[Review] Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san – Episode 1

What’s it about? Nishikata’s classmate Takagi is the master of practical jokes. He’s determined to get back at her one day—if he could just stop getting pranked long enough to do it!

Takagi-san is a school comedy with a low-key romantic undercurrent that seems to be skewed towards a middle-grade audience, and it is the most “okay” premiere I’ve seen all season. It is utterly harmless. It is profoundly fine. And I have been staring at this stupid post for 15 minutes now trying to think of something else to say about it.

Three girls in school uniforms walk up a hill will trees and hills behind them. The two shorter girls have neural expressions, while the tall one in front wearing glasses looks exhausted. Subtitles: "Ugh, I'm tired, yet again."
The Biggest of Moods

Okay, a 100-word review prob’ly ain’t gonna cut it, so let’s start with the basics. Takagi-san seems to be trying to capture the Tonari no Seki-kun dynamic of a kid who likes screwing around in class and the increasingly frazzled classmate who gets “unwillingly” (but totally willingly) pulled into their orbit.

There are some key differences, though. Most notably, the genders have been flipped so the girl is the clown and the boy the straight man, which is a fun little reversal. Also, Takagi interacts directly with Nishikata, messing with him because she loves the expressions he makes.

I was worried the premise would come across as mean-spirited, but the series makes it clear that Nishikata is just as dedicated to pranking Takagi as she is to teasing him. He’s terrible at it, mind you, but the two seem to have willingly entered into this game (they’re crushing hard on each other, too), and that mutual understanding goes a long way. I mean, sure, Nishikata is slowly spiraling into madness as he desperately tries to find a way to get even with his unflappable classmate, but he’s doing so of his own volition, at least.

A boy in a school uniform with bags under his eyes stars at his own reflection in a mirror. Subtitle: "What should I do?"
And if you gaze long into the tomfoolery, the tomfoolery also gazes into you.

It’s a decent enough idea, but it struggles in execution. The episodes are too long, for one (this really should have been a 10-minute short), the formula is predictable, and the pranks are pretty bland. Tonari no Seki-kun works so well because it goes all-in on its absurd premises, but Takagi’s jokes are just stuff a regular kid might do. It’s grounded, sure, but not particularly surprising. Comedy is even more subjective than most genres, so you may enjoy the humor more than I did, but it’s hard for me to appreciate a joke when I’ve guessed the punchline halfway into the setup.

The production values are as profoundly okay as everything else, featuring some decent exaggerated expressions from Nishikata but little else. The real disappointment, though, is that Takagi never gets to make any similarly goofy expressions, instead relegated to perpetual cuteness. Even her “I got you” smirks are all soft edges, which both dampens the show’s energy and undercuts her role as the secret class clown.

The title may depict Takagi as the “Skilled Teaser,” but the animation choices make it clear we’re intended to see her as a love interest first and a troll a far more distant second. As a result, she’s way less fun in practice than she sounds on paper, which is a real shame. As Mitsuboshi Colors demonstrated, if your cast is gonna include a cute little shit, then you gotta balance the “cute” with the “little shit” a lot more evenly than this.

A close-up of a girl in a school uniform, looking sideways at someone off-screen with her hand clenched close to her mouth as if she were just covering it. She is smiling and blushing. Subtitles: "Seriously, Nishikata. Your reaction is priceless."
“I can’t wait to watch you snap like a twig, tee-hee!”

Geez, I feel like I’m tearing into Takagi-san a lot here, which is unfair given that it really was totally fine. It’s another show I could see a preteen audience enjoying more, and I’m glad this season has had some of those. If the description sounds like something you’d like, then by all means, give it a go. It’s not for me, but I wish it and you nothing but the best.

 

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  • Petrosilia Zwackelfrau

    A week ago an almost-eleven-year-old showed my a video on Youtube. It was an instructional video for tricks you could perform on your friends in school. So when I saw this review, I thought I had to give it a try and see how it compared, and whether it’s worth recommending the series to my favourite almost-teen.

    Result: I think “Takagi-san” fares pretty well! The jokes may not be very creative, but they’re realistic – as is Nishikata’s failure to execute or even think of practical jokes, cause lets face it, those are really hard!

    It’s also my favourite first episode of the season. I’m not sure whether it’ll hold my interest in the long run, but at leat I’ll see how the series progresses, and I would recommend it to kids.

    One criticism I second, however, is that the girl’s expressions are limited to cuteness. That’s a real pity, seeing as she’s so delightfully evil! I’ve heard there’s actually a spin-off manga that shows them as adults with a daughter, that could be interesting.