The Italians have a concept called “Il Dolce Far Niente”, which translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing”.
Tanaka-kun is always listless is a show that takes this zen approach to life, and presents it to you without bells or whistles, without fanfare, and without effort, because to do so would go against the very thing it stands for.
This anime was released in the Spring 2016 season and was overlooked by many. This is through no fault of its own as its synopsis doesn’t sound particularly interesting compared to others released at the same time, such as Iron Fortress of the Kabaneri, Macross Delta, and RE:Zero (to name a few). While some of these failed to live up to their expectations, Tanaka-kun snuck up from the rear, for those that watched it, with its true-to-slice-of-life approach and subtle genuine humor.
Tanaka is a high school student who loves to do nothing. His lethargic approach to life often finds him falling asleep mid-sentence or in the middle of a class activity. There is, however, another side to him that pops up on occasion that shows just how far he will go to achieve the ultimate state of laziness - such as outlining how he will get the entire world to learn Japanese so he won’t have to attend English class anymore, or stalking ‘WacDonalds’ staff to get a robot-vacuum toy so he won’t have to do chores.
His best friend Ohta is the silent hero of the show. At his first appearance you’re not sure what to make of him due to his tall frame and menacing eyes, but by the end of the first episode you realize that if Tanaka is the helpless baby, Ohta is the caring mother. He carries him from class to class so that he doesn’t have to walk, and generally takes care of all his needs, with Tanaka often stating “you would be a good wife”.
The other characters in the show cover your typical anime tropes. There’s Miyano, the short cute girl who is full of energy and admires Tanaka’s approach to life, proclaiming herself to be his apprentice. Shiraishi is the smart, beautiful class rep admired by the student body, who is secretly a nerd and prefers to wear unstylish clothes when nobody is around. Echizen is the aggressive girl who is the best friend of Miyano and secretly loves cute things. IT wouldn’t be a high school show without them.
The clever thing about the show is that although Tanaka is the star of the show, it’s the other characters who drive the show along; Miyano’s quest to become like him show her expending so much energy to try and impress her senpai., Shiraishi’s slow acceptance of who she really is and her secret crush on Tanaka after he see’s her ‘true form’ - all these things carry the show’s narrative from episode to episode, while Tanaka just floats along with them, from scene to scene. If what the supporting cast are doing is at the front of the scene, Ohta is carrying Tanaka in the background. It’s HIS show and the supporting characters are literally, and figuratively, carrying him through it!
Even the look of the show helps to deliver the peaceful narrative. The pastel colors, uncluttered scenes, and gentle pacing walk alongside you, down the hallway, towards the next encounter.
In my opinion, Tanaka-kun is one of the best animes from Spring 2016. It sets out to show you about the beauty of quietude, and everything within the show contributes to that message. If you want a break from the fast-paced space-mechs and zombie slashers, or want something to tuck you into bed at night, this show is that big fluffy pillow.
The “Art of Doing Nothing” promotes “celebrating idleness in all its mesmerizing forms”, and this show delivers just that.
Let me know what you thought of it in the comments ^_^