Shelf Life Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
by Paul Jensen,
I've been working on putting together a Star Wars model kit recently, and holy heck that process is easier if you have a decent set of the appropriate tools. It's almost a relaxing experience when you don't have to threaten each and every piece with a violent and vulgar demise. Of course, I'm probably still going to make an absolute mess of the decals, but I'll take progress where I can get it. Welcome to Shelf Life.
Jump to this week's review:
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless
On Shelves This Week
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Extra: While we don't have any formal coverage of the first of the two seasons in this set, I wrote our episode reviews for season two. If you're into comfy slice of life shows, this is one of the better titles in the genre. It's available streaming on Crunchyroll and HIDIVE.
Shelf Life Reviews
I took a look at Tanaka-kun is Always Listless for this week's review. This comedy series somehow manages to do a lot with a main character who doesn't want to do anything.
To be more specific, Tanaka is naturally, wholeheartedly, and single-mindedly committed to getting through life as lazily and comfortably as possible. He takes naps in class, during lunch, and pretty much any other time he can get away with it. He avoids fast food restaurants because he doesn't want to be pressured into ordering quickly, and he would rather go hungry than walk to the school cafeteria. That total lack of motivation has made Tanaka into something of a celebrity in his class, so he gradually attracts a supporting cast full of equally quirky people.
As is often the case with these “extraordinary protagonist” shows, much of the humor comes from simply watching Tanaka be himself. He's self-aware enough to realize that he's not exactly normal, but he has no intention of changing his way of life. That acceptance of his own flaws allows Tanaka to be amusingly self-deprecating whenever he describes his lifestyle, and there's something wonderfully absurd about the lengths to which he'll go to avoid a minor inconvenience. As the series builds up its supporting cast, their reactions to Tanaka's listlessness add a new dimension to the comedy. Gentle giant Ohta just naturally accepts that he's going to be the one who drags Tanaka from one class to the next, while self-declared delinquent Echizen struggles to maintain her composure when Tanaka refuses to compete with her on the grounds that it'd require too much effort. The show's writing is clever enough to use Tanaka as a kind of mirror, revealing other characters' personalities through the way they react to him.
Over time, that supporting cast also develops to the point where Tanaka no longer has to carry the series single-handedly. There's a running theme of appearances that don't match personalities: Ohta loves sweet food despite being an imposing giant, Echizen's aggressive attitude hides a weakness for cute things, and so on. Tanaka's pint-sized classmate Miyano may be the most amusing of the bunch, as she wants to act cool and detached like Tanaka despite being full of energy and enthusiasm. She pleads her way into becoming his unofficial apprentice, promising to do her best to not do her best. There's something delightfully insane about the whole situation, and it has the fun side effect of annoying Tanaka to no end. While the series always comes back to its core formula of having Ohta and Tanaka chat about how listless Tanaka is, being able to rotate other characters in and out keeps things fresh enough over the course of this twelve-episode season.
The low-key comedy alone is enough to make this show worth watching once, but what gives it staying power (and bumps it up into Shelf Worthy territory for me) is its ability to sneak in little moments of insight. Because he never really does anything, Tanaka is able to sit back and observe the people around him. This occasionally leads him to say something profound about other characters' personalities or about the nature of their relationships with him. Most of these observations are simple enough: Echizen is a far kinder person than she claims to be, Miyano should just be herself instead of trying to imitate Tanaka, and class rep Shiraishi doesn't need to force herself to be perfect just to make friends. Even though these little insights aren't deep or complex, there's a kind of honesty to them that lends the series an emotional backbone to support its humor.
While I wasn't blown away by the animation in Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, it's a decent-looking show with a visual style that fits its tone and content. The opening theme is also noteworthy for being well-matched to the show's atmosphere, and it sets the mood for each episode quite nicely. This standard version of the set lacks the physical extras of the limited edition, but it does feature on-disc extras including some fun animated shorts. The English dub does a solid job of matching voice actors to their roles, with Blake Shepard and Monica Rial sounding particularly on-point as Tanaka and Miyano, respectively. My only gripe with the dub is that the dialogue sometimes sounds too formal for a group of high school kids, but it's still a solid option for folks who prefer English audio.
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless is remarkably laid-back for a comedy about an eccentric main character, but it makes that premise work. It finds its groove after a couple episodes, and the characters develop into a nicely balanced cast. It's the kind of series that I can see myself rewatching on (appropriately enough) a lazy afternoon. If you're looking for a character-driven comedy but don't necessarily want all the yelling and energy that often comes with the genre, Tanaka might just be your guy.
That wraps up the review section for this week. Thanks for reading!
This week's shelves are from Anna:
"My name is Anna and I'm a cartoonist/animator (you can read one of my comics at https://tapas.io/series/Bhb).
I've been collecting for over ten years but most of it is in storage. One thing unique about my collection is my two shelves of OEL manga.
Since I watch most anime streaming I've also started spending my money on figures. My favorite anime is Time Stranger and my favorite manga is Dr. Slump. Oh ,also, you can find me on mal at https://myanimelist.net/profile/Origami_Cyclone"
I love that there's a Virtual Boy on the video game shelf, and I really hope it still works. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck with your creative work!
Want to show off your own anime collection? Send me your photos at [email protected]!
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