SKET Dance is a slice of life comedy manga written and illustrated by Shinohara Kenta. In 2011, Tatsunoko, the same studio behind Kyatto Ninden Teyandee & C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, started airing an anime adaptation. The anime lasted for nearly eighty episodes and ran for over a year, ending in late 2012.It was introduced to me as like Gintama, but done well. So how true is that and is it worth watching?
Kaimei High School has an unusual student organisation. This is the titular SKET Dan, a support club that helps students or other clubs who need them. It has three members, Himeko, Bossun & Switch. The series basically covers their misadventures and the quirky people they encounter. This is one of those series where there’s a general order to the episodes, but where most of them have little connection with one another aside from starring the same cast. So, let’s cover the important aspect, how well the humour works.
The comedy in this is very hit or miss. There are times when it works nicely and others where it just falls flat. Generally speaking, the points where they try something really outlandish are the points where the comedy just fails. Mainly because these moments rely on randomness and characters shouting to be funny. The stuff with their teacher’s bizarre science experiments. The stuff with their other teacher’s obsessions with overly convoluted nonsense. The episode that crosses over with Gintama, and so on. Those are the moments that are just tired and stupid. Whereas the comedy that uses more exaggerated realism tends to work pretty well.
Here’s the thing, a series like Galaxy Angel can get by with overblown absurdity. Not only is the execution better, but the series is never tied with any real semblance of reality, except in that serious episode that was out of place and terrible. But with this series, so much of its humour is tied to realistic situations being slightly exaggerated. Which means that when they do put something in that’s completely absurd, it doesn’t really fit. This series tries to be a cross between the everyday school life comedy and the absurdist zany comedy but it’s only good at the former and its attempts to mesh the two just don’t work particularly well.
Comedy aside, there is a huge flaw with the series as a whole. It sucks at incorporating romance. Every single scene where they try to throw in some high school crush or to force chemistry between two characters, ends up being just banal and poorly done. Its like they took scenes from a shite romantic comedy and just threw them in whenever they wanted to develop their characters but couldn’t think of a good way to do it.
I will give the series credit for having some pretty solid serious scenes. There are quite a few moments where they focus on the characters, without the lousy romance angle, and they show something tragic, dramatic, heart-warming or a blend of the three. And those scenes are largely pretty solid and do their job well. Truth be told, they’re also a big part of why the absurdist elements don’t work. The contrast between a stupid plot where Himeko & Bossun switch bodies and a semi-serious story about Himeko’s tragic past is simply too glaring. In that sense, it is a bit like Gintama, except in Gintama the attempts at drama were out of place with the usual absurdity whereas in Sket Dance the absurd moments are rarer and they come across as out of place while the more dramatic moments work.
The cast in this varies quite a bit. The major characters tend to be nicely fleshed out and have some level of depth to them beyond comedic quirks. The secondary and side characters, on the other hand, are their comedic quirks. Usually that’s two things to them, which makes them better than those comedic characters with one joke, but it can still get old and repetitive. There’s also the issue with the character dynamics. Mainly, the aforementioned way the series fails at romance. Those relationships that are supposed to read as having romantic chemistry are either badly done in general or inconsistent, with the romance dynamic being bad but with the characters also having a more friendship-oriented dynamic that works.
The artwork is decent enough. There are times during the more absurd scenes where things get hectic and difficult to see. On the positive side, the series does have some good visual gags. But, aside from that, it all looks fine.
The acting in this is competent overall but, like most elements of this series, inconsistent. Yoshino Hiroyuki, Sugita Tomokazu & Shiraishi Ryoko all do quite well and demonstrate some nice emotional range but a lot of the side actors only have to do one or two jokes and, consequently, don’t need range. Although, to be fair, the actors still generally do fine and it gives you the chance to hear Gackt do some voice acting. There are a few performances that are annoyingly exaggerated though and times when those actors who are generally fine have their over-acting bombastic moments.
Momoka’s dynamic with Himeko frequently comes across as her having a crush on Himeko. It’s probably the best semi-romantic dynamic you get in the series just because it’s actually natural for the characters and never feels contrived or forced. But it’s also pretty clear that they’re not going for a romantic dynamic, but an adoring disciple-master thing. There are some other homo-erotic moments interspersed throughout, but nothing major.
I can see where the comparisons to Gintama come in. And not just because there’s a crossover episode. Both series try to blend absurd comedy with more down to earth comedy and drama. Both also have massive casts of largely boring characters who are mainly there for a few reoccurring japes. I would agree that Sket Dance is better at the whole juggling act than Gintama was. That being said, I wouldn’t say that Sket Dance is particularly successful at it either. If the series had dispensed with the more outlandish elements and not bothered with teenage romance elements, it might have been really good. However, as it stands, those highly absurd comedic moment are its biggest flaw. They aren’t funny, clever or a good fit. In the end, my rating for Sket Dance is a 6/10. It’s okay, not good. Next week I’ll take a look at Toradora.