I’ve been watching something utterly inane called Teasing Master Takagi-san on Netflix. To qualify, “Teasing Master” is a title, not a verb: Takagi does the teasing rather than being teased upon.
Let’s be frank: this is a one-note anime, and I have little tolerance for stuff that’s dull. If I don’t like something, Life is short, walk on girl.
Yeah, that was a paraphrase.
But there was something structural in Teasing Master Nagaki-san that worked for me, worked so well that I kept watching even though the plot was completely predictable. That was the nature of the relationship between the teasing master, Takagi-san, and her teasing target, Nishigata.
I mean, that’s how slice-of-life works, right? There’s no plot to speak of, so you have to like the characters and the way they interact for it to work. If there’s no plot and the characters blow, what have you got?
ANYWAY, Takagi and Nishigata are middle school students, and as such are just figuring out how love and romance and things like that work. They each clearly likes the other in “that way,” so like a lot of middle school kids, they use mutual teasing as a way of communicating their affection for each other.
That works. They’re kids and don’t know what they’re doing. Some of the stuff I did when I was their age was no dumber.
Between them, though, they have a pretty standard complementary relationship. Mind, body, soul: Takagi outsmarts Nishigata at every turn, defeats him in gym testing, and seems more mature. It’s like he’s a kid and he’s dueling with an adult in a child’s body. Which he may be, since Takagi is a character and not a real kid.
You always have to remember that. There is no actual Takagi. There are a bunch of words in a script, read by Sarah Wiedenheft in the English dub. (Yeah, she’s the one who plays Tohru in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.) Takagi may be a middle schooler, but her writers, directors, and actors aren’t.
Despite the duel of wits Takagi is willing to take on with an unarmed enemy, for me what saves the show, which focuses on their relationship, is that in two particular ways they are exactly alike in a specific way that keeps a decent amount of dramatic tension in the story.
- They each like the other in That Way. They are middle school students and in Japan that’s much too young to be in a relationship, but if they were old enough they’d be dating.
- Neither of them can say it. Nishigata can’t say it because he’s too embarrassed to come right out and says he’s crushing on her. Takagi can’t say it because she’s the girl and social norms dictate the girl can’t say it.
BOOM. Right there’s the tension that makes it work. Takagi knows how she feels about him, but she can’t say it, so she tries to trick Nishigata into saying it. And Nishigata knows how he feels about her, but he can’t say it, and since he’s the guy he doesn’t have to.
Constant tension. Both of them want to say they love the other, neither of them can say it first. So they each try to fake the other into going first.
What makes it work is the dominance structure between them. Let’s be honest: Japanese culture is pretty sexist and Nishigata is the guy. He should be in charge.
On the other hand, Takagi is smarter, stronger, and wiser than Nishigata. She obviously the dominant member of the pair … but she’s the girl so she can’t be in charge.
So the show revolves around Takagi’s attempts to manipulate Nishigata into admitting he likes her. Social values prevent her from just coming out with it, so she has to get him to go first. She uses every manipulation she can think of to get him to say it: dares him, tricks him, talks about what their friends will say, puts her hand next to his, feeds him (an “indirect kiss,” right?) and is fed by him … but he CAN’T go first, since he’s not able to express, or even admit, what he feels for her.
See how that works? It’s a metastable equilibrium: at some point one of them is going to say something, and when they do the story ends. Poof, it pops like a balloon. Just like that. Whenever whoever it is that speaks first says, with great blushing and stammering, and possibly an Anguished Declaration of Love (yeah, that’s a trope) “I love you,” that lets the other one say, “I love you, too.” And BAM. When they say it, the story is done.
We’ve talked about metastable relationships before, and they have two traits: Point One: You have to like the people involved; and Point Two: You can’t draw it out too long.
If the audience doesn’t care for the characters, then they won’t care about the outcome. And if it gets drawn out too long, the audience starts to conclude they are stupid…and when the audience thinks they are stupid, it loses their affection for the characters, and see Point One when that happens.
It’s easy to like Tagaki: she so cute and so clever. She really is. She’s tremendously clever, and that makes her intellectually attractive as well as physically attractive. And Nishigata is so frustrated that he makes Yosemite Sam look like a mellow fellow. He’s easy to like, too. That that element is working.
As to not letting it drag on too long, I’m nearing the end of the second season as I watch it, and the only question left is who will crack first. I think it has to be Nishigata; Takagi is called a Teasing Master for a reason and eventually she’s going to get under his skin.
And so…SPOILER…he loses her at the festival, finds her again. He takes her hand, and says, “I never want to lose you again.” Music up, a pretty song. No, he didn’t say “I love you,” but he might as well have.
Conflict resolved, story done, show over.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.