Ah, the culture festival. Of all the benchmark trope events in anime, the bunkasai may just be my favorite. It acts as a mirror to reveal the essential nature of both a series and its characters a lot of the time, for better or for worse. That’s nowhere more true than it is with Hyouka, which is the best example of an anime culture festival arc on the serious side. If you’re looking for a standout to hold up for inspiration on the straight-up comedic side, you’d be hard-pressed to do much better than Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge.
Some series were just build for a culture fest episode – it’s in their DNA. And the comic tone of Tanaka-kun is ideally suited for this sort of material (as is this gloriously upmarket high school). Tanaka-kun’s class decides on a haunted house, which of course gives everyone a chance to cut up and go through their humorous paces. This starts with Tanaka-kun doing his best to hide presence when the roles are being decided upon, the notion of being forced to do any work for the class an abhorrent one. The joke here is the essential nature of Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – Tanaka has spend two weeks working hard (get it?) on this technique to avoid working hard.
In the end of course this doesn’t work, because Tanaka and Ohta-kun just get the last two assignments no one else wanted (as ghosts). Of course it doesn’t take a giant leap to realize that Tanaka is actually ideally suited for the role of ghost – not that there aren’t challenges though. He may look the part but the whole “jump out and surprise people” thing is an obvious non-starter. The next option is to try the “ghost in the well” motif, but Ohta immediately seizes on the problem with that – holed up in a nice, cozy well (or even a temporary stand-in) Tanaka-kun will soon be in dreamland. Ohta’s solution initially misfires, but Tanaka soon unintentionally tweaks it in a manner most effective.
I just love watching these kids go through their routines, because they’re all so likeable and even given the absurdist nature of the series, they have real authenticity. From overwrought Shiraishi to unrepentant goofball Katou they’re a great bunch, and they’re in their element here. Maybe the funniest moment of the episode comes when Tanaka-kun is trying on his ghost costume, and Shiraishi points out that as a dead person his kimono should be tied right over left (getting this unintentionally wrong in a RL situation is a massive cultural faux pas). Tanaka-kun calmly exposes himself to Shiraishi in readjusting his costume, and that’s just so typically Tanaka- why would he concern himself with tiresome social niceties? Shiraishi’s panicked reaction is equally on-point – “It’s all right, he was wearing pantsu! He was wearing pantsu…”
The haunted house actually works out quite well, though thankfully there is a comedy of errors along the way. Ohta, it turns out, is terrified of ghosts (with that face??) and thus has to bail on his “grand finale” role and trade it for that of receptionist. That leaves Myaano as the main stage star, which works – but in unintended fashion. Tanaka meanwhile is consistently voted the scariest monster in the attraction just by being himself. Finally the time comes for a break, which sees Tanaka set off trying to find a quit spot to rest (all that sleeping is hard work) – no small task in the madness of a culture festival. The first thing he sees? Echizen-san filling is as the greeter at her class’ maid cafe – a picture that’s worth a thousand words.
This kind of silliness doesn’t work nearly as well if there’s a contrived, self-aware element to it – but with Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge it’s all just so natural (reminiscent of Minami-ke in that respect, though the humor here is less hard-edged). Tanaka stumbles upon a kissing couple before finally happily curling up in a box outside the roof door like a lost kitten – which is where Ohta-kun finally finds him after a search checkered with unplanned detours for sweets. Ohta passes out in terror when Tanaka-kun rises from the box – Tanaka falls asleep next to the body while waiting to be found. It’s the perfect way to bring this effortlessly hilarious episode to a close, and add another chapter to this adaptation’s stellar track record.