Tanaka-kun’s Genius Simplicity (And Simple Comedy in Anime)

(This was a post written and made in to a video a long while back, I thought it would be a good idea to bring it to the blog along with some more of my older content)

Protagonists from many different shows released every season find themselves in difficult and interesting situations, Tanaka-kun is trying to avoid ending up in them himself.

“Tanaka-kun is always listless” is an anime from Spring 2016 in which the main character wants to be anything but a main character; even describing his friend “Oota” as the protagonist of his own life.

From the first moment we get introduced to our main character, it’s easy to see just how much he wants to avoid using any energy whatsoever. His voice actor, “Ono Kensho” does a superb job of capturing this personality and complements the main themes of the show extremely well.

In fact, the way everything in the entire anime perfectly complements each other is the strongest reason to why I enjoy it so much, which is simply down to how ingeniously simple the show is in the first place.

First of all, the characters. Tanaka-kun is literally a personified hyperbole of how any person feels on a lazy day of school, work or college. This is a feeling that anyone can relate to, but also something that isn’t explored too much in the world of anime. We see the “lazy” trope pop here and there, but it’s never anywhere near as extreme or as relatable as how it appears in this show. And this personality is what the entirety of the anime revolves around, including: Characters, Art-style, Direction and the Sound-Track. All knitted up in to one perfect ball of simplicity.

I don’t think I even need to explain how Oota is a perfect second lead to Tanaka. These two make such a good duo that you could literally watch them do anything and enjoy it. Sure, it may seem as if he’s there simply to allow the main character to even exist, which is correct to some extent. However, likable and relatable enough on his own that this doesn’t matter so much. Oota is how you feel when your best mate is having one of those lazy days and is a personification of the line “Where would you be if it wasn’t for me?”

Finally for the characters that I’ll cover we have Miyano; a stark contrast to our MC, resembling the childish part of themselves that I feel every single person has inside them somewhere. These three characters set up a perfect atmosphere and is a combination that allows for the audience to empathize with all sides of the story, allowing for the comedy to be that much more effective.

Talking about atmosphere, art-style in comedies is something that’s rather difficult to get right, because something too complex will take away from the build-up to the punch line and break the atmosphere entirely. So in animation, we need to create art that’s simple, but doesn’t make it look cheap and shoddy at the same time. As an example of something that does this perfectly, and is really a goal to aim for if you’re creating a comedy anime, then look towards Prison School. Achieving something like this is pretty difficult, but Tanaka-kun hits the mark pretty damn well. The build up to the jokes will be focused heavily on characters, whilst the background will be something much simpler. Once the joke has been made and the viewers have been able to laugh and focus on the characters making them, the focus of the art shifts to something much more pretty and good looking (usually not including the characters at all). This creates a very nice breathing gap between jokes, and allows for the audience to have a break and take in the parts of the show that are actually quite good looking. This set-up also gives the next joke in line more impact, and if it’s at the end of the episode, will sub-consciously make the viewer want to watch another for more humour of the same kind. I do think, however, it’s important that the anime is only 12 episodes, since this kind of technique would generally be used in shorter length episodes, and if it were 24 episodes long it could get boring. Luckily, the creators struck a balance of episodes and length of episodes that I feel is perfect, even if it hasn’t finished yet.

On the subject of the humour, I think it’s important to note how non-obnoxious the humour is. It contains a charming amount of subtlety to it, where it’s not just telling you a few then ending the episode. The humour is found more so within the actions of characters. And due to this being done well, it means you don’t really get sick of the characters and actually care for them quite a bit, something that tends to happen more so in story focused shows.

Moving on to the sound-track, I feel like this could be considered the “Cherry on the cake” as it were. Other than the opening, it’s not exactly memorable, but what it is, is chill. It is so chill. At the end of the day, it’s the sound-track topping off everything else that leaves me with a smile after every episode. And that’s not even a smile at the humour, that’s a smile left by the fact that the show is just so damn chill, it literally just leaves you in a good mood. Oh and the opening is absolutely beautiful. I’m not a master of music, but the build up of instruments to the singer’s introduction and the way that the singing works so perfectly with the vibes of the anime, really is pretty incredible.

Finally, one of the most important parts of any comedy, perhaps even more important than the jokes themselves: The direction. I haven’t read the manga myself, but I feel like this show must have translated pretty amazingly, because the use of pauses breaking up the build ups and punch line’s work extremely well. This is something that is usually done much better in manga due to how the panels are set out, but occasionally you get an anime that translates this in to animation really well. And I do believe Tanaka-kun is one of them.

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