I admit, I puzzled a bit over what sub-heading to use up there in the title box. In the end, though, I can’t really call this a “season finale” when there’s no iron-clad assurance of a third season. That said, I fully expect there to be one – the manga has become a veritable franchise unto itself, and the parent series is more popular than ever. There’s no indication from Yamamoto-sensei that he has any plans to end it soon. And there was nothing in this finale which leads me to think we won’t get another season (and there were definitely things which could have been in it which would have).
Simply put, this season was outstanding – and surprisingly so. As I noted last week some credit certainly goes to the nature of the story itself, which lends itself to unidirectional improvement over the course of time. It goes deeper than that, though – Akagi Hiroaki and the staff elevated the material in a big way. In addition to the original material (which was outstanding, including much of this finale), everything this season was just sharper – the pacing, the ordering of chapters, the music, the timing and yes, even the acting. I can think of very few cases where an anime has improved as much from a first season to a second as Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san has, and that’s a credit to everyone involved.
This was just one of those episodes were I had a stupid grin on my face wire-to-wire. Great middle-school romances are rare in anime and while this was no Tsuki ga Kirei either in scope or ambition, Takagi-san managed to capture the moment just beautifully all season, culminating in this nailed-landing finale. Once it became clear that the summer festival would close the season, I was dying to see how the anime would play it – because while Yamamoto has teased this event in the manga, he’s never actually delivered on it.
The line between teasing and something else has been growing fuzzier and fuzzier as the story progressed, and it’s interesting to speculate on just how early on in the relationship this plan (and make no mistake, that’s what this was) starting coming together in Takagi-san’s head. As this progression was happening one could start to see cracks in Takagi’s facade more and more often, because of course she was venturing further into less familiar territory with every step. And the series benefits enormously from that, because the gap in composure between the two leads is so wide that when Takagi-san is on safer ground, her games very often seem to cross the line into cruelty.
Takagi shows her boldness right from the beginning here, when she notes that Nakai and Mano are “also” on a date. That throws the gauntlet down in front of Nishikata right then and there, and of course she proceeds to turn the awkwardness between them into a series of games. From her bet that over the course of the evening someone would call them a couple (she could let “lovebirds” slide secure in the knowledge this one was in the bag) to her challenge that if Nishikata-kun could do “date stuff” she would give him the win, none of this was random – there was much thought put into it. But I think it was as much to help her deal with her own nervousness as to manipulate Nishi-kun.
There are a lot of really wonderful moments here. Nishikata’s smile when Takagi-san gives her goldfish to a little girl, Nishikata’s panic when he and Takagi are separated for a moment (forgetting his phone was a plot convenience to be sure, but it definitely added to the drama), Nishikata politely suggesting that they find a brighter spot for Takagi-san to adjust the hairpin he’s given her as a gift. If with Takagi it’s the moments when we see her composure slip that are memorable, with Nishikata-kun it’s the times when he forgets his neuroses and instinctively behaves as if he’s part of a couple (which of course he is).
The dramatic climax of the natsumatsuri is certainly a well-worn anime scenario, as Nishikata and Takagi are separated again just as the fireworks are supposed to start. Takagi had challenged him earlier that he didn’t know what you were supposed to do on a date, but I think it’s pretty clear he does – and he certainly knows that he should be standing next to her at this moment. He searches desperately, but salvation comes from an unexpected source – Kimura-kun proves himself wingman of the year by spotting Takagi-san and pointing Nishikata-kun in the right direction. He doesn’t quite make it in time for the fireworks, but he creates a few fireworks of his own that are way more impactful (on Takagi-san at least).
Hell, I even loved the way the ED (a Takahashi remix of Chara’s
2005 1997 “Yasashii Kimochi”) was a montage of (near) hand-holding – it summed up everything in the season and the finale beautifully. It was a season that pretty much didn’t put a foot wrong – as good as Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san could possibly be. The anime showcased everything that makes the manga charming and gently downplayed the parts that don’t, and the result was some really wonderful anime. All the more so because truthfully, I had no expectations that it would be anywhere near as terrific as it was. I’m very confident we’ll get a third season and I hope we do, but a part of me thinks that this one was so flawless that it would be a perfect way for the anime to leave things.