Without any question, this is a series that plays with your emotions in a big way. It makes you laugh, then feel bad about laughing, the gasp and groan and laugh again. There’s a difference between being manipulative and emotionally effecting, though, and Watamote (so far at least) is on the right side of the line. It’s not as though this show is presenting manufactured crises and asking us to care – what it does instead is go to the real places that most series simply don’t want to visit. Hell, I don’t necessarily want to either – watching this series sure as hell isn’t easy. But it packs quite a kick.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, one of the dominant themes in this show is that people are almost never mean to Tomoko – despite the fact that she provides them ample opportunity. There’s Tomoki and the mutual and mostly harmless sniping that happens there (she’s way harder on him than he on her, anyway), but if anything I think that’s the most normal thing in Tomoko’s life – they’re adolescent siblings after all. In fact, as absurd as it might sound, I think Watamote may even be sugarcoating Tomoko’s school life for dramatic purposes. A girl as anti-social and just plain weird as Tomoko could very easily be picked on and downright bullied, but if that’s happening we’ve seen no signs of it.
No, this is a girl who’s resolutely, spectacularly self-destructive in the way only the truly disordered can be. She continually creates conspiracy theories in her mind, none of which actually come to pass. But for Tomoko life is truly a minefield – danger lurks everywhere, and one wrong step means disaster. Just because her invented crises and paranoid delusions about her fellow humans don’t happen as she imagines them doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen to her – they most certainly do. But they’re bad things that are different than what she imagines, and almost always a direct result of her own unerring radar for choosing the wrong road in life.
Let’s start with the first chapter, a metaphorical case of Tomoko producing her own bad dreams. As always overflowing with sexual tension (another “normal” element of Tomoko’s life) she stumbles on an article telling her that she can have sexy dreams by sleeping on her stomach. All it gets her is nightmares about bugs “I’m not into bug rape!” she cries indignantly), but when she gets to school the next day she’s so tired she passes out during a quiz – and promptly has an erotic dream. So what does the teacher do when he finds her? He doesn’t call her out, or embarrass her – he just walks the other way and lets her be (though in truth, it was mostly because he was so freaked out about what was going on).
Tomoko’s next self-afflicted disaster takes the series to some of its edgiest and darkest material yet, as she laments the fact that no one molests her on the train. I’m not a girl and I’m not Japanese, so I can’t say for certain if that’s completely unrealistic – but to me the whole thing comes off as ridiculously naive and also very sad. She even calls Yuu-chan under the premise of asking advice, when in reality she just wants to know if Yuu was ever molested herself (apparently yes, in middle school). When Tomoko’s wish seemingly comes true on a packed car during morning rush (“Wait! Do those things bend? Do they bend that far?”), of course she panics and repents her foolish wish, silently pleading for help. As it turns out, we again have the same pattern – no one was doing anything evil to her at all, and it was all in her head. The whole scene builds up to the money moment when she delivers the memorable punchline: “I just got raped with a naginata.”
Next up, Tomoko’s convinces herself that her social problems come from the fact that she always wears the 2 for 980¥ panties her mother buys her at the soopa. So she arranges to meet Yuu-chan for a shopping trip (in a call that comes off as hilariously wrong) and thus begins a brilliantly awkward scene at the lingerie shop. Everything about this scene is uncomfortable – Tomoko doesn’t belong in such a place, and she knows it. As soon as she lets herself be aware of where she is, her skin practically crawls with embarrassment, and all she wants to do is get out of there. As well, being around Yuu is torture too, because Yuu is a reminder of how uncute and unsexy Tomoko considers herself, but Yuu is the one person she actually doesn’t want to hate. Tomoko at least manages to get a pair of panties out of the deal (1680¥) but even if she could work up the courage to wear them, she has a huge problem – she can’t let her Mother see them in the laundry. Finally she loses them, only to have them turn up again at the most embarrassing moment possible – but again, despite getting a fat fastball down the middle, the guy who notices Tomoko wiping her brow with her panties doesn’t take a swing – he just walks away.
The last chapter is probably both the funniest and most heartwarming (not much competition on the latter point) of the episode. To cheer herself up after the pantsu disaster Tomoko buys a copy of “Stark Naked House Steward“, and with it gets an entry into a raffle. Her luck being hers, she wins a personal massager – and apparently too embarrassed to ask for a bag, walks home with a BL eroge in one hand and what’s effectively a vibrator in the other. Worse yet, after playing the game (“It’s ascension time!”) and using the massager (not that way, gutter-mind) she gets “warm all over” and falls asleep, naked steward on the screen and massager humming away. That’s exactly how her Dad (Iwasaki Ryou) – we meet him at last – finds her. And in doing so, proves himself to be an enormously kind and forgiving father. Despite what must surely be his horror, he silently turns off the TV, puts the massager back in its box and tucks his daughter into bed. As absurd as the situation is (and let’s be honest, it’s pretty high up the scale) this actually comes off as genuinely touching. Yet another example of random kindness that Tomoko is completely unaware of, and this poses no threat to her well-cultivated view of the world as a hostile and cruel place that exists to torment her. And that might be one of the saddest things of all about this very bleak character, and the show itself.