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Manga Driver: Tonari no Seki-kun

tonari no seki kunVolumes: 3 (ongoing)

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.

seki01_025The 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.

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  1. Fellow
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    For once I’m glad the anime episodes are only 10 minutes long. That way we’ll only get one or two different tabletop gags an episode and it won’t feel as repetitive as it could be for anime only viewers if it was a regular length episode.

    I still have a bit of hope held out for the anime still.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I think the 10 minute episode format works great for this. I’m not terribly fond of 5 minute episodes because it never feels like enough, but 10 minutes works. Worked for Cromartie

  2. joinedforFal
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    great to see the Scamp’s stamp of approval on a manga series i also enjoyed.
    I should get around to reading parasyte soon, but i’m currently crushing all the sports shonen, currently on kuroko, caught up on yowamushi Pedal,Ace of Diamond, and Baby Steps, might tack ahiru no sora on for a re-read/catchup since a scanlator is scanlating it again.

    • Pusswookie
      Posted November 14, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      Is the Scamp Stamp a thing? It should be.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 15, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Baby Steps is getting an anime, I’m 90% sure I’ve read that recently.

      • joinedforFal
        Posted November 16, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

        yep, that anime announcement is what tipped it off the mountain of possibly interesting but synopsis didn’t make the sales pitch pile. that pile is huge btw, because my love of the the random button, it’s the only good way to thrust into my face mangas that i don’t have natural affinity to.

  3. Nebulous
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Yep. I fully agree. Loved it so much I bought a japanese volume but they don’t have furigana, so I find it too hard to read! Shows that it isn’t really aimed at kids, despite it’s simple structure.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 15, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      Also apparently aimed at ladies. It made some inter-publisher’s list of Manga Ladies Should Read, alongside stuff like Chihayafuru

  4. Someone Else
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Ah I almost forgot about this when I read a few chapters back then to check out what it is since I saw it on the charts (the art caught my eye). I actually didn’t thought it was going to be adapted when I read it because of the repetitive formula but stopped reading it since it will be adapted anyway. But well I dunno, you have pretty nice taste when it comes to humor. I liked parasyte, though I kind of stopped reading it since I didn’t like what happens next after the, uh mom stuff incident (avoiding spoilers) since it stopped being funny and went straight to serious mode, so I might read this again if the anime will be good enough for me to continue further from where it will last cover. There’s always a different feel reading a manga and watching an anime

    BTW ever considered reading Prison School? (Also called Kangoku Gakuen)

    • Scamp
      Posted November 15, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Awww what, you stopped reading Parasyte after the point where the main character really starts to get some personality and his inner struggle really becomes central to the story. Shame, you should get back to that. It does lose all humour at that stage, albeit understandably so.

      Haven’t heard of Prison School, but doing some reading it sounds awfully silly. Personally I’m more interested in Assassination Classroom because that premise looks so delightfully bonkers

  5. Nagisa33
    Posted November 14, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    The wonderful world of manga is treating me kindly. I’ve been sticking to one shots or short volume mangas before I dive in to longer runners. I rather enjoy the concise stories right now. I’ve never heard of Tonari no Seki-kun and I’ll be sure to check it out. I’m going to try the anime out as well.

    From what I read, I recommend diving in to:
    -Koe no Katachi Prototype
    -Sekai no Owari to Yoake Mae
    -Nozoki Ana

    I was intrigued by Manga Therapy’s write up of the one shot, Koe no Katachi. It’s a short yet powerful manga about a deaf girl getting bullied and how the rest of the people around her react. It’s realistic and gets across psychological concepts such as the bystander effect quite effectively and it shows how a breakdown in understanding can bring out the worst in people.

    Hotel is a 5 chapter manga with different topics, usually depicting problems with that may affect the future. Topics such as pollution and the rapid consumption of resources are covered in sometimes sad or funny ways. I wasn’t too fond of chapter 4 or 5 though.

    Sekai no Owari to Yoake Mae is created by Inio Asano, the mangaka who made Solanin. It’s only 11 chapters and it covers different topics related to youth and the struggles of growing up. Different stories are covered each chapter and it makes you think about the Japanese culture.

