FEATURE: Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog: “Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time”


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With so many possibilities to choose from, finding a new anime to watch could drive you to distraction. “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog” is here to help you focus. Each week we provide additional information and cultural context to help anime fans decide whether or not they’d like to take an unknown series for a test drive.



What’s Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time?


Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time is a 2014 short-form classroom comedy TV anime with direction by Yūji Mutoh and animation by Shin-Ei Animation. The series is based on the Tonari no Seki-kun manga by Takuma Morishige, which is serialized in Media Factory’s Monthly Comic Flapper seinen manga magazine. Crunchyroll describes the series as follows:



Class is in session at a certain high school. While the teacher isn’t looking, a boy named Seki-kun is playing games by himself on his desk, while the girl who sits next to him, Yokoi-san, observes (or interferes or participates). Each time, Seki-kun’s games reach unimaginable levels… And this time the game is…



Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time is a 21 episode series with a single joke: every class period, Yokoi tries to study while Seki-kun fools around in a series of increasingly imaginative and improbable scenarios. Inevitably, Yokoi’s attempts to concentrate on her schoolwork fall prey to Seki-kun’s creative slacking.



Making the Most of a Simple Premise.


Tonari no Seki-Kun: The Master of Killing Time relies on exaggeration, escalation, overreaction, and reversal of expectations to get its laughs. Each joke deploys at least two layers of absurdity: the first when Seki-kun selects an activity that clashes with the academic setting (such as the distinctly Japanese pastimes of go, shogi, and the face-matching party game “fukuwarai”), and the second when Seki-kun applies his toys in an unexpected manner and Yokoi ends up drawn deeper and deeper into her neighbor’s flights of fancy.



Yokoi and Seki-kun resemble the tsukkomi (“straight man”) and bokke (“fool”) of a manzai comedy routine, although manzai is a primarily verbal form of comedy whereas the humor in Tonari no Seki-kun is primarily physical and prop-related. Yokoi also isn’t a perfect straight man, because the recurring gag is that she routinely gets distracted and scolded for not paying attention and Seki-kun generally escapes comedic reprisals.



Squeezing Maximum Value Out of Limited Animation.


TV animation in Japan is known for its tradition of labor and time saving tricks, but the limited animation is actually essential to the comedic timing in Tonari no Seki-kun. The vast majority of the series takes place within one corner of a classroom, but the dynamic camera work (complete with dramatic zooms, whips, and pans) gives the series a sense of scale that belies its prosaic setting.



Tonari no Seki-kun also takes advantage of some clever color design to contrast the drab and ordinary atmosphere of the classroom with the fanciful, adventurous, and sometimes horrifying realms of Seki-kun’s imagination.



Finding Humor Through Music and Voice Work.


Tonari no Seki-kun is effectively a one woman show, with Kana Hanazawa providing an internal monologue as her character, Rumi Yokoi, reacts to Seki-kun’s nonsense. Although Hiro Shimono plays Seki-kun, the character has no actual lines of dialog, instead communicating only in non-verbal cues such as humming, laughter, and irritated growls. The bulk of the humor relies on Hanazawa’s sharp sense of comic timing and increasingly confounded reactions.



The music by Akifumi Tada and the sound direction by Yasuyuki Uragami are also especially strong in Tonari no Seki-kun, with each adding to the sense of exaggerated drama and elevated stakes that makes the set-up and pay-off for the gags so satisfying. Even legendary anisong performer Ichirou Mizuki gets in on the action, with an insert song describing the daily adventures of the recurring “Robot Family” toys.



Additional Studies.


Crunchyroll currently streams Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time in 208 territories worldwide. The series is available in the original Japanese with subtitles in English, Spanish, Latin American Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German.



Tonari no Seki-kun is also released on DVD and Bluray in North America by Sentai Filmworks, and this home video version includes an English dub with Monica Rial as Yokoi and Blake Shepard as Seki-kun. An English language version of the original manga is published by Vertical, Inc. under the title My Neighbor Seki.



Tonari no Seki-kun was also adapted into an 8 episode live-action TV drama. This version stars Fumika Shimizu as Yokoi and Yutaro Watanabe as Seki-kun. It was paired with a live-action adaptation of Rumi’s Phenomenon (based on the manga by Katsunori Hara), and it aired on Mainichi Broadcasting System and Tokyo Broadcasting System in 2015. At the time of this writing, the live-action Tonari no Seki-kun has not been officially licensed in the United States.



With each episode lasting about 7 minutes and 40 seconds in length (including the poppy opening and the jazzy ending themes), the entirety of the Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time TV anime clocks in at less than three hours total, making it a great way to kill some time. If you’re in the mood for some masterfully executed light comedy, consider giving Tonari no Seki-kun a try.



Special thanks go to resident time-killer Dawn (@bunnycartoon) for suggesting the series for this week’s “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”. Is there a series in Crunchyroll’s catalog that you think needs some more love and attention? Please send in your suggestions via e-mail to cruisingcrunchy@gmail.com or post a Tweet to @gooberzilla. Your pick could inspire the next installment of “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”!


Paul Chapman is the host of The Greatest Movie EVER! Podcast and GME! Anime Fun Time.