Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! – 07

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I’m going to need the thesaurus to do justice to how freakishly brilliant (and freakish) this episode of Watamote was.

This series has been an emotional roller-coaster from the very beginning (except it would have to be a roller-coaster where you’re going up, down and upside-down all at the same moment in time) but in terms of sheer laughs, I think this episode was probably the best to date.  There were certainly plenty of classically Watamote tragic flashes, but the humor definitely took the starring role this time.  Usually this is a black comedy with the focus on the black – this time it was on the comedy.

My initial reaction was that for a while at least, Tomoko seemed as much a typical high-school girl in this episode as she has at any time so far.  Wasting a summer break doing nothing is about as elemental an experience as a teenager can have.  No, it certainly isn’t the healthiest thing in the world for Tomoko to be sequestered in her room non-stop, playing eroge, watching anime, surfing the net, and failing to sleep for every moment of her school break, but let’s face it – it isn’t what you would call highly unusual, especially for a kid who isn’t especially popular.  By contrast, of course, we have Tomoki with his stable of friends coming over to plan their outings – and then there’s Mom, oblivious as ever to her daughter’s isolation as she smilingly goes through her denial-fest of a life.

When you dig a little deeper, though, you see that it isn’t so much a matter of Tomoko blissfully wasting time as it is Tomoko agonizing over how the passage of each second brings her break closer to its end.  This is a classic part of her neuroses, constant worry over what’s going to happen next – not abnormal in itself, but taken to a frightening extreme.  It keeps her (and by extension, Tomoki) awake most of the night.  More pleasantly for the viewer, it also gives her incentive to think of nutty ideas to fill the time.  Like the online request for an explanation of “peropero”(“lick-lick”) and what parts of people’s bodies are being licked (“I suspect their naughty bits” Tomoko theorizes, but alas no one answers her).  Or her disastrous attempt (“Viva one-click ordering!”) to launch a stream on Niconico, complete with the requisite stream of nasty commentary from the audience.

The meta-humor is strong with this one – it’s a big part of what makes the comedy part of the Watamote recipe work, and the mangaka nails the peculiarities of the online world Tomoko inhabits with unerring accuracy.  A big part of the pleasure of this ep is watching her immerse herself in all her distractions, even something as simple as watching Detective Conan and muttering the supremely ironic “It’d be great to go back to the body of a child but retain the mind of an adult”, or as over-the-edge as her grabbing the kleenex box when her eroge dialogue gets especially hot.  Tomoko is a nonstop stream of hilarious aphorisms, such as when she responds to the “How to enjoy summer break alone” suggestion of visiting the pool with “What am I – an ascetic?”  These scenes almost seem to be shot in real-time, giving you a real sense of Tomoko’s stream moving at a different pace from the rest of the world.

The “climax” of the episode certainly is the humor and pathos derived from Tomoko’s realization that she has an event ticket for a “Meet-and-Greet Recording Session” with Ishimine Jun (Toriumi Kousuke), star of one of her current favorite VNs.  The fun starts when she starts researching the limits of what she’s allowed to ask a seiyuu to say for her “personal recording”, and winds up getting sidetracked looking at stories of supernatural horrors until she’s too freaked out to even go to the bathroom, and must rouse Tomoki at 3 AM to walk her there – but not before she “pees herself a little”.  Then we have a truly genius bit where Tomoki walks in on his mother playing bright, cheerful home video of toddler Tomoki and Tomoko, where he declares his love, demands a kiss, and professes his intent to marry her (if only Fushimi Tsukasa had as much common sense as a 5 year-old budding bundle of disorders).  Tomoki’s reaction to seeing the video alone would have made this a successful ep.

Finally the moment arrives, a huge crowd turns out, and Ishimine Jun turns out to be a hunk.  Tomoko has settled on the rather sweet “I love you, Tomoko”, but, emboldened by the girl in front of her asking for “I’m going to mess you up.” decides to go with “You sow!  You stink!  Not really, just kidding.  Your hair smells great, Tomoko.  And it’s so smooth!  I love you.”  And Jun-san, being the consummate pro he is, delivers with a smile, even petting Tomoko’s hair as he delivers the line.  It’s another of those rare moments where things go better for Tomoko than we expect – though it’s mitigated by the fact that her mother walks in on her playing back the edit of her eroge audio track she’s made with Jun’s dialogue and her own responses (delivered with hilariously bad acting by Tomoko) patched in.  This scene is a perfect example of the ingenious way Watamote makes you laugh and squirm all at once – the camera just lingers on Tomoko and her mother staring at each other as the offending audio drones on, refusing to spare us the discomfort of the moment.

