The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
KARAKAI JOZU NO TAKAGI-SAN
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Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san ?
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How was the first episode?
SimulDub Update: Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san has swiftly become my top slice-of-life series of the season, so I had high-expectations for Funimation's English dub, especially since the chemistry between the leads is what makes Takagi-san such a cozy and sweet pleasure to watch every week. Aaron Dismuke has been one of my favorite voice-actors since he voiced Alphonse Elric way back in the day, and Sarah Wiedenheft has been making a name for herself over the past couple years as well, especially as Tohru in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. Thankfully, they do an excellent job here, perfectly capturing the teasing (and adorable) tête-à-tête Nishikata and Takagi share every day in the back of their classroom. Neither Dismuke nor Wiedenheft go out of their way to sound like actual twelve-year-olds, but they capture the spirit of that age very well. Nishikata comes across as appropriately dweeby yet sympathetic, and Takagi owns every second that the camera is centered on her sly, confident face. Matt Shipman's adaptation doesn't always go for exact translation, but any changes remain in service of making the dialogue more naturalistic. There's no way to go wrong between the English or Japanese tracks on this one.
If this winter season is out to prove anything, it must be whether or not there can in fact be “too much cuteness” to physically handle. I was getting a little weary of covering so many slice-of-life comedies this week, but then along comes Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san to remind me of how much fun the genre is capable of being with the right ingredients in play. In this case, it's the pitch-perfect chemistry between the leads, as well as the episode's overall sense of well-meaning fun, that makes it such a treat to watch.
Essentially, Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san is the exact blend of charm, whimsy, and youthful romance that makes my Grinchy old heart grow in size. The premise of this show is so simple that the two leads would need excellent chemistry in order to make a whole half-hour of stories worthwhile, and that's exactly what Takagi and Nishikata bring to the table. While Takagi's merciless teasing of Nishikata could have easily come across as mean-spirited, it's fairly clear that these two kids have a mutual crush on each other, which lends a sweet and earnest back-and-forth to their rapport. I have had these exact kinds of kids in my classroom before, and Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san nails the pair's affectionate rivalry perfectly.
The script in general is wonderfully in tune with the voice and quirks of middle-school friendship and romance. The little eraser game that Takagi and Nishikata bug each other with at the episode's start is exactly the kind of dumb school meme that would get a young boy all befuddled and anxious. The fact that Takagi is the more level-headed of the two is also in keeping with how young boys and girls age and mature, though the episode still makes it plain that she's just as much of a distracted prankster as Nishikata wishes he were. The gentle colors and clean animation of the episode give the episode a nostalgic feel, making it all the more relatable to anyone who might have had a relationship like this when they were young. Manga author Souichirou Yamamoto is either coming from a place of personal experience himself, or he's just really good at empathizing with young people.
The only drawback I could see this show encountering is that it isn't trying to be anything more than a simple collection of wistful and funny vignettes about two kids who like to dunk on each other a lot. Unless the series explores other angles of Takagi and Nishikata's relationship, I could understand sitting through twelve straight episodes of the same thing not being as fun as it was in the first episode. Still, Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san is one of the most pleasant surprises of the season for me, and I look forward to seeing the many ways these little dorks will continue to mess with each other in the coming weeks.
This season's low-key onslaught continues, with yet another high-quality and low-drama offering in Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san. I'm frankly a little grateful this one's particular appeal sits squarely outside of my wheelhouse, considering how overstuffed with comfy my schedule already is. But if you're a fan of its style of humor, Takagi-san looks to be one of the better comedies and gentle romances of the season.
Takagi-san's central conceit is very, very simple - the young Nishitaka attempts to prank his classmate Takagi-san, but Takagi always beats him to it. This core premise is executed on all sorts of ways through this episode, as Nishitaka's intended pranks always run aground on Takagi's trolling mastery. It's basically just Nishitaka stepping on rakes for twenty minutes, but Takagi-san sure knows how to make stepping on rakes look good.
