Let’s waste some time, shall we?
In spite of my adolescent delusions I still want to…
My experience with the Tonari no Seki-kun manga is similar to Scamp’s chronicles of burning through it in a span of three hours. Where he was researching the property for a season preview, I watched the first two episodes of the animated short series before seeking out the manga, finishing all 45 available chapters within a day.
One of the chapters that stuck out the most was chapter 21, when Toshinari Seki is faced with the efforts of his childhood delusions while on a class trip. Due to her attentiveness to Seki’s actions, classmate Rumi Yokoi notices his discomfort and quickly realizes that the scrawled signs of a “Demon’s Castle” that her classmates are laughing at are the hand-crafted works of a younger Seki. Unsure as to how to react, she first comes to his defense, implying that most kids have done something similar. She then joins in on the laughter when she suspects that others are catching on. Upon finding a hand-drawn award for the conqueror of the Demon’s Castle – signed by Seki himself – she goes to great lengths to protect his identity, saving him from potential ridicule.
The effect is a very genuine callback to childhood daydreams, moreso than a certain second season with “chuunibyou” in its title. Yokoi’s attention and desire to protect Seki turns into blackmail. It’s a trump card that Yokoi will never play, partially because she is already an accomplice to Seki’s current adolescent delusions in the classroom.
Masters and Mistresses of Killing Time
Seki may be the titular character; however, it’s Yokoi who brings the charm in this series by playing a quintessential “good girl.” She is well-thought of by her classmates. She attends cram school. She writes individual thank you letters for the slightest of kindnesses. Seki, to his credit, brings out the most mischievous side of Yokoi through his antics. In spite of her insistence that she wants to study, and she’d rather Seki do nothing at all, she quickly becomes emotionally involved in whatever he is doing.
Piggybacking on the aforementioned idea of childhood and adolescent delusions, it’s Yokoi who is the more delusional of the two, as she gives specific weight to Seki’s actions through her participation. Where one would see Seki playing with random shogi pieces, Yokoi constructs a compelling story of a coup d’etat. When Seki constructs a miniature archeological dig, Yokoi eschews her common sense and digs for treasures in her own desk, to the eventual amusement of her classmates. When Seki plays Othello, Yokoi creates a zombie apocalypse narrative, inspiring her own participation in the story to “save the human” by reflecting light directly onto Seki’s desk.
It works because, as readers and viewers, we’re only privy to Yokoi’s thoughts. While reading manga, we’re typically the ones commenting on what we’re reading. In this way, Yokoi becomes the bridge from the oddness of Seki’s actions to our own emotional investment. We care for Seki because Yokoi does.
Filling In the Gaps
An easy line is drawn from our emotional investment in Yokoi and Seki, and fervently wishing for an eventual romantic relationship. Furthering this train of thought is Gotou who, in an effort to befriend Yokoi, misconstrues Yokoi’s actions towards Seki as true love. As she presumes that the the two are dating, every remark by Yokoi takes on a different meaning in Gotou’s imagination. She eventually decides to champion Yokoi’s love from the sidelines, unable to do much of anything else.
Gotou as an audience insert acts as an interesting parallel to Yokoi’s actions towards Seki. Unable to read Seki’s mind, Yokoi provides us with an interpretation of Seki’s actions. Likewise, Gotou, who is unable to discern the nature of Yokoi’s relationship with Seki, fills in the gaps with her own desires for romance between the two. She is the reader pushing the pages together while yelling, “Kiss already!”