Every season, there are many short-form anime that go largely ignored by anime fans. But every once in a while there is one that is too good to pass up — like last season's imaginative high school comedy Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time.
Good — A Comedic Setup with Infinite Iterations
Rumi is a good student who enjoys both studying and learning. Unfortunately for her, she sits next to Seki, a boy who will go to ridiculous extremes to keep himself entertained in class. This means he will do anything from sneaking in cats to pet during class to making a full-on driving test course on his desk for his RC car. Thus it is a series brimming with imagination not only in what Seki brings to class but also in the unique ways he uses these items.
Rumi, for her part, initially objects to his antics, not only because they will get him in trouble if the teacher finds out but also because they distract her from learning. Despite her best efforts, however, Rumi can't help but be drawn into Seki's games; and this makes for a series rife with comedic situations as her curiosity wars with her desire to be a good student.
Good — Rumi and Seki
Seki, despite being one of the main leads, is a silent protagonist — though he does make the occasional grunt, groan, or — in one notable case — a series of sound effects. As a character, he is only concerned with having fun — and the amount of work he puts into said fun seems to make it all the sweeter. He rarely pays any attention to the class activities or to the others around him, including Rumi. In fact, he is often annoyed by Rumi's interest in his undertakings though he occasionally requests her help with them. Over the course of the series, he almost comes to fear her anger more than anything else as he most certainly brings out the worst in her.
Rumi, on the other hand, has a very love/hate relationship with his antics as she wants to avoid them, but just can't. What's interesting is how she is drawn in each time. For example, when Seki is using a string, butterfly clip, and miniature teddy bear to simulate mountain climbing on the back of the student in front of him, Rumi is drawn in by the cute bear. But when Seki creates a flip book complete with sound effects and music tracks, it is the sheer complexity of the project that gets her attention.
However, the most enjoyable episodes are those where Rumi actively takes steps to beat Seki at his own game. In the stories created in the games Seki plays — be that the tales of knights and heroes told with shogi pieces or the turning of eating his lunch into Attack on Titan — the bad guys are destined to win. However, Rumi, unable to stand by and watch the resulting injustice, tends to interfere — half to give the story a happy ending and half to punish Seki. The results are often hilarious.
Good — Continuity
A short-form anime of self-contained, five-minute episodes (without the opening and ending) hardly needs to bother with continuity to be enjoyable, but I am happy Tonari no Seki-kun does. The reuse of the shogi pieces and the Transformers robot family set the stage for what kind of episode it is going to be whenever they are present. And then there is the subplot with Rumi's new friend Sakurako, who believes the two are dating and serves as a secondary viewpoint character when Rumi is absent from class. It's also great to hear in passing how Rumi's grades are getting worse because of all the time she loses in class dealing with Seki.
Good — You May Learn a Bit about Japanese Culture
It's funny how much you can learn about Japanese culture from watching Tonari no Seki-kun. Episodes cover everything from the Japanese stamps that serve as signatures to earthquake drills, Japanese driving tests to children's playground games. While for Japanese viewers the show is filled with nostalgic humour calling back to childhood, Western viewers will get a unique look at Japanese culture. And while sometimes you may not quite know exactly what is going on without the proper cultural context, it is still interesting regardless.
There is no anime of the Q1 2014 season that had me laughing as loud or as often as Tonari no Seki-kun. Its short-form nature makes it the perfect length to introduce a concept, deliver some great situational comedy, and end on a high note before anything gets stale. The interaction between the characters is always entertaining and Rumi's constantly running inner monologue is hilariously inspired. If you were ever bored in class or just love things filled with humour and imagination, you owe it to yourself to check out Tonari no Seki-kun.
Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time aired on TV Tokyo in Japan. It can be viewed for free with English subtitles on Crunchyroll.