Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! – 02

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Whatever else I may ultimately decide I feel about it, watching Watamote is undeniably a powerful experience.

If it were strictly a question of how good the first two episodes of the series were, the decision about whether to blog Watamote would be easy.  They were really wonderful – very well-written and beautifully performed (I’m nuts for Kitta Izumi’s work when she portrays Tomoko’s stammering, desperate attempts to get a sentence out), with some of the more restrained work we’ve seen from Oonuma Shin in a while.  But the truth is this series has been a very hard call for me, because it cuts just a little too close to the bone.

I’ve thought a lot about this series since watching the premiere last week, which was one of the strangest experiences I’ve had with any anime.  Here’s the thing with Watamote, as I see it…  This is really two different series, depending on the audience.  Everyone is going to get that this is a dark, dark comedy – they’re going to feel the awkwardness and the conflicted emotions when wanting to laugh at what happens to Tomoko.  But there’s a second track playing here – Watamote is actually written in code.

What do I mean by that?  It has nothing to do with how smart you are, or how much anime you’ve watched – it’s just a question of whether you’ve had someone in your life (or you yourself) suffer from clinical depression and/or a social anxiety disorder.  I now know that mangaka “Nico Tanigawa” is actually a female artist and male writer – and I can say, with certainty, that writer has dealt with the above and knows exactly what he’s doing in writing this series.  It’s full of coded messages to those of us who likewise grew up with this in our families – things Tomoko says, how she acts.  If you don’t recognize the signs – and if you’ve never had someone close to you with a serious depression/anxiety disorder there’s no reason you should – Tomoko’s life comes off as painful but “anime funny”.  She can be seen as an amusing loser, or a “hikikomori” (though she isn’t) and laughed at – compassionately, no doubt, but laughed at just the same.  But some of us can’t see her that way.

The final tipoff for me – and the most painful moment in two episodes – was when Tomoko threatened to kill herself unless her brother Tomoki “practiced” conversing with her for an hour per day.  Here’s the thing about people like Tomoko – they make victims out of people that love them, and it’s not their fault.  They can’t help it, but it puts family members and close friends in a terrible position – ignore their suffering and live with the guilt, or be drawn into the pain themselves.  Someone like Tomoki – a kid, and seemingly a nice one at that – simply has no clue how to deal with Tomoko, or how she makes him feel.  He just wants to be “normal”, but for her, that’s the cruelest thing he can do.  Of Tomoko’s Father we’ve seen nothing, and with her Mom we’ve seen no evidence that she has any idea to what extent her daughter is socially dysfunctional and suffering for it – denial being a very common recourse for parents in these situations.  Teenagers are so fucked up generally that it’s easy to convince yourself that if yours is like Tomoko, she’s “just going through a phase” or some such reassuring lie.

So, given all that, to say my feelings about Watamote are complicated is an understatement.  I suspect the mangaka writes this series as a kind of therapy (maybe he’s Tomoki, who knows) and that might just be the best way to look at it as a viewer.  Once again this week, I laughed and laughed often and hard despite all the above qualifiers – because Watamote can be damn funny.  I laughed when Tomoko got off on listening to her “Yandere Boys Verbal Abuse” CD, and talked about how most of the current anime schedule was “shows for moe pigs”.  I definitely laughed when she supplied her own soundtrack to the conversation between the baseball team manager and one of the players – “How about I show you my special balls?”  And I certainly laughed at the notion of Sugita Tomokazu showing up as Hatsushiba, the heavyset member of the manga research club who spends time with Tomoko after school making up an assignment for art class.

This episode was certainly more upbeat than the first, enough to almost make you think the show was going for uplifting and hopeful. Mostly that came through the introduction of Naruse Yuu (Hanazawa Kana), Tomoko’s nerdy friend from middle school.  In the first place it was nice to hear that Tomoko had a friend in middle school, and her call set Tomoko off on a weeklong quest to have a fulfilling high school life to talk about.  This involves “sleeping with a boy during the day” (on different beds in the nurse’s office), getting her portrait drawn by Hatsushiba and other such fantastical notions – and culminates with the planned meeting at “StarTully’s Coffee”.  This brings a rude surprise for Tomoko, as Yuu has ditched her glasses for contacts, grown a few cup sizes and generally turned into a “normal” – and not just a normal, but a hot babe at that.  But the uplifting part comes with the realization that Yuu still likes anime and games and misses talking with Tomoko, and seems just as lonely in her high school life as Tomoko does.  There’s even a promise to meet up again, and a confession from Tomoko that it’s all been an act – her high school life is miserable too, and all they can both do is “Ganbare!” together.

