Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! – 12 (End) and Series Review

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Of all the 2013 series that end up on my year-end Top 10 list, it’s very possible that Watamote will be the one I least expected to find there.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that shows like Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! (I wanted to write the whole name in a post at least once) are what give me hope for anime, despite the ever-increasing percentage of new series that are effectively marketing formulas on digital video.  It’s a great series where I didn’t expect to find one.  It’s a relentlessly, brutally honest series that challenges the audience at every moment.  It’s a thoughtful and compassionate look at depression and loneliness that doesn’t remotely spare us the ugly reality of it.  And it’s tremendously entertaining to boot.

There was good reason to wonder how Shin Oonuma and Silver Link would choose to end this adaptation, given the ongoing and mercilessly downbeat nature of the manga.  I never suspected for a moment that the ending would sell out, delivering false optimism and invalidating all the suffering Tomoko (and we) went through for twelve episodes.  But if the series had ended with, say, Episode 10 – one of the bleakest and most heartbreakingly sad episodes of any anime I’ve ever seen – I think that would simply have been too much to bear.  Rather, Shin has made a somewhat unorthodox choice (this adaptation is full of them) by putting the episode that would have been the most obvious finale last week, and closing with one that’s altogether darker, but intercut with a good deal of humor and just the tiniest sliver of hope.

I think Watamote is a show that was true to itself from the very beginning, and unwaveringly so, and this episode was very much consistent with that honest approach.  This was Tomoko at her most delusional, grating and difficult – but also at her most vulnerable and reflective.  It wouldn’t be fair to say Tomoko has made huge progress over the course of these 12 episodes, but she has changed.  One thing I find very noticeable is that she’s become much more self-aware over the last few eps – she started out with a half-believed delusion that popularity was only a matter of time, but she’s come to understand more and more just how desperate her situation is.  Some may think that she’s too self-aware for someone her age as we see her in this episode, but my experience is that kids Tomoko’a age are if anything obsessively aware of what’s lacking in their lives, and the sources of their unhappiness.  And Tomoko has so many of those to choose from that it’s hardly surprising she’s become obsessed with them.

In that context, it’s certainly no surprise that Tomoko was a bit of a chuunibyou sufferer in middle school second year.  This is a subject that anime has itself become somewhat obsessed with of late, but it highlights the difference between middle school and high school for someone like Tomoko.  An 8th-grader can exhaustively study weapons distribution in plans to become the next Koko Hekmatyar, but unlike what we see in more fanciful anime twists on the subject, a self-aware 10th-grader filling out a career-planning form cannot.  I won’t suggest for a moment that Tomoko was likely happy in middle school (the club episode should prove that), but there at least she could indulge her fantasy world with a measure of commitment, and even find a soul-mate to commiserate with.  Now, she’s effectively got a giant clock right behind her shoulder, reminding her constantly that her school life is slipping away from her, adulthood creeping ever closer, and she’s making no progress as a social animal.

We haven’t revisited the counseling sessions with Tomoki for a while – I’d even wondered if they were still going on – but they’re brought back into the equation here at the end.  It seems as of Tomoki has been dutifully suffering through them, saying nothing or at least very little, and that Tomoko has come to realize that this too is another blind alley in her search for contentment.  There’s a great moment here when Tomoko cuts off the sessions as if she’s been the one doing her brother a favor, and he not so subtly reminds her that she hasn’t thanked him for six months of service.  She immediately slips into fantasy mode and the “スパーク” on her t-shirt immediately changes into an English “SPARK”.

The finale is full of great directorial flourishes as Tomoko passes between reality and delusion, the line becoming disturbingly blurry at times.  Basking in Imae’s glow, Tomoko realizes that Imae is the sort of person others rave about when she’s not around.  She gets the bright idea to secretly record the others in her homeroom on her phone while she’s gone, only to discover that they’re not even talking about her at all – again, it would almost be better if they were mocking her, because at least that way she’d know she exists.  A wayward cockroach presents a seeming opportunity to make herself the center of attention, but after she (messily) kills the gokiburi the expected reign of adulation (which she imagines in unnerving detail) is instead shocked disgust.  When Tomoko records her classmates this time they are talking about her at least, but it isn’t pretty.

