First Impressions – Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!

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That definitely goes down as an experience…

OP:「私がモテないのはどう考えてもお前らが悪い!」 (No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!) by (Konomi Suzuki and Kiba of Akiba)

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I had some idea of what to expect from Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!, both by reputation and from having read bits and pieces of the manga (which is always displayed prominently in seemingly every bookstore manga section in Japan).  But still, those don’t really prepare you for the experience of seeing it play out on screen.  I’d still consider myself a new viewer in the sense that my reactions can’t be taken as indicative of what loyal manga readers thing of the job Oonuma Shin did with their beloved series.

This is a strange sort of comedy to say the least.  In fact (though perhaps this is not so unusual for comedies) it may very well be the saddest anime I’ve seen this year.  There are obvious comedic elements to Watamote, starting with the often hilarious sight gags and the fact that it may be one of the least politically correct shows you’ll see.  But the overriding gut-level reaction from me is that this is more tragic than most tragedies, because hidden underneath the absurdity is a scenario that’s eerily and uncannily close to a very sad reality for many adolescents.  Even the aforementioned sight gags are at the expense of the main character, and usually highlight a moment of extreme discomfort for her (which is almost every moment, truth be told).

Watamote is very much the world as seen through the eyes of Kuroki Tomoko (Izumi Kitta).  It’s a scary, claustrophobic place, in which most of the people have no faces (they’re just not important enough to Tomoko for her to notice).  Tomoko is, simply put, one of the biggest losers you’ll ever see.  She not only has no friends, but hasn’t had a conversation with anyone in her high school for three months.  She’s addicted to otome games and because of her dexterity with virtual bishounen had convenced herself that high school would be her great blossoming, building on the six glorious times a boy spoke to her in middle school.  She has to blackmail her little brother Tomoki (Nakamura Yuuichi) by threatening suicide in order to force him to converse with her for practice.  In short – Tomoko may not be a hikikomori, but she may as well be for all her lack of social interaction.

Make no mistake, there are laughs here.  When Tomoko experimentally tweaks her look to impress her brother, or disguises herself in a “WcDonald’s” bathroom to avoid being recognized (and pitied) by classmates, or throws up after looking at herself in a mirror for too long I laughed – the visuals are very funny.  But this all hits uncomfortably close to reality.  Tomoko isn’t a hikikomori, and she’s not being bullied.  And what she wants is very reasonable and normal – to have friends, and to be looked at by guys, and to go out on a date, and to be cute.  But her life is a complete disaster, a kind of self-contained and self-perpetuating hell – and it’s almost worse because for the most part, her classmates (and brother and teachers) aren’t overtly mean to her.  They just ignore her, and she shrinks further and further inside her own neurotic and delusional shell.

I don’t know too many details about mangaka Tanigawa Nico, but I’m guessing she (I’m not even 100% sure she’s a woman) knows something about depression.  I grew up with a family member who suffered from it, and the moment when Tomoko threatened to commit suicide if Tomoki didn’t converse with her for an hour a day was one of many jokes that didn’t feel like a joke, because it’s a very unpleasant and real part of living with a depressed person.  Tomoki seems like a nice enough kid, guilty of nothing more than being “normal” – and popular – and it sucks for him to be caught up in his sister’s darkness when he’s clearly unequipped to deal with it.  The episode is full of those sorts of authentically uncomfortable moments – sometimes I didn’t laugh, and sometimes I laughed and felt bad for laughing.  There’s something in the experience of seeing Tomoko as an animated, speaking girl that makes the experience altogether more painful than the manga.

That all leads back to the question of whether Watamote works as an anime.  Oonuma Shin is a bit of a hyperactive director, to the point where I often find myself annoyed (as I do sometimes with his mentor Shinbou) and the premiere here is full of his usual visual gimmickry, but because the show is effectively shot from Tomoko’s perspective it works better here than it might (so far anyway).  The OP and ED (sung by Kitta) are great – visually clever and lyrically on-point.  There was grumbling from some manga fans about Kitta-san’s casting but I think she’s excellent, especially in the quiet moments where Tomoko struggles to eke out a word to her teacher or a fast food cashier.  Watamote is clever, dark, emotionally penetrating and often very funny – but it’s too early for me to say whether I’ll actually enjoy it.  This is a dark ride, and in a sense I think it would be easier to tag along if this were played straight, rather than for laughs.  But then, I’m not absolutely confident yet just how the series wants to be taken – and that’s one of many reasons I’m intensely curious to see where it goes from here.

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ED:「どう考えても私は悪くない」 (No Matter How I Look At It, It’s Not My Fault) by (Izumi Kitta)

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  1. d

    I take it as the iron hand inside a velvet glove approach. Trying to bring to light real struggles for the character and getting you to have just the reaction that you're having Enzo. It will do so with smile but never letting you release your grip and perhaps it's a way of also reaching out to those folks who identify with our heroine and showing them, that they're not alone and still she muddles on despite the pain and embarrassment (regardless of how much of it is self inflicted).

