April’s Year of Anime entry came at the cost of whatever flimsy defense I had against secondhand embarrassment. Watamote is painfully relatable in ways I wasn’t expecting, very cringey, and dare I say even enlightening at times. Let’s get another reviewlysis going!
Watamote, or, No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! was a 2011-2015 manga series adapted in 2013 by Silver Link Studio. It tells the story of Tomoko Kuroki’s first year in high school as an unpopular girl, complete with her social anxiety, otaku interests, mediocrity at every level, and her massive ego that makes each slip up that much more painful. Tomoko starts each episode with a grand plan to fix some aspect of her appearance, personality, social skills, interests, etc, only to have reality come crashing down. While Tomoko doesn’t change at her core, we do slowly see her grow more confident as she confronts parts of her life that she wants to change, even if we have to wade through all her embarrassment to get there.
Delusions and Ego
Tomoko assumes that people are secretly judging or praising her in order for her self “improvement” plans to work, but this is only possible if people consider her in the first place (which isn’t the case). Most of her classmates are busy with their own friend groups and don’t actively have any opinions on her. Despite this, Tomoko doesn’t think “I must not be that important.” Instead, she assumes that her peers are too dumb to see her genius, often cursing them out in her head and viciously judging their social habits, all while she has none to begin with. Her ego gets in the way of her ever learning lessons, which is of course the point, and a big part of what makes the show work.
I heavily related to Tomoko’s shy and overanalytical personality. I too thought that if I behaved or looked a certain way I would instantly get more attention, which is ridiculous. Even if you think you can hack those things, it’s pretty pointless because at the end of the day, you’re still you! You’ll start to develop a mental picture of what you look like and how you act that’s so off-model it hurts to look at. Tomoko’s delusions are glaringly obvious to the viewer. They’re palpable and this HURTS to watch, because we’re totally aware that while she sees herself a certain way and pays such close attention to her mannerisms, most of this isn’t picked up on because people have no way of seeing Tomoko’s thought process.
As a video game, manga, anime, idol, and collectibles enthusiast, Tomoko fits neatly under the label “otaku”, which she fully realizes. Most of Tomoko’s knowledge of the real world comes from her experiences with dating sims and anime. Her fantasies are often seen through references to other anime or games, and this helps us understand how she sees the world and how disillusioned she is to how she fits into it. For example, she might fantasize about being an epic hero when she “saves” the class from a cockroach, but this is far from the truth.
On several occasions Tomoko references Whisper of the Heart, Evangelion, K-On!, Death Note, etc. This is hilarious for the presumed otaku who are watching Watamote, and even without knowing the reference, the animation style gives a reference room to breathe. Being an anime about otaku, Watamote shows those difficult sides of wanting to be “normal”, but missing the mark and how this can build up over time – and be just as slowly torn down. It was comforting to know that I’ve had similar experiences, but not too comforting…
The “High School Debut” and Sexuality
Watamote focuses much more on sexuality than I thought when I set out to watch it. Tomoko sees high school as a way to present her sexuality to others for the first time, and this is something that terrifies and excites her at the same time. Her otaku interests help her navigate her sexuality, all while protecting her from the perils of the real thing. She’s scared of sex, but overcompensates for it through video games, all while judging those around her for pursuing the real deal. Even if Tomoko wants to just start small and make friends, her sexual filter colours all of her encounters with people, and this makes it hard for her to actually see them as people and not objects.
She constantly expresses jealousy over her childhood friend Yuu’s physical and emotional maturity through fetishizing and lusting after it, calling her friend rude names just the same as she does to those she hates. This judginess works well in stories that are fair about how sexuality works in teens, but here it’s just a bit unsettling because of how harmful Tomoko’s thoughts really are and how deep that spiral goes. It’s actually really scary how little Tomoko thinks of herself and others, and this contributes to that bit earlier about her delusions and ego. The show isn’t meant to dig into solutions for these problems, though. It’s simply pointing out the disconnect between otaku and “normie” lifestyles, and shows how Tomoko’s caught between wanting both. This topic has been covered in more detail by Explanation Point for those who want to learn more:
Hurts to Watch, 10/10
Watching this on Crunchyroll gave me the opportunity to read people’s comments, which wouldn’t normally make it into any review, but because of how the majority of people reacted, it’s worth including here. 99% of the comments on Crunchyroll were along the lines of “this is so hard to watch” and “I have to keep taking breaks to get through an episode”, which you’d think would affect the show’s rating. However, the majority of people also rated it 5 stars. If that doesn’t say something about Watamote’s appeal I don’t know what will.
It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one having trouble getting through the show. In fact, it took me this long to get a review out because I could only tolerate so much in a month and it was a real crawl to the finish line. This show isn’t necessarily bad, however it is extremely hard to continue watching, which made it lose some of its value for me. Even if I related heavily to parts of it, I dreaded those parts all the same. I would definitely recommend watching this show if you’re a self-described otaku or had really awkward teen years, though be warned: being these things means the show will be even more painful for you, just as much as it would be a perfect fit.
Nothing Really Matters
Ultimately, Watamote is a letter (or cry for help) to the unfortunate pressures of being unable to adjust in that turbulent transition to high school. While Tomoko’s otaku lifestyle is a huge part of her struggle to interact with people like a normal human being, her judgy personality and anxiety are the real perpetrators here. Tomoko’s first year in high school revealed a lot about her that needed adjusting, but the good news is, it’s not the end of the line.
The final episode confronts the definition of an unpopular girl once again, and declares, “here we have a particular girl…an unpopular girl…who’s story doesn’t really matter.” Tomoko makes the decision to not care so much, and while she’s far from getting there, little seeds of improvement are sown in the last little bit: hope for all of us awkward folk. While I’m glad I watched Watamote, I’ve earned my stripes and gladly move on to more of my YOA list!