|Great characters, Funny and mature story, Amazing Adaptation
The High School Slice of Life comedy genre has always had a few standout series here and there. School Rumble, Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou and Kimi to Boku are just some examples of the superb and very different take on the topic, but joining them in 2016, as a smart, fresh and entirely unique take, is Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge (Tanaka-kun is Always Listless).
What sets Tanaka-kun apart from some of its predecessors and even contemporaries, is just how interesting and different it is, both in terms of how its main character is, as well as the way it tackles the idea of a high school comedy from a very character-centric approach. In a day and age where there’s honestly a lot of derivative work coming along, its even more extraordinary to see how unique and special this show really is.
At the heart of its appeal, is the cental character himself, Tanaka. See Tanaka isn’t your typical high school anime lead. He hasn’t got some dream that he’s looking to accomplish, he’s not one of those people who wants to “live the ultimate high school life”, nor is he looking for romance. Tanaka doesn’t want any of those things, in fact, he wants to take it as easy as possible, and find as much time to sleep. Tanaka is the very definition of lazy, unmotivated, lethargic and “listless”.
Now, you’d think that a character like that would either grate on the nerves, or really just bring the mood of the show and the comedy down. Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kearague isn’t some kind of black, sarcastic, satire though. Its actually a very optimistic and charming look at how fun, normal and heartwarming high school life and high school friends can be. Its a show that’s got a very laid back, reserved but keen eye towards the topic it covers. And all those qualities of the show, are actually personified by Tanaka himself.
Tanaka isn’t a guy who’s very high energy or likes to do anything, but he will take his friends and people into consideration and at least move out of his comfort zone, when needed. And speaking of his friends, its the rest of the show’s stellar cast of characters that really make it such a joy to behold. There’s Tanaka’s best friend Ohta for example, whose relationship and dynamic with Tanaka form the basic foundation of the show’s premise and comedy.
Ohta and Tanaka are complete opposites, and yet really good friends. There’s an almost symbiotic relationship between the two of them, as Tanaka openly over relies on Ohta to do things for him, while Ohta himself is always looking to help others and take care of them. Ohta’s tall strong and reliable, Tanaka is quiet, tired and always looking to goof off, and yet the two kind of make up for each other’s flaws and weaknesses, and settle into a friendship that works for both of them.
There’s a good chance for this sort of relationship to seem like its one-sided, but the show handles the dynamic between the two with such mastery that it never comes off as anything but pleasant and funny. Some people may find a undercurrent of romance between these two friends, but it was hard (at least for me) to see it. Tanaka will often make statements about how he wants Ohta to marry him, just so he can be taken care of for the rest of his life. Its a very Japanese idea, and one that actually sees the removal of any romantic tendencies and looks at more of the financial or societal aspect of it all.
Not that this show doesn’t have romantic subplots and comedy about that strewn in, because there’s other characters and their dynamics between each other and Tanaka, that fill that particular void. And that’s because Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge doesn’t forget about any particular aspect of high schoolers and teenagers. Each character has their own issue or quirk that founds the basis of their personality and the comedy that results from it.
There’s Miyano, a girl who’s cute, sweet and has a very childish optimistic energy to her that warms everyone around her. She’s also really short and has her own complexes and issues because of that. There’s Echizen, a girl that’s going for the Japanese Delinquent persona (Yankee as they refer to it) but who can’t really mesh well with the stereotype. There’s also characters like Shiraishi, the popular girl in Tanaka’s grade and his class mates Shimura and Kato. There’s even Tanaka and Ohta’s little sisters, that add another unique wrinkle into mix.
Its through these characters, that the show explores concepts like finding one’s own identity, making friends and being accepted into society, how to deal with success and failure, and even more sketchy topics like a sister being overly attached to her older brother. None of it is ever offensive though, as the show takes a very restrained, mature look at every one of these topics, and adds some very charming and witty humor to the whole thing. Even the whole sister angle never devolves into incest, but is more of a cursory look at how a sister may be overly attached and protective of her brother (which, given the popular trend today, is pretty noteworthy in itself).
One of the big reasons the show is able to do what it does, at least in my mind, is because none of its characters are stereotypical or one dimensional at all. Its kind of amazing really, how the show’s characters all have a defining trait that definitely feels like the basis of their personality, but doesn’t become the thing that they personify. Each character’s personality is tied to a core concept or flaw, but there’s enough nuance, heart and general goodness thrown in, to make them all unique and likeable. That’s the other thing, none of the characters in Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge are even remotely unlikable.
A bunch Loveable characters plus an uplifting, funny and charming story that really feels like a rejuvenating experience is what this show really is. The show starts off and spends most of its time introducing its characters, before going through the motions of topics like after school life, Summer vacation and even a cultural festival episode. And to cap it all off, the show actually ends with a story that both nicely wraps up everything about the show in a satisfying manner, and leaves enough room for a sequel.
Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedargue is a show based on an ongoing Web manga by Nozomi Uda after all. Its difficult to say if Tanaka-kun will ever get a sequel. The anime hasn’t sold particularly amazing on disc, and in the end, it will all fall to attributed manga sales. Does the anime adaption give enough of a boost to the source manga to greenlight a second season? I suppose we’ll know if there’s an announcement in the future. Personally, I wouldn’t expect it, especially considering other great shows in this particular genre, that haven’t had more than a series.
What you have then, after all 12 episodes of the show wrap up, is a likeable, smart, witty, mature and charming take on the idea of high school life. And while the show will most definitely be remembered for its story and characters, Studio Silver Link deserves special appreciation for how much they nailed the adaptation from manga to anime.
The Show is beautifully paced, has a real sense of character and style with its visuals, and the animation is equally competent and charming. There’s little things here and there, like the transitions between scenes, where the studio clearly had some real fun and creative ideas with how to interpret the story on screen.
The voice acting is superb, with every seiyuu just breathing life into these rather deep characters. Ono Kensho as Tanaka himself, Hosoya Yoshimasa as Ohta, Natsumi Takamori as Miyano, Koiwai Kotori as Shiraishi, and Suwa Ayaka as Echizen, all just come together as a group of actors performing a stellar comedic stage play. There’s a rapport and back and forth between all these characters that really shows and brings a added layer of immersion to the experience.
And that experience, the experience of watching Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge during the Spring 2016 anime season, was one of my personal highlights. This was one of the best shows of the season, and it was one that I completely missed, both in my season preview, and during the bulk of the season itself. Its not a show that’s easily noticeable, but its a show that definitely towers above a lot of its contemporaries. Unexpected marvels like this show, are the reason that anime continues to be the dominant medium for my entertainment. Tanak-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge gets a seal of approval from me and an overall grade of A+.
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