Review: Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san

Editor’s note: I swear, I proofread these things! Please believe me lol… (fixed a lot of embarrassing grammatical errors. Like, how do I not even notice… ugh, whatever…)

When the Winter 2018 season began, I was excited to see what new cool anime shows were coming out, and this was one that caught my eye with it’s fascinating name: Master Teaser Takagi-san. I was watching this week by week as it was coming out, but (unsurprisingly to me) I ended up falling behind at some point. A full year later, I finally finished it!

I wonder if I’ll finish any of the other shows in that season… (minus Pop Team Epic, which I stayed on top of every week somehow).

An Introduction

In some undisclosed city of Japan, we see two middle schoolers sitting next to each other in the back row of a classroom: a boy and a girl.

The boy, Nishikata, tries to come up with a plan for a joke he can play on the girl next to him. Maybe some folding paper toy that pops out and scares her, a funny face he can pull to throw her off, something… you may think this is a bit mean or unkind, but the reality is, that girl is Takagi, the master of teasing.

No matter what Nishikata tries to do, she seems to always be a step ahead. Pop out scary toy, she’s made a better one. Funny face, she has a funnier one. Takagi teases him constantly, day in day out, and now Nishikata is just waiting for his chance to get back to her.

Sometime, somewhere… walking to school, in the classroom, at a store together, Nishikata always has a new plan in mind and he won’t quit until he succeeds…

The Plot and Characters

Takagi-san is another example of a sketch comedy, slice-of-life type show, something I haven’t touched in a little while. This genre is honestly something I’m usually a big fan of, loving shows like Nichijou and Squid Girl. Takagi-san falls pretty much right in line with them on paper, but there’s some dissimilarities that do make this a different experience. As is normal with a sketch comedy, each episode is divided into a handful of smaller segments/parts, with each part usually focusing around a distinct topic. The parts can often times blend together or feature some transition from one to the next, but they generally stand on their own without any additional context needed.

Almost every part in Takagi-san (we’ll discuss the outliers shortly), though, feature one of two premises: either Takagi is teasing or flustering Nishikata, or Nishikata is trying to get back at Takagi but fails at the critical moment (often times by being flustered or overthinking things). When boiled down, every single segment fits into one of those two categories, all the way from episode 1 to episode 12.

In fact, we see exactly the same structure used three times in completely different occasions: episode 5 (“Bookstore”), episode 8 (“Typhoon”), and episode 11 (“Cat”). There may be more, I don’t recall, but they all go as such: Takagi comes across Nishikata doing something he finds embarrassing, she tries to get him to admit the embarrassing thing, and after he finally admits or Takagi drops the subject, she nonchalantly reveals that she knew all along. This is the same story being told 3 separate times, the only difference being the “embarrassing thing” in question (ooh, Nishikata likes cats, how scandalous!). There are some minute variations, if you really want to be pedantic, but since they’re spaced apart in different episodes, it makes those variations even harder to notice and thus makes the sketches feel even more repetitive.

This show is pretty much the definition of “formulaic”.

In my experience with slice-of-life shows, I usually see them do a couple things to break up the monotony and keep things from feeling stale. Most shows have multiple characters to split their attention across, and you’ll see the characters (and their varying personalities) in different combinations throughout the show’s run – Daily Lives of High School Boys takes this idea in particular to the extreme, by introducing a handful of new characters every other episode. You’ll see shows introduce more traits or twists to a character’s personality partway through the series, such as Kyoya brushing the girls’ hair in GJ Club, or Seo in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. These twists and additions keep it from being the same setup-punchline over and over with a particular character (sadly, I wish this was something they applied to the rest of Nozaki-kun). Lastly, some shows will put in some sketches with differing tones to help keep things fresh, such as Squid Girl’s highly effective dramatic segments, or a number of various recurring segments in Nichijou (such as Like Love). Even with the same characters, the same personalities, it’s enjoyable to see them painted in a slightly different light.

Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san, however, lacks most of that. 80% of the show’s sketches are just Takagi and Nishikata, with Takagi teasing Nishikata or Nishikata being flustered. It’s the same setup and punchline, over and over again; sure, there’s variation in the setting and topic of the sketch (from calligraphy to playing with smartphones to making a game around throwing cans in the garbage), but there’s no changes in how the two interact, and it’s always presented in the same light comedic tone. A few sketches (as in, once per 2 episodes) have the rare heart-string pluck, but those come at the end of the usual comedic banter. Takagi does have feelings for Nishikata, which she isn’t subtle at sharing in those rare moments, but – as you’d expect – these feelings go nowhere (in the original series).