Personally, I tend to find cringe comedy really uncomfortable; I find myself sympathizing too much with whoever's getting dunked on, and can't really enjoy their torment. That made this episode a somewhat tough watch for me, but to its credit, Takagi-san works very hard to underline the fact that both Nishitaka and Takagi are happy with their current relationship. Nishitaka's isn't either a flavorless doormat or a helpless victim; even though Takagi always wins, the two have a comfortable back-and-forth, and it's easy to see how much each of them enjoy trying to one-up the other. It's clear they each have feelings for the other, which certainly helps make this episode's shenanigans feel a lot more like awkward young flirting than actual bullying.
Takagi-san's one central joke is also consistently elevated through its altogether excellent execution. Takagi and Nishitaka are brought to life through understated but expressive character acting, and the small domain of their back-of-the-classroom feuds is given a real sense of place through the show's dynamic direction. The music is also a standout; instead of simply relying on tone-appropriate melodies, it actually rises and falls in pace with the comedy, matching Nishitaka's actions and resulting in a much more cohesive dramatic experience. Takagi-san may only have one big idea, but it expresses that idea with all the flair and enthusiasm it can muster.
On the whole, my biggest complaint about this episode was likely that twenty minutes doesn't necessarily feel like an appropriate length for this content. My difficulties with cringe comedy made the first half a little uncomfortable for its own sake, but by the second half, I was more feeling worn out by the show's repetition of its one gag. I can see how the show is trying to build a more concrete emotional narrative than most short productions, but I feel like at least half-length episodes would have been a better choice, and kept things from getting stale. Still, on the whole, Takagi-san is a charming and very well-executed little comedy. If you're fine with its style of humor, it's definitely worth a look.
Oh Nishikata, you don't realize how lucky you are. There are infinitely worse fates for a boy your age than being at the mercy of a girl like Takagi.
And that's really what the series is all about: Nishikata getting teased by Takagi and being utterly unable to do anything back because she so outclasses him in cleverness. He can't help but play into her schemes, and she always seems to have a ready answer for his attempts to get back at her. This is something that can be entertaining in small doses, which is why I was surprised that this wasn't done as a short. It could have just as easily worked as a series of 6-8 minute mini-episodes; in fact, it might actually have been better that way, since 20 straight minutes of this kind of thing can be a bit much.
With everything always seemingly going Takagi's way though, I think it's easy to lose sight of another potential charm of the series; Nishikata isn't just as Takagi's mercy when it comes to pranks. For all of the grief she gives him, he's obviously smitten with her, and thanks to a remarkably effective character design for Takagi, it's easy to understand why. This goes well beyond her just being simply cute; her bright smile carries warmth rather than malice even when she's laughing at him, and the way she looks at him implies that she sees him as far more than her victim, to say nothing of his name on her eraser. There are several moments in this episode where she seems to be wordlessly saying, “I wouldn't be bothering with you if I didn't like you.” That elevates this content just a little above other series with a similar gimmick.
Even so, I have to question whether the series will be able to keep things fresh for long enough with such a simple premise and a full episode every week. The other girls introduced, who get featured in the epilogue bit, aren't a quarter as interesting as Takagi, so there will eventually need to be other characters in the mix, but I'm not so sure that the involvement of others wouldn't get in the way of the chemistry Takagi and Nishikata are developing. Still, this series could be fun in small doses.
Well, that was just precious.
I don't know why KARAKAI JOZU NO TAKAGI-SAN wasn't given a localized title, but at least its premise is easy to explain if anyone finds the all-caps romaji intimidating. Middle-school boy Nishikata wants to tease his crush Takagi, but she's always a few steps ahead of him, usually coming up with much better twists on his attempt at a prank. Their mutual game of teasing-tag where Nishikata always does the chasing just makes them crush on each other even more, in a very tween-age kind of way. It's extremely adorable without ever verging into either mean-spirited excess or stereotypical anime romcom dynamics. Takagi and Nishikata act pretty much exactly like real kids their age might, sans any of the nastiness that comes with pubescence. Combine that sugary-sweet premise with some nice animation and unique art design, and I certainly have no complaints.
