With its pitch-perfect portrayal of an awkward middle school romance, Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san (or Teasing Master Takagi-san) was always one of the more charming anime romcoms. After three seasons of adorable flirting masked as teasing, there’s absolutely no doubt that Nishikata and Takagi are head-over-heels in love with each other. This film satisfactorily caps off their story by being very light on the teasing and heavy on the warm fuzzies. It’s not a lengthy movie—just over an hour long—but the scope works well for the simple tale told here.
The film is roughly divided into three shorter episodes: a date to look for fireflies, taking care of a stray kitten, and another summer festival date. Much like the TV anime, it has a mellow, episodic feel. At the same time, the film manages to weave each story together in a way that makes them elegantly build on each other, culminating in a scene of romantic closure where no direct words of love even need to be said.
What stands out to me about this film is how effectively it builds up cinematic tension without introducing any external conflicts or relationship drama. Unlike conventional romance narratives, Nishikata and Takagi never experience a falling out in this film. Instead, what they grapple with is a vague, pervasive feeling of nostalgic melancholy, as they wonder if they’ll look back on their final year of middle school and pine for the “what-ifs.” The first two stories illustrate this dilemma effectively by showing the characters failing to achieve the mundane goals they’ve set for themselves. Even though they understand in the moment that it wasn’t “failure” in the sense that there were any stakes involved, they can’t help but feel pangs of disappointment and fear that the feelings they invested ultimately amount to nothing. This film is all about the kinds of emotions that twinge.
Within this context, the developments in the romance feel extra meaningful. A sentimental piano and string soundtrack adorns the quietest displays of affection, as if to affirm that it’s within those fleeting everyday moments that love shines strongest. Any grand gestures would only diminish the power of the love that exists within the teasing; the puppy love between middle schoolers would turn maudlin instead of nostalgic. Although the production qualities aren’t necessarily an ambitious step up from the TV series (with a notable exception in the kitten animation, which is depicted with a loving attention to detail), this unique concentration of aesthetics is still perfectly suited for cinema. By capturing the larger-than-life essence of rose-colored nostalgia, the film version of Takagi-san succeeds in elevating its quaint love story.
In short, if you enjoyed the first three seasons of the anime, there’s no reason for you to be disappointed with this film. In both the content and storytelling, it’s a natural culmination of what came before. If the end of the third season makes it easy to imagine what kind of future Nishikata and Takagi have together, then this film is like a coda. There’s never any doubt where those two are headed, but the true joy is in relishing the moment.