Tonari no Seki-kun is a short series that follows Rumi Yokoi. Yokoi tries to be a model student and pay attention in class. Unfortunately for her, she sits right next to Toshinari Seki, a guy who, instead of focusing on class, likes to play with various toys and games on his desk. Seki's resulting actions often distract Yokoi and pull her focus away from her studies. Is Tonari no Seki-kun really the master of killing time like its subtitle suggests, or was it all just a waste of time?
I have often called Tonari no Seki-kun the Calvin and Hobbes of anime, and this is a big reason why I've said that. A decent portion of the comedy comes from Yokoi's own imagination going into overload whenever she gets absorbed into Seki's antics. Such as picturing epic battles and romantic dramas between fully clad samurai when all Seki was doing was playing with Shogi pieces, or imagining a miniature teddy bear making a tense climb up a mountain when Seki was really just making it climb up the back of the guy in front of him.
There is actually a continuity and even some form of a narrative here. It plays out across the series and relies on calling back to events from prior episodes. Such as the trio of Shogi-based episodes, or the episodes that focus on Seki's family of Transformer toys. There is even a loose plot involving the rumor that Yokoi and Seki love each other carried on through the eyes of their classmate Sakurako Goto.
Each episode of Tonari no Seki-kun only lasts a little over 7 minutes and 30 seconds, and that includes the catchy opening and ending. The show utilizes every second to perfection. This results in Tonari no Seki-kun being one of the few series where I don't hate a single episode. Sure I enjoy some episodes more than others, but the great pacing allows me to enjoy even the episodes I think are weaker than the rest, simply because the series never drags or lingers on the dull moments.
A lot of the episodes in Tonari no Seki-kun turn the mundane into something very entertaining and funny. I'm talking about things such as stamp carving, polishing a desk, playing board games like Shogi and Go, wearing glasses, running a postal service, and even taking a driving license test. The sheer creativity Seki has is amazing, and shows that while he may not pay attention in class, he is still extremely smart.
There are other voice actors that do get to speak in Tonari no Seki-kun, but the lion's share of the spoken lines belong to Yokoi and her voice actress, the very popular Kana Hanazawa, knocks it out of the park. She goes through a wide range of emotions and quite literally carries this show.
At the start of the series, Yokoi is mostly passive, staying on the sidelines watching Seki do his thing and letting her imagination run wild. However, as the series goes on, she becomes more and more directly involved in what Seki is doing, more times than not directly affecting the outcome of whatever Seki is messing with at the time.
A good amount of the time Yokoi tries to break up Seki's shenanigans, she is doing it with Seki's best interests on her mind. She tries to get him to focus on the lesson at hand so he'd copy required notes or to avoid the scorn of the teacher, but often Yokoi ends up being the one forgetting to take down the notes or draws the teacher's ire.
When I get down to it, Tonari no Seki-kun is not only in my opinion far and away the best short form anime series to date, it is actually one of the best anime series I have ever seen. It is one of the very few shows that I would ever dare call flawless. It does everything it aims to do perfectly. It is a show that I think every anime fan should watch. Tonari no Seki-kun is also definitely on the short list of great gateway anime series, because it is hilarious, doesn't fall into many of the pitfalls that makes it hard to recommend a series to just anyone, and it deals with something that nearly everyone has had to deal with, killing boredom in school. Needless to say, I love this series to death and will be singing its praises till the day I die.