Otaku USA Magazine
Abandon ambition for the relaxation that is Tanaka-kun Is Always Listless

Sweet Life

listless (‘lis(t)ls)
adjective. (of a person or their manner) lacking energy or enthusiasm.

Yep, that pretty much sums up Tanaka, begrudging protagonist of Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. In a way, though, we are all Tanaka-kun. That’s not to say we’re all lazy and listless; far from it. But somewhere, deep down inside, there’s a serious aspiration to be so demonstratively dismissive that no one expects even a modicum of effort from you. Imagine waking up knowing that even the simple act of walking to school on your own two feet would be seen by many as a monumental accomplishment.

That’s Tanaka-kun’s reality, and nine times out of 10 that level of sloth-like laziness would make for a character worth strangling at best. That’s not the case with Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, though, which proves that the right friends can breathe life into even the most low-key of lackadaisical loners.

Coasting Through

Picture a life in which the mere act of lifting your head from your school desk involved colossal levels of effort. Perhaps you live that life, or perhaps you’re just living with a debilitating condition that makes it so. In either case, I salute you. When I first started watching Tanaka-kun is Always Listless I thought maybe Tanaka was, in fact, very ill. With that possibility in mind, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh or cry at his sleepy demeanor and snail’s-pace existence. Tanaka really is just that lazy, though, and believe it or not this makes for an endearing premise to an anime series.

Tanaka-kun wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if his laziness were just left at that. You can only watch someone slouch and sigh so many times before it gets old, so we turn to the absolutely amazing support group by his side. Leading the charge is Tanaka’s ever-faithful and way-too-kind classmate Ohta. Yoshimasa Hosoya’s voice is a slightly stronger complement to the excellent Tanaka that Kensho Ono brings to life with pure naptime honey. When I say Ohta is too kind to Tanaka, I really mean it. He’s tall, strong, and seems cool enough to hang out with pretty much anybody. Yet he not only understands and supports Tanaka’s way of life, he completely enables it. He cuts up his food and feeds him when he’s too lazy to eat, he helps him shop when he can’t remember what groceries he needs … he even frequently carries him to and from class and school itself!

Now you might be able to understand why I assumed Tanaka was gravely ill.

Ohta’s sweet, caring nature is one of the highlights of the series. He’s rarely surprised by the lengths Tanaka will go to avoid doing anything resembling an activity, and he reacts to all of his passive actions with a zen-like calm. In that regard, Tanaka-kun is an especially chill anime. It saves all the typical shrill screaming for other members of Tanaka’s ever-expanding support group, especially when it comes to the little-but-loud Miyano. Natsumi Takamori (Azusa Murasaka in Orange) voices this squat thunderball, who longs to be as perfectly listless as Tanaka. Much to his chagrin, she elects him as her master, insisting that he teach her the ways of his perfectly placid life. Even when Ohta insists that Tanaka has no interest in taking on pupils, Miyano quickly discovers the many benefits of learning by close observation and imitation.

Rounding out the core crew are Echizen (Ayaka Suwa) and Shiraishi (Kotori Koiwai), two very different young women with their own reasons for hanging around. Echizen is a brash, loud-mouthed delinquent who grew up in the same neighborhood as Ohta. Her tomboyish leanings belie her undeniable affection for cute things, including the always adorable Miyano. Shiraishi, on the other hand, is a popular and beautiful student who, at the core of it all, is just an awkward dork who found a way to make her outward appearance shine bright. Her bespectacled secret ends up falling into the hands of Ohta and Tanaka, and Tanaka’s unflinching acceptance of the real Shiraishi causes her to develop a crush on our listless lead.

Ohta and Tanaka’s strong friendship is almost enough to fuel this vessel for the long haul, but Tanaka-kun is Always Listless doesn’t truly fall into place until all its principal cast members are present and accounted for. This ensemble quite literally carries Tanaka through the adaptation’s 12-episode run, and it’s a pleasure to laugh alongside them.

The Art of Listlessness

The team behind the Tanaka-kun is Always Listless anime may not be lazy in the traditional sense, but there’s something to the masterful way they convey Tanaka’s luxuriously lethargic lifestyle. With Nozomi Uda’s ongoing manga serving as a sturdy base, Shinya Kawatsura (Non Non Biyori, Magic of Stella, Kokoro Connect) directs with a steely confidence in, and appreciation of, the source material. Akemi Omode (Princess Princess, Kyo kara Maoh!) handles scripts that effortlessly turn Tanaka’s various situations into tightly structured episodes. Since the fare is relatively light—with plots consisting of dilemmas like “Tanaka hasn’t been to a fast food joint in a while because they’re too stressful”—there’s plenty of room to breathe.

What’s most impressive is that all this breathing room doesn’t end up resulting in a bunch of dead air. Rather, it feels wholly appropriate that precious screen time is given to silence. Tanaka-kun’s staff isn’t afraid to take their time in every scene, right down to the drifting transitions that connect them. Its overall tone and atmosphere combine not just to convey Tanaka’s coasting mood to the audience, but to make them feel it.

This brings us right back to the beginning, in which we are all Tanaka-kun. If you weren’t feelin’ his way of life before the series, you certainly will after. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless isn’t about letting life pass you by, or putting everything off just to be a lousy layabout. It’s about living life in the way best suited to your own personality. Tanaka’s friends don’t try to change him, they just help him get by on a day-to-day basis. They see the inherent good in him as he is right from the start, and you know what? So do we.

Tanaka-kun is Always Listless is currently available to stream on HIDIVE and Crunchyroll.

This story appears in the Fall 2017 issue of Anime USA Magazine. Click here to get a print copy.