If I were to attempt putting together a top anime of 2018 list, Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san (Teasing Master Takagi-san) would be near the top. I’d even go as far as to say that it’s criminally underrated. Right on its face, it works that cute slice-of-life/comedy beat which already hits me like pure catnip. However, what makes it truly special goes a bit further than surface level.
Day 1 of the 12 Days of Anime 2018
To quickly summarize, Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san is show about a middle school boy named Nishikata and his many, many attempts to tease or otherwise outsmart his friend-slash-rival of wits, Takagi. But Takagi always seems to be one step ahead, constantly thwarting his schemes and turning the tables so that he ends up looking like the fool. But, he vows, he’s gonna get her one of these days!
...is how Nishikata would describe the show, if you were to ask him. But that is not entirely correct.
Sure, everything about what
I think he’d say is indeed true, technically speaking. Takagi-san is a mostly episodic affair, with each episode consisting of a bunch of short vignettes with cutesy titles like “Funny Face”, “Umbrella”, and “Test” which take place within the same day, and most of the time, they are indeed about Nishikata’s (failed) ventures to get one up on Takagi. Plus, he is not just the show’s main protagonist, but also its clear point-of-view character. In a certain sense, the way the show is laid out is the way Nishikata may very well want it laid out.
Here’s the the thing about Nishikata, though: He is kinda sorta really oblivious. The more the show goes on, the more apparent it becomes that he’s not entirely privy to what’s really going on between him and Takagi. In fact, he isn’t even all that in tune with what’s going on within himself! Namely, that Takagi clearly likes Nishikata. And going even farther, Nishikata is showing some pretty major signs that he likes her, too, though he hasn’t yet connected the dots about what the things he’s feeling all mean.
In other words, Takagi-san may be some slice-of-life in structure, but it is just as much a romantic comedy at heart. And altogether, it may just be the cutest goddamn thing to have come out in a long time.
I absolutely love the dynamic between those two. It’s one thing to have a bunch of little set pieces where Nishikata’s stupid face and stubborn often self-defeating determination to “win” against Takagi are undone by a smarter opponent. It’s something else entirely for Takagi’s teasing to then also be an outlet for letting loose how she’s low-key sorta high-key into him, with the alleged goal of riling Nishikata up as safe cover. “You’re blushing.” “I’M NOT BLUSHING!!! *blushes even harder*” This happens a lot; it never stops being funny. In fact, I’m pretty sure it got even funnier as the show marched on.
And when I say “funny,” I’m talking about that particularly heartwarming kind of funny, where you’re not just laughing but also filled with happiness because your two favorite idiots don’t even realize how precious they’re being. I typically don’t have ships; I often don’t even care all that much about canon relationships beyond “Oh that’s neat” or “Ah that makes sense.” But after twelve episodes of Takagi-san? Yo, NISHIKATA AND TAKAGI THO.*
*This sentiment is meant in only the purest way
This show is so good at what it does, it even manages to turn one tendency of a budding romance story that would usually be aggravating—overly drawing out how long it takes for the couple to be together—into not just a strength, but maybe even the key to why its antics land so effectively. Takagi-san doesn’t really have any drama or other elaborate machinations keeping Nishikata and Takagi apart, not even a love triangle. If they could just take stock of their feelings and then gain composure and sense to admit them to each other, they could be a thing, damnit! Why is that so hard?!
Well, that’s rather simple, and all too true to life at that: They’re adolescent kids. And adolescence is not exactly known for being a time where anyone is entirely comfortable with being totally honest to others about their feelings. Moreso when they’re of the more unfamiliar or vulnerable kind. Especially not when insecurity is involved.
That’s essentially the rub with Nishikata as a character; he is almost constantly putting up his attempt at a tough front, and that tendency is strongest when he’s dealing with Takagi. It could be a show of arrogance whenever he thinks he could take the upper hand in a melee of minds, it could be by fibbing about something in order to conceal a fact that (as he sees it) could be used to tease him. Maybe even a desperate, impassioned decree that he is not blushing when it’s so clear that he totally is blushing.
And none of it ever works on Takagi. One of this show’s masterstrokes with its positioning of Nishikata as the point of view is how we almost never hear or see things from Takagi’s perspective, which drives home his perception of her as this impenetrable wall that he just cannot breach, when it’s really just because Nishikata overthinks literally everything in terms of “winning” or “losing,” and also, no matter how hard he tries, Takagi can see right through all his bluffing.
Yet he still. Pulls. This. Shit. With. Her. All. The Time. And the kicker? When all the bluster is dropped, leaving just his honest self—a rarity in this show, especially when he’s around Takagi (hell, given the status of Nishikata-as-POV, maybe he’s intentionally cutting his unguarded moments out as much as possible?), but it does happen very occasionally—he’s actually a likable, kind guy! She obviously finds Nishikata’s deflections to be hilarious, but it has to be this side of him to which she’s ultimately drawn.
It’s a tragedy—presented in the most lighthearted of ways, but a tragedy nonetheless—that he has not made that realization yet. However, it’s not like Takagi is being entirely upfront and honest with her feelings, either. In fact, she takes it even farther than not admitting them, to the point of putting them out there to varying degrees (some far more direct than others, oh my god how direct they can be) yet outright obfuscating them by passing them off as yet another of her teasing schemes. And when I put it that way, damn, that’s not just as tragic in its own right, but also pretty cruel on her part, right?
But then Takagi-san has one of those fleeting moments when we get to actually see past Takagi’s own facade. They don’t make her way of dealing any less tragic, but they do make a bit more sense why she puts on the act she does, along with delivering a megaton of what can only be described as “absolute moe catharsis.” Not coincidentally, those times—and how they end up happening—are when the show is at its absolute best. Hence why the fifth, eleventh, and twelfth episodes are my favorites.
That is as apt a demonstration of the show’s fundamental modus operandi as anything: Encasing such heady truisms within such an utterly delightful package. Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san is a genuine accomplishment.