So why the relatively low score? Frankly, with only four or five gentle and fairly predictable punchlines in a twenty-minute episode, the pacing's kind of a killer for following this weekly, especially in a season with lots of heart-melting slice-of-life with more diverse gags that may pack more bite now and again. This would have worked really well as a short or maybe even a half-length show, but pushing it past twelve minutes seems to halve its charm. It just takes a little too long to get to the point in each round of teasing, and once you're there, it's like "Yup, saw that coming." KARAKAI JOZU NO TAKAGI-SAN (lowers megaphone) is really cute, and I would definitely recommend giving it a try to see if it's your specific flavor of comfort food, but it's too little and too light to get particularly excited about a full-length season of.
Do you guys remember My Neighbor Seki-kun from four years ago? It was a short-form comedy manga about a girl sitting next to a guy named Seki in the back of the class who amazingly managed to pull off all kinds of stunts instead of paying attention and was never caught. Takagi-san is in a similar vein, but with the roles switched a bit. It's also not short-form but it easily could have been; the staff just decided to put multiple mini-scenarios together for a full-length episode instead.
That said, I'm not sure Takagi-san is as funny as it is cute. It's a completely innocuous time-killer that's really playing up a single gag so far: Takagi is a lot more clever than Nishikata. Their rivalry is based on her ability to continually trick him and Nishikata resolving to one up her someday. It's very simple and I'm not fully convinced that it warrants the extended run time to deliver gags like “Takagi plays hide-and-seek in a classroom.”
This is a cute diversion to wind down with on a Monday. It's attractively animated for what is a very simple premise. The characters have a sort of bobble-head look, but it's not disconcerting and helps play into their cartoonish antics. Still, this show is competing with a pretty strong slate of slice-of-life anime this season. Something this one-note risks getting lost in the crowd.
I was very close to giving this a three, but there's a slightly mean edge to the otherwise harmless Takagi-san that doesn't sit entirely well with me. That it's a major motivating factor for the title character is both kind of troubling and totally realistic for what I presume to be the age of the characters, somewhere around twelve – Takagi very clearly has a crush on Nishikata, who sits next to her in class. It's that puppy love that motivates her to prank him on a near-constant basis, to the point where the poor guy can't think of anything but getting her back. Since that's clearly what she wants – him thinking about her all the time – her plan does seem to be working.
Most of the episode revolves around Nishikata trying and failing to execute plans that will both surprise Takagi and get her into trouble with the teacher. Unfortunately for him, she's always two steps ahead – when he makes a snake-in-the-box, she gives him a better made one with a scary face on the snake. When he tries to incriminate her via eraser, she anticipates him and turns the trick around. Nothing Nishikata can do can even get close to what Takagi does, even when he has the advantage, like when he clearly sees her in the classroom window but then doesn't realize that's because she was hiding behind the curtains. It's not that he's stupid; she's just that clever.
Along with the slight air of mean humor that pervades the episode, this turns out to be another one of those series that might have done better as a short. It's divided into three segments, each one focusing on a trick that Tagaki pulls over on Nishikata, and since this isn't really my sense of humor, that makes it feel like too much of the same in too short a space of time. There is good use made of pregnant pauses where Nishikata looks at Tagaki's face or prepares himself for what he anticipates she's done, but again, I can't help feeling like the impact would have been greater in five-minute episodes rather than twenty-five. As it stands, this is an episode that ends up overstaying its welcome by about ten minutes, and I can't quite imagine how it will manage to sustain a full season run, unless it escalates things dramatically either in the kids' relationship or in the magnitude of the pranks.
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