  2. M

    I feel like they've taken a page out of Ikuhara's…diary. A bit heavy on the neurotic side to be labelled a straight comedy, IMO. Shin's visual quirks, specifically the picaso bit, worked extremely well along with the offbeat BGM. The lighter moments could encroach on the severity of Tomoko's self destructive attitude, so it will be interesting to see how they meld the contrasting tones later on. I can't imagine they'd take a distasteful route and play the subject of depression (under the guise of social ostracism) off to laughs.

  3. N

    Now I feel guilty to have laughed so much because of your review…

  4. Hang your head in shame!

    In all seriousness, it's a comedy – you're supposed to laugh. But damn, it's on the edge. I know depression and so does this author – maybe too damn well.

  5. k

    According to Japanese wiki, "Tanigawa Nico" a male/female duo, with the guy in charge of the story.

  6. R

    yeah the Author certainly seem to know quite well about depression and how people think and act under it's influenc, which is both this series greatest strength and weakness. A lot of people like the series because they can very easily empathize with Tomoko. On the other hand a lot of people also stopped reading because they felt to uncomfortable because the series hit just too close to home for them.

    PS: Tanigawa Nico is actually a duo made of a male writer and female artist.

  7. i

    Dude you make me remorseful for writing an earlier comment about the show being 'gut busting hilarious'. I guess for someone with a close friend/family that suffers from depression it would be quite hard to make a micky of them and laugh at Wakamote. I have a cousin whose all but a Hikkimori whom I've never seen speak to anyone besides family but he's such an unpleasant and uncooperative person that I couldn't care less about laughing at Tomoko's instant popularity attempts.

    As a result I found in brilliantly hilarious reminding mostly of Danshi Kokousei for ridiculous monologues and similar art and whack-a-mole faces. I think expecting Kotoura-san will make you hate what is a very funny and smartly written/made comedy.

    "If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself" – Charles Schulz

    Making every problem into comedy lessens the burden of that problem. It enlivens the heart in ways no medicine or therapy can.

  8. I agree with your last statement, to a point. In practice it doesn't always work that way.

  9. R

    Completely agree with Enzo. I have a close family member who had depression and was on medication for years, and another close family member who is mentally disabled. We do laugh at ourselves a lot and stay positive and strong, but it can be painful and difficult at times. One good thing though is that it pulls our family members so much closer together. That's why I like the relationship between Tomoko and Tomoki a lot, and I hope that this show won't drill on the wound for too long — no mater how humourous it can be — but will allow Tomoko to come out of her shell.

  10. i

    I respect both your opinions but I've spent enough years seeing and hearing about kids starving or thirsty or with aids and dedicate at least some time and money in helping them. I know this may come across as insensitive but you could buy about four bags of rice, which is enough food for nearly a month for one kid, at the same cost of depression medication ($20-30 in the pharmacies I've seen)

    I'm not saying its a more noble cause or anything but I feel the use of medication is just hyped rubbish from HMOs and Pharmaceuticals. I've known people to take pills for it after their team loses a hockey game. Their are really depressed people as your relatives are probably proof of but IMO taking medication but living the same lifestyle doesn't help. Sunlight, sports, non-digital games, friends/animals, love and nature are the things needed to root out depression; not all but any one or two would be enough and anyone can find at least two.

    As a result I advocate the kicking and screaming approach: force them to it until they heed. Never heard of anyone doing it to their own child but stimulus of that sort seems healthier to me than anti-depressants.

  11. And clearly, you've never spent a lot of time with someone who has clinical depression. I hate the sound of myself saying it, but unless you've experienced it you can't understand it. And the fact is, clinical depression is a medical condition, not a bad mood. You can't tell a clinically depressed person to get better by sucking it up any more than you can by saying that to a cancer patient or a diabetic.

  12. i

    I think people who have trauma based depression or lose a loved one need to be helped softly and gently but people like Tomoko who just become angry/disillusioned/isolated at society need to be forced back into. The simple truth for them is that society is not going to bend to their will like a willing mother might. And to answer you I have spent quite enough time with an anime Hikkimori – my take on them is a few notches below that of Ishihara and Samwell Tarly's father.

  13. That's the problem – Tomoko isn't an "anime hikikomori", she's something quite different. The series seems to be written in a kind of code, with the knowledge that it will be seen two different ways depending on whether you know the code or not.

  14. i

    On second thought I think maybe you're right. My own opinion is based on my own experience which isn't very good because I really didn't like the relative I knew. An iron fist is still a good option for him but I guess different people and certainly nicer people deserve better, eh?

  15. S

    It's not that they deserve better, but rather that forcing people back into society doesn't work. Now, I don't know your relative, but depressed people generally aren't nice to be around. Perhaps it's easier for you to accept that when you can understand the cause (trauma).

