This season of Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is an example of something very rare – a good series sneaking up on you and without you realizing it, turning into a great one. It’s kind of like kids – if you see them all the time, you don’t notice how they’re growing up and then one day the moment is right and it hits you with a shock. I’ve certainly been aware that this season was better than the first, but the degree to which it’s truly risen to a new level has really hit home in the last few weeks. Sometimes sequels are better than originals, but rarely this much better.
A part of that, certainly, is that the source material gets better as it goes. And for good reason, too – Karakai Jouzu is constructed in such a way as to continually improve, because as the relationship between Takagi-san and Nishikata-kun evolves it opens up ever-more possibilities for Yamamoto-sensei (which is surely clever planning on his part). But it’s the anime itself, too. Akagi Hiroaki and his team have made only subtle changes, but they’ve made a big difference – shifting the order of chapters here and there to make progression more linear, adding the odd superb bit of original material to flesh out the characters’ development. It’s a masterful bit of adaptation to be sure.
We’re at the point now where the teasing, frankly, is a pretty minor part of the overall mix. Nishi-kun and Takagi are certainly still thinking about it, but in her case there’s a purpose behind every bit of teasing. And she never instigates these contests these days – it’s pretty much always Nishikata. Such as this week’s intro bit, where he stages a “chance” meeting by intercepting Takagi-san on her way to visit a friend (hmmm…) because he’s counted off the steps to a nearby telephone pole. She expertly turns this into a discourse on how obsessed he much be with her (the “S” word enters his thoughts) but take note: she still scuppers the competition rather than actually take a loss. The teasing may be secondary, but Takagi-san still can’t abide the thought of losing.
After the brief fireworks aside (and the introduction of Yukari’s little sister), it’s the aftermath of Takagi’s vacation – and Nishi-kun’s as well. Despite his “Betsuini ii” beforehand she’s bought him a very thoughtful gift she knew he’d love – a “100% Unrequited Love” curry mix. As for Nishikata he and his family were in Kusatsu Onsen, where he’s snagged the key to his next master plan – a box of “sweets” that are actually super-sour. But once more Takagi-san refocuses the teasing through a relationship lens – if he was so anxious to give her his omiyage on his first day back, he (again) must be pretty obsessed with her. But this was doomed to fail either way, because as usual Nishikata is too nice to go through with it (and the cookies were delicious anyway).
The real point of this vacation exchange, though, is the reason behind Takagi’s fight with her mother – the original plan was for the family to be gone during the Tonosho natsumatsuri (the one circled on her desk calendar). And that was unacceptable for her, though initially Nishikata-kun is still too much the innocent to understand the reason why. When they visit the shrine (which is seemingly now officially their “spot”) to sample the suppai sweets she spells it out for him in no uncertain terms, though it’s not like he’s ready to act on information like that without ample time to muster himself.
Finally all this comes to a head with an actual coincidental meeting – this time as Takagi-san is walking home with heavy bags (flat tire on her bike) and Nishikata is riding to meet the guys to go fishing. Naturally – because he’s eternally nice whether he want to be or not – Nishikata helps her with the shopping, which gives them ample time to dance around the subject of the natsumatsuri. It seems he’s still not ready to that that leap and actually ask her, and while disappointed, I think you can sense that Takagi sort of loves that about Nishikata.
But things don’t end there. In a shock ending, Nishikata turns his bike around and pops the question, mustering all the martial spirit in that pint-sized body and doing what must be done. And if you ever wanted proof that Takagi could be not just embarrassed but genuinely flustered, this was all you could ever need. I never like Takagi better than when she’s totally at a loss and the veneer of snark and superiority is stripped away like a banana peel. And I never like Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san better than when it shows us how much it, like its characters, has grown since its humble beginnings.