Saturday, October 19, 2013

私がモテないのはどう考えてもお前らが悪い! (Watamote): A Love Letter of Sorts to a Miserable Girl, and that little bit of her in all of us

Kuroki Tomoko (Picture stolen from somewhere on the internet. Credit to whoever's responsible for it.)
Preface: I wasn't sure how I should go about this post. Perhaps as a serious review of the anime, an episodic summary, or my usual smattering of random thoughts, mixed with a dash of pedantic social commentary. Or perhaps as a love letter of sorts, to a person who would never be able to read it because she's really just a fictional character- and yet to everyone out there who identifies with her. Watashi ga motenai no wa dou kangaete mo omaera ga warui! (私がモテないのはどう考えてもお前らが悪い!, literally 'no matter how you look at it, it's your fault I'm not popular')- otherwise simply known as 'Watamote', continues the trend of  having a ridiculously long title. It also has the honor of being one of the most negative shows I have ever watched.

12 episodes in all, Watamote is relatively short, and though it appears that the original manga is still running, it's unclear at this point if there will be a second season for the anime. I didn't know much about the franchise before picking it up. Based on the title, I thought it was simply about an odd girl who blamed everyone for her being unpopular (i.e. single), and who took her frustration out on a random guy, expecting him to solve her problems for her. I wasn't far of the mark, actually.

Welcome to the life of Kuroki Tomoko. After a relatively miserable period at junior high, she thought she would have the chance to reinvent herself- to have friends, be admired by guys- generally just popular with everyone, or at least liked. Instead she finds that her situation has just gone further into the red: whereas she at least had one friend in junior high, now she finds herself all alone in a corner, alone with her thoughts. In her desperation, she blackmails her younger brother into having conversations with her in an attempt to 'train' herself to be more sociable...

Watamote isn't easy to label- you could call it a comedy or a tragedy at times- but I often found myself cringing in discomfort. Most of Tomoko's troubles are her own doing- she's too shy to strike up a conversation with others, she panics when spoken to by strangers (even teachers at her school), she retreats into her delusions and erotic games in an attempt to escape reality... but worst of all, her foolish actions and horrible behavior tend to lead to self-destruction. It's hard to laugh at her when she fails so miserably- my heart broke each time she messed up, and many viewers seem to share the same feeling of wanting to just protect her (from herself). What could perhaps be comedic (in a bittersweet way) is how no one is expressly mean to her- and on the rare occasion when someone is kind to her, she never notices it. I have to say that her treatment of her younger brother, while rather mean and annoying at times, is rather funny- though I'm pretty sure he doesn't feel the same way.

Moving away from the story for a minute, Kitta Izumi did a breathtaking job voicing Tomoko. Her raspy voice, oh so malignant in speech and inner thoughts, oftentimes so close to breaking out in tears- was just perfect for the role. I haven't seen many shows using her voice, so I'm now curious to see what else she has in store. Meanwhile the art direction was spot on- for example, Tomoko's gradual diminishing presence within the class is shown by her changing from a monotone slate gray to a light blue outline, and a tennis racket instantly regains color when she puts it down. The lack of faces on many unnamed characters, on the other hand, could probably be attributed to her lack of attention to others- or laziness on the part of the animators (either one is highly negative, really).

Summary time (minor spoilers ahead):
Episode 1: We discover that Tomoko actually looks alright, and that she really has no idea how to dress up. Woman, surely your mother can help with this- though Tomoko's perhaps reluctant to do so.
Episode 2: Ah, yes. I ate during class too, without giving a fig (my instant noodle was most aromatic).
Episode 3: A series of painful events, and a quiz: "you are faced with a crossing- one path leads to a well-tended grove, another to a forest. Which path do you take? Or do you turn tail and go home because you're scared? Tomoko picked the forest, as did I... apparently it symbolizes virginity. Ahem.
Episode 4: That's a twisted display of logic on Tomoko's part (desperation and jealousy, enhanced by sheer dumbness). Getting molested is not fun at all. Also, apparently dad does not have a face either- but what a heartwarming scene that was.
Episode 5: Short, Tall, Grande, Venti? Truth be told I had no idea what that meant at first, and I still find the system infuriatingly pretentious and confounding for first-timers.
Episode 6: Shokotan moment! Only this time with live ants and not dead bugs.
Episode 7: Hit pause. Hit pause. Hit the pause button! Too late. Ah well.
Episode 8: Never tell lies that are can be easily disproved- only lie about the unprovable.
Episode 9: In which a random kitty soothes a lonely girl's heart.
Episode 10: It's terrible being stuck in the middle.
Episode 11: She finally volunteers herself! Pat on the back for you. And Student Council Preseident Imae Megumi... she's a real angel. Watamote finally managed to make me shed tears of joy due to her kindness. I can't help but recall Hikigaya Hachiman's famous line about hating nice girls though (go watch Yahari Ore no Love-Kome if you didn't get that reference).
Episode 12: Tomoko moves a step forward- she knows she has problems she needs fixing, and tries her best to fix them- sometimes it works, and sometimes she fails.,, but at least she's moving forward. And then. Panchira. Um.

I can certainly relate to Tomoko's character, though I'm (or was) nowhere as bad as her. I prefer small groups over large crowds, and have a hard time connecting to people immediately. Back in high school I was perhaps overly cynical- philosophizing over how people become friends, and inventing levels of friendship. I had a hard time comprehending how someone could become your friend just by saying hi, chatting, and wasting time together now and then. It didn't make sense. Over time I threw my logic out the window and let sloth take over- I deal with people as they come and if they somehow manage to develop a deeper, long-lasting relationship- well I suppose that's enough to call it friendship.

What next for Tomoko, then? As mentioned earlier, I've no idea whether there will be a second season for the anime. If there should be one, though, things do look like they're taking a turn for the better. She's slowly learning how to act normally, doing her best to inject herself into her class, and she has a new role model, who could perhaps be a guardian angel of sorts to watch out for her. We're with you all the way, you horrible girl, and wish you all the best, season 2 or not.

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