I haven’t stopped feeling conflicted when I watch this show, but I have moved past feeling conflicted about it – because it’s now 100% clear to me that I’m reacting exactly the way Tanigawa Nico wants me to react.  Watamote is not only a brilliant black comedy, but it’s also quite compassionate in the way it portrays its hopelessly miserable heroine – without sparing us from Tomoko’s considerable ugly side, I think it unequivocally asks the audience to feel for her, not to dislike her.  This, as I’ve said, is clearly the work of a writer who knows and loves someone like Tomoko (probably a sister), and hated her a lot of the time, too.  I can’t help but imagine it’s the author staring out the window as his sister sets off sparklers at the end of summer break, and only doing that because he was bribed with ice cream.  It’s a terribly sad moment – especially when contrasted with the home video of a few moments earlier – but somehow, oddly contains a kernel of hope to it as well.  This is great stuff – Oonuma Shin’s most restrained and clever work in years, and I could hardly do justice to the performance Kitta Izumi is delivering as Tomoko.  So much of the show rides on it, and she just kills it – she gets Tomoko.  She’s funny, and dark, and angry, and sad, sometimes all at once – much like Watamote itself.

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29 comments

  1. i

    Tomoko has hit levels even pubescent boys haven't. She's essentially been found while masturbating by dad, though spared the blushed and now she's found doing something not even the most hardened eroge player never does: creating her own porn with herself as the MC… and then found out.

    I'd love there to be a family meeting soon to discuss who on earth is eating the Kuroki food, sitting on their chairs and sleeping on their beds.

    And is Nakamura Yuuichi now the go to guy when a brother needs to be intimate with a sister?

  2. Again, if only Tsukasa had as much damn sense as 5 year-old Tomoko.

  3. i

    Tsukasa? Which character is that?

  4. i

    Actually never mind. IMO Tsukasa had as much sense as the creators of Jersey Shore/Keeping up with the Kardashians. He knew he'd be a hit for making something as controversial as he did. He played the market, simple as that. Viewers/readers can be dumb is proof of their success.

  5. Yosuga no Sora pretty much tanked commercially.

  6. i

    Oh It was Yosuga no Sora you were talking about? I thought it was Oreimo.

    Speaking of which I do wonder whether you'd do a post about it. I watched the scene (actually both) in ep 16. As much as I said it was stupid for anyone to watch it I do feel sorry for you when you liked the first season so much.

  7. T

    Tsukasa is the author and creator of Oreimo. He was using Yogusa no Sora as a qualifier of how shock value and controversial doesn't always equal success. But I would say Yogusa no Sora and Oreimo are apples to oranges show outside of the incest thing. Oreimo at least attempted an actual courtship and relationship no matter how poorly it was done. Yogusa no Sora was all raunch with no tact and very in your face (as poor Nao can attest to).

  8. Yes, I was using YnS as an example as TxD suggests. I do actually disagree though, in that I think YnS attempted to be an actual serious take on an incest relationship (including just how unbalanced the participants would have to be to seriously undertake it), whereas Oreimo was just batshit crazy all along and did a decent job of pretending otherwise for a while.

  9. T

    I can see where your coming from. When I wrote that I was just thinking of the first part of the incest arc which was all very raunchy and pure shock value in my opinion. I did think that Haru's mental gymnastics in trying to figure out if it was okay or not was definitely loads better than Kyousuke and Oreimo.

  10. i

    I think the difference in mediums: Game to LN played in Oreimo's advantage and as the anime of Oreimo was given a better budget while the series was still ongoing unlike YnS it at least created that will they or won't they factor of interest. But as a starting point using something controversial as incest was the main hook for a lot of viewers. Point Oregairu and Ore no Osanajimi were both harems as well but didn't play an imouto route while say BokuHa had plenty of service from that path, it's easy to say which was more popular. The idea of imouto is now so popular because its forbidden love. This is the Otaku answer to Romeo and Juliet, kimoi.

