Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! – 03

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The experience of spending 22 minutes with Kuroki Tomoko sure isn’t getting any easier.

I’ve been of a mind to come up with one-word summations of anime lately, and with Watamote the one that really leaps to mind is “brutal”.  There’s a kind of savage brutality to this show – this is dark comedy taken to the point where it may not even be comedy anymore.  It’s the unerring truthfulness of the material that makes it work anyway, but that has a kind of brutality too – this series is ruthless in the way it depicts Tomoko and the things that happen to her.

More than ever I’m convinced that the mangaka here is someone who has a very close relative with Tomoko-like issues.  The whole enterprise has the feel of a kind of therapy – dealing with pain by laughing at it, with a dash of payback – and the fact, is, it makes no bones about showing Tomoko in a harsh light.  If the author is Tomoki – or someone in a roughly similar position – they know from experience that people like Tomoko are sometimes driven to try and make the people around them as miserable as they are.  I don’t sugarcoat it because I know it from my own experience, having been on the receiving end – that when what someone wants more than anything is to be normal (as they see it) and they can’t, there are times when a darkness comes over them and the resentment bares its fangs.  “If I can’t climb up there with you, I’m going to drag you down here with me.”

The thing is, even when they do this you have to love them anyway, because they’re family.  And there are much better moments than those dark ones, too, to tease you the possibilities for how things could be, if only…  And not having to be personally subjected to Tomoko’s dark spells it’s that much easier to be sympathetic to her as an anime viewer.  Mind you, I’m still conflicted but what I mostly feel for Tomoko is sympathy even when she does some frankly nasty things – which we saw a lot more of this week than we have in the previous two, where she was really more than anything on the butt end of life’s cruelties.

I’ve commented on this already, but if you watch Watamote closely one of the things that really leaps out is that we see very, very few examples of people being intentionally mean to Tomoko.  We see a teacher make her cry (heartbreakingly so) over forgetting her textbook, but that’s more the usual tone-deaf thoughtlessness of adults towards adolescents than anything.  We see a man yell at her, but with good reason – she’d parked herself on a bridge over an overflowing stream that was close to sweeping her away.  Tomoko can add paranoia to her list of symptoms, because she really does feel as if the world is out to get her.  When she misremembers where she left her umbrella, she launches into a diatribe about the evils of umbrella thieves and how she could kill them all (taking pains to note that they’re probably going on dates despite their acts of evil, a very telling detail) before remember she’d simply left it on the opposite side. Tomoko constantly rages at those around her, mostly for imagined crimes and misdemeanors – but in truth, mostly for ignoring him too often and for being happier than she is.

That umbrella leads to the most cutting scene in the episode, a spectacularly awkward turn of events when the umbrella breaks and she seeks refuge under a canopy at the park..  Two boys in the same boat (Fukushina Jun, Morishima Shuuta), seek refuge in the same place – which is of course the worst possible scenario for Tomoko.  This is one of those meta-moments where Watamote is hilarious and terribly uncomfortable to watch all at once – Tomoko desperately tries to make a stab or two at humor (“I’m just going to take a dump outside that bathroom”) with predictable results.  She internally excoriates the boys for imagined crimes against her dignity, but in fact – like most of her fellow teens – they aren’t really mean to her at all.  One, in fact, defends her as a “quiet girl” and gamely tries to make conversation with her.  After her lame poop joke Tomoko escapes to the bathroom and when she returns the boys are gone, and there’s a gut-wrenching shot of her slumping to the bench, where she falls asleep.  The boys return, the thoughtful one having bought Tomoko an umbrella (to be fair, likely for 105¥ at the hyakku-en shop) which he leaves for her – and when she awakes she doesn’t make the connection (what actually happened being inconceivable), and wistfully laments “I wish a boy would be nice to be once in a while.”

Honestly, if you have a heart I don’t know it can’t break for Tomoko there.  But as usual, her wounds are self-inflicted – and then she turns around and behaves abominably towards Tomoki, who’s own treatment of her is never worse than normal sibling nudging.  For no reason she refuses to let him into the bathroom when he comes home soaked after his umbrella breaks.  She pours hot porridge on him when he’s asleep recovering from the cold she partially caused (this is anime after all – we all know what happens when teenagers get rained on and don’t immediately change clothes and bathe).  She teases him mercilessly, and blames him when his friends stop by to drop off homework because no one stops by for her.  It’s not a pretty picture, and when she gets the cold she’s been trying to catch from him too late to miss school but in-time to ruin her weekend, it feels like just desserts more than anything.

I suppose everyone is going to react to Tomoko – and Watamote – differently, based on their own background.  I confess this show has made me laugh out-loud probably more than any this season – the “Kuroki’s Basketball” gag was spot-on, and so was the “psychological test” the girls in gym class were discussing (Yuu’s betrayal is ultimate again – we all know what answer #3 means).  But there are times where I feel like I’m a peeping tom – like this is seeing someone in a way that no one deserves to be seen.  In truth it’s pretty ugly a lot of the time, both in terms of the way Tomoko suffers and the way she behaves.  That’s exactly the point, I guess, and this series is pretty remarkable in the whipsaw of emotional reactions it can elicit in a few moments time.  I can’t say that I like Tomoko exactly, and I can’t describe what I get out of watching Watamote as “enjoyment”.  But shows in any medium that are this emotionally accurate and so adept at making you feel, period, are a rare bird indeed – and that more than anything is the reason I embrace this series in spite of all my reservations.

