Tanaka-kun has done a wonderful job establishing its cast so far, starting out with just Tanaka and Ohta and a bento box of small skits that gradually, hilariously paint the picture of what makes ’em tick.
Then it’s branched out with more in-depth, emotionally satisfying stories, introducing one new character at a time, until eventually the full group we see in the OP and ED will be fully assembled. It’s something Marvel does well with its movies.
This week Miyano and Echizen take the week off so that the show can focus methodically on someone new, namely the class rep Shiraishi. She truly takes center stage, as the episode shifts to her perspective the more we learn about her.
It’s icing on the cake that the official start of the development of her friendship with the boys starts out with two classic anime images: running to class (or in Tanaka’s case being carried by Ohta) with toast in the mouth, and (almost) bumping into the pretty girl. And because it’s been well-established Tanaka and Ohta are nice guys, they help her out with replacing the printouts they accidentally ruined.
Everyone knows Shiraishi; she’s damn near perfect, and every guy wants a wife like her someday. Smart, kind, beautiful, she inspires jocks depicted as bears to protect her every move. She literally sparkles, and yet has such an easy, down-to-earth manner with everyone, no one envies or resents that perfection, they simply bask in it.
But as the episode title indicates, Shiraishi has a secret: that secret is that the idol-like school princess she portrays at school is naught but a carefully-wrought fiction; a mirage; a skin she puts on and maintains with great difficulty. When the day is done and she sends Tanaka and Ohta off, it’s not just because she’s being nice: her contacts hurt, her skirt’s too short, and her hair isn’t comfortable.
She’s cultivated her Matrix-like reverse-“residual self-image” so long, when her “resting-dweeb-mode” is finally found out—by Ohta and Tanaka, who forgot his bag—she panics, because she believes her idol skin is the only thing allowing her to have a beautiful high school life.
Of course she’s wrong. Not just wrong about needing to doll herself up so obsessively, but wrong to stress out and stalk the boys to make sure they don’t spread the word of her secret. In fact, Ohta and Tanaka have nothing but nice things to say about her, even behind her back, and Ohta mistook her dweeb mode for another girl altogether, so her secret is safe.
A wave of relief washes over her, and that relief makes her bold and ‘reckless’ enough to try to walk around school looking like herself. Most everyone doesn’t take notice of her non-sparkly self, until she passes Tanaka, who recognizes her—of all things—due to her bust size (something Ohta hilariously warns him never to tell her).
She’s initially devastated and ready to be mocked and laughed at, but of course Tanaka and Ohta don’t think that way at all. In fact, knowing Shiraishi has flaws is a relief to Tanaka, who wasn’t sure how such a perfect person could exist, and admires the effort to change herself; an effort he’d never bother with.
Tanaka doesn’t get away with calling himself worthless scum, however. Neither Ohta or Shiraishi (or even Echizen) genuinely believe that, because through all his unapologetic listlessness, he’s a kind, perceptive, supportive friend to them all.
The next day, Shiraishi wears her glasses to school, eschewing painful contacts, and to her surprise her friends don’t abandon her. She’s learned a valuable lesson about what it is to be loved and admired and be a friend to others, and it’s about far more than just surface. The real sparkling comes from within.
Shiraishi is a wonderful addition to the circle of friends, and I look forward both to her interactions with the others, and the addition of yet more members of that circle.