Slice of Laughs (A Yuru Yuri Analysis)
After two grueling months of projects and exams, I can get back to work on what really matters: analyzing fictional middle schoolers.
Yuru Yuri is a carousel of hilarity that kept me optimistic through the endless weeks of twelve point font and Scantrons. As such, we’ll take a light-hearted approach at appreciating the show’s comedy. Although Yuru Yuri doesn’t push the boundaries of what comedy is or is capable of, it remains restlessly creative and introspective. Writing and directing play off of each other at every opportunity, and together create an ever-evolving collection of running gags. Nothing included in a scene is off-limits for a joke. Everything in the director’s repertoire is a tool for crafting laughs.
Let’s figure out how that makes us laugh in Episode 3 of Season 1 (though several other episodes are standalone masterpieces as well, such as S2E12). We won’t separate theme from form, so we’ll be considering the directing while we investigate comedy and characters.
Akari, our bland faux-protagonist, begins the episode by telling us how energetic she is as she sits perfectly still in her seat. Her classmates (namely Himawari, Sakurako, and Chinatsu, three characters who steal Akari’s precious screen time) sit down and block our view of Akari. The camera lazily attempts to keep Akari in sight, but even a will-less, fleeting cherry blossom blocks out Akari. Eventually, the camera itself gives up and decides to follow Kyoko, who is running late to class like a true protagonist should. Akari is cut off in the middle of her narration, and the camera starts to cut quickly and shoot from sharp angles in order to keep up with Kyoko.
This scene could have been directed with random characters and objects blocking Akari. Akari could have been animated to at least blink. Kyoko’s running scene didn’t need sound effects. But all of this serves to enhance an otherwise thrifty joke about Akari being boring and forgettable compared to her friends. This scene is not nearly as funny if the camera doesn’t roleplay as our attention spans, or if Akari’s dialogue isn’t so ironic. Having specific characters block Akari adds another layer of humor on top of it all.
But Yuru Yuri doesn’t rely solely on directing for laughs. As evidenced by Akari’s lack-of-presence gag, Yuru Yuri is aware of itself as a show (really, that’s its defining feature). The show establishes a diegetic fact/norm (e.g. Chinatsu loves Yui, Kyoko always wears a ribbon, etc.) and then examines or plays with that fact for laughs. Character design in particular gets picked on regularly. In Episode 3, Kyoko imagines Chinatsu with her hair down for a standard ‘this is her character trait’ (Kyoko is obsessed with her Mirakun lookalike friend) laugh, but that’s really just build up for what comes next.
Upon examining Akari’s hair, Kyoko (and the audience) realize her buns contain an absurd amount of hair and her character design is impossible. Whereas Kyoko’s visions of hair-down Chinatsu are cute, her visions of Akari are as ridiculous as the buns themselves. Thus the show establishes a new diegetic fact in that Akari’s pop-off buns hold impossible power. Later on, the buns will begin to express Akari’s emotions and even let her go Super Saiyan. Essentially, this is the birth of a running joke.
Yuru Yuri leans heavily on its running gags (very Arrested Development-esque, to be honest) to define how and when it makes jokes. Thinking beyond Episode 3 for a moment, we know that Chitose always gets nosebleeds from her fantasies. Naturally, that becomes a gag, but it isn’t simply left as such. When Chitose enters a chocolate craze (also a gag), Ayano forces her into an extreme fantasy by kissing Kyoko, all in hopes of knocking her out from blood loss. Even the gags themselves aren’t safe from this sort of meta humor, as Yuru Yuri turns Chitose’s seemingly inconsequential nosebleeds into actual severe blood loss.
Just try not to think about the implications of that too much.
We’ve been paying a lot of attention to what happens within the frame and on-screen, but what about outside the frame or off-screen? Let’s return to directing. Details the viewer can’t see can suddenly be popped into the frame, and Yuru Yuri makes use of this tool, as well. The more extreme the attributes (for lack of a better word) of whatever pops into the frame, the bigger the laughs due to the disparity between what wasn’t and what now is there.
We see this utilized well when Kyoko barges into frame with a mountain of rum raisin ice cream that she loudly dumps into Yui’s shopping cart, filling the screen. We focus on what we see: the girls shopping for actual ingredients; but then Kyoko reappears with an absurd amount of an unrelated item, baffling us. You could call this a sleight of hand. But that seems way to pretentious of a way to talk about Yuru Yuri.
Also, I can’t offer any useful analysis of this, but it’s equally hilarious that Kyoko’s only explanation is that she “wants to eat rum raisin.”
Another way of considering off and on-screen—that is to say: whatever we as viewers can currently see—is through jump cuts. Once again, we can turn to Kyoko for help. In one shot, she’s standing up, elated about getting some rum raisin. In the next, she’s prostate on the ground worshipping Yui. In one shot, she’s mashing the doorbell. In the next, she’s got a huge bump on her head. Likewise, one moment we assume Chinatsu is the only person in the bathroom, but the next, we see Kyoko already in the tub. Skipping the ‘slap’ of slapstick not only mixes up the flow of the show, but it also outpaces the viewer’s expectations. Yuru Yuri doesn’t give the viewer time to realize Kyoko is about to worship Yui, it just instantly thrusts the joke upon them. Again, it thwarts our focus.
All of this comedy, particularly the out-of-frame and jump cut jokes, relies on timing. Although timing has to be felt as a creator, and can’t be crafted through specific techniques other than observing and practicing, we can still analyze it in some cases. For example, we know the jump cuts work because their timing is instantaneous—that’s their appeal as jokes. But we can’t ever explain how to feel the timing for, as an example, when Kyoko should return to the frame after grabbing her rum raisin. All we can say is: just soon enough.
In the end, the question to ask ourselves is whether Yuru Yuri stands out amongst all the other comedy slice-of-life shows out there. Comedy being as subjective as it is, we can all come to different answers. But, after investigating the many angles at which Yuru Yuri tackles its comedy and the ceaseless efforts it goes through to capitalize on the audio-visual medium, we can all agree that the show works hard to be a successful comedy. Even if one can’t appreciate its humor, one can at least appreciate how it delivers that humor.