What happens when you smoosh together the works of the famous and influential horror writer, H. P. Lovecraft, best known for pioneering the cosmic-horror genre and for the creation of the Cthulhu Mythos in which great, ancient beings so vast and with so much power that even knowing their existence drives men to insanity and in the face of which humanity is but a worthless, insignificant speck, and otaku friendly romantic-comedy?
Given the premise – a bunch of elder gods from the Cthulhu Mythos come to Japan and disguise themselves as teenagers so they can get access to Earth’s allegedly superior entertainment – it would be untoward to not discuss the use of Lovecraft in Haiyore! Nyaruko-San first. Now, there’s this problem in modern geek culture to just throw in Cthulhu and call it a day. Works which show off their knowledge of the Mythos and of Lovecraft’s other writings beyond “lol Cthulhu has tentacles and will destroy the world Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn! XD” are surprisingly rare. Fortunately, this is one of the areas Nyaruko shines.
The majority of characters are various elder gods in the forms of people. Nyaruko (or Nyarlko or whatever) herself is Nyarlthotep, Cthuko is Cthugha, and so and so forth. Interestingly, Cthulhu (or Luhy, as she prefers) is only a secondary character, and not even a peer of the main character, helping to show that this bizarre premise was more due to an appreciation for Lovecraft as an author rather than “lol Cthulhu”. And this rings true throughout the entire show – there are so many references to Lovecraft, the extended Cthulhu Mythos and various adaptations and spin-offs using that source material that even the largest Lovecraft fan would miss a lot. From the Call of Cthulhu board game references via SAN Point sight gags to puns based on short stories, to subtle mythology shout-outs with the designs of amulets or pendants, to entire episodes being based in R’Lyeh, to eye-catches featuring Nyarlko consuming a ‘Cola of Cthulhu’ beverage, there are just so many shoutouts and references, some for the sake of it and many worked in very cleverly, all integrated into every single part of the show, that the only option is that the makers are huge fans. If nothing else, Haiyore! Nyaruko-San is absolutely a love-letter to Lovecraft, and make no mistake of it.
As you may have ascertained already, Haiyore! Nyaruko-San uses a lot of referential humor. A lot. Almost everything that happens is a reference to something else, and if it isn’t then there’s probably one in the background, even if only a detail. So many references that someone set up a blog just to try and document them all! As you may have guessed, there was a slight problem watching this. Namely, that I haven’t even as much as visited Japan, let alone grown up with the culture. The vast majority of the references just go completely over my head. Fortunately I did get a few, and so armed with that knowledge (and through the blog linked above) I can safely say that Haiyore! Nyaruko-San is the good kind of referential comedy – the parodic one that integrates the parodies into the action rather than just focusing on the parody (no “Hey Rouisu-chan, remember that time I did that thing that references some show from Sethu MacFarlaneu-kun’s childhood?” here), and definitely not one that just states a reference and calls it a joke (“Hey Sherudonu-san” “Yes, Leonardu-sama?” “Suta Turekku!” *audience bursts into laughter so fierce the studio collapses around them, killing all in one swift brutal fashion. The disaster is remembered for years to come*). Hell, some of the ones I got were genuinely funny! The time Hasuta, the ‘trap’ of the group, ended up in a Bridget costume springs to mind, as well as the episode long parody of your generic harem visual novel. Unfortunately, most of the references are squarely aimed at otaku. They’re almost all from anime, games light novels, visual novels… you get the idea. So even if you knew a fair bit about Japanese pop-culture you may end up still struggling just because of how niche the reference pool is.
But even when you don’t get the references, it still manages to be funny. Most of the situations the characters end up in are just patently absurd or ridiculous, and when everything is shown from the perspective of the perpetual straight man Mahiro, it just results in having an ‘inherently funny’ quality. And given that this is usually in tandem with some generally well-done slapstick (the universal comedy!), some not terrible sex humor (dick jokes are more universal than slapstick), huge amounts of medium awareness and fourth-wall breaking, great characterisation and interaction, and a breakneck pace, and there’s plenty to find enjoyment in even if you are a filthy baka gaijin.
Speaking of the sex jokes in it – they really aren’t terrible! They may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but they’re a damn sight better than in other series. Instead of “omg u saw my panties BAKA ECCHI HENTAI etc.” as the joke, it just ends up playing up the fact that basically every character (except Mahiro) wants to sex somebody up and is NOT ashamed of that fact. It feels closer to Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt in that regard, although approached from a ‘rom-com’ direction of course. And yes, there is fanservice (it’s produced by Xebec, what did you expect?) but it’s never really for the sake of fanservice, but usally for the sake of a joke. It’s at least bearable in that regard.
As mentioned, the characterization is really quite strong and definitely one of the highlights of the show. Each character has their own personality that stands out and isn’t hideously generic. Mahiro, being the male MC, is a little bland and generic but he plays the straight man really well regardless, and certainly gets a LOT of good moments. Nyarlko, the crawling chaos, is loud, hyperactive and oh-so in love with Mahiro, and of course celebrates that fact instead of trying to hide it. A staple joke is Mahiro all too effectively fending off Nyarlko’s advances, but there are plenty of other rather funny moments between the two, and even a few quite touching scenes! Cthuko is fiercely in love with Nyarlko, and so you get a similar relationship between the two as there is with Nyarlko and Mahiro. Obviously this results in frequent juxtaposing of Nyarlko’s behaviour with Cthuko’s, and yeah, that works too! And the last of the main 4 is Hasuta, the ‘trap’ as it is. Of the lot, he acts the most typical given the scenario – he’s actually ‘moe’. So this often results in him behaving in ways that would be (allegedly) cute and desirable to Mahiro if it were a girl doing it, but alas it isn’t so he just gets kinda weirded out.
And then there’s a lot more of the comedy that could be discussed, but at that point we’re beginning to dissect the frog. Just know that Haiyore! Nyaruko-San can be pretty damn funny at times, and even when the joke doesn’t quite get across it’s usually still pretty entertaining.
I guess some mention of the story is necessary too. It tends to veer between episodic and arc-based, and there’s no over-arching plot to speak of, but they’re good in their own right. Sometimes they do feel like vehicles to carry it from one joke to the next, but usually it’s quite surprising how focused and thought-out the storylines are considering that it is mostly just parody.
The production values are also pretty damn good. The animation is certainly great (not standout, mind) and the art looks fantastic, and the music is quite enjoyable too. Speaking of, know how I mentioned that Lovecraft is integrated into every bit of this show? Nowhere is this more obvious than in the OP. Cheerful, upbeat J-pop with lyrics about the death of the world? It’s brilliant. Good tune, too!
On the whole, Haiyore! Nyaruko-San is rather good! The more references you get the better you’ll probably find it, but even then it rarely falls flat as a result of you not understanding them. It is rather otaku pandering, but not in the usual way and as a result it avoids most of the problems with doing so, but there’s a chance you may still have issues with it. At any rate, really quite enjoyable, and certainly a lot of fun!