The “three episode test” is a largely unspoken tradition of modern anime fandom. The idea is that most TV anime are paced and structured to cement the impression they want to make on viewers by the end of episode three. If you make it that far and still want to see how the story ends, then you’re hooked for the long haul. Though the exact origin of this test is unknown, it has become trendy enough to influence the production staff behind many anime series today, creating a feedback loop where third episodes are often developed with the expectation to impress in mind. Today’s test subject: Daily Lives of High School Boys.
One of the best things about taking commissions is that I get the chance to look back at all kinds of anime that time forgot, shows that I would never think to check out again myself. Getting a request for Daily Lives of High School Boys sent me into full Obi Wan mode—the only thing I remembered about this 2012 comedy anime with the world’s most innocuous title was a scene where one of the titular high school boys smushes a hornet that landed on his mouth by crushing it against his friend’s lips. It’s a hilarious scene, but unfortunately, it doesn’t happen in the show’s first three episodes. Considering the bits that did make it into the show’s first quarter, I can see why that hornet’s kiss was the only thing I still remembered.
Comedy is subjective enough to begin with, before you even get to the language barrier that can restrict anime comedies in translation. Even the most successful comedy anime in Japan (Shin-chan, Gintama, Osomatsu-san) tend to attract a much smaller niche of English-language fans. Unless there’s a ton of action, fanservice, or an endearing love quadrangle supporting the stream of gags, pure silliness is a tougher sell for English speakers who have no shortage of animated comedies in their own language to choose from. As its title implies, Daily Lives of High School Boys trades in casual, mundane gags for the most part, with just enough absurdity in moments like the hornet’s kiss to give the show its own personality. It’s too bad that the show’s personality has to be split up so uniformly over a dozen faces in its cast.
Tadakuni, Yoshitake, and Hidenori are the central trio of troublemakers in an all-boys school overflowing with other sardonic numbskulls. On the surface, Tadakuni seems like the everyman, while Yoshitake has a vaguely delinquent energy, and Hidenori is the outspoken nerd. But in practice, there’s not much daylight between their personalities in the show’s revolving door of sketches. Each new comedy routine seems hyper-aware of the fourth wall, like the boys are trying to provoke the audience just as much as each other, so they’ll all switch places in the straight man or buffoon part, depending on what the skit needs in the moment.
This SNL energy did help set Daily Lives of High School Boys apart from its peers, especially back in 2012 when this level of snide self-awareness was less common in anime comedies. It’s not the sitcom setup we might expect, where laughs come from the way that each clearly defined personality clashes in their world. Daily Lives of High School Boys is an irreverent sketch comedy about absolutely nothing. Every character seems motivated purely by the pursuit of a laugh, a groan, or hopefully both at once.
The lads don’t need much reason to put on their sisters’ underwear, pretend to join a JRPG party, or improvise a romantic sunset confession with a complete stranger on the riverbank. They seem to know that an audience is watching them, so they’ll always be down for anything, just for the sake of the gag. The possibility of any sturdier reality behind the shaky plywood set of their world gets thrown out the window in the first episode’s first bit, where the guys run to school while wolfing down curry and ramen instead of the stereotypical slice of toast. Choice moments like this breakfast gag and the hornet’s kiss do yield solid laughs, but ultimately, I think this sketch comedy structure deprives the show of the stamina it needs to be funny for twelve episodes—it’s barely funny enough for three.
When every high school boy in the cut is a vague variation on the same archetype—a fun-loving dumbass who inevitably takes a daily exercise in improv too far—even frequent changes in the scenery or cast aren’t enough to break up the monotony of lesser sketches or emerging patterns that tend to affect every character the same way. This hit-or-miss, anything-goes style of comedy could balance out its inconsistent quality with a higher quantity of sketches, but the lackadaisical pace of Daily Lives of High School Boys hurts its best bits with the stinkers that linger too long. At the end of episode 3, there’s a four and a half minute sequence where Hidenori debates whether or not to tell a girl that she has a hair growing out of a mole on her neck. The punchline is that it ultimately doesn’t matter—he wasted his time worrying about it, and you wasted your time watching him. Shaggy dog jokes like this can be funny—this infuriatingly hilarious bit in Cromartie High School is almost seven minutes long—but it’s a major waste of precious screentime if it doesn’t pay off. For me, that was the last straw for a repetitive sketch series whose misses were quickly outpacing its hits.
If you like irreverent, sketches-over-sitcoms anime in this style, I would recommend Osomatsu-san or Asobi Asobase first. Both anime embrace their mundane and absurd sides more intensely at a faster pace, with the support of a more memorable and distinct cast. Daily Lives of High School Boys does have a scene where a guy accidently shaves his nipple clean off, but I don’t think its tight handful of laughs is enough to save the overall rocky ride from obscurity.
Daily Lives of High School Boys is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Thanks to Charlie for commissioning this review. You can commission my work on Ko-Fi here! Thank you for your support. ❤