Who would have thought watching variations on the theme of somebody being always listless could be so engaging? That’s partially due to the fact that the titular Tanaka isn’t just listless; he’s a black hole of listlessness. He’s a listlessness enthusiast. He’s an artist who hones his craft everyday, always trying to innovate or to make his life more relaxing.
The magic of this episode is that Tanaka never comes off as a dick, or self-absorbed. This is simply his nature, his calling, and his passion, and if his best friend Ohta, who is one of those super-nice do-it-all perfect dudes can not only tolerate but embrace it, well, so can I. And I did.
That idea of listlessness-as-art is carried throughout the various isolated skits that explore Tanaka’s listlessness in novel ways, including using sometimes long spans of silence or whiting out a scene for comedic effect.
There’s also a wonderful tension going on between stillness and sudden bursts of action, whether that action is violent like falling out of a desk, or an accidentally-thrown racquet, or subtle like the unseen injury of French bread cutting the inside of Tanaka’s mouth.
No one other than Ohta, his almost constant companion (and straight man to Tanaka’s quiet gags) this episode, understands just how much workgoes into being as listless as Tanaka is. He truly works at it and thinks about it; it’s not just narcolepsy.
Unlike most people, Tanaka neither sees nor wants to see himself as the main character in his own story; rather, he’d prefer to be one of the background characters who may not be filled in or even have a face; a wonderful meta nod to a common anime money-saving technique that also features Tanaka trying it out by engaging his personal cloaking device!
As for who the main character should be, Tanaka is convinced it should be Ohta, who is almost as effortlessly active and reliable and popular as Tanaka is listless. What’s so funny is that Tanaka admires Ohta for being Ohta and vice versa, yet neither wants to be the other at all.
While the episode almost drags on listlessly (likely semi-intentional!), the isolated skits give way to a slower-burn story that is built up by a fresh series of little events, all of which lead Ohta to believe Tanaka is having an uncommonly double-listless day.
That is, until Tanaka turns the normally upbeat song “Hometown” into a durge in minor key, then screeches at the teacher when she tries to brush something off his chin.
Then Ohta gets the idea Tanaka could be in love, a theory he tests when he enters the classroom during sunset; the kind of scene where many a love confession has been made throughout anime history (a fact the show knows we know full well).
All it takes is a quick glance at Tanaka’s copybook to see all the reminders for him to go to the dentist to turn Ohta’s theory upside-down and explani all of Tanaka’s stranger behavior: kid’s got a cavity,and he desperately doesn’t want to interrupt his serene everyday life for an invasive dental procedure. But that’s tough; and Ohta carries him to the dentist to take his proverbial medicine.
At the end of the day, Tanaka is grateful to have Ohta as a friend, and Tanaka continues to respect Tanaka’s dedication to nothing less than the perfection of listlessness, and furthermore devotes himself to continuing to support him any way he can. And there are a lot of ways, many of them involving carrying him to and from places!
Finally, the episode closes with what seems to be an admirer of Tanakas, which is confirmed in the preview, in which this girl begs him to become his apprentice. Which is awesome, because Tanaka would make the perfect listless master!
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless was a slow-building and sometimes repetitive but always clever, witty, entertaining, and creative. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a nap…I need to practice!