As someone who, generally speaking, detested school and the many thousands of hours I spent waiting for the bell to ring, I can sympathize with the desire to zone out and just doodle or whatever to pass the time. Of course, in my case that’s about as far as it went; I never did try to sneak in comic books or food or even a Walkman. (Yes, I said a Walkman. Look it up if you’re that young.) Maybe I just didn’t have appropriately sized balls or simply the requisite “fuck it” attitude. And I’m not sayin’ you should do those things… but I understand.
Tonari no Seki-kun (lit. My Neighbor Seki) is the best example I’ve seen of a one-joke premise refrained every episode. You see, Seki doesn’t like paying attention during class… so he brings in things to occupy himself. It helps that, naturally, he’s sitting in the furthest back corner desk. Of course, his schoolmate to his immediate right, Rumi, is continually distracted by this daily behavior. And so we have our repeated gag: every episode Seki brings in or otherwise does something other than paying attention and Rumi agonizes through internal monologues narrating both what she’s witnessing and why it bugs her.
The joke works so well because of two reasons: every episode seems to up the ante on how crazy and unbelievable Seki’s new distraction can be, paired with the fact that Rumi is friggin’ adorable and Hanazawa Kana brings the charm to her reactions so well. Sometimes Seki just has a board game or some Gundam figures and sometimes he’s constructing a complete driving course on his desk for his toy car. Every time, Rumi falls for it: she’s flabbergasted at his gall (never stops being surprised it seems) and then, inevitably, gets caught up in what he’s doing to the point of emotional investment sometimes. And every time she ends up not paying attention either and usually she’s the one caught not able to answer the teacher’s question.
And while it does what it does very well, it isn’t a show that you can easily marathon. The repeated joke is told and re-told excellently for the most part and the episodes benefit from being just long enough at seven or so minutes to set up a new charade and resolve it without dragging. But as amusing and enjoyable as it can be, the simplistic and repeated nature means it does benefit from spacing it out. It’s well worth a laugh sitting through one or two every now and then. Any more and you’ll start to tire quickly of its well-trodden format, especially given its nearly two-dozen episode run. Animation is fairly simplistic, cheap, but serviceable, enough that it isn’t terrible or distracting but the situational humor is by far the main focus and appeal.
As of this writing, you can watch Tonari no Seki-kun for free on Crunchyroll.