Manga Review – Takahashi-san is Listening.

Takahashi-san is Listening. Volume 1

Takahashi-san is Listening.
高橋さんが聞いている。(Takahashi-san ga Kiite Iru.)
HOKUO Yu
Shounen – Comedy
34 Chapters (ongoing)
Crunchyroll

Summary:

Ena is a rising idol with a rather unique hobby: eavesdropping on two of her classmates! Nara and Mikage have…unique conversations, and Ena can’t stop listening. However, she must keep her hobby a secret, so Ena is always looking for places to hide while controlling the urge to smack them.

Review:

This series is basically about an idol who wants to tsukkomi but can’t because that would mean she’s admitting to listening in on a conversation between two boke. And if you didn’t understand that sentence, then you are going to have a difficult time with this manga.

Unlike a series like My Neighbor Seki which concentrates on visual gags, Takahashi-san is Listening. focuses on the dialogue and wordplay. Firstly, readers are expected to know about Japanese cultural references like the three lucky items to dream about on New Year’s Day and Hanako-san of the Toilet in order to understand where Nara and Mikage go off-track. There’s also references to many other manga, but what is even more critical are all the puns and word games. While the translator does an admirable job of adapting the wordplay, the other references do not have footnotes. So if you haven’t studied Japanese or absorbed a lot from anime and manga, readers are stuck with relying on Ema’s reactions for these jokes. Her over-the-top reactions are the supposed to be main source of comedy with her bug-eyes, jumps, and other physical actions, but even these fall flat if you don’t understand why Ena wants to hit the two idiots in the first place.

But one particular reason I didn’t care for this series was  the lack of tsukkomi-boke interaction. It’s the equivalent of you watching a crappy TV show and not having anyone to turn to to say, “Is this for real? What are they thinking? What kind of crap is this?” when you really want to express your feelings. Yes, part of the charm is supposed to be how eavesdropping ironically makes Ena a better idol (either because she physically reacts in a way that makes her appear good or just providing mental relaxation). But it’s just not as fun as when the two halves of a manzai team are separate.

Character-wise, this series focuses on the three main characters of Ena, Nara, and Mikage. Well, three may be pushing it; Nara and Mikage are pretty much a set. I know one has a little sister moe, but other than that, I just know them at the class president with glasses and the quiet one without. Even those few differences are hardly referenced. Ena, however, is a rather unusual combination for a lead in that she’s both an idol, tsukkomi, and pretty much a weirdo. Again, unlike in My Neighbor Seki where the heroine fights her temptation to get involved in the madness, Ena here is very proactive about chasing after the crazy. Only once or twice does she actually want to avoid them; the rest of the time, she will go to great lengths to get her fix while keeping up her public persona. I guess give her credit for her dedication? There are a few recurring characters in Ena’s manager, Ena’s best friend, and a womanizing DJ, and I must admit I found the chapters with the DJ the best of the series. His craziness is the much easier to understand and laugh at.

The art is pretty straight-forward. There’s basically the three main characters and Ena’s reactions. That’s it. No one is going to read this series for the pretty pictures, simple as that. It’s pretty standard, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is just a manga where the art is secondary to the story. Characters are easy-to-identity, but this is also helped due to the relatively small cast. Action is usually limited to stuff like flips and remaining hiding while others approach. Screentones are limited, and the chapters are easy to follow.

Translation:

Honorifics are used. I can’t go into too much detail, having not read the original. The series does try to find some English equivalents for word games and such. Not a lot of translation notes are included in this online release. Perhaps more notes would be added in a physical release. Quite frankly, it could really use some. I’ve read enough manga to manage a lot of the jokes and references, but a lot of readers will likely be confused. I do believe Nara’s position is adapted two different ways, class rep and class president.

Final Comments:

Takahashi-san is Listening. requires more knowledge of Japanese culture that one would think for a school-life comedy. If you have a Crunchyroll membership, there’s very little downside to reading the series. However, I would not be supporting a print version.

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