  16. j

    Have never been depressed, or come close to being like this, but I know what it feels like to be ignored and left out. Which is why it's funny to me. Sometimes I feel the same way even today among group of friends/people, but I've moved on and accepted it. It's dark, sure, but as long as you can come to terms with the subject matter you can find humor in it. The character's social ineptitude is sort of endearing honestly.

  17. j

    by the way, when I say "depressed" I mean clinically depressed. I've felt my share of social awkwardness though, but I've never gotten to the point where I'm pitying myself, thinking irrationally, etc.

  18. R

    The jokes didn't work on me — maybe I felt empathetic for Tomoko. I was curious why her mom didn't notice the problem that Tomoko is facing — usually parents will know a friend or two of their children's. Putting that aside, it's quite unusual to have a story on someone who is or feels ignored, and I like that it's written with wit and a sense of humour. I think the premier is done well — aside from the jokes, it made the audience feel for the protagonist immediately. What I like the most is the relationship between Tomoko and Tomoki — it's real and precious that I want to see more. I hope that as the story continues, Tomoko can have the courage to come out of her shell, have her own friends, and be connected to her surroundings.

  19. In a funny sort of way this is making me want to watch Welcome to the NHK, which has been on my bucket list for years anyway. It'd be interesting as a basis for comparison if nothing else.

  20. M

    NHK is more upfront about stringing together dark comedy/drama, but even that comes across as more satirical than this eerily dismal show. Takimoto channels a lot the MC's depression through surrealist parody of the hikkimori/otaku lifestyle. Watamote's delivery relies less on that comical buffer and comes across more scathing for it.

  21. R

    I definitely recommend Welcome of the N.H.K. — it's a fine piece of character studies. It didn't grab me intensely when it started, but by episode six I wanted to follow the journey of the protagonist. Like Maxulous said, the tone is different — I never found it overly dramatic, sarcastic, or depressing — and I like that it has a well-written script and wonderfully fleshed out and developed characters. Hope that you will enjoy it.

  22. S


    It's not as much of a "parody" as you might think, notwithstanding the talking furniture and such. Aside from the second "island closest to heaven" episode and Tatsuhiro's hallucinations, I could imagine real life hikikomori acting much like Tatsuhiro.
    …Or I might have misunderstood what you mean by "parody".

  23. G

    Whats up with the trend of totally depressing animes? Last season it was Aku No Hana. Another drama that was just sad, bleak and depressing and stayed there the entire season.

    This is supposed to be a comedy? It nearly broke my heart when her brother was with his friends and passed her on the stairs and pretended he didn;t know her. Not having read the manga I can only hope that at some point she makes at least a couple friends and maybe meets a boy that will understand and accept her.

  24. S

    This feels like a show that's very much dependent on one's personal experiences. I'm sure people who really empathize with Tomoko won't really be able to derive any sort of humor from her plight, whereas if you're a bit more…detached (I don't want to say ignorant?) then it might be funnier. Me, personally, I haven't suffered from depression, but do know a friend who has, although she was always rather good about it (and I don't know her that well), so I guess I fall in the latter camp. At the very least, I do hope the show lets Tomoko open up more and makes it less gloomy.

  25. S

    You just have to like laughing at yourself; then how much you relate makes it even funnier.

  26. H

    I feel like I got an entirely different feel from the show. I really didn't find any of it laughably funny, it almost felt more like a light drama to me. I just didn't feel like laughing at Tomoko, because to me she seems like a girl who is trying. Sure, she doesn't have all the right ideas, and she misapplies a lot of knowledge, but for me she's a very sympathetic character. It never got to the point where I'd characterize it as 'heartbreaking', more just 'sad'. I also didn't think the show was overly gloomy or 'dark', but really just fit the way she is.

    I think a lot of whether this turns out to be 'tragic' depends a lot on where it goes. If Tomoko never makes any progress, then that will be tragic. But I think even the smallest pace of progress would be pretty good. Not that she has to turn from the ugly duckling into the beautiful swan, but that she generally moves her life from where it is, nowhere near her expectations, to where she wants it to be. And I think the first episode did a pretty good job with bringing her realization of her situation in line with her mindset. Conversely, the show could get a lot worse, and I think even problematic, if she becomes the butt of jokes, the person picked on, and pushes her into despair. I definitely don't want to see her move from 'invisible' to 'bullied'.

  27. e

    This was a bizarre experience for me. The sequences that really affected me – both in the serious and comedic sense – were mostly the ones involving her brother and the earlier dating sim backrub climax (hey backrubs are a thing of awesome 😀 ). Well, and the mirror sequence had me cringing a bit and headdesking a bit.
    It left me interested – and she keeps mentioning her loss of social skills in junior high (middle school? I'm having an English vocabulary blank here ) hence I'd like to know more of the what and why – but still on the whole I'm on the fence.

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