If you consider the emotional spectrum of anime a true circle, there must be a point where the two extremes meet – where funny and hopeful transitions into bleak and tragic. There are series that spend some of their time moving back and forth around their part of the circle, most of them never reaching that extreme nexus point from either direction. And then there’s Watamote, a series that sets up camp and lives there almost all the time, more than pretty much any series I can remember. It’s a scary place to be, but if there’s one thing this show has to spare, it’s nerve.
The thing about Watamote is, because its natural habitat is out there where the buses don’t run, the conflicting emotions of watching it always seem to exist side-by-side for me. It’s not so much that they’re competing with each other as two sides of the same coin, one always present as the flip-side whenever the other is. An episode like this one is a perfect example, because it’s at the moments when it seems to be the most hopeful that it’s also the most unsparing in depicting just how bleak things are for Tomoko, really.
There are several notable things about this episode, which while not as uproariously funny as the last few certainly touched the heart and moved the story and Tomoko’s arc (which are basically one and the same with this show) forward substantially. The first is the arrival of Kii-chan (Kugimiya Rie, who can still do loli – a mode I much prefer to her tsundere one, now thankfully much in decline – like few actresses can). Kii is the adoring younger cousin of Tomoko, a petite imouto-type just entering middle school who’s idolized her older cousin for years. The problem (there’s always problems to spare whenever Tomoko is involved) is that her cousin has been feeding Kii-chan a line of BS about how popular she is, and about her boyfriend who “just wants to fool around every day”. Naturally, with Kii coming to visit, this is a problem – Tomoko has convinced herself that her now older and savvier cousin will see through her lies and smell the stink of virginity on her.
In the first place, I’m not so sure that was true – Kii-chan still seemed pretty innocent when she pulled up, if not when she left – but as always, it’s Tomoko’s paranoid delusion that the forces of the universe (though sadly not its teenaged boys) are conspiring to screw her that leads her into trouble. I’m not sure Tomoko was ever quite so outright pathetic as she was this week – all of her crimes were against herself (well, almost), and her desperation led her down some truly ridiculous paths. In order to make herself into the first-class “high-school bitch” she thinks she needs to be to fool Kii, she goes shopping for clothes, only to be humiliated by the grade-schoolers who dress cooler than she does. Not able to successfully plant hickeys on herself – “Not enough suction!”, not to mention the inability to suck her own neck – she uses the vacuum cleaner as a substitute. This is one of those classic Watamote moments where you want to laugh, but hate yourself for it – it is funny, dammit, but it’s also pure torture to see Tomoko humiliate herself that way.
Another significant element of the episode springs directly from the vacuum incident (which is predictably disastrous in that Tomoko leaves huge rings all over her body and practically kills herself). This is really the first time when we’ve seen signs that Tomoko’s mother has some clue just how badly her daughter is messed up. Any mother would be upset to see their teenage daughter after obviously having used the vacuum the way she did, and might even have shouted “You’re always doing things like this!” But there was an edge of panic in her voice, which frankly reassures me because there should have been, and maybe this is a clue that Mom-oki isn’t as hopelessly lost in denial as she seemed. Further evidence of this is the way she reacted when Tomoko viciously turned on her – she slapped her. That’s something I never like to see a parent do, but if there were ever a moment when it was understandable, that was it. I really want to believe Tomo-Mom is capable of helping her daughter out of the sad, dark hole into which she’s fallen, but that can’t happen unless she’s operating in reality and not in a fantasy world where her kids are still toddlers giving each other big sloppy kisses.
There a surprise development when Tomoko takes Kii-chan to the library – Kosaka, the boy who left Tomoko the umbrella back in episode 3 shows up. Turns out Kosaka is every bit as nice as he seemed then – he makes pleasant small talk with
Tomoko Momoko despite having the carry most of the conversation (this is yet more brilliant seiyuu work by Izumi Kitta here) and refuses to accept money from her. Naturally enough Tomoko ends up telling Kii that Kosaka is her boyfriend – which seems like an OK improvization until Kosaka shows up at the library the next say with his real girlfriend. Once again all of Tomoko’s trials are of her own making, and Kosaka proves himself truly a gentleman when Kii-chan confronts him for cheating on Tomoko – he holds his tongue despite his puzzlement, and accepts Tomoko’s apology after she’s sent Kii away so she can “break up” with him. Tomoko’s world is full of many more people than not who are like Kosaka, decent and even kind – Tomoko is by far the most dangerous person in Tomoko’s world.
The loop is closed – landing us right at “that” part of the circle – by the fact that Kii-chan witnesses what really happens at the breakup (Tomoko on her knees, apologizing). Her illusions about her cousin are shattered, all the more so when Tomoko takes her to a mom & pop konbini so she can show off her skills against elementary-school boys at the Y
u-Gi-Oh! Magic: the Gathering-style card game played there. It’s not bad enough that Tomoko can only think to show off for Kii by beating little boys at a card game – she has to resort to cheating in order to do it. Even Tomoko can feel what’s happened – instead of staring at her with the eyes of an adoring puppy, Kii now stares at her like she’s an abandoned puppy. Worship has turned to pity, and this is how low Tomoko has fallen – she’s pitied by her 13 year-old cousin. Yet again, though, we see a case where no one is being mean to Tomoko – knowingly, at least. Kii-chan’s pity is driven by a kind heart, but it’s just further humiliation for Tomoko. I’ve said this before, but if you have no empathy for Tomoko now you’re probably never going to have it, because this is a real low ebb for her. And as always, it sure is hard to watch.