The Story Within a Story in Takahashi-san is Listening

Published by Jacob - Your Friendly Overlord on

I don’t read a whole lot of manga. It’s why I don’t talk about it too often. I watch way more anime, and I play way more video games than I read manga. That’s why they pop up more. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it, however. I think it’s a more interesting medium than anime conceptually, to be honest. I just don’t take much of it in.

 

But even I do read some, few as that may be. And today, I want to talk about one, as I’m sure most of you have gathered. This is an interesting one because while I like the manga we’re talking about today, I don’t love it. It’s fairly hit or miss, but it’s still very interesting, which is why I wanted to talk about it. That manga is Takahashi-san is Listening.

If you couldn’t tell, this is a comedy manga, and it’s fairly absurd. Ok, it’s crazy and always stupid. I seem to have a bit of a soft spot for that. The story is centered around one very simple premise. It’s all in the name.

 

Takahashi-san is a high school idol who always wears headphones. But she turns the volume down, or most of the time doesn’t even have them plugged into anything. She does this so it doesn’t look unnatural when she constantly eavesdrops on her fellow students, Nara and Mikage, which is her favorite hobby. Thus, Takahashi-san is, in fact, Listening.

 

Now, eavesdropping isn’t the best thing to do, and Takahashi understands that, which is why she keeps it secret, but don’t lie, we’ve all done it. Sure, she does it a little more. She may scuba dive underwater or hide in a locker or other stuff just so she can listen. We don’t go quite that far.

 

Still, I do admit that I eavedrop a bit as well. I used to do volunteer work at a local library, and I really didn’t have anything to do besides organizing the books on the shelves for a few hours, and you know, they’re notoriously quiet places. Who wouldn’t listen in a little bit, right? Right? I didn’t do anything wrong. Takahashi and I are innocent, I promise.

Believe it or not, I didn’t just want to talk about this manga because I strangely relate to its main character, nor was it to air out my nonexistent guilt over listening in on a few conversations in a library. I wanted to talk about it because it fascinates me a lot.

 

I like stories that surprise me. It’s very hard anymore to make something unique. Everything is inspired by something, and while that’s not a bad thing, when you finally see a story that feels like nothing you’ve ever seen before, it excites you. That’s what this manga did, even if it falls flat on its face at times.

 

The premise is about Takahashi listening in on Mikage and Nara, as I said. Where the comedy comes in is that these are two of the biggest morons to grace planet Earth, and take that from a professional.

These two talk about the stupidest stuff any human could ever come up with. A lot of the time it’s them completely explaining something wrong, kind of like what I’m doing. Talking about jokes makes them not funny anymore, so I’ll stop that. Just know that much of the comedy centers around misunderstandings.

 

Takahashi joins in partway through their conversation and tries to piece together whatever the two morons are discussing, almost always guessing wrong. Each chapter focusing on one of the conversations that “she just happens to overhear,” and they’re generally pretty funny. And then, some aren’t.

 

See, this is an example of a manga that doesn’t work too well in translation. A lot of the time, Japanese jokes don’t work in English. Much of these don’t as well. That’s because the conversations are usually about some normal everyday thing that they turn into something ridiculous. Normal stuff for Japanese people. A lot of the jokes have that cultural barrier that’s hard to overcome. When you mix that in with Japanese wordplay, it becomes difficult.

Many of them are still funny, but you will have the few that will fall completely on its face. And then even some that I do fully understand end up being hit or miss. For the most part, though, it is a fun series with really good art, and the only thing I like more than Takahashi’s facial reactions is the story. Or the lack thereof one, really.

 

Sure, there’s a decent overarching plot with Takahashi’s idol career, but for the most part, we’re just listening in on the boys. This is already a plot I feel like wouldn’t work as an anime, which is probably why an adaptation never happened.

 

This manga is interesting because we aren’t the only ones curious about what will happen next. We aren’t the only ones watching the characters to see what their next move will be or what they’ll say next. Takahashi is too.

