Well, that’s one place in the Top 10 booked.
This has been a funny sort of season for me, because probably the two shows that most exceeded my expectations were based on manga I was already a big fan of. Along with Shounen Maid, Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge has been a truly superb adaptation – and maybe that’s really all there is to it. It’s either that or the material in both cases simply lends itself to animation better than the page (that does happen sometimes), or – and this is the one I’d rather not be the case – I was guilty of the same bias I worried about in others in selling these two series short based on the nature of the premise. That seems more likely to be true with Shounen Maid, but I can’t totally dismiss it with Tanaka-kun either.
Thank goodness we have a couple of Blu-ray extra episodes coming (one of them today – hopefully they’ll get subbed), because it would be tough to say goodbye to this series altogether. The manga is ongoing, of course, and it was being scanlated before the anime was announced, but I’ve seen scanlations lose steam once an adaptation has finished airing. The anime will probably do passably on disc (2-3,000 per volume) and it’ll be interesting to see how much of a bump the new manga volume on-sale this week gets, but the odds of any future anime being made after the OVAs seems pretty slim. I guess this is one of these cases where we just have to be happy that we got one superb cour.
As a pure-blooded anime comedy, Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge has earned a place at the table with the likes of Minami-ke, Mitsudomoe and Shinryaku Ika Musume at their strongest. It doesn’t lean heavily on plot or romance the way the likes of Working does, so there’s no safety net – yet that doesn’t mean this series isn’t extremely clever in plotting and adept with teenage romantic comedy. Of those three shows Tanaka-kun is definitely closest in character – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say style – to Minami-ke. But it’s quite different in tone – I would even say unique. Simply put, it’s irresistible – incredibly fun, relaxing and approachable. This show was the mood-elevating champ of the spring season, there’s no doubt about that. Some comedies are good at making you smile and others at making you laugh outright, but only the best are this good at both.
I did see some sentiment that the finale should either dedicate itself to pairing Tanaka-kun up either with Shiraishi or with Ohta, on the grounds that “he has to end up with someone”. That’s wrong on so many levels (even in romcoms it doesn’t have to be true, which is one of the reasons I love Suna from Ore Monogatari so much), not least that with the manga ongoing the anime isn’t obliged to wrap everything up, and the fact that romance is hardly the point of this series. It’s just one of many arrows in its comedic quiver, and one it uses to great effect – as indeed it did in the final episode. The way Tanaka-kun observes teenage insecurity is extremely authentic and incisive, and not at all mean-spirited – and no character exemplifies that more than Shiraishi.
Given the nature of this series, ending it with something close to a normal episode with just a hint of totting up feels just right. Then “seat change” chapter was classic Tanaka-kun – it only makes sense that this day would be of almost unimaginable importance to Tanaka. Spells and horoscopes and death flags can’t prevent him from getting a dreaded front row seat, but fortune smiles on Tanaka when Miyano gets seated in back – behind Ohta (who she mistakes for the blackboard). If you had any doubt that Tanaka-kun could move fast, it should be thoroughly dispelled by the speed with which he raced to offer a swap with Miyano.
Tanaka does indeed seem to be lucky, but in her mind it’s Shiraishi-san who’s the luckiest student in the class, because now Tanaka is sitting next to her. But because this is Shiraishi she can’t simply take advantage of the situation by talking to him – she has to gnaw over every potential consequence of every potential gesture or word, as the days click by and she never moves a step closer to her dream. And when fate seems to intervene on her behalf (like Tanaka forgetting his notes for Classical Japanese) Ohta-kun moves so quickly (like the world’s largest mother hen protecting her chick) that poor Shirashi never stands a chance.
The only thing that sets the wheels in motion is Tanaka-kun falling asleep at his desk and Shiraishi not realizing it as she’s monloguing about her feelings. Tanaka sleeps through the most embarrassing bits (or so he says) but this does lead to something like a heart to heart. That leads to a joint walk home, and that leads to Katou and Shimura mistaking the frumpy girl they see for Tanaka-kun’s new girlfriend. Even Ohta buys into the story at first (he ends up asking Echizen if he can carry her under his arm as a substitute, but that wasn’t the question she was hoping to hear), but things get increasingly taihen for Tanaka as the myth spreads.
I must confess, watching Tanaka get increasingly annoyed with all the idiocy around him is some of the most hilarious material of the entire series. But this is the subtle genius of both the source material and the animation, because just as it seamlessly slipped from the seat change into the finale-worthy Shiraishi subplot, it flows with Tanaka’s annoyance into an even more ending-appropriate musing on just how much Tanaka actually appreciates those around him. No man is an island, not even Tanaka-kun – and while this series never fully gets to what I would call serious, this is a thoroughly meaningful notion to end on.
Silver Link has done it again here, that’s for certain. There were flashes of director Kawatsura Shinya’s talent in Kokoro Connect and Non Non Biyori, but with Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge he finally has material worthy of it. This studio has developed into one of the more interesting in the business, one with a signature style that shines through without overshadowing the source material they adapt. When I dream of the High Score Girl anime finally becoming a reality, Silver LInk is the studio that’s producing it.
The only thing Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge has done that hasn’t made me smile is come to an end. Resolutely upbeat, smart and quirky and fearless and never in a rush to work it’s magic – that’s the formula this show has used to become one of the best anime comedies we’ve seen in a long time. If we get a couple of comedies of this caliber I consider it a good year for them, and there have been years when we haven’t gotten a one – so as easy as it is to enjoy this show and as unassuming a manner as presents, don’t ever take it for granted. Treasure the fact that Tanaka-kun exists, because we may not see another show like it for a long time.