I confess, there’s no joy in this business quite like having my sleeper picks come good. Even after more than a decade of writing anime previews I still have a pretty limited understanding of how the whole process works. If you know something of the source material it’s not really a sleeper, but sometimes you look at a preview or a stack of images and you see potential without any hard reason to back it up. Those are the true sleepers, the most interesting and mysterious ones. And nailing it with one never gets old.
With Senpai ga Uzai Kouhai no Hanashi, the show in fact has turned out to be something quite different than I expected. Perhaps, though, sensing that unconsciously is what made me see it as a sleeper in the first place. Rather than being a gender-swapped bullying comedy, this series is something a lot more like Working!! – a quirky workplace slice of life with strong underlying romcom elements. In fact there’s no bullying here at at all, really, and with the main pair it would really be a stretch to even call it “teasing”. And from my perspective that’s a good thing.
In truth I got very strong Working!! vibes from this episode, which for me is a very good thing. We start where we left off, with Igarashi-san stressing over her meltdown at the izakaya (at least she remembers). As if the confession weren’t bad enough it’s compounded by a puking incident, with Takeda-san playing the good senpai role to the hilt. He takes the high road the next day too – when Igarashi musters the courage to ask about it (kudos to the boss for reading the room) he writes it off to “just the booze talking”. In a way Igarashi is as disappointed as she is relieved, but that’s only natural – and part of the charm of the premise.
It’s an open question whether Takeda is as dense about this as he seems, or is indeed playing the good senpai by pretending to be. And of course as someone with considerable office experience I know that workplace romances are almost invariably a terrible idea, but that’s just a suspension of disbelief issue – take those away and romantic comedy would be decimated. In fact this isn’t the only potential romance in this office, as Kazama has clearly had his eyes on Sakurai right from the get-go. Again, a very Working!! vibe to this whole scenario.
I think it’s debatable whether her chest size has much to do with the way folks see Igarashi as a kid – being the height of a 6th-grader is obviously the bigger issue (pun intended) – but that doesn’t stop her from obsessing over it. Especially as Sakurai-san is so well-endowed, but the envious Igarashi doesn’t realize that when she says “those who have can never understand the pain of those who don’t” that it’s a two-way street. Sakurai has to deal with being the office Goddess, having eyes on her all the time – and sometimes worse – there and outside.
The shopping trip with her friend Kurobe Natsumi (Aoyama Reina) offers a pretty hilarious riff on the size theme. Kurobe is built like Sakurai and she and Futaba make an interesting odd couple. Igarashi likes cute things, like the little bear plushies being given away – but after she takes two of them she sees an unexpected possibility in them. This comes to a head when she bumps (literally) into Takeda and Kazama on the train home. Kazama immediately spots the difference, but Takeda seems genuinely oblivious (no doubt this time). For Igarashi this is more painful evidence that Takeda-san just doesn’t see her as a woman.
Speaking of Kazama, he comes to Sakurai’s aid when she’s being hit on by one of the jamokes at the office (one senses this is not the first time) with a wrong number phone call. Unlike with the main pair one doesn’t have to squint too hard to see this “B” couple as a couple – they just sort of fit. Kazama being a nice guy fits too – most of the people in this cast are, which is one reason why it works. Speaking of nice guys, on the train home (after some affectionate ribbing about height) Takeda takes out a pervert who was upskirting Igarashi, and reveals he’s a red and white belt (I know nothing of these either, Futaba-chan) in judo. Seems unfair for a guy that big to also be a martial artist, but there you go – at least he uses his powers for good.
Futaba is suitably grateful for this, but again it’s ambiguous – we can’t be sure if Takeda is merely being a good senior or something more. That ambiguity really works for Senpai ga Uzai, like almost everything else about it so far. The manga chapters are very short and more gag-driven, and as is often the case with good adaptations like this the anime has expanded them to be more plot and character-forward. The early signs are very positive indeed as far as I’m concerned – I’m pretty much won over after two episodes, and frankly pretty excited about the possibilities for this series (especially as the cast expands). I adore a good situation comedy, and it’s not a genre on the ascendancy in anime these days – bit I suspect I would really like Senpai ga Uzai Kouhai no Hanashi in any era.
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