    -Uzumaki is a 3 volume horror manga by Junji Ito. It’s not really “scary”, rather it’s creepy, weird, and has a strange atmosphere. It’s set in a costal town where people become twisted by the power of the mysterious “spiral”. I loved the sheer creativity with the many ideas to relate to the word spiral. The artwork was chilling to boot.

    -Nozoki Ana is one of my personal favorites. It’s a story about how a college guy gets manipulated by a girl. She sets rules of them peeping on each other and the guy gets in all these terrible situations. It really lit my fire, so much so that I finished it in the span of two days. To me, the most interesting aspect was how the main character controlled his sexual desire and how he grappled with his emotions. Sex and emotion are linked and most argue that it’s hard or impossible to separate the two. I love psychological aspects in stories and this had a wealth of concepts to pick apart. Psychology asks, “Why do we do what we do?” and it was fun figuring out why the main girl in the story does what she does. I’m not going to lie, it’s smutty (ecchi / borderline H) but sex is part of the story as it relates to the character’s emotions. It’s about how the main character gets manipulated, practices restraint, and discovers more about himself through it all.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 15, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      I’ve heard of a bunch of those. Obviously heard of Uzamaki, that one is quite famous. Nozoki Ana I could have sworn was an actual h-manga. Didn’t they already do a hentai anime adaptation of that? I have a feeling I’ve heard of Hotel before too, but don’t remember anything about it

      • Nagisa33
        Posted November 15, 2013 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        Nozoki Ana isn’t listed as an h-manga or meant to be h though the line is quite blurry. They did make an OVA but it’s watered down. If you’re interested I suggest sticking to the manga. The story was engaging and got even better with multiple twists and turns as it went along.

        For Hotel, there was a one shot that was later included in the 5 chapter manga. You might have heard of that one shot.

  6. Posted November 15, 2013 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    Bought it randomly because I liked the art style. Fell in love with it – it’s just really nice. Here’s to hope that it will be good! ^^

  7. Pusswookie
    Posted November 15, 2013 at 2:09 am | Permalink

    After checking it out and promptly reading through all the available material, I have come to the conclusion that Seki is a wizard.

  8. HenryIsHot
    Posted November 15, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    When I saw your post, I checked the first chapter to get an idea, and before I knew it I hit the “this chapter has not yet been released” page. I’ve never had a manga I’d call my favorite, but now this is now my favorite manga.

    I definitely agree that Yokoi not reacting “WHAT?!” was a good thing, but what hooked me was that Seki took the random thing seriously and ran with it. Some chapters would take a lot of writing to summarize. There’s no plot, but tonari no seki has a lot of content. Also, so far the quality is consistent. Many series start great, but then drop off.

    The way the author explores different ideas each chapter reminds me of Mushishi. Unlike Mushishi though, I don’t think this being animated will be much of an improvement, since visuals aren’t as important.

    • Scamp
      Posted November 15, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Would never have thought to make a comparison to Mushishi, but whatever works for you. Delighted to hear a quick review of mine led you onto your new all time favourite manga!

  9. Cobrah
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    So like, I’ve been meaning to lose my manga virginity for a while now but don’t exactly know where to begin. Would this be a good one to start with?

    • Scamp
      Posted November 16, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      I’d say you’re better off starting with something more impactful like Parasyte or 7 Seeds. Tonari no Seki kun is very light reading and won’t draw you in like those others will. Just remember to use protection.

      • Hanasra
        Posted November 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        What is this “protection” you talking about Scamp?

  10. Hanasra
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Hmm, this exactly my kind of thing too. Thanks for the heads up and approval Scamp, just when I’m in need some light reading that is not meant for (pure) escapism. By your second last paragraph, I take it that you prefer character driven story over plot driven then?

  11. Joel
    Posted November 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    This is so lovely! I love it!

  12. Posted November 17, 2013 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    I love this manga. Glad to see that you like it to. :)

    The two main characters go so well together.

    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.

    I don’t think so. I felt the same way. But yes, the characterisation is great.

  13. Leah
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I recommend Sumire 16 sai

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