Go on, just try not to smile – I dare you.
The last few episodes of Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge have been pretty much pitch-perfect as far as I’m concerned – the series just hasn’t put a foot wrong. There are the occasional shows that make it virtually impossible for you not to smile while watching them, series so full of wit and mischief that you can’t not feel good. Tsuritama may be the ultimate example of the phenomenon for me, though it was obviously much more plot-driven, but straight-up comedies get there too sometimes – stuff like Minami-ke (which I often compare Tanaka-kun to, not coincidentally) and Shinryaku Ika Musume at their best comes to mind. That’s anime comedy royalty, but Tanaka-kun isn’t far off from demanding to be mentioned in the same conversation.
The whole umbrella sequence was pure comic genius as far as I’m concerned. It was Tanaka (both the series and the character) at its best, and managed to show off both Ohta and Shirasihi in all their glory as well. Tanaka-kun is such an irrepressible goofball – as a take on his particular trope I think he’s especially brilliant. How can you not love someone so utterly unsuited to the practicalities of existence, yet possessed of a certain genius couched in his quest for listlessness? Sure, you feel bad for the poor umbrella’s pride – but Tanaka is actually 100% right about what a pain in ass they are. I forget those freakin’ things all the time (you only carry them when it rains – how can it become an ingrained habit?), and they’re a Catch 22 – the cheap ones don’t work but you don’t care when you lose them, and if you invest in a good one you’re gutted when you lose it.
All that stuff about dodging raindrops to stay dry and standing out in the rain getting soaked to try and evolve is pure Tanaka gold – his quest for Platonic listlessness is admirable in its way. Things get even more interesting when Shiraishi gets looped into the situation. She daydreams of sharing an umbrella with Tanaka (this seems to represent the ultimate romantic scenario for young Japanese), and warns him of the dangers of getting soaked. When someone takes Tanaka’s brolly (that’s another thing I hate about those things – that happens all the time) she even gets her chance to live out her fantasy on the walk home (she prays to Kami-sama, Buddha-sama and Ohta-sama for mercy). But poor Shiraishi is so overwhelmed by the experience that she can only let half of Tanaka-kun under the umbrella – never has someone more literally given someone else the cold shoulder.
Naturally, Tanaka does come down with a cold after his rain mismanagement. And like Shounen Maid before it Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge doesn’t buy into the whole “anime cold” drama, but in this instance spins the premise into maybe the biggest laughs of the series so far. Tanaka-kun comes to school in a mask, even more listless than usual – which sets Ohta off into full mothering mode. This is not the first comedy to use the written communication thing as a gag (though the lip-reading bit was a clever twist) but boy, does it run with it. I seriously laughed so many times here – like when Ohta stopped to look up a Kanji on his phone (because I see Japanese do that all the time – keyboard-driven communication is eroding the nation’s ability to write Kanji), and then Tanaka wrote back “You know, you can just speak normally”. Or Tanaka playing a funny faces game behind his mask while Ohta thinks he’s trying to master telepathy.
The lunacy really kicks in when Tanaka-kun tries to borrow a textbook from Echizen. Finding her name too exhausting to write he suggests in writing “You should take Tanaka or Ohta as a surname” (both are just two characters, after all). He comes back with her message on his notebook – “A proposal from you? Not in 100 years.” The best part comes when Ohta asks “How did a conversation about textbooks lead to that?” and Tanaka already has “Saa” written on the opposite page (I just about wet myself). Poor Echizen convinces herself that both boys have proposed to her – and begins to agonize over which one to choose.
Echizen’s dismay is funny, no question, but this is not mean-spirited comedy – Tanaka-kun just doesn’t do that. She takes all this very seriously (it’s quite interesting that she’s so into the idea in the first place), weighing the pros and cons (Ohta: “He’ll treat me as a girl”. Tanaka: “Might not treat me like a human”.) Eventually she decides on Tanaka because if she went with Ohta Myaano would call her “Occhan” (old man), but when the truth comes out (the boys still get it wrong, thinking she’s upset because Tanaka slighted her surname) she ends up with the both of them calling her “Ecchan” – which is, problematically, Myaano’s name for her. Of such nonsense is great anime comedy often made – and Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge is making its case for greatness is no uncertain terms.