This means we get a manga where we aren’t only watching the antics of two morons, we are watching the reaction of a moron to the antics of those two morons. Now I’m writing about my thoughts to the reactions of a moron, reacting to two morons. If anyone comments on this post about their opinions on my thoughts, the universe might collapse. We’re going too far. We need to stop this!

 

It’s a very odd manga. The reader and Takahashi are in the same situation. We’re both eavesdropping on these two and attempting to understand what’s even going on and possibly laughing along the way. Takahashi is basically the reader, if they were an idol, a high school girl, somewhat of a stalker, and very excitable about snooping.

 

So we aren’t really watching the characters in a story. We’re watching the viewer of a story, viewing the story, and following along with the story she makes along the way. Through the absurd conversations of Takahashi’s friends(?), she begins to learn how to handle situations in her life and grow along the way. Their stories help her story.

Am I just way overthinking what Takahashi-san really is? Oh, for sure. It’s just 76 chapters of insanity with no rhyme or reason for anything that happens. Still, it manages to tell an incredibly unique story to me, and it’s my job to make something from nothing, and I take it as a personal challenge to do so.

 

So while it may not always hit every joke, or be as funny as it would like, even bore you at times, it’s still a manga that I will remember, and one I have remembered for a long time just because of how ridiculous its concept is and the equally insane character of Ena Takahashi.

 

So while I can’t tell you this manga will have you on bated breath, I can tell you it’s a very relaxing, pretty formulaic, and fairly funny manga you can kill some time with. And hey, it’s not that long either. I’m a fan of shorter chapters.

Thank you very much for reading

Is there any manga that has left a similar impression on you? It may not be the best or revolutionary, but you can’t deny its uniqueness.


2 Comments

deathby1kslimes · June 9, 2021 at 1:52 PM

This was a really interesting post, in a lot of ways. I feel like a lot of comedy from Japan doesn’t translate super smoothly, because a lot of it has the boke and tsukkomi thing going on, where one character says or does something weird and the other points it out, or makes a joke off that mistake. I think that kind of humor can work despite the culture barrier when it’s not so cruel to the boke, like, it’s funny because everyone else uses their mistake as a framework to snark off of. Kind of like Kyon from Haruhi (even though you could make the argument that he’s a little cold, he’s never what I would call mean.) Or for an example that’s probably more similar to this, Komi-san Can’t Communicate: what I like about that manga is how it’s kind of about Komi’s friends having fun at the expense of her social anxiety- not her, but the thing holding her back. I dunno if this manga would be the same way, but it kind of seems like it.

I’m interested to give it a shot, at least, because I’ve been getting more into manga too. Really, I think it’s kind of weird how anime is more well known internationally than manga, given that manga is kind of the same thing as comic books while anime started out philosophically more similar to manga than other schools of animation (in that it emphasizes good looking stills over necessarily moving interestingly). I dunno. It’s certainly an interesting medium to study, I’d be interested to read about your further experiences with it since I’m reading, and writing about, more manga these days too.

    Jacob - Your Friendly Overlord · June 9, 2021 at 2:06 PM

    I definitely plan to read more manga, especially since I plan to start collecting more. I wasn’t aware what that type of humor was called, but I find it hilarious. Like one character says something stupid, then another emphasizes it in a joke. I don’t know comedy well, but it’s always great to me. The interesting thing about Takahashi is she never even talks to Nara or Mikage (unless I just haven’t seen it yet, but I doubt it), and they never even acknowledge her existence since she’s trying to hide it. So it is similar to that style where she makes fun of whatever stupid things they say, often very dramatically. It’s fun and really unique, I think.

    I never thought of it that way. It is weird since we should have been pretty used to comics. I adore manga as a medium, though. The interesting ways you can tell stories with it, the way it’s written, the way your eyes jump around as you read it, almost making it feel like you’re watching, not reading something. I love it all. So, I will make more of an effort to jump into it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts ~

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