The other 20% (the aforementioned “outlier” segments) is focused around 3 other girls: Mina, Yukari, and Sanae – so the show does try to break up the monotony in one form, at the very least. These are actually the main three characters from Ashita no Doyobi, a spinoff that takes place in the same school/classroom. Especially with Mina, these three are best described as comic relief; their sketches show them light-heartedly explore various topics in school life and early teenage years, and with the three different personalities, you’re bound to relate to at least one of them. They’re a fun distraction, but unfortunately, they’re not enough to really break up the otherwise incessant march of repetitive Takagi/Nishikata sketches.

I would’ve been interested to see the show delve more into some of the other supporting characters that otherwise only get a few lines throughout the whole series. Seeing something like Nishikata hanging out with his male friends, or that other couple Nakai and Mano… heck, even just seeing Takagi by herself, showing us what kind of “cute anime girl” things she does without having a Nishikata to tease… these things would’ve added some great variety. Maybe they could’ve gone somewhere with Takagi’s feelings for Nishikata, something genuinely sweet or fluffy, or at least a side of their friendship that is more than just teasing/being teased – some form of actual, genuine acts of friendship and connection between the two of them. There has to be some reason why Nishikata continues to subject himself to her teasing (minus simply “because he likes her too”). The show hints at and implies these things, but I feel they could’ve really gone much further to show us this; they had the perfect situation too with the tandem biking segments, but most of that happened off-screen. Just… any form of variety like this would’ve really helped this show a lot.

And so, you’re probably thinking I don’t like this anime a whole lot. We’re almost done with this section of the review, and all I’ve done so far is share a lot of negatives and complaints. … But at the same time, I did manage to stick with it all the way to episode 12 (albeit over the course of a full year), so what kept me coming back? Was it simply sheer willpower, so that I could write this review?

The truth is… Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san was still enjoyable. At the core of it, even beyond Takagi teasing a lot and Nishikata being flustered a lot… it shows kids just being kids. They’re middle schoolers, walking to/from school together, hanging out, eventually even texting each other. They have these ridiculous little games and challenges they do; it’s their unique laid-back way to add some levity and spice in their usual routine of going to school every day, dealing with chores and homework and tests. On top of that, they’re awkwardly trying to explore their friendship, themselves, each other, and the world around them. There’s an overall sense of innocence and basic joy that does come from this series, almost to the point of longing for those bygone childhood days of my own. Takagi-san is simply just a fun, relaxing ride; you can put on an episode, lean back, and have a chill alright time for the next 22-ish minutes. This show definitely won’t give you the highest highs you can get from other shows (in fact, it may not even come close), but it also never reaches the lowest lows either… again, not even close. It’s consistent, it’s relaxing, and it’s friends hanging out.

I don’t think the show was truly intended for me, or anyone, to delve so deeply into how the plots are structured, or even how one-note the characters are; it aimed to deliver a consistently light-hearted fun time, and that’s precisely what it does. But that doesn’t invalidate my criticisms either: as it is, I have a hard time recommending this show to my friends or really anyone. There’s other shows out there that deliver the exact same things, but with more variety and fun. Takagi-san is a good time despite the criticisms I’ve leveled at it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a better time to be had elsewhere.

I am still looking forward to the second season coming out later this year though. I’m hoping there will be something in it that wows me, but I’m not expecting anything except “more of the same”.

The Atmosphere

Although you wouldn’t think it at first, there’s some nicely-done visuals on display here.

The animation is fluid, the characters are expressive and have a sense of liveliness to them. The colors on display are good too; they all stand out, but yet stay subtle enough to not draw attention away from what needs the focus. The backgrounds are also good, with a decent amount of detail and the aforementioned good color (although the quality of detail can vary a bit). But on top of it all, there’s a surprisingly good display of camera usage and shot composition. A lot of scenes will have the camera in a fascinating position, or it’ll quickly focus in on a small detail (a hand moving, the eye of a character) when appropriate, sometimes effects like a wide-angle distortion or Dutch angle will be utlized at times too. The overall quality caught me off guard, they didn’t have to go the extra mile, but I’m soooo glad they spent the thought and time to do it.

This is very well exemplified in episode 9. The first segment, “Cell Phone”, implements a lot of the nice camera work and good background design I just mentioned. One of the middle sections, “Horror”, starts with Nishikata and Takagi erasing drawings on a chalkboard, and the drawing they’re rubbing the eraser over slowly gets blurrier and then disappears as they pass over it again and again. It’s a little detail that surprised me and it stuck with me for a while after that.

If I had to complain at all about the visuals, it would be that there are times the characters are drawn a tad funny or off. It’s not enough to be distracting (most of the time), but it’s enough to be noticeable. Also, strangely, the visuals seemed to have gotten better as the episodes went on, rather than worse. It’s as if the artists/animators needed a few episodes to figure out how to best draw these characters.

