any other series of this kind, this might have been a one-off adventure, but instead the island is an important location throughout the series, the chef becomes one of the family’s greatest allies, and the monkey army is actually put to use.
There always seems to be an over-arching plot to the series – a point – which is something that comedy series of it’s kind rarely have. But that’s because, I think, the story isn’t really meant to be a comedy in the strict sense. It’s a story – a story that is way, way over-the-top and beyond-the-impossible, which makes it funny, but ultimately, it is actually trying to tell a real and interesting story. In that regard, it succeeds. The characters are interesting in the way that comedy characters rarely are. The story actually keeps you asking for answers and wondering how it all might turn out, and as it goes, ho boy does it go. By the series end I was just in awe of how much had happened and how it had all tied together, and the ending, while not a complete end (the light novel series is ongoing with 19 volumes out, though I don’t know how much was adapted by the anime) was still very nice and offered a satisfying amount of closure, even though I still have questions I would love to know answers to.
I seem to be gushing pretty hard because the series was very exciting and definitely something different enough that I’m glad to have watched, but that doesn’t mean it’s without issues. It kind of has the same problem that Futakoi Alternative does, in that while it’s nice to see so many bases covered, it can cause some real whiplash. In spite of many episodes that are more light and comedic with only some bits of character development sprinkled about, the episodes where the central plot occurs move at a startling breakneck speed, and so much happens that it can be honestly hard to follow at times. The last five episodes, for instance, while a lot of fun, introduce so many characters, plot threads, and perils, that they had my head spinning until it all came together. I will admit that I was left scratching my head at the end of some episodes, and even when I was having a complete blast, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the coolest thing I ever saw; just that it was nice.
I think the biggest issue I had with the show, if any, was with how the directing was handled at times – there were a handful of scenes sprinkled throughout the series wherein it was actually kind of confusing to tell exactly what was going on or what we were supposed to be looking at because of the director’s poor sense of space. It was as though the show was so used to the close-quarters shots and character placement of comedy and drama scenes that when it came time to show something really big and epic happening, the ‘camera’ as it were was being oddly constrained to focus on the characters instead of what was going on. I suspect this is something that would only really bother me, though, lol. Besides that, this was probably the best-looking production by Nomad ever (as well as the best series by Nomad period.)
The really sad thing about Kyouran is that it seems to have gone completely under the radar, both in the West and, it seems, in the East. The series itself did not appear to see this coming – the way it was produced suggests that the people creating it felt like they had a real success on their hands. The characters are all very fun, and the girls by all means deserved to be popular among otaku. The series features exceptional voice acting all around, including a very nice Kana Hanazawa role (though I don’t think she was nearly the powerhouse that she is now at the time) as the ultra-adorable and moe Yuuka. One of the coolest aspects of the series is that it has eight unique ending songs and videos, one for each of the main characters, performed by their seiyuu. All of these are fun, and a couple of them are really good songs (my favorite being Hyouka’s, as performed by Ryou Hirohashi, one of my favorite seiyuu, who makes the song win.) I watched the opening theme in every episode, too, as it does the perfect job of getting into the mood of the series (the way it kicks off with Kyouka screaming ‘TE-N-SAAAAAIIIII!!’ and then the ultra-fast vocals rush in was always invigorating.) All in all, the show is just very well-made and built for a success that it didn’t seem to achieve at all.
Kyouran Kazoku Nikki – Finished (8/10)
Kyouran is the kind of show that I would have loved to see lots of fan art and doujinshi and buzz about. It’s the kind of show that is memorable enough to be watched again, and leaves me with a warm feeling, and it makes me sad that I won’t have the opportunity to experience it’s ‘culture’ the way I can with other shows. If I had to guess, the reasons that the show didn’t succeed have to do with it’s very unusual character designs (which I loved, but wouldn’t expect to have universal appeal), and it’s hard-to-place goals, but I for one had a ton of fun with it and would recommend it to anyone willing to give it a shot.