Say, there sure have been a lot of reviews lately! In keeping with this pattern, today I wanted to discuss an anime series that kind of took me by surprise. As a matter of fact, I almost skipped it entirely.
Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san, or Master Teaser Takagi-san, is about two middle schoolers: the easily embarrassed Nishikata and his classmate and serial prankster, Takagi-san. Takagi constantly teases and plays tricks on the gullible Nishikata, who gets in trouble with teachers, blushes a lot, and makes bets with Takagi that he can’t win. Time after time and day after day, Nishikata tries – and fails – to get back at Takagi-san, who always seems to be at least one step ahead of him.
To some extent, the show really is that formulaic. For a while, the show, like the manga series it’s adapted from, doesn’t seem like it is going to go anywhere, and like watching Takagi constantly outsmart Nishikata is going to be the sum total of your viewing experience. Even if it is an amusing premise, a joke told a hundred different ways will still get old. Hence why I almost skipped the show entirely.
However, much like Nishikata, who’s so fixated on getting back at Takagi-san for her teasing, I missed at first that there was something more going on here:
“No shit, Sherlock!” You are undoubtedly saying right about now. It’s that old familiar trope: a young girl makes fun of a guy because she’s too young to know how to express her affections for him. Allow me to explain what makes this iteration of the old love story cliché special.
Most love story teasers are just plain hurtful or abusive, and the only way you’d know they were head over heels for the guy is because you get to occasionally see them alone with their feelings. The appeal in most of these sorts of works is that the guy eventually wises up to what’s actually going on and thaws the ice queen, who lets down her defenses and expresses her true feelings. As you can imagine, it really is hard to imagine a healthy relationship existing there. It has an uneasy, Taming of the Shrew vibe to it, and it’s not how real (and I add for emphasis, healthy) love works.
Takagi-san is very different – and much smarter – with her teasing. None of it is (intentionally) malicious or hurtful; if Nishikata loses a bet or gets in trouble, he almost always does it to himself. And when Nishikata actually gets hurt, Takagi doesn’t try to mask her feelings by laughing; quite the contrary, on one of the few times he did get hurt, she expresses concern and dotes on him despite his insistence that he’s fine.
But more than that, rather than providing a contrast to her hidden romantic feelings as in other works, Takagi’s teasing is a vehicle for her to drop hints to Nishikata, who unfortunately remains mostly clueless.
The transition from comedy to romance is so seamless you hardly notice it. Takagi, while starting out pranking Nishikata at least in part for kicks, slowly and carefully turns up the heat on those hints about her affections for him over the course of the dozen episodes. At the same time, although Nishikata is consistent about trying to get back at Takagi for her teasing, he also gradually notices that she’s pretty and oftentimes a sweet person.
The pair go from mostly seeing each other in class – in one episode in particular, Nishikata is surprised to see Takagi at the library after his friends leave – to hanging out regularly during the summer. They have accidentally tender moments while alone with each other and their friends begin to simply assume that they are going out. These developments are punctuated by the decreasing frequency of Takagi’s pranks, as she begins to show Nishikata more of her sensitive side and it becomes apparent that Nishikata is just getting embarrassed at this new, sudden intimacy. The result is disarmingly heartwarming and sweet without feeling overly saccharine.
Master Teaser Takagi-san is a nostalgic work by design. It makes me think of my experience of young love with my now wife. We met in college, almost a decade ago now, and we’ve been through it all: the ups and downs, a long-distance relationship, falling apart and making up, engagement, and now marriage. We have both been taken on a long and incredible journey together for all these years, but even after all this time, I look at my wife and still see the same cute, shy college girl who I asked out to coffee and who responded to me that she only drank tea.
For the people who have done the dating and crushes, who are now on the other side, Nishikata and Takagi’s story is a reminder of how even after all the years, the marriage, and maybe the kids, he or she will always be the young girl or guy you first fell in love with.
But it goes further than that. The story evokes a time many of us can relate to: plenty of us, I’m sure, were teased by someone when we were kids, not realizing until adulthood that he or she may have actually liked us. Or we may have been the young teaser desperate to get the message across. If only – you are left thinking – I had realized that other person’s feelings, how would my life have gone?
And this nostalgic feeling even escapes the specific situation of a teaser and his or her victim: what if someone you knew – anyone at all – at thirteen years old had a crush or was in love with you? What if you had known how they felt, and could have saved yourself years of rejection and heartache? Taking it a step further, what if, instead of meeting in college, my wife and I had known each other in high school? Would we have been attracted to each other then, or more interestingly, would we have been mature enough to develop a relationship that would be strong enough survive high school, college, and all the way to our marriage?
Because this is what nostalgia is actually about. Sure, we think back on our younger years because things seemed simpler or better then, but that’s only one dimension of it. The core of nostalgia is that we are looking back at a time when there were possibilities, wondering how we could have done it differently – better – to change our lives today. Master Teaser Takagi-san strokes this sentiment constantly: if Nishikata would just wise up and realize that Takagi likes him, that he likes Takagi too, and that he should totally go for it, he will win at life.
Beyond that, the art and animation of this series is simply delightful. It’s nothing too sophisticated really, but its smoothness and the warm colors reinforce the generally nostalgic air that hangs over the proceedings, harkening back to a time when the world may have seemed to have more color and possibility to it.
So too the simplistic soundtrack, with its pan flutes and acoustic guitars, as gentle and lilting as Takagi’s voice (hats off to voice actress Rie Takahashi for her performance). The opening song, a poppy piano rock jingle, is a refreshing change from shows trying to impress you with their high-pitched J-pop divas shrieking over synthesizers and squeedly-meedly J-rock guitars.
The one thing I do have to take points away for is the pacing of the individual episodes, which is inconsistent at best. In the first couple episodes, it doesn’t seem like the Nishikata and Takagi skits by themselves will be enough to sustain an audience over an entire episode, giving these initial episodes somewhat of a slog quality. The show then remedies this by also focusing on a comedic trio of girls in Takagi and Nishikata’s class. They are funny at first, but as Takagi and Nishikata’s story becomes more appealing, the comedic trio begins to feel like a distraction with no measurable impact on the story at large. I mean, I don’t even remember any of their names without looking it up (it’s Mina, Sanae, and Yukari for the curious)! This is all to say that with everything else that went right in this show, it’s unfortunate that in terms of pacing, Master Teaser Takagi-san never really found its footing.
Those pacing issues aside, I can confidently say I enjoyed the show, and the new episodes became the thing to look forward to every Monday. Master Teaser Takagi-san scores a 9 out of 10. It is a thoughtful and entertaining romantic comedy with more to it than meets the eye. Thank you all for reading, hope you enjoyed it. See you next week!
And to my wife:
As I anxiously wait, my thoughts only of you,
Even the slight stirring of the bamboo blinds in the autumn breeze
Makes my heart leap in anticipation.
If you have seen Master Teaser Takagi-san, what did you think of it, whether good or bad? Is my interpretation of it overall on point or way off-base? Share your thoughts in the comments section!