I don’t even want to be the main character in my own life

Tanaka-kun is getting wet

Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, episodes 1-12

  1. When I heard the description of this show, I gave it a pass. I thought Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto had the more interesting gimmick, so I picked that one instead. Big mistake. I could barely get through an episode of Sakamoto, it was so heavily padded around its one joke. But after a couple of weeks seeing people’s positive response to Tanaka-kun, I swapped to the other high school gimmick show of the spring season, and found myself looking forward to new episodes every week.
  2. It was the second half of episode 1 that sold me. Tanaka explains to Ohta, “I don’t even want to be the main character in my own life… It sounds exhausting.” He talks about wanting to be a background character – and in a way, that’s what he is in his own show. He’s got the title, he’s at the centre of his clique, but actually it’s how other people act around him that is interesting to watch. His muted behaviour draws out their personalities, and they open up to him in ways that they keep hidden from the rest of the school.
  3. At the same time, the ability to relate to Tanaka is an important aspect of the show. We’ve all had days when we can’t be bothered to drag ourselves out of bed — or when we spend a lot of effort trying to avoid work. We see ourselves in Tanaka. I can’t stand umbrellas: I’m the guy who has turned up at work soaking wet because it’s easier than carrying a brolly; every one of Tanaka’s rationalisations in episode 6 is something I’ve used to justify my objectively dumb habit. Perfect.
  4. A lot of the comedy is driven by misunderstandings, often with a dry edge. For example, when Tanaka loses his voice and is forced to write notes, he complains to himself that writing Echizen (越前) takes too long to write, so she should change her name to Tanaka (田中) or Ohta (大田). She assumes this is a proposal to marry one of them; hijinks ensue. On one level it is an absurd misunderstanding, but it works because it brings out Echizen’s discomfort with gender roles and romantic expectations. Again: Tanaka is more of a catalyst for other people’s personalities than a true lead character.
  5. I also like the relationship between Tanaka and Ohta. Despite occasional jokes, it is presented as a strong platonic relationship — two good mates who look out for each other. It’s nice.