There are times while I’m watching Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge when I catch myself with a dumb grin on my face for no particular reason, then I realize it’s been there for the entire episode. This is one of those comedies that (fittingly) doesn’t have to be trying too hard at any particular moment in order to be effective – sure the punchlines are funny, but the whole experience is a joy to be part of. Tanaka-kun is just one of those series that makes you feel happy, period. Looking at all the stuff at the perimeter of a show – the eyecatches, the soundtrack, the bumper dialogue – this is the strongest series of the Spring. It’s another example of what Silver Link is capable of when they get the right material.
What I think we’re seeing now is the payoff from the slight changes to the manga that Silver Link adopted early on, changes which only very marginally impacted the effectiveness of the series. Yeah, the girl-of-the-week approach was taken – moving those into chapters for Echizen, Miyano and Shiraishi up in the timeline and expanding them – but it was more of a down payment than anything else. it seems as if the decision was made that once the investment of the anime-only audience was seen to, the anime could fully embrace the tenor of the manga – and I think that’s what we’ve seen over the past month. The response from the anime-only fans (those few that are watching) has been overwhelmingly positive, and I suppose it’s possible that might not have been the case had the adaptation not led with its more conventional material.
What happens when Mom gets sick, and she’s the one who needs taking care of? The kids try their best, and that’s just what Tanaka-kun does when Ohta sprains his ankle this week. I really love all the relationships in this series, but Tanaka and Ohta is one of the best around – Tanaka really does want to do his best, but he just can’t help who he is. That means asking Echizen to deliver Ohta’s handout even though the teacher asked him to do it – Tanaka can’t remember where Ohta lives (gee, I wonder why) and besides, it’s just so much work. I don’t approve of Echizen’s method of driving home the point, but she is right that this is one of those cases where Tanaka-kun really should put in the effort.
“Why is she is a delinquent?” I think that’s both the right and the wrong question, Tanaka-kun. We get a first-hand look at the true Echizen here – helping out fellow banchou down on their luck, carrying old ladies’ bags (was that the same Obaa-san Ohta hurt himself assisting?), playing dolls with kids. My favorite part of this sequence comes when Tanaka-kun asks Echizen to please continue to act somewhat bad, because otherwise knowing how to look at her will be too difficult.
Ohta-kun’s return to school is a winner from the moment we join it, with the other boys in class wondering how in the world they’re going to take care of Tanaka while Ohta convalesces. No, Tanaka-kun can’t carry him (he does try) but if it’s the thought that counts he acquits himself pretty well. He asks the teacher if Ohta can remain seated during choir (only to then add that he’d like to do so himself as he’s exhausted from helping), he goes to the cafeteria all by himself to buy Ohta sweets (only to eat them himself when he runs out of energy on the way back). Not only does Tanaka genuinely want to help even if he can’t, but he’s well aware of his shortcomings and genuinely regrets them – listless or not, at least he’s totally honest about who he is.
Once Ohta has recovered, we turn to a self-study during English (Katou-kun’s “Yataa! Jishuu da!” is another perfect bumper line delivery). Here we see Tanaka at his Kedaruge finest – truly passionate about being listless. He proposes converting the rest of the world to Japanese so he won’t have to study English (even speaking Japanese is too much work) and tries to complete his handout by writing Japanese in Romaji rather than actual English so he can start napping sooner. With such a noble goal in mind Tanaka can actually work at lightning speed – and even when he naps, he’s so efficient at downtime that he can lapse immediately into a nightmare.
The fire drill which follows is one more reminder of just how ill-suited to the practicalities of the real world Tanaka is (and of how bad his sense of direction is). This realization of just how much he depends on Ohta for his actual survival triggers Tanaka to proclaim an “Ohta Day” in gratitude (though it typical Tanaka-kun fashion, he declares he’s likely to forget it by next year) and he even gives Ohta-kun a coupon book as a gift. Unfortunately the first redemption (“Walk to class myself”) doesn’t go so well, and the lesson in the end, it seems, is to accept ourselves for what we are. And of course, “It’s the thought that counts…”