Rumi Yokoi is a diligent, hard-working high school student who wants nothing more than to buckle down and study during her scholastic career. Unfortunately for this serious-minded young lady, the young man seated at the desk adjacent to hers is Toshinari Seki. Seki doesn’t seem terribly interested in taking notes. Instead he spends all of his class time engaged in all manner of clandestine tomfoolery, running the gamut from inventing new ways to play shogi, to knitting stuffed animals (or rather, stuffed plants), to playing house with an unlikely family made entirely of toy robots. His antics are annoying but also strangely fascinating, and so much to Yokoi’s dismay, she’s going to learn that there’s a reason that her classmate is known as Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time.
Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time is a short-form TV anime from 2014 that is based on the Tonari no Seki-kun manga by Takuma Morishige. Each of its 21 episodes clocks in at just over seven minutes, and each episode follows a similar pattern: Yokoi (voiced by Kana Hanazawa) is determined to pay attention in class when she notices Seki engaged in some outlandish, improbable activity. She tries to ignore him, but because Seki dedicates such intense concentration to his nonsensical endeavors, Yokoi is drawn into the drama of the situation and her imagination runs wild. Inevitably, she spends the entire class period completely distracted, much to her chagrin and to Seki’s smirking satisfaction. Of course, any time Yokoi tries to protest that Seki’s shenanigans are disturbing her, she is the one who ends up looking foolish. It’s a simple setup, but this comedic pattern never wears out its welcome because the humorous scenarios move along at such a brisk pace.
Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time is directed by Yuji Mutoh (Haunted Junction, Crayon Shin-chan movies 13-15) and features animation by Shin-Ei Animation. Although the animation is extremely limited, the color palette is subdued, and the composition is exceptionally flat (to the point of resembling colored manga panels), Mutoh plays with some interesting elements to keep the humor of the series punchy. For example, while the various classrooms and school facilities obey the three visual conventions mentioned above, the realms of Yokoi’s fevered imagination do not. When Yokoi daydreams about Seki’s antics, her musings are filled with explosions of contrasting colors and blasts of vibrant special effects in sequences that parody the visual aesthetics of everything from classical ghost stories to Attack on Titan.
Similarly, much of the humor in the series derives from the nonverbal interactions between Yokoi and Seki. Although the audience hears Yokoi’s inner monologue, Seki (voiced by Hiro Shimono) never actually speaks during the entire series. Instead, Yokoi and Seki mostly communicate through grunts, growls, guffaws, and the ever popular poisonous glare, actions that some of their classmates misinterpret as romantic overtures. The music of the series is also very strong, especially the insert song, “Danran! Robot Kazoku” (sung by the legendary Ichiro Mizuki), and the ending theme, “Set Them Free,” which is performed by Akira Jimbo.
Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time is a delightful slice of light entertainment. Its humor is akin to Bill Watterson’s classic comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, except if Calvin’s much put upon classmate/neighbor Susie Derkins were the central character. It’s the kind of series that speaks to the passionate heart of every adolescent who filled the margins of their spiral notebooks with elaborate doodles, or who turned their algebra textbook into an impromptu flip-book, or who transformed a pencil eraser and a handful of staples into a ceiling tile stabbing “satellite.” Sentai Filmworks is releasing Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time on DVD and Blu-ray, and if that isn’t enough classroom capers to sate your appetite, the original manga is available through Vertical under the title My Neighbor Seki.
rating: Not Rated