Prior to writing my season preview, I like to read the first chapter of the manga that are being adapted to anime to get a feel for them. Tonari no Seki-kun is being made into an anime this winter season, so as per usual I checked out the manga. The chapters are pretty short, clocking in at barely 15 pages each (or in layman’s terms, about as many double page spreads a transformation sequence in One Punch Man takes), so I figured I’d read another chapter. Less than 3 hours later and I had read all the translated Tonari no Seki-kun manga available. With the upcoming anime being directed by the same guy who directed Green Green and Arcade Gamer Fubuki, and animation bordering on flash-quality, I don’t hold too much hope in the anime being stellar. I’m writing this review in the hopes that more people will check the manga out.
Tonari no Seki-kun is about a girl trying to be diligent and pay attention in class but she keeps being distracted by the guy sitting next to her. He never talks to her, or says anything over the entire course of the manga. She gets distracted by the weird and wonderful games and distractions he cooks up during class. These include things like modelling a miniature driving school complete with handmade driving license for when he finishes. Or dramatic re-enactment of historical betrayals and wars through the use of shogi pieces. Try as she can to continue paying attention in class, she can’t help but get drawn into the fantastical stories being played out on his table, which always mysteriously disappears as soon as she tries alert the teacher to his actions.
The comedy in Tonari no Seki-kun is contrasting the absurdity with the mundane. The juxtaposition between the mundane classroom and worries of Yokoi, the distracted girl, and the fantastical absurd creations of Seki, the dude next to her, go a long way to drawing out the inherent humour of his actions. Making a joke about the crushing fear of driving tests is made funnier when presented as someone’s tabletop construction, doubly so when the nervousness is entirely of his own creation. It would be very easy for this formula to base all the jokes around how random the activity Seki is doing because lol random nichijou is my favourite anime ever because I have no concept of what constitutes humour lol random etc. That’s how a fair number of the jokes start out, but they work because of how Yokoi gets invested in the story being built on Seki’s table. She starts trying to ignore him but then gets invested and often actively involved in proceedings. Throwing random shogi at his creation to dramatically change the narrative Seki is building and other such acts make her an active participant in the story and draws the two of them together in a silent war.
That is about it. Every chapter revolves around this formula, with Yokoi and Seki being practically the only characters. They introduce a lady friend later on who gets convinced Yokoi and Seki are dating and, along with a few male characters, but the trick is none of them realise what Seki is doing. The lady friend believes Yokoi’s intense fascination with the contents of Seki’s table are because she’s lovestruck. She may have a point too. The two of them do seem rather taken with each other. Obviously we hear what Yokoi is thinking, but between the facial expressions and reactions of Seki, you get the feeling he does enjoy the attention Yokoi gives him. Yes I’m reading too much into this, but it’s a sign of how surprisingly well the characterisation of Seki and Yokoi is that I’m able to draw these conclusions. Seki is not just a guy who does fantastical things and Yokoi is not just a girl who goes “WHAAAAAAT” at his actions. They are human beings reacting to each other and that’s what makes it funny.
I’ll admit that Tonari no Seki-kun is totally My Kind of Thing. There isn’t anything resembling a plot in the slightest and every chapter follows the same formula. I can see why someone would find this repetitive and get old quickly. But for what it’s worth, I find the author plays around with the inherently funny formula enough that the jokes continue being funny. Give the first chapter or two a shot and you’ll very quickly see what kind of manga it is and whether you would enjoy it.