OP: 「Zero Centimeter」 by (Ohara Yuko)
“Textbook/Hypnosis/Wake Up/Skipping Stones”
Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is a funny sort of series for me. It’s one of those where you find yourself liking it more than you think you should – where the intellectual and visceral response to it are very different. It’s quite obvious to me what I like about it and what I don’t – that’s no mystery. But the interesting part is how far off the equation ends up from where it feels like it should be. It’s like you put a bunch of numbers into a spreadsheet and you know what they should add up to, but somehow you’re getting a different number.
I also think this was a deceptively difficult series to adapt, and if Shin-Ei had gotten the balance wrong even a little, that magical effect I describe above would have collapsed like a house of cards, or Nishikata’s confidence. But that didn’t happen – director Akagi Hiroaki and Yokote Michiko clearly understand why Karakai Jouzu is charming, and they don’t mess with it. And a part of that, to be sure, is the sense of idyll in Shodoshima, where mangaka Yamamoto Souichirou grew up (and where I visited for the first time this year). It’s very much a character in its own right and the anime certainly gives that side of the story its due.
The chapters chosen to start Season 2 are right in the series’ sweet spot – nothing monumental or game-changing here, just a low-key re-introduction to the twisted little story at the heart of this series. First we have “Textbook”, which gives us a little drama when Nishikata-kun forgets his English textbook. The formula is as clear-cut here as it ever is – Takagi is one step ahead (several, really) at all times, and just when she’s about to really twist the knife she gives Nishikata a reminder of what her real motivation here is. In a funny sort of way the joke is on her, because there’s nothing stopping Takagi-san from being perfectly open about her feelings and putting these games to rest. But while she may play it off as part of her teasing, the truth is she’s just as shy about being open with her feelings as Nishikata is.
“Hypnotism” is likewise a fastball straight down the middle, with the caveat that it gives us a little background on Mina, who appears to live in a workhouse from Oliver Twist disguised as a family home in Shodoshima. It’s so in character for Nishikata to get caught up in a dingus idea like TV hypnosis – it’s at moments like this where he almost seems to be begging to be victimized. I was more caught up in “Skipping Stones“, because that’s something I can’t resist doing myself. This put me in mind of a time when I was hiking by a river near Takarazuka and after having my lunch at the little cove where hikers were gathered up, I managed to skip a stone all the way across the river and have it go “plink” against a boulder on the far shore and garnered spontaneous applause from the locals. For a guy, it doesn’t get much better than that.
The thing about this chapter, of course, is that Nishikata had victory in bis hand literally and figuratively – Takagi would gladly have taken the loss – but he just wasn’t quite ready to accept what that would mean. As usual Nishikata proves himself gallant – let’s not forget this whole relationship started with Nishikata getting himself in trouble by doing something nice for Takagi, who he’d never even met (nice call-back to the moment here).
This is where that tricky balance factor works its magic – there’s no denying that Takagi-san has a cruel streak in her, and that gives this series a bit of an edge it never really loses. But Takagi’s strength is really a cover for her weakness – and that’s actually pretty typical for nascent romantic relationships among kids this age. That makes Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san sang ring true, and maybe that’s the key to why it’s more charming and less off-putting than it really should be…
ED: 「Play」 by (Takahashi Rie)