  11. J

    Imouto is like the old childhood friend trope back in the days where the girl is the one who you know really well beforehand and just need to make that final jump. Now with extra forbidden love aspect. Unsurprisingly the childhood friend role relegates to worthlessness these days.

  12. M

    I don't think she touched herself. It wasn't shown at all. I doubt they would show that sort of content, since it's rated PG-13.

  13. s

    I want tomoko to hit a pink period in the anime/and or manga. i have the feeling this could hit amazing potential on character development, but i doubt it will. chances are this anime will just end depressing…

  14. C

    "except it would have to be a roller-coaster where you're going up, down and upside-down all at the same moment in time"
    GE, there already exists a ride like that. It's used for astronaut-training.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZnvwWunaAY

    "constant worry over what's going to happen next – not abnormal in itself, but taken to a frightening extreme"
    Sorry if this makes me like a know-it-all, but I can't help but point out that most psychological disorders are essentially a normal human trait taken to a 'frightening' extreme. So, saying it's not abnormal when it's taken to an abnormal extreme is kind of… moot.

    I agree that watching her go from one distraction to another was a very enjoyable part of this episode. It's something we can all relate to, we all get bored.

    My favorite part, being a fan of black comedy, was the early scene when she steadily went from reveling in her summer activities to crying and agonizing (and disturbing Tomoki). That scene had a lot of impact for me; simple raw twisted emotion, it's a prime example of why I enjoy dark comedy.
    The end scene with Tomoki tore right through me; she was truly desperate at that point, where she'd overlooking bribing to convince herself she's done something social.

    Compared to those, the live-streaming and her voice-recording request were difficult to watch. I have a hard time watching people being awkward in public or on camera, I empathize too much with that. At least Tomoko got a petted, she clearly enjoyed herself.

    Happy to see you recognize that conflict is a part of watching this show. If you're not feeling conflict, it isn't black comedy anymore. 😉

  15. Yeah, that's not really true about mental illness, sorry. It can't be dismissed on the terms that it's simply normalcy taken to an abnormal extreme. There are as many types of neuroses, anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders as days in the year, and about as many different causes.

  16. C

    No… It's completely true. All those you mentioned still fall under abnormal psychology, the DSM, etc.. and are considered "normalcy" taken to the extreme.

    Regardless of the cause (brain or behaviour), it still falls into the normal-to-abnormal scope of psychological issues.

    And I'm well-aware of the excessive amount of possible diagnoses, I recently finished studying psychology, so this is all fairly fresh in my head.

  17. And my Dad has been a clinical psychologist for 45 years, so I have more than a little exposure to this myself. What you're asserting is, in my view, somewhere between grossly oversimplified and patently false. But I'm not going to convince you, clearly, so agree to disagree kicks in for me. On to the next conversation.

  18. S

    Did you see this article on Kotaku, Enzo?

    http://kotaku.com/the-most-mean-spirited-anime-i-have-ever-watched-1169146244

    I was honestly surprised that someone would not realize how fundamentally sympathetic the anime is towards Tomoko's struggles. Basically everyone who enjoys this anime has been through similar problems, and no one ever felt offended by it.

  19. Well, I confess I know nothing much about that site. And I disagree with the assertion that everyone who enjoys the anime has been through similar problems – I think the whole point is that Tomoko's problems aren't simply normal teenage angst and adjustment, they's a product of serious social anxiety disorder.

    In that sense, I think the author of that piece does get one thing right – the series is depicting her as a victim of SAD, not just a "loser". But from there, I think they completely miss the boat. It's not a matter of the series making jokes at her expense – it's a matter of unapologetically portraying just how brutal life is for an undiagnosed victim of mental illness. You laugh sometimes as a survival mechanism, and simply because the show is often very funny. But if you don't feel empathy for Tomoko, I think you're completely whiffing on what the show is trying to do. I'd argue that Watamote is incredibly sympathetic towards Tomoko, in fact, and if the author doesn't agree that's fine – though it seems to me it reflects some unresolved issues with them, and not with the series.

  20. One further point on this: I was contacted by a Japanese website to quote excerpts from one of my Watamote posts. Why? Because they support those with SAD, and they felt that Watamote could be very helpful in creating understanding in Japan about this type of illness. Because SAD and similar disorders are even more of a taboo topic here than in the West, most Japanese don't seem to be picking up on the fact that Tomoko is being depicted as someone with a serious anxiety disorder, and they felt than the section I wrote about "coded" language in the show could help get the point across.