The character designs, at least for the main two, are great. Nishikata’s eyes are large with really tiny pupils, they add to his expressiveness, although they can definitely contribute to those off-looking drawings at times. Takagi has a distinctive head shape, with which she looks pretty cute at times – something the animators are very aware of and utilize well. I also like the designs for Mina and Yukari, with Mina’s bushy eyebrows and Yukari’s head shape and eye design. The remaining characters, by comparison, more look like your standard anime high schooler designs, there’s not as much to comment about. Hatching is used for some designs though, and that’s pretty neat.

Takagi-san’s soundtrack tends to rely mostly on woodwinds, which I found interesting. It worked out well for the show overall, as they were able to get emotions across surprisingly well with them. A bassoon (or something like that) is used for when Nishikata is trying a plan to tease Takagi, and it is pretty iconic. Strings and some other instruments do come into play at various points too, but it’s still definitely a lot of woodwinds. The show’s soundtrack isn’t exactly distinct and experimental enough to really become that memorable for me, but it’s still a decently-done job.

I don’t have too much an opinion in regards to the opening animation. It’s pleasant, but doesn’t really do much to differentiate itself at all from other comedy/slice-of-life style anime shows, unfortunately. I think that may be to the show’s detriment because I would’ve enjoyed something a bit more special for this show. Honestly, it’s kind of a pity too, because the show’s opening theme, “Iwanai Kedo ne.” sung by Yuiko Ohara, is actually quite nice and I enjoy it a decent amount.

The show ends up using a lot of ending themes and animations, though. There’s a total of 7 songs, each one is sung by Rie Takahashi, the voice actor for Takagi herself, and the animation is slightly changed for each song as well. The changes aren’t too significant, the ending animation is still primarily just Takagi biking alongside a river or a field or something (with or without Nishikata), and to be honest, the ending songs in particular aren’t that different either. It took me a few episodes to even notice the songs and animations were even changing at the end, and even when I did notice “hey, this sounds/looks different”, I still wasn’t 100% sure. While the opening animation has a hard time distinguishing itself from other anime in the same genre, the various ending animations have a hard time distinguishing themselves from each other. Crunchyroll doesn’t provide subtitles for the songs, but I’d fathom the lyrics are general fluffy love stuff. I’m definitely not opposed to having the different songs and animations and stuff, I genuinely welcome it, but how similar they ended up being, part of me wonders if maybe this time and effort could’ve been put into making one or two killer opening and ending animations.

I’m honestly not really going to complain that much, though. All the songs sound nice, the animations do their job and feel in place with the show. I love shows giving 110% into something, and since the visual quality of the episodes themselves is definitely where the animators did give that 110%, that’s really the most I can ask for.

Voice acting-wise, I was obviously stuck with the Japanese cast on Crunchyroll, but I quite liked it. Rie Takahashi does a pretty nice job as Takagi, although at times the laugh sounded a bit strange and forced to me. (Different people have different laughs, though, so I won’t discriminate.) Nishikata was played by Yuuki Kaji, and he also did a pretty nice job. It’s amusing to hear the same voice actor for Eren Jaeger in Attack on Titan take on this role in a relatively low-stakes setting, but there’s a distinct enough difference in how he voices the characters that you don’t immediately notice.

One thing I did notice though, with Yuuki Kaji playing Nishikata, is when he yelled or exclaimed something, you could definitely tell that he was in a recording studio. The shape and size of the room you’re recording in definitely makes a difference into how the final result sounds (as your voice echoes and different materials absorb or reflect sounds in different ways), and so I could tell this was the sound of an indoor room. It was amusing and a tad immersion-breaking when this happened, though, as it often happened while Nishikata and Takagi were outside or in a larger space, but I can’t imagine there was much they could do about it (probably cost more money that it’d be worth to rectify).

Final Remarks / TL;DR

As far as sketch comedies I’ve watched go, Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san (Master Teaser Takagi-san) fails to place among my favorites. It has a single joke, Takagi teases her friend Nishikata, and it does it over and over again; the differences between the various situations and the attempts to break it up with cameo segments from Ashita no Doyobi don’t do enough to break the repetitiveness either. However, the show was still a nice watch for me, because at the end of the day, it’s kids being kids and there’s a pure simple joy in that.

However, due to that repetitiveness, it makes this show a hard one to recommend. I did ultimately enjoy my time with it, but if someone came to me and asked for a show in this genre, I would’ve pointed them towards something else first (like GJ Club).

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Don’t Watch
+++ great animation, simple joy seeing kids being kids, Takagi’s design
— same premise over and over again, didn’t explore Takagi alone or side characters much, multiple ending themes but they all sound the same

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