After expertly establishing Shiraishi as a rounded, rootable, easily-to-empathize-with character, this week’s Tanaka-kun begins with a supermarket mystery: what did Tanaka’s sister want him to buy?
This initial segment accomplishes and reiterates so much with such a simple premise. Ohta is the kind of dependable all-rounder every woman in the store wants in their family or for their daughter’s (or their) husband…and he’s all Tanaka’s.
Thanks to the process of elimination and a clue in the form of a single letter Past Tanaka sent as a reminder, they narrow the mystery items down to things starting with “P”, including pancakes. Ohta glows with maternal pride as Tanaka shuffles off into the sunset, shopping mission accomplished.
Unfortunately, Tanaka’s choices were wrong on all counts: his sister wanted pipe (i.e. drain) cleaner, and if he was going to get her pancakes, she wanted the ones from the specific place in the TV ad. Nevertheless, she made him dinner out of all of the (strong-smelling) ingredients he brought home.
We’ve yet to meet Tanaka or Ohta’s sisters, but there’s much that can be gleaned from just this indirect contact with her: she tries to push Tanaka beyond his boundaries of listlessness and uselessness.
With that segment to open, I expected to finally meet a sister or two, but again the show demonstrated its penchant for restraint: why not spend more time with Shiraishi, since she’s fresh in our minds from last week?
Now that she’s more comfortable in her own skin, Shiraishi is coming to notice other things beyond what people think of her. Specifically, she’s pretty sure she’s fallen for Tanaka, as the lovely watercolor prologue to her segment aptly shows (Ohta showing up just when she’s about to place her hand on Tanaka’s sleeping shoulder).
Mind you, she’s still Shiraishi, and considers a “former dweeb” and loner such as herself falling in love to be the height of arrogance. We spend most of the balance of the episode in her churning head space, and are thus treated to the best kind of rom-com inner mon.
Shiraishi wants to carry Tanaka on piggyback, but knows she can’t do that without getting a little closer to him. But how? She informs her two best girlfriends of her predicament, and they throw their moral support behind her.
Her initial idea is to learn more about Tanaka through Ohta’s interactions with him, since Tanaka hardly has interactions with anyone else (and no one is closer). At first I thought this was a classic recipe for Ohta mistaking her crush as for him, but the show wisely avoids that kind of trouble.
Instead, Ohta proves useful to her, clearing the path for her that much more by asserting that it’s unlikely Tanaka has a girlfriend or someone he likes at the moment.
But then Shiraishi hits an apparent roadblock when she enters the classroom to find Miyano is already there by Tanaka’s desk (where she wants to be) having a spirited conversation about…something (a conversation she doesn’t think she’d ever be able to have with him.)
It’s a scene with few important words (Miyano is just rambling as Tanaka nods) but so much runs across Shiraishi’s face as the camera draws in closer to it, and her and Miyano’s eyes meet.
Of course, Shiraishi has the wrong idea: Miyano isn’t Tanaka’s girlfriend or anything like that. After retreating, Miyano pulls her back, seemingly knowing what’s up, and presents her to Tanaka as another new apprentice (one she can call kohai).
This is a misunderstanding, and it could have easily stayed that way, but again, Tanaka-kun isn’t a show that always goes the easy or predictable route. Shiraishi recognizes this opportunity for what it is, and pulls the trigger: She wants to be Tanaka’s friend, not an apprentice.
After Tanaka’s response—sure…and anyway, we already are friends—you can feel all the stress and worry melt away for Shiraishi, replaced by relief and joy. She didn’t take the first step—that was already taken—but now she recognizes that she took it, and the pressure is off, for now.
Miyano tells Shiraishi they’re friends too, and when the three exchange emails, covertly offers her support in what she now knows Shiraishi’s goal to be.
There’s no competition or rivalry here: Shiraishi wants to be Tanaka’s, she can be. She just has to keep taking things one step at a time, while believing in her own worth.
Tanaka doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of his words to Shiraishi yet, but nor is he the kind of guy who’d ignorantly deny or dismiss out of hand someone liking him. I wonder what his sister would say about this development!