Some time ago, I started reading this romantic comedy manga about middle school students – Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san by Souichirou Yamamoto. You may have noticed its recent anime adaptation. It is a little weird that, even though I don’t read that much manga, it is the second time I start reading a series before it gets adopted into an anime.
But anyhow, my experience with Takagi-san is limited to the manga, and specifically to the beautiful translation by ziM and Anni from manga-tube.me. It was also my first time reading scanlators’ talk in a chat as new chapters get released. I always knew there were real people standing behind any manga scanlation release, but it was Takagi-san and its team that made me feel it.
It is a story about two students, Takagi and Nishikata; and the gist of it is that Takagi pesters Nishikata, makes fun of him and makes him embarrassed in a variety of ways. Sounds malicious, but it really isn’t; Takagi clearly likes Nishikata in a very clear and direct way (no inner conflicts and other tsundere shenanigans) and her picking on him often does good for both of them. I’ll talk about it in a sec. Nishikata almost always falls prey to Takagi’s schemes, even though he tries his best not to.
If you have watched/read Tonari no Seki-kun you may find the setup to be somewhat similar. And it is kinda true, in both series there are two students, and a stronger one constantly “defeats” the weaker one in a funny way. Except Seki-kun is mostly just a comedy, there is no romance there. But it is not the main difference, I’d say. When watching Seki-kun you are tempted to ask yourself “is Seki going to be alright? Is Yokoi going to be alright?” They are always wasting their time at school, and Yokoi getting into small troubles is almost a theme there. You can safely say that Yokoi would have been better off if she never saw Seki, at least from the pragmatic perspective. I know this is a comedy and all, but still, it is tempting to think along these lines. In Takagi-san, this aspect is completely different.
For one thing, most of the Takagi’s jokes are aimed at Nishikata’s childish ways, like him being embarrassed to say certain words, being embarrassed to admit he secretly reads a romantic manga and so on. On the other hand, when it is something that could be good for Nishikata, Takagi would encourage it. When Nishikata started athletic training, Takagi made fun of his muscle soreness and said, “It would be good if you don’t quit after three days”. When he didn’t quit she praised him for it. Of course, she turned it into a taunt as well, but you get the picture; Takagi wasn’t just having fun at Nishikata’s expense, she was trying to make him a better person as well.
There are lots of other examples. Like when Nishikata cheated in game against Takagi and she showed him it was not a good idea. I believe she even got him to promise not to cheat in games again. Obviously, this promise wasn’t meant to benefit her, Takagi can win against Nishikata no matter what, she is almost a superhuman in that aspect. It was meant to benefit Nishikata and save him from possible trouble in the future.
When Nishikata tries to pay Takagi back he usually comes off as a bit too direct, or too simple. Takagi often just goes along with it though. Like here:
As I said at the beginning, it is a romantic comedy. A lot of humor and fun is centered around Takagi pushing Nishikata into uncomfortable situations; from something innocent like giving him this drink can back and making him embarrassed about the “indirect kiss” to making him guess if she perhaps has a boyfriend. It is all very innocent, and they are middle school students. But it is still cute, and there are lots of nice moments we share with these two.
There was an episode where Nishikata came to school sick, and Takagi had to visibly work hard to hold back on teasing him. Her being unusually quiet made Nishikata notice that she looks cute, and he found the thought embarrassing; Takagi, who would normally laugh at embarrassed Nishikata, asked if he is sure he doesn’t have a fever. Only when he said he was actually fine, and being sick was more of an excuse about coming in late, she proceeded to tease him as usual.
Or you can read the chapter 44 where Nishikata accidentally helps Takagi get over the bad feelings about a fight with her mom she had earlier.
Reading the manga it is easy to get an impression that Takagi is just forcing herself onto Nishikata, being more mature than he is. That is not necessarily true thought. There was one chapter where Nishikata was trying to pay Takagi back, as per usual. His horoscope told him he would have a turning point that day, and he took it as a “turning point after which he will be able to win against Takagi”. He needed to go home with Takagi for this plan to work, and he even refused to go play games with his other friends for that. When Takagi asked him about it, Nishikata, being the kid he is, told her “I wanted to go home with you”, and a moment later realized it sounded embarrassing, was flustered and didn’t try anything against Takagi in the end. Takagi made fun of him, but when he was gone she let her poker face down and we got to see that she was a bit nervous as well. She said to herself “Turning points are scary”. With all of her directness and bravery, she is also a kid and doesn’t want to change their relations with Nishikata yet.
