Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. Man, it sure is easy to write about a series when it lays it all out in the title. Honestly, what more do you need to know? There’s a kid named Tanaka and he is always, not frequently, in the mindset of laziness. So notoriously tired is Tanaka, that nobody bats an eye when his best friend and enabler, Ohta, carries him between classes. It’s oddly impressive. Still, perpetual drowsiness does not for a robust series make, which is where the surprisingly jam-packed periphery of Tanaka’s life comes in…whether he wants it to or not.
Immediately decrying the sheer effort it must take to be a protagonist, Tanaka pretty succinctly establishes the vibe of this series from the outset. Not bothered by the burning light of youth others tout, he simply wishes to coast through life in the most listless manner possible. For that very reason, Tanaka is willing to his unique manner of best. Though he may allow himself to succumb to the pangs of hunger one day, due to food being literal centimetres from his grasp, another will see him complete schoolwork at a blinding pace, so that he may sleep without judgement. Granted, said work was completed to the barest possible sense, but an effort was made nonetheless. It is this discerned level of positivity that retains this series’ sense of calming self throughout its entire run, ever adhering to its title. It is also said positivity that can only exist within the world of anime. If not for the sheer aggravation one such as Tanaka would cause on a daily basis, then his inability to walk five steps before tiring would set off some serious medical flags. I know said realistic logic doesn’t belong in this series, but I would be lying if I said such thoughts did not plague my mind. Like, get this kid some vitamins or something, because he literally lacks the physical strength required to drink a milkshake.
Rounding out the confusing deuteragony is Ohta, bastion of kindness and the most patient being this side of the universe. Having become friends with Tanaka before the series began, Ohta seemingly spends his days keeping his friend alive. What’s most interesting about this relationship, however, is Ohta’s absolute self-awareness. On multiple occasions, he likens himself to a parent, doing his best and reveling in pride whenever Tanaka exceeds his self-imposed limitations. It’s honestly sweet and paints their friendship in a more positive manner than most others do. Of course, the same can be said for Stockholm’s Syndrome, but I’ll leave that comparison alone for now. There are, however, times where Ohta’s friendship seems more along the lines of an anthropological study. Between discerning the slight variations in Tanaka’s mood and the motivations that drive him, even in their limited way, undertones of friendship become noticeably scientific in nature. Combined with the matter-of-fact discussions the cast share regarding mostly inane subjects, the series definitely holds its share of oddness. Less slice-of and more cross-section-of-life.
Spanning outwards a little further, we find the extended cast of the series and the honest reason a full cour is watchable. With the first episode focusing on the Tanaka/Ohta dynamic, I was slightly worried about the stamina of such an existence. Luckily, come the abrupt introduction of Miyano, the series slowly evolves and becomes a more robust experience. Not to insult the archetype Tanaka represents, it’s simply that watching him, and the stoic Ohta, is akin to watching a straight man with no eccentric accompaniment. Thus, when the manic supporting cast appears and lives up to their name with gusto, Tanaka’s listlessness becomes a soothing contrast, rather than and inescapable focus. Said inclusion of opposite personalities also allows Tanaka to assume a rather unique observational role, utilising his fairly consistent emotional state to plainly comment on the worries and issues of those around him. It’s honestly about as close as a character can get to commentating their own series without stepping beyond the fourth wall. Still, Tanaka’s internal monologue does serve to remind us that he doesn’t see himself above any of the drama that occurs, simply that expending such a large amount of energy to worry and fight is ultimately pointless and self-damaging. And it’s this odd sense of maturity born through lethargy that serves as the closest this series gets to a moral. It’s…surprisingly heart-warming.
As far as story progression is concerned, the series somehow manages to change drastically, without seeming to do anything differently. The same is also true of Tanaka himself who, despite maintaining his plateau of lethargy, comes to a series of realisations about himself and the inherent truths of life itself. Despite this, the series begins and ends on a rather uneventful note, which is nothing but appropriate. Although relationship statuses don’t reach the point all were hoping for and few underlying dramas are ever brought to the surface, let alone resolved, it’s all just fine. In following the mantra of a character who believes that everything will work out if given enough time, the series avoids cramming resolution after resolution into its climax. In taking said approach, a picture that there is a tomorrow beyond the closing credits is truly painted. Maybe Shiraishi will convey her true feelings to Tanaka, maybe she won’t. But, at the end of the day, she has become more comfortable in her own self, even if only a little. With that in mind, not everything needed to happen by the end of the final episode. Heck, Shiraishi never even fully expressed her hidden unfashionable side, opting instead to ditch her contact lenses and adjust her public persona ever so slightly. Why? Because she didn’t need to go from zero to one-hundred in the blink of an eye. She did what she was comfortable with and took one small step closer to the self she wishes to be and that’s more than most series give to their protagonist, let alone the sixth cast member meaningfully introduced.
Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. Perhaps he will be forever, we simply don’t know. Still, the conceit of the series is far from all it is. Despite presenting itself as a slice-of-life on Valium, the series conceals a rather direct narrative that seldom stalls. Even multiple scenes of napping and shots that hang on reaction faces for roughly twice the traditional amount of time seem purposeful. Through the listless eyes of one, we witness the multitude of archetypes that tumble through the world. Initially as annoyances, disruptions to the peace of isolation, their occasional absences reveal individual strengths and benefits to their ways of life. It’s not a new message, nor is it one that is hammered into our heads, it just sort of…happens. For this reason, this series is one of the most ironic existences I can recall in recent memory. In actively intending to express the median of life, it reaches peaks that others do not. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this and the series is simply a loving display of mediocrity. Still, if even that can bring about such a thought process, there is more to this series than a boy who wants to sleep. Also, the lady from Wickey D’s is amazing.