Review

by James Beckett,

Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san

Episodes 1-12 streaming

Synopsis:
Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san—Episodes 1-12
From the moment he arrived as the new kid in school, Nishikata has had to endure the constant teasing of his classmate, Takagi. She constantly laughs at how easily embarrassed he is by her pranks, and she always likes to leave him guessing about her true intentions. All year, Nishikata has been trying every trick up his sleeve to get back at Takagi, but she never fails to be one step ahead of his every scheme. They spend so much time teasing each other that everyone in school just assumes they're in love, but Nishikata thinks that idea is just crazy. Just because Takagi spends every day teasing Nishikata, it can't possibly mean she likes him. Right?
Review:

One translation of “Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san” is “Teasing Master Takagi-san”, and this anime is exactly what it says on the tin. Without fail, every single episode of Takagi-san follows the same template: Nishikata, our haplessly dense hero, winds up doing something he thinks is embarrassing, and then Takagi uses this self-inflicted ammo to launch a volley of gentle teasing and light pranks at Nishikata, with every move he makes in retaliation just amusing Takagi more. Nishikata grumbles, complains, and blushes profusely, but he somehow always ends up wanting to hang out with Takagi again, so the cycle repeats.

Immediately, your appreciation of this adolescent romcom will rely on how much tolerance you have for the age-old cliché of kids expressing their affection for their crushes by teasing them. While I certainly understand why some audience members might find Takagi's constant tormenting of Nishikata to be more pitiable than sweet, I personally found it to be cute as all heck. For one thing, it's clear from the first episode that Takagi genuinely likes Nishikata, and her teasing is always gentle enough to stay out of the realm of bullying. For another thing, the series also makes it clear that Nishikata enjoys all this attention from Takagi, even if he's a bit too dense to realize this.

One of the best tricks that Takagi-san (both the show and the character) pulls over the course of these twelve episodes is how it takes the inherently repetitive formula of its comedy and manages to evolve Takagi and Nishikata's relationship through it in a sweet and realistic way. Being such a sly trickster, Takagi essentially uses her wit to bamboozle Nishikata into being her unspoken boyfriend, which gives the usual romcom clichés a fun new twist. The two tweens go shopping for swimsuits, learn to ride a bicycle as a pair, and generally engage in all of the dorky dating practices that young teens get into, even if Nishikata remains slow on the uptake.

The show's clean lines and warm colors help convey the overtly romantic nature of Takagi and Nishikata's adventures, and series director Hiroaki Akagi does a good job of keeping the pacing of the stories tight with well-timed visual gags and giving the dialogue scenes a general sense of momentum; even when Takagi and Nishikata are just standing around talking, things never get boring. The music, by Hiroaki Tsutsumi, is the kind of low-key comedic jangling that tends to fade into the background, but the composer sneaks in some quirky vocal tracks throughout that help imbue the score with just a bit more identity.

The show also makes sure to devote at least one segment per episode to the pair's classmates: Mina, Sanae, and Yukari. Mina is the bubbly hyperactive one, Sanae is stoic and monotone, and Yukari is the stuffy do-gooder of the trio. These girls' stories are only ever tangentially related to the main segments of the episode, and they're rarely the funniest of the bunch, but they offer a nice change of pace in between the Takagi and Nishikata storylines.

If there is one major criticism I can level at the show, it lies again with Takagi herself. Generally speaking, she's a great foil for Nishikata, cute and devious in equal measure, but she's also perhaps too perfect. There's a running gag about a disgustingly weird face that she makes for Nishikata that we never get to see; we only ever see her slyly grinning or feigning befuddlement before getting another one over on poor Nishikata. This unwillingness to depict Takagi as anything less than the idealized vision of a middle-school crush speaks how the show treats her in general. Thankfully, despite indulging in the swimsuit-shopping cliché, the camera never leers at Takagi inappropriately, but the way that the story fails to explore her dimensionality as a character may limit its audience. It isn't enough to ruin the show by any means, but I wish we got to see Takagi truly taken off guard or out of her element at least once, so she could be humanized alongside Takagi.

Funimation was responsible for producing the English simuldub for this season, and my thoughts on it remain the essentially the same from what I wrote in the Winter 2018 Preview Guide. I still think that Aaron Dismuke and Sarah Wiedenheft play the characters just a bit too old; Nishikata often sounds indistinguishable from how another actor might play an older high-school student, and Wiedenheft gives Takagi a mature, self-possessed tone that occasionally borders on sounding sultry, which is odd coming from the mouth of a 12-year-old girl. Still, those reservations are easily swept aside when you consider the pair's dynamite chemistry, which is bolstered by Matt Shipman's faithful script and Jeremy Inman's keen direction. I think the Japanese audio more faithfully preserves the youthful tone of Takagi and Nishikata's romance, but the English dub is worth watching too.

Overall, this is a breezy romance that offers a cute twist on a familiar dynamic that I'm sure many viewers can personally relate to. Karakai Jozu Takagi-san isn't going to change the world or anything, but it's one of the better romantic comedies I've seen lately, and I certainly wouldn't mind if we got to see more of these two dorks' antics somewhere down the line.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-

+ Takagi and Nishikata share irresistibly cute chemistry, fun twist on romantic clichés, pleasant art style
Takagi's characterization lacks depth, the constant teasing dynamic may put some viewers off

Director: Hiroaki Akagi
Series Composition: Michiko Yokote
Original creator: Sōichirō Yamamoto
Character Design: Aya Takano
Chief Animation Director:
Natsuko Kondou
Takuji Mogi

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Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san (TV)

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