Sorry for making such a huge exposition, I wanted to make it so you could follow me even if you haven’t read the manga. I think Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is a really good example of its genre. It is supposed to be a sugar-sweet childish romance and a silly comedy, that is the design, the template if you will. It doesn’t make sense to criticize or praise the template, so I won’t. But within the template this particular manga works perfectly. The writer addressed dozens of questions that you naturally get in these setups. The characters have development, even though the setup gives them very little room for change. The characters have a dramatic side, even though the manga is very-very light hearted. The story progresses, even though it is an episodic series. What I am saying is, from the technical perspective, this manga is written almost perfectly. As opposed to, let’s say Seki-kun, where you can try picking at the writing here and there; and Seki-kun is a decent manga, I am just pointing out the exceptionally good job Yamamoto made with Takagi-san.
Also, there is a related manga series, Karakai Jouzu no (Moto) Takagi-san. It has the same two characters, Nishikata and Takagi, but years later. In that manga, the two are married and have a young kid. As far as I could tell, Takagi is a homemaker while Nishikata works as a Physical Education teacher at a school.
I thought it was pretty interesting, seeing how the two ended up. Nishikata being a PE teacher is kinda, I dunno… I guess I would have expected him to do something more ambitious, maybe. It is fine to work as a teacher, but then I’d at least expect him to be passionate about his job, which I haven’t seen in the story yet. Takagi sitting at home is even more strange. Her 12 year old self is about the smartest and the most prepared for life person in the story. She gives you the feeling she would be able to do anything she would want. When it comes to teasing Nishikata, she seems to be able to do superhuman feats, no less. And yet, she was happy about concentrating on running the house and taking care of the kid. It is fine, but feels strange.
On the other hand, I wonder if Takagi would have been happy pursuing a career. There are no reasons she shouldn’t be, but there are also no solid reasons why she should. It is all up to her, to what is going on in her head. It reminds me of Lonely Kagamin, a Lucky Star doujinshi I’ve read long ago. In that doujinshi the two main characters, Kagami and Konata, went to different colleges, and both had trouble adapting. As Kagami said, she couldn’t forget all the happiness of their earlier friendship, and was unable to make new friends. Kagami ended up being a loner, spending days without talking to anyone. When she met Konata again and they spent some time together, she noticed Konata cut her wrists. Turned out, Konata had it even harder, with her tiny height, enormously long hair, strange voice and weird “3”-shaped lips. I liked that doujinshi exactly because it gave those comedy characters such dark yet realistic lives. Who says Takagi wouldn’t have it hard if she separated from Nishikata and decided to pursue some new goals?
This brings me to another story. What, you are tired of reading?.. Not sure what you mean ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I’ve recently read a novel which started exactly like Takagi-san, with two 12 year olds being a perfect pair in a completely innocent relations. Well, they did hold hands once, so I guess they were a bit naughtier than Takagi and Nishikata. The names of the children in this story were Hajime and Shimamoto, and the story’s name is South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami. It is a drama about people growing up, being led by passion and emotions and unintentionally torturing themselves and others.
In that story, Hajime and Shimamoto didn’t have playful relations like Takagi and Nishikata did. The two kids were listening to music and talking. They would be separated after the middle school. Hajime just stopped visiting his friend, being embarrassed to come visit without a good reason; they no longer were in the same school, so all the usual reasons were gone. Hajime would date another girl, and then cheat on her in the most disgraceful way. That girl would be scarred for the rest of her life, while for Hajime these relations would be just an episode from the past. For him it would be just an illustration of his own evil, he would lose some respect for himself, but that would be all. He would continue to cheat on women he loves, would live alone for years, would have a family, things would happen to him and around him, but even as a middle-aged man he would still be enchanted by the memories of the 12 year old friend he had. Yet these memories would not be a nice little treasure in his head, they would haunt him, it would bring pain not only to him but to the people around him as well. We don’t get to see as much of Shimamoto’s story, but her life might have been even more tragic. Both Hajime and Shimamoto didn’t save any of the innocence that surrounds those sweet childish romances. But, they did save some of their memories, which makes you think they saved some of their personalities from back then too.
Do you want to see how a story like Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san could be turned dark, with all sorts of surprising and powerful twists, all individualistic and emotional? Did you ever wonder how a naïve school romance could be carried into a grown-up love story? Then risk reading South of the Border, West of the Sun, it is a good book. Though if you thought that Lonely Kagamin was too naughty, you should stay away from Murakami, he is way less shy about depicting love.
So, what was this post about? How I liked the sugar-sweet Takagi-san manga? Or how I saw a dark version of this story in a Murakami’s novel? Or how I am not satisfied with Takagi being a homemaker and Nishikata being a PE teacher? I don’t know. I like that there is such a variety though. South of the Border, West of the Sun added what Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san was missing. Maybe that unusual connection between a very adult novel and a very teenage comic book was what made me write this post.
See you next time!