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17 comments

  1. C

    "this is dark comedy taken to the point where it may not even be comedy anymore."

    No… This is still comedy. Very much so, to my delight.

    I was on the same page as you and some other reviews I've read on Watamote for the first two episodes – It felt overly dark and brutal, I think it was because I'd been watching bright characters like Gon, Jinbei, and Hachi in too high a concentration.

    On this episode, I got back into my beloved black comedy grove, and found myself laughing at lot while watching.

    It really is meant to make people laugh, similar to how graphic violence becomes exciting instead of scary.
    Except instead of needing appreciation for violence to enjoy it, you need a firm acceptance of life's absurdities and cruelties.

  2. C

    Scratch Hachi from that list of bright characters, was trying too hard to come up with a 3rd guy.

  3. M

    I agree that it's definitely still a comedy,even if a dark one.The way I see it,the moment it will really stop being a comedy would be when the people around Tomoko will truly have ill intentions towards her,making her life miserable for their own amusement,using her as someone to relieve stress on,etc.That,combined with her social phobia would most likely break her but that would be something that's probably too depressing to show.

  4. C

    Well yeah… At that point, it stops being a show worth watching.

    The key to black comedy is the underlying reality that life is such a ridiculous and unbalanced experience that it's actually kind of funny.
    (This relates to a gamer joke about life / the outdoors:
    "I went outside once – the graphics were amazing but the gameplay and storyline were terrible")

    Black Comedy plays on the fact that, in true honesty, we're all at the butt of a joke called "humanity" and that it's okay to stop and laugh about it every now and then.

    /end urge_to_rant_about_black_comedy

  5. i

    I think this was the first episode I felt for Tomoki, when she was being disciplined by the teacher, though immediately afterwards it was back to just laughing at her (the umbrella joke hit the funny bone hard). I like Tomoki, I like her anger that is displayed so well in the OP, I like her ridiculous attempts to either avoid at all costs or whole heartedly jump into social interactions, I like the many skits in WakaMote and I really like that when someone actually is kind to her she doesn't realize it.

    The tiny jokes like the handout girls/delivery man, umbrella and textbook are really too real to be simply made up. Like SxS, the author has some experience in these situations and has done brilliantly bringing it to form in the manga. This is the standout comedy for me and I won't consider any others above it. At last Tomoki has achieved something.

  6. R

    Tomoki is the brother.

  7. i

    Oh yeah. So similar I forgot which is which. Plus besides her mom and Yuu-chan I've never heard anyone call her Tomoko

  8. G

    I just hope at some point in this series it starts to get better for her. An entire series of nothing but her misery is kinda draining.

  9. t

    It's never gonna get better for her unless she actually starts to make a conscious change.
    Also i was laughing all throughout this, the scene with her talking to the two boys was pretty akward for me in the manga but it didn't stop me from laughing.

  10. A

    I thought it was so cute when one of the boys bought her an umbrella, it brightened up my day even if it was just a small thing to do.

  11. R

    For one thing, I applaud the mangaka for bringing this story to light and presenting it in ways that make it so easy for everyone — whether you have the real-life experiences or not — to enjoy, appreciate and relate to. For the other, Enzo, thanks for blogging it even though it may bring back some of your memories… To me, Watamote is special. Production-wise, it is of good quality — directing, writing, pacing, art, BGM, acting, etc — and that makes it a good show to follow. Most importantly, this show tugs my heartstrings. It may not have me in stitches, but I can't stop feeling and thinking. It's just so real and relatable, and I really like how it pokes fun at the situation in a respectful way. I especially like the focus on sibling relationship this week, and I can't help but secretly gives kudos to Tomoki — he may find Tomoko annoying, but deep down he loves his sister so much.

    By the way, I miss last week's ending sequence — what a wonderful fusion of rap and Enka and a perfect complement to what's showing on screen giving it the mega boost on the emotional front. Since RDG's ED, the ED of last week, together with the Uchouzoku's insert track, has easily become an earworm of mine.

  12. A

    My favorite show of the season, now that the meta-troll Aku no Hana is done. :)

  13. I noticed that the BD release was cancelled 2 days before launch.

  14. M

    And delayed a month before that. Clearly the world isn't ready for it yet…

    At least this season if full of decent replacements like this one.

  15. A

    Really? It couldn't have been popular in the Land of Moe, since it was intentionally offensive to the point it's Anti-anime. The best yet.

    Have you reviewed the show?

  16. G

    If this show is a slow painful descent into a poor girls tragic life (and yet played for comedy) then Aku is a slow painful decent into a boys sad and tragic life in drama form.

    I watched every episode each week with morbid fascination kinda like driving by a car accident and looking to see what happened but at the same time felt bad doing so.

  17. A

    Upon searching this site, there was nothing on Aku no Hana beyond the first impressions.

    Have to say that I'm disappointed at this lack of coverage. :(

    It was easily one of the best of a dreadful spring season, if not THE best.

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