Each short episode of Tonari no Seki-kun is built on a similar foundation: Seki plays some comically elaborate game in the middle of class, and Yokoi, his more studious neighboring classmate, invariably gets sucked into what he’s doing, to the point where she often becomes even more invested in it than him. That’s it. This seems like a fairly limited premise, but it provides a great framework with a surprising amount of comedic range for Seki to play in. The results are almost always a blast.
The games Seki plays each episode range from staging complex, twist-laden wars with unconventional shogi play to bringing an actual bag full of cats into class. There are episodes where he’s seen building crazy Rube Goldberg machines right in the middle a lecture. He never really speaks outside of determined grunts and the like, but there’s a ton of expression put into the way he reacts to the various scenarios he concocts. There’s a sadistic edge to how he goes about his games and the way he crafts his fiction that makes him a great foil for Yokoi to play off of.
Yokoi’s reactions to these scenarios are diverse and keep her from becoming a stock overreaction character. More of a protagonist than Seki is, the episodes are generally filled with her internal narrations. She’s sometimes quite taken by Seki’s more sensitive side, only to be crushed when he reverts to his usual, harsher self. Other times the plots of Seki’s games become so grim that she finds herself becoming engaged in them, in an attempt to steer them towards happier directions. There’s a running gag involving a robot family that Seki often brings to class, for example, that he often puts in dangerous situations or will just mistreat in general. Yokoi gets really attached to Seki’s narrative for this family and will put herself at risk of being caught by the teacher just to help sway their fate in the direction she wants. Of course Seki doesn’t just take this lying down and it becomes a fun battle for the outcome of these toy robots. And this is all while she’s trying her best to study! It’s a lot of fun seeing the creative ways she gets whisked away from this each episode. They play off each other really well and make for a great comedic duo. Also Yokoi is like totes adorbs.
Presentation works wonders in capturing the comedic idiosyncrasies of the scenarios. The dramatic score and aggrandizing theatrics elevate these silly games to the status of tense, mortal conflicts. Effortlessly pulling the audience into the characters’ skewed sense of priority; the result is entertaining at every turn. Kana Hanazawa puts in a great performance as Yokoi, capturing the huge swings in emotion that Seki puts her through wonderfully. Fans of silly faces will find a lot to like here as well, as the show has a huge array of them that it uses really well to heighten the comedy. There are many places in the show where the creators went above and beyond, like giving the robot family their own theme song in the style of old mecha anime,or depicting shogi games as actual wars, acting out Seki’s stories. Even the OP and ED play out like skits from the show. The OP in particular is a clever meta piece about Seki actually animating Tonari no Seki-kun in class. A lot of subtle ingenuity went into making this simple premise a lot more than it seems.
If there’s anything to complain about in this show, it’s that the show does have some rare instances where the punchlines can start to feel a bit samey. There are some recurring skits and although they still remain endearing, the edge of their punchlines are dulled on each successive rehash. It’s nothing too bad though and the short run time of the episodes makes these skits more of a fleeting occurrence before you’re back to something new again, but several of them did start to lose a bit of their luster for me by the end. They might even give the series a nice sense of continuity for some though, so your mileage may vary.
Minor quibbles aside, this is an incredibly solid comedy. Seki and Yokoi have a great dynamic together and the show by and large does a superb job giving them varied situations to bring out the most in their personalities. Coupled with the grand presentation of it all, it’s easy to be whisked away into Seki’s antics just as Yokoi is. I doubt many will regret their time playing with Seki, especially without the risk of being caught by the teacher.