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AKA: からかい上手の高木さん
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Length: Television series, 12 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by FUNimation. Also streaming on Crunchyroll.
Content Rating: PG-13 (Mild fanservice.)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Tsuredure Children
Notes: Based on manga by Soichiro Yamamoto, published in Monthly Shonen Sunday
Rating:

Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san

Synopsis

Nishikata gets incessantly teased by Takagi-san, the girl who sits next to him in English class. (The two leads are only referred to by their family names throughout the series.) He vows to get revenge on her, but all his attempts not only backfire on him, but frequently bring him public embarrassment. There may be more to Takagi-san's teasing than just an attempt to annoy him, though, as even he eventually begins to realize.

"Would you rather me disappear, or continue to be teased by me forever?"- Takagi-san


Review

The middle school years include the years of the physical and psychological changes of adolescence, and sometimes the girls mature a bit ahead of the boys. The nature, and substance, of Takagi's "teasing" here reflect an exceptionally bright girl who's ahead of Nishikata on that arc, while Nishikata is just beginning his transition in that direction. She knows exactly what she's doing, while he's so caught up in defending his pride (and not fully comprehending his own feelings) that he's unable, for quite some time, to realize what's going on here, even while his classmates are already starting to wonder and ask questions.

That Takagi's approach is so oblique may reflect some embarrassment about her own feelings as well. Her real feelings toward Nishikata are made plain to the audience in the first episode. (Yes, she knows Nishikata's thinking so well that he can't even beat her at Junken (rock-paper-scissors), but I'm still wondering what she would have said if he had seen the other side of that eraser.) The whole "teasing" business produces several seemingly merely incidental (but actually anything but) consequences. First, it makes him pay attention to her. Second, it makes him continue to pay attention to her even after school; if, say, she asks him to walk home with her, he eagerly accepts, seeing it as an opportunity to revenge himself on her. Third, when he loses to her (he always loses), the penalty she exacts often seems to require him to spend even more time with her. See the pattern? (Nishikata takes forever to catch on, however.)

Takagi loves verbal games. One favorite she has is having him guess why she did a particular thing. He never seems to catch on that the answer inevitably is: for the simplest and most obvious reason. (When they first met- we'll see a flashback to that in the final episode- she offered to guess why he did something, but she cheated a bit there.) She plays a "two choices" game with him- that's where the quote at the beginning of the review comes from- and here, as elsewhere, it's obvious (to everyone but him) that she's slyly trying to probe his feelings toward her. And she also engages in some blatant flirting with him that he interprets as her just trying to embarrass him, but which, once again, is a communication from her on two wavelengths, one of which his receiver can't seem to pick up. Takagi does, in a way, remind me a good bit of Yuki Minagawa from Tsuredure Children, another extremely clever girl who couldn't resist the temptation to torment her guy, just a little, with head games. I admire the creativity that this kind of scripting requires- this kind of character is so much more difficult to write than the physically violent tsundere types of other shows- and since we know what Takagi's actual feelings are- and maybe even Nishikata will catch on, in time- I absolutely couldn't hate her. She never publicly embarrasses him herself- though as noted he does that to himself quite a bit during his attempts at reprisal, which go a lot like Wile E. Coyote's attempts to catch the Roadrunner with an Acme product- even though she frequently catches him in embarrassing situations in private. Several of those involve Nishikata's secretly being a fan of a shoujo (girl's) anime/manga called 100% Unrequited Love, an interest which he tries to hide from everyone- though of course Takagi not only finds out about it, but has an uncanny instinct for being around when he's indulging this "vice." There's a scene where he's trying to bluff her into doubting that he'd just purchased a copy of the manga that's absolutely hilarious. (And really all she said was that she'd like to borrow it later!) But if you do think that Takagi's a bit smug, and would like to see her taken down a peg, she can be deflated a bit, not by Nishikata's denials (she expects those), but maybe in a moment of absolute honesty from him. There's an actual "declared" couple in their class, a girl named Mano and a boy named Nakai, and both Nishikata and Takagi look on them in wonder (and, at least in Takagi's case, perhaps with a desire for emulation?)

I loved Takagi's deceptively simple visual design- outrageously slender, with enormous brown eyes that somehow convey both charming innocence and infinite wisdom. (And yes, there really is innocence in her, even though she's in the driver's seat in their interactions.) Nishikata is, alas, given rather beady irises and a much more conventional character design. (I wasn't quite sure what she saw in him, except that he is basically an honest, decent guy deep in his heart- which might be part of why his attempts at revenge fall so flat.)

The show gives us a bit of variety with three girls who I'll call The Trio, who get maybe a third of the show's scenes. Number one is Mina, with slightly unkempt hair and enormous eyebrows. (Hers was my second favorite character design, after Takagi's.) Mina is best described as an energetic simpleton. Then there's Sanae, a taciturn girl who is nevertheless ready to follow Mina's lead and jump into whatever activity Mina begins. (It's all very innocent stuff, like making up imaginary dialogue for people (and animals), or trying out weird flavors of popsicles during the summer.) The third girl is Yukari, the class president, the prim-and-proper, "responsible" one who frowns on the frivolity Mina and Sanae engage in- and is thus the foil for the other two, or sometimes the object of their pity. ("Yukari, are you actually enjoying life?") The primary story of Takagi and Nishikata I found so intriguing that I didn't really need the break the trio provides, but it did give us some secondary characters who are interesting in their own right.

I always admire clever writing, and this one has set up some brilliant gags- the manga "bluff" being one that stood out for me, but I also found a sight gag involving two broken-hearted classmates in the final episode pretty wonderful too. But at heart this is a sweet, and highly unusual, love story about a girl who's quietly maneuvering a guy into becoming her boyfriend even while he thinks she's just giving him a hard time. I loved this show.Allen Moody

Recommended Audience: 14-year-olds in swimsuits in this one look like 14-year-olds in swimsuits; if you're the sort who's looking for voluptuous 14-year-olds, look elsewhere. Takagi's attempts at innuendo are pretty mild, too. We'll nevertheless go with a PG rating and recommend for 15 up.



Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san © 2018 Shin-Ei Animation, S.Y.S/TKG
 
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