    So that's someone dealing with the problem directly, who quite obviously takes the diametrically opposed view of Watamote as the author of that article you linked.

  21. i

    I too agree with Enzo. There have been plenty of more serious takes on NEETS or Hikkimoris and I also hear that it is a taboo topic, with Otaku being aligned with them by the media. Thus a more comedic approach and that too from a girl but not shoujoy perspective is a quick way to real laugh and feel for Tomoko. At the very least everyone has gone through one of her trials so they can start relating to NEETs in RL. That said I still believe in healing by fire and spartan training as the way to get the NEET out of people.

  22. S

    Well, I don't know what's the clinical definition of a SAD, but I know I've personally been through all the symptoms Tomoko experiences (including the ugliest ones, like blaming/hating/envying other people for what's basically being normal). You might argue that Tomoko has everything in such unealthy doses it goes into mental illness territory, but I wonder if that's meant to represent the actual illness, rather than being an exaggerated take (for comedic purposes) on the 'regular', milder form of the problem.

    On another note, I wonder if there's been some feminist reading of this work? Even though it's not the main point of the show, seeing an anime with a main character who's a high school girl but is not moe in any way or form, and whose regular teen sexual desires are portrayed sympathetically (to the point she gets to share with two guys the experience of peeping on couples in a love hotel) is quite liberating for anime standards. I've been wondering how this is seen in Japan – female masturbation is basically a taboo topic even in the West after all, and Watamote casually throws it around every now and then.

  23. M

    I guess you don't know this, but WataMote is based on the female artist's high school experience, as the male author had a normal one. In one of the interviews, someone asked if Tomoko will be bullied by other girls, and the female artist said no, because there are some painful things that she doesn't want to remember. So rest assured that WataMote won't be more depressing than now, but the female Tanigawa Nico actually have it much harder than Tomoko during her high school days.

  24. Interesting. Do you have a link to an interview that confirms this?

  25. M

    Well I got this from 4chan, and when I searched around it's actually based from Tanigawa Nico's Twitter replies during the few weeks after Vol 1 was sold. That was the reply given when asked if Tomoko will ever be bullied. But now I'm not quite sure about whether if the author or artist was the one who had the horrible experience. Most say it's the female artist though. Only this Q&A is translated in English http://www.world-three.org/watashiga-faq/ and doesn't give out much info (the Americans who sent it is actually the /v/ board of 4chan).

  26. Mmm… Sorry, but that's not reliable info IMO.

  27. S

    I've seen that quote floating around with no source for a while, I doubt it's authentic.

    But there is an interview where they said this:

    Q. Is there any model for Tomoko?
    Writer: “We both are in Tomoko, a little.”
    Artist: “For her design, there is no model.”

    http://blog.livedoor.jp/geek/archives/51402062.html

  28. M

    its easy to guess that the bullying part has been left out of the show; with all the problems tomoko has, the most anormal thing is that no one try to pick on her after all the weird things she does
    personal experience teached me that most of the kids at that age (especially boys) are animals that enjoy attacking the weak and the different and society cover their eyes by saying "they are children its ok to mess aroud" ignoring the enormous mental and emotival damage they are doing
    good thing i managed to grow a skin thick enough to enjoy this show while keeping off the bad memories

  29. S

    Enzo, I have to say that your analyses of Watamote are spot-on. Like you said, if you’ve known someone with depression or an anxiety disorder, or have gone through it yourself, you can really see how realistic this show is. And it really does work on two levels; what seems like just funny irrational actions on the part of the main character are very true to life actions of someone who’s developing a disorder.

    After I read the first two chapters of the comic I had to stop and do something else because it brought back so many painful memories. In my case the loneliness started from drifting apart from my best friend, but the thought processes and self-destruction were exactly the same as what I went through. Right down to having a friend from my previous school who I saw occasionally, knowing that I was doing so much worse than someone I’d known for a long time made me feel terrible, just like Tomoko in the show.

    It was quite surprising actually since I’ve never seen any anime or manga apart from Watamote and never expected to find something so applicable coming from a country halfway across the world.

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