My Neighbor Seki Volumes 5-6
It’s interesting to see how Takuma Morishige’s My Neighbor Seki, based on a classically simple premise, has changed over its run. Previously, Rumi used to observe the crazy things Seki did during class, narrating to the reader in a way that added stories and context to his activities. Seki operated in his own, individual world. That was entertaining enough.
But as the stories have continued, Rumi and Seki began interacting, and the stories occasionally wander away from their two desks. There’s now an annoying classmate, Uzawa, who plows through Seki’s setups like a bull in a china shop. And friendly Goto, who thinks Seki and Rumi are a secret couple. Or Rumi might even ask Seki for a favor, directly interacting with his props.
When the class goes on a field trip in volume 5, Rumi is determined to get pictures of the robot family, who tag along, but Seki is seemingly purposefully and obstinately preventing her. That’s the most direct interaction between the two yet.
We even meet Seki’s mother, who’s well aware of his distractions, during parent day at school. She and Rumi accidentally team up in a story that comically features the two of them in a weapon-toting action pose and a passing of the torch. Of course, Rumi still gets to the be the one everyone thinks is wasting time. She doesn’t have Seki’s ability to not have his activities noticed by anyone else.
The stories still have, at their core, a wonderful appreciation of imagination and creativity. Seki’s choices on where to spend his time might include distressing a pair of jeans — and then trying them on! — during class. Or creating a garden around his desk, or a subway inside it. Or, most amazingly, using scientific principles to generate water just so he can tame an unruly lock of hair.
I did feel bad for Rumi this time around — she keeps getting pushed into the role of little mother, trying to keep Seki on track when it’s really of no matter to her. It’s an unfortunate stereotype that girls are the ones who have to keep boys in line, that they’re the ones maintaining order while it’s ok for boys to act up, and I wish she got more chance to explore what she wants to do, instead of just being the rule-keeper.
That’s explicitly considered in the first story in volume 6. Seki’s in a vacation mood, putting on flip-flops and sunglasses, and Rumi’s tempted to finally have his lack of attention found out by the teacher. But she argues with herself over it, whether it’s bullying to tattle. Another tale has her attempts to call attention to Seki resulting in her own ruined homework.
Even in Seki’s absence, Rumi finds herself distracted by his textbook, which he’s edited in an unusual way, creating new stories among the historical figures. That chapter, in particular, is a clever exploration of how easily art can tell a story, as Rumi pieces together an epic from just a few images and symbols. (An editorial note in the back explains that the idea came from one of the anime voice actors telling stories about her childhood.)
Seki’s other activities this time around including creating a health spa at his desk; turning his desk into a foosball table; and taking an ant farm to cooking class. A favorite involved learning table manners, as it’s full of unusual cases where most first assumptions are incorrect. This one’s educational as well as funny.
One bizarre tale has Rumi imagining Seki as a corrupt surgeon, as they battle over fixing up stuffed animals. Another features a visit from Seki’s sister Jun, so of course, Rumi winds up taking care of her. I have no idea how Morishige manages to come up with all these wacky encounters, but they continue to astound and entertain.
So “Calvin and Suzie” rather than “Calvin and Hobbes”?