At some point someone realized that pointing out the absurdities and contradictions of everyday life could be really funny.
I mean, seriously, going back to at least George Carlin. Then of course there’s Jerry Seinfeld. Even Krusty the Klown figures it out, and he never figures out anything.
You know why that’s relevant to Saiki K, right? Because that’s what he does.
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K is an anime based on a gag manga, and to turn a gag manga into an anime someone or something has to drive the action, and in this case it’s our bud Saiki. He’s built, like any good protagonist, with an internal contradiction that keeps dramatic tension in the series. Right? The protagonist is a ___________ but ___________.
Saiki is a boy who has superpowers but wants to be a normal kid.
It doesn’t even matter which superpowers – and he has at least a dozen I counted before I stopped – because that’s not really what matters. The whole purpose of Saiki’s superpowers is to keep him from being a normal kid. So there’s always that internal tension there: he wants to be normal and it’s impossible. So stuff happens, and by the end of the episode he has to fix them with his superpowers, and then he’s back to being not normal. Poof. Instant tension.
What that does is make Saiki a perpetual outsider. He will never be normal, so he will never see the world through normal eyes.
We’ve talked about the outsider character once before. Elias Ainsworth, the Ancient Magus from The Ancient Magus’ Bride, is not human. But as the series progresses he emotionally pair-bonds with his (mostly) human “bride,” Chise Hatori.
Being an outsider, Elias sometimes needs to have humanity explained to him. And, of course, when the characters explain things to Elias, they are also explaining to us, telling us how the mangaka, Kore Yamazaki, looks at and thinks about the world. That’s one function of an outsider: To have things explained to them so the audience can see the explanation.
A different way to use an outsider character is to have the outsider tell us what they see.
Yeah, you wondered where I was going with that stuff about observational humor, right? But when you get right down to it, that’s what Saiki REALLY does. He sits back and points out the absurdities in his life, and since they’re absurd we laugh our asses off, and then he uses his powers to make sure everyone else is good by the end of the episode.
Konata Izumi from Lucky Star does that at times, too, but you know where we really saw that kind of humor? The original cartoon outsider … wait for it …
Remember Daria Morgendorffer from Daria?
Holy sheez, how long has that mess been off the air?
But that’s what Daria did, right? She was alienated from her family and her school, and, if you watch, she never really DOES anything. She just stands back and comments.
Bizarrely, Daria and Saiki as characters have exactly the same problem.
You see, one of the characteristics of the best comedians generally, and those doing observational humor specifically is that they are pretty damned smart, smart enough to be able to take the step back and really see what’s going on, and then find a way to articulate that in a way that is funny. Carlin? Seinfeld? Janeane Garafalo? Dave Chappell? Margaret Cho? What do they have in common?
They do (or did) observational humor and they’re pretty damned smart.
Now, when you look at that list one of the things that jumps out at me is that if you’re marginalized, like a woman or a minority (or both, in Margaret Cho’s case) observing life like that can drive you over the edge. Janeane Garafalo has gotten so strident that I don’t think anyone thinks she’s funny any more, not even herself. Now she’s an advocate, a smart, articulate one. I hope she’s effective, because from my perspective her head is screwed on pretty straight. Cho and Chappell, too.
But Daria and Saiki CAN’T do that. They’re CARTOON characters. And their intelligence is limited by a) how smart their writers are and b) how much their producers think their audience will tolerate.
And that ain’t much. Cartoon characters, right?
So in terms of observation they are severely limited. If you can’t REALLY tell the truth about THE world, you have to tell the truth about YOUR world. And to keep that funny, Daria and Saiki live in, in some ways, exactly the same world.
They live in worlds where they are surrounded by idiots.
Daria had it way worse than Saiki. It was pretty clear that everyone in the show was squirrel-brained except for her friend Janey, and the contrast with Janey didn’t do Daria much good: Janey was smarter, wiser, prettier, and more talented than Daria. But just about everyone else in Daria’s world was a complete idiot.
Saiki’s luckier than Daria in that supernatural forces exist in his world, so he can have people in his sensorium who he is stronger than (he has to be stronger than them to observe them) without him being smarter than them. But still, look at how dumb most of his friends are. I mean seriously, look at Nendo and Hairo. Not that Teruhashi is any kind of braniac.
Saiki doesn’t life in our world; he lives in a world built for him to make observations on. That makes him a perpetual outsider. If Saiki … or Daria … ever fits in, the show is broken.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.