But this is Watamote, and life for people like Tomoko is rarely that neat and tidy.  Hatsushiba drew her because she’s easy to draw and he uses her as a stock background character in his manga (fortunately she doesn’t know this yet).  And Yuu called her because she had a fight with her boyfriend and felt bad about it.  This is a knife blow to Tomoko because Yuu’s betrayal is the worst kind – she’s left Tomoko behind and joined the functional world.  For Tomoko this is the agony of her situation – she can watch those around her do things she can’t do herself, not because they’re impossible but because they’re impossible for her.  This is part of the coded message from the mangaka – Tomoko’s wounds are almost entirely self-inflicted, yet she’s helpless to stop inflicting them.  It’s rare for anyone to be mean to her, and she’s not bullied – but because she’s built a wall around herself, most people simply ignore her altogether (which her family cannot do).  She stays hunkered down in her foxhole and lobs missiles of derision at the rest of the world, mocking them for their conformism and idiocy, and secretly wishing she could have a taste of what their lives are like.

Sorry if that comes off as heavy – but I think this is a pretty heavy comedy, even for those viewers not personally connected to the darkest part of the story.  And ultimately I think it would be a shame not to blog it when it’s so much more powerful and emotionally accurate than most series, and very possibly the funniest show of the season in spite of all the scar tissue.  Tomoko is a mess but she’s also a revelation in anime terms – I love her brutal dismissiveness of the world around her.  I love how she’s a teenaged girl who has a very active fantasy life in erotic terms – she’s as horny as any boy – and the twisted worldview which turns Frappuccino into “Fellapuccino”.  If a show can make me laugh this much and then utterly break my heart at the notion of Tomoko taking such comfort in Hatsushiba’s drawing, only because she doesn’t know the truth of it, it’s clearly something special.  I don’t think blogging Watamote is ever going to be easy, but I certainly expect it to be memorable.

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ED2: 夢想恋歌 (Dream Love Song) by Velvet.kodhy

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  1. i

    If someone verbally abuses the people who try to help him, cuts himself off from the world, prefers only going places with family and only joins a conversation to add snide comments – can I laugh at him?

    I don't think I know any truly depressed people and certainly not anyone with anxiety disorder. As a result I don't completely feel the darkness but I laugh hard at the comedy.

    I already marked it as the best comedy this season and I think its far better than Blood Lad, primarily because its better written and incredibly way more visually appealing then Blood Lad (is Oonama Shin really in charge?). Also the audio, from the seiyuu, Yandere boys, BGM and OP/ED everything fits perfectly with the story, it could not be a better match. Maybe Oonama decided to spend more time on that rather than being Shinbo 2.0.

  2. Of course you can laugh. It's a comedy. I laughed. But for me Watamote is like having open-heart surgery performed with broken beer bottles and enjoying it.

  3. i

    Actually I was talking about my RL cousin who is like that. That's also one helluva synonym.

  4. G

    This cuts close to me as I have a brother like that. He does not have a single friend in the world and his only interactions are with family members. He will say hi to my friends and chat with them (if he comes over my house or sees them in public places) but has none of his own.

  5. i

    My cousin calls my friends assholes and avoids them completely. My aunt sometimes forces me to take him when we go hang out but he never says a word and leaves the second we go to a bar/club to meet girls. I'm guessing that your brother is a nice guy, my cousin isn't.

    Also I'm surprised how many people here have actual experience with depression. I thought it was a pretty rare thing. I understand people getting sad and angry, or lashing out but it seems loneliness is pretty common.

    Then again we all have our own problems and the only thing to do is overcome them.

  6. k

    That's pretty much spot-on post on why Watamote is something completely different. I wonder though if one should really perceive it as an uplifting story in the sense that Tomoko will someday deal with her anxiety disorder. As it is now, I think she is unable to do it by herself and we actually see well how nobody really gives a damn about it. It is, however, uplifting that in all her dysfunctionality she still somehow managed to create her own coping mechanism using those hilarious delusions, fantasies, denial, projections and generally completely mismatched sense of reality. Had she been more empathetic and insightful into her own emotions, she would be constantly hurt like at the end of previous episode and might've really tried to kill herself. That and the thought that we don't know yet how fragile she might actually be is probably the saddest thing for me while watching this show.

    I don't know if you've read Onani Master Kurosawa, so I will wholeheartedly recommend it to you, as it masterfully shows another socially awkward person dealing with his coming-of-age. That manga is one of the best I've ever read.

  7. K

    You know, this show makes me sad, because Tomoko reminds me so much of myself, but the series seems to be trying to show how pathetic she is >.>

  8. j

    I think it's nice the show doesn't really sugarcoat it, although I wouldn't say she looks "pathetic"

  9. V

    Ah yes, the code. The code is certainly there for those who understand it. Watching this series is such a weird experience. I keep on smiling and laughing at some of Tomoko's antics, only to be hit with scenes like her parting ways with Yuu. At times it feels as if somebody was twisting a knife in my guts.

