I like to imagine that Tanaka doesn’t just smell the roses. Instead, he slowly lays down beneath them and, with their heavy scent enveloping him, takes another delightful nap.
If you’re not already watching Tanaka-kun is Always Listless (watch it here), the show follows a high school boy, the equable Tanaka, who “is often found in a blissful state of lethargy”. It’s a very laid back show with wonderful comedic timing and a beautiful, fitting art style. So far, there are an array of characters who each have amusing interactions with Tanaka, the main one being his best friend Ohta who is practically Tanaka’s second mother. My favourite moments thus far are those with Tanaka simply being Tanaka and Ohta making sure he is never listlessly swept away by the north wind.
Back in episode one, the first words we hear from Tanaka are the following, while he’s napping outside on the school grounds:
“The weather’s nice and the breeze feels good. The little birds are making their cute chirping sounds. Perhaps people nowadays have forgotten how wonderful nature is… Yes, don’t you feel it’s a waste to not feel it with your entire body like this?”
Those words may partially be an excuse for Tanaka to take a nap, but what lovely words they are. And what a nice thought: to soak up with your whole body the small, simple things that make you glad to be alive. When was the last time I napped outside on the grass? To be honest, it was probably four years ago. I remember it fondly, but I haven’t taken the time to do it since then… which is, well, kind of sad.
It’s important to stop, breath and feel gratitude for the opportunity to exist. It lets us reflect on the small things we find joy in. We’re able to embrace the world around us by embracing the details.
Tanaka may be epicurean to a fault, perhaps indulging his lethargy and relying on Ohta a little too much*. But, like Ohta, I can’t help but love him all the same. One particular reason I love him is because in his quest for absolute listlessness he is able to live slowly, thus taking the time to appreciate a gentle breeze, the sun filtered through leaves, and the warmth of a fresh stack of photocopies.
Through his listlessness he cherishes the warmth of his chair after he’s sat in it and treasures the indulgence of napping during self-study period (after he’s finished his work, of course). He notices and admires a friend’s lovely hair scrunchie. Tanaka treasuring these small things makes him both endearing and admirable. His passivity subsequently allows for him to languidly savour and value the simple things that we, in our hustle and bustle, might overlook.
Of course, to level things out, while Tanaka appreciates the small things that bring him peace and tranquillity, he also complains about the tiniest things that don’t…
But let’s move from our titular main character to the show as a whole. What I most love about this show is not simply the refreshing moments of Tanaka’s appreciation for the ordinary things around him, it is that the show itself causes me to slow down a little – to take in and enjoy the world Tanaka lives in and the world around me. Aesthetically, Tanaka-kun is Always Listless achieves this most notably through its art style and its use of sound.
Tanaka-kun uses a colour palette that is soft and somewhat earthy in a light and breezy way. Oranges, yellows, greens, browns, and blues are frequently used while maintaining white space (white space is especially used in the show’s transitions, which in themselves are wonderful details that I appreciate). The art style also features light and delicate lines that sometimes break or fade. The accumulative effect is one that is relaxing and calming.
The show has a great handle on how to utilize sound and silence. Silence is deployed not just in its comedic timing, but to give the characters (and viewer) a pause. In other words, the show utilizes ma. Most episodes so far frequently refrain from using music, and instead highlight the rustle of leaves, the chirping of birds, the squeaking a straw makes as you drink from it, the background noise of a busy classroom, the echo of the school bell, the sound of shoes on a clean floor… I could go on and on. By using these sounds, you slip into the familiar, but by emphasizing them like Tanaka-kun does, you notice and appreciate them. I’ve always been a person in love with sounds… I’d walk around for hours on a gravel road simply because I liked the crunching my boots made on it, so the emphasis on ordinary sounds is something I truly love. When the music does come in, it is generally light and cheerful, keeping with the tone (unless, of course, Tanaka is playing the piano). There’s one song in particular that transports me to a southern France country garden.
All these elements contribute to the calm and easygoing nature of the show. They also subtly remind me of the little things and allow me to take joy in them.
It’s been said before that life is in the details. With Tanaka, there’s no doubt that is the case. Watching this show helps me to realize the importance of living slowly and of appreciating life’s small moments, especially those found through tranquillity and a quiet afternoon. Tanaka-kun is Always Listless leads me into a world full of kind people, the smell of green grass, freshly clean blankets, and the warmth of sun on my skin. It is positively charming and it makes me smile.
“And I could find other excuses to get out and sit on the crisp grass and look out over the airy roof… It was like taking time out of life…”
― James Herriot
*It should be noted that Tanaka is not exactly lazy. He is a skilled aficionado of listlessness to the point where he occasionally displays his counter-intuitive determination and passion to live a listless life (as seen here, here, and here).
**Just a random note that I love how Tanaka appreciates the people around him. He respects and values their varying qualities (see here, here, here, and here). I love the end of the opening, where Tanaka wakes up and sees his friends around him, pauses for a moment (in what I view as a moment of reflective gratitude… though it may just be sleepiness), and joins them. I find it touching. It lets us know that Tanaka cherishes his friends in his own listless way. He won’t nap the whole day away; when he wakes up, he spends time with those he loves.
What do you think about Tanaka-kun? Are you enjoying this show as much – uh, I mean as listlessly as I am?