Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 04

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 03

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Tanaka may be always listless, but I’ll tellya what else he’s becoming: popular. After a very filling meal makes him more listless than usual, the person who left a letter of challenge in his shoe cubby confronts him.

This week marks the introduction of Echizen, a blonde Yankee sporting a super-long skirt, slipped-on school shoes, and multiple piercings. She wants to fight Tanaka, to find out what kind of person he is.

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Fortunately, Echizan is far more than a delinquent, and the show quickly molds her into a three-dimensional character I truly wish to root for, even if she’s hassling Tanaka…nay, because she is. She’s also Ohta’s childhood friend, so he knows her from before she became…this way. She also doesn’t overdo it, and her manner of speaking is actually quite refreshing.

When Tanaka discourages her from starting a physical fight she’d easily win, she challenges him to Othello (AKA Reversi) instead.  She wins handily, but hold on: Tanaka was playing by different rules, and because he spelled out the character for “white” on the board with his white pieces, it stands to reason he won a game in which the winner had to do just that.

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An attempt to beat him at cards also fails, as he’s so intent on showing off his mad shuffling skillz, the wind on the rooftop blows all the cards away and they’re left one card short of a deck. It’s as if nature itself is allied with Tanaka against engaging in a serious challenge with Echizen.

But then the person on whose behalf Echizen is fighting appears: Miyano, or “Myaano” as “Ecchan” calls her. We learn both from her reluctantance to eat Osha’s bunny-shaped bread to her friendship with the tiny, cute Miyano that Echizen loves cute things.

The Skirt swap bumper was hilarious.

Exhizen’s love of cute things, and inability to eat them, gets her in trouble in the next segment, which results in a row with Miyano. She can’t eat the cute bunny cookie Miyano baked for her, so it gets old and grows white fluffy mold.

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Miyano is PISSED (in an adorably similar way to Popura in Working!!)—as is Ohta, who shares Miyano’s love of sweets and belief that wasting them is sacrilege.

Interestingly, Echizen enlists Tanaka of all people to help her, first acting as a shield (which fails when Miyano goes cold when peaking out from behind him) then writing a letter to express her feelings (which Miyano misinterprets as a challenge).

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Throughout Echizen’s crisis (which is really just an honest misunderstanding), she forms a nice rapport Tanaka, depending on his open ear and honest responses as she bounces ideas off him. He comes up with things she’s too wound up to consider, and comforts her when she suspects Miyano never wanted to be friends.

Tanaka, rightly, believes it’s a waste of time to let things fester with a friend (he considers himself and Ohta to be as steady as an old married couple…which they are!), while Miyano is listening in while they talk (it’s a school, there’s only so much privacy).

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Miyano is still angry about her cookie going to waste, but she doesn’t want to make it any bigger than it is; it’s certainly not as important a matter as the fact that she is deeply in love with Echizen (She has good taste!). Yes, Echizen is the one Miyano wanted to train with Tanaka to become more listless and mature.

The thing is, Echizen likes her the way she is, as Tanaka said, and upon hearing such wonderful news, the two make up nicely. The next time Miyano makes sweets for Echizen (as well as for Tanaka and Ohta), the makes them “not cute at all”, resulting in chocolate bodybuilders. Ecchan has no problem wolfing them down, but now the boys are the ones with a thing about eating things that look like certain things.

As they converse, now a genial quartet, Shiraishi, the cutest girl in class, walks by. I presume she’ll be the next likable, rootable, well-rounded character to make it a cool quintet. I look forward to whatever distinct quirkiness she’ll bring to the show.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 02

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I thought messing with the golden goose that is the Tanaka/Ohta dynamic so soon by adding a tiny, annoying-looking girl would upset the serene magic of the opening episode, but I worried needlessly: Miyano isn’t annoying, she’s adorable, whether it’s while trying hard in vain to become just like Tanaka, or becoming even more Tanaka than Tanaka by accident.

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Miyano may be tiny, but she has more energy (and can put away more donuts) than Tanaka and Ohta combined…and that’s the problem. When he reluctantly takes her on for a day as his apprentice (believing it the best way to be rid of her quickly), Tanaka corrects her not to “do her best” but to just do whatever.

Whether its observing and mimicking Tanaka’s listless face, or attempting to hide her emotions, or getting upset over how little Tanaka enjoys strawberry milk, or preparing an exhaustive research paper on listlessness, Miyano just can’t fight her natural instinct to do her best and work as hard as possible.

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When Tanaka tells her this probably isn’t going to work out, Miyano is disheartened and morose, but it’s not his intent to hurt her, just to express his opinion that he, Ohta, and whoever this boy she likes prefer it when Miyano is just being herself, not trying to be him.

As long as she keeps being her, she’ll be fine. As for Tanaka, he wants to take the train to the main temple to complain about praying and paying for a peaceful day…and ending up with Miyano.

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If Tanaka was truly annoyed or put out by the addition of Miyano to his life, further complicating what was to his mind already too complicated a life (he’d prefer being able to tend to all primitive human needs in one room…like a prison cell!), he has a funny way of showing it the next day.

Rather than Miyano the student following Tanaka the master, the opposite transpires, as Tanaka and Ohta notice Miyano seems to have mastered listlessness, and even surpasses Tanaka, blowing a hole in his book and writing a whole new one on woozy, detached fugue state of listlessness.

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That seems plausible on some level—both guys suspect she culd be feeling this way because the boy she liked rejected her—but the real reason she’s this way is ever more inventive and crazy: Miyano simply got to thinking about mascots on TV, how they’ve gotten smaller, who or what’s inside them, whether they intend to take over the world, and whether she’s the only one who can stop them.

All that stressing made it hard for her to get good sleep, hence her listless state. When she suddenly snaps out of her ‘stress cycle’ (realizing it’s probably just small people like her inside), she’s back to her old energetic self.

But when Ohta and Tanaka tell her how they thought she’d reached listless Nirvana, she doesn’t know what they’re talking about. She was so busy worrying about imminent mascot hegemony, she never noticed how listless she was acting! So what does she do? Well, try to think of something else to stress out about so she can return to that state. This girl’s a riot, and I hope to see more of her.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 01 (First Impressions)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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