    I guess it's because some of these situations are dangerously close to my own experiences in junior high and high school, when I was suffering from something similar to a clinical depression. Some of the situations here, like casually talking about death, feeling ignored, cursing people and yet wanting to belong to a group, feeling 'betrayed' by friends who were complaining about problems in their relationships… In a way, I see Tomoko as a twisted image of myself when I was younger.

    Seeing how often this series manages to hit my vulnerable spots, I'm quite sure the writer was indeed inspired by real life.

  10. t

    I find the choice of OP and ED quite a nice touch,if they had chosen a few standard j-pop songs it would have left a sour taste.
    And yes,it definitely hits close to home and while that can make some of my laughs awkward I think it is quite an achievement.

    I had a brief few months of loneliness in middle school (it involved transferring to a school in the U.S without speaking a word of english), that marked me and since then I've never been able so see someone all alone without wanting to do something,though as you said there's a wall there and you can't just try and shatter it for them, you've got to get them to take it down which is much easier said than done.

    On a lighter note,I got the death note reference last episode and the fate reference in this episode but I was wondering if the romance scene on the bike is a reference to anything in particular?

  11. I've seen that trope many times, so I think it was more a general gag based on that than any specific series.

  12. S

    Sorry to contradict but Watamote ep02 from 13:15 to 13:44 is an exact replay of the anime movie "Whisper of the Heart" from 1:41:36 to 1:43:38, minus some details, but same window, same landscape, same position on the bike, and the hero even lend his jacket to our heroines in both cases. And in the end, both guys end up sweating a lot, but for different reasons: Seiji was climbing a steep slope, but Hatsushiba is just fat. I think even the music is a warped version of "Country road" in japanese from the same movie. I was in stitches when I saw that since I viewed the movie just a week ago and it was still fresh in my mind.

  13. No one is denying that it happened in WotH – only that it originated there. The trope is a very old one.

  14. M

    It matches frame for frame so I think you just didn't pick up on it. Big deal.

  15. T

    I'm seriously impressed by this series. Can't remember the last time I saw an anime that portrayed a real life situation so, for the lack of a better word, real. Shows like this is why I watch anime. Shows that use the anime medium to enhance their story. Shows which are true slice of life, and not fake, moe or fantasy "slice of life" shows.

    So geld I decided to fellow this and Enzo, please continue to blog Watamote. It seems somewhat painful for you to write about it, but I don't know this "code" you talk about, and I'm honestly interested in reading your unique perspective on this series. And of course you usual awesome opinions and thoughts.

  16. R

    I still couldn't laugh throughout the episode, except when Tomoko talked about moe pigs, but that's it…perhaps I am too serious. Also, it was painful watching Tomoko putting her headphones on. Anyway, the ED this week is pretty awesome and different — I like it.

  17. Ron, the reason I think I'm OK with it is because it's clear the writer has lived the experience. It's not an outsider making jokes about what he doesn't understand, but an attempt to deal with the pain by illuminating it. That credibility, in a sense, makes it OK to laugh at times, at least for me.

  18. G

    I LOLed at the Aku No Hana reference (bike ride).

  19. R

    That's true. The writing of the show brings a sense of realism and looks at the matter with respect — that's appreciated. I also feel for you for blogging it, but I do appreciate you taking on it because you understand — in a way it helps educate the public for what it is like…thanks, Enzo!

  20. M

    I don't think that was an Aku no Hana reference, Gary…

  21. M

    ^ First thing that came to mind was Whisper of the Heart.

  22. S

    You're right, see comment right up.
    Looking for reactions on Youtube I stumbled on the fact that it's a real otome game Tomoko was playing with: Duel Love (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3YxRG-52T4). I was guessing that it was a fiction, like the eroges in "Ore no Imouto…" but I was wrong. How many real world references are in that anime?

  23. C

    "If it hurts this much I'll be a virgin forever"

    Yeah, that was funny as hell.

  24. T

    This is somewhat the story of my life, though I don't think I've had it quite as bad…I don't think anyway…plus I'm a guy(though quite honestly its portayed in a way where it could be either gender).

    Either way this is pretty much one of my favorite shows of the season, a character like Tomoko is something many anime/manga seem to try and do but fail at the believability aspect of it, and with Tomoko its VERY believable and that makes it even funnier. It’s not as though I can't stretch my suspension of disbelief (trust me I can) but that believability really helps.

  25. Yes, it really does. And I agree Tomoko is both believably a girl but her situation would be just as feasible for either gender, which is one of the reasons why it's so affecting.

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