If indeed “the first step is admitting you have a problem”, then Tomoko has at least taken it.  If there’s anything that gives me hope for her despite knowing her terribly hard her road will be, it’s the fact that we’ve seen her display a genuine desire to change her life.  Most of these attempts have ended in heartbreaking failure but at least she’s made them, and that is a kind of progress.  Imae-chan seems to represent the most plausible lifeline for Tomoko – she’s kind, and seemingly quite aware that Tomoko has a serious problem.  Tomoko senses this, and even convinces herself to ask Imae for advice on how to become the sort of person other people want to be around.  Naturally this sequence is heartbreaking – Tomoko trying so hard to work up the courage to ask for help from someone who could actually provide it (I was yelling exhortations at the screen while this was happening) – and ends in disaster, when a freak gust of wind exposes Imae’s panties and Tomoko freaks out and bolts.  But Imae has noticed the strange girl, yet again, and there seems reason to hope she’s not just going to let it lie.

I’ve been effusive in my praise of Kitta Izumi for her performance as Tomoko – and with good reason, as it’s IMO the best female seiyuu performance of the year so far – but probably not enough in praising Shin Oonuma for his direction.  Episode 11 was full of great examples (such as Yuu-chan walking away into the light with her friends, as Tomoko waved to her from the darkness) and the segue into the OP was one of the cleverest moments in any anime this year.  The pre-ending sequence this week (again using the OP) is another fantastically creative effort – Tomoko fleeing from her universe in a tunnel of light as her past seems to claw at her hungrily.  Yes, some of these effects are taken from the manga – but Shin has really brought them to life beautifully here.  I think Watamote is an extremely tough manga to bring to the screen – so much of it takes place inside Tomoko’s tortured mind after all – and Shin has perfectly captured the manic and lonely nature of that place.  I haven’t been a fan of much of his recent work, but for me this show is unquestionably Shin’s finest effort as a director.

There’s no redemption here at the end of all things – yes Tomoko laughs, but it has the feeling of whistling through the graveyard.  We end as we began, with Tomoko’s monitor displaying the “Definition of an Unpopular Girl“, and she certainly meets it.  “It doesn’t matter” she tells us – and as much as I’d like to believe that was true, I can’t bring myself to do so.  It certainly does matter when you’re 15 years old and have no friends at school, and every day is a minefield full of potential social disasters so terrifying that they can make another repeat of the cycle of loneliness feel like a relief.  Tomoko’s greatest enemy has always been herself, but at least now she seems to be aware of that fact.  It’s not much hope to hang your hat on, but if you don’t have a hook a rusty nail will have to do.

I said way back in my Episode 1 post that I wasn’t sure, for all the brilliance I saw on display, that I would actually enjoy Watamote.  In the end I most certainly did, even if watching it was one of the more painful experiences I’ve had with any anime.  I enjoyed it not just for the spectacular comic successes (this week’s Another parody was one of the very best) but because no matter how gut-wrenching it was, it was impossible not to enjoy experiencing anime this honest, insightful and emotionally powerful.  I’ve talked at length about the “code” the authors of Watamote use, the hidden language that those with severe social anxiety disorders and those who love them recognized immediately and often.  I can say with certainty that, as someone who grew up experiencing this in my immediate family, I’ve never seen a more accurate depiction of the experience.  Even the absurd moments in the series are anchored in the truth, and the entire thing feels almost shockingly real.

No question, Tomoko is a remarkable creation – whatever percentage of her is the artist, what percentage the writer and what comes from other sources, the final product is the breakout anime character of the year.  There are times when I hated Tomoko, but ultimately she’s someone I came to care about as much as I have any character in a long time – I know her too well to hate her for long.  As far as I’m concerned Tomoko is the most moe character in anime right now, because she comes closest to the definition of the term as I first learned of it, before it became a generic descriptor for every sickeningly cute little girl created to sell light-novels and Blu-rays.  For all her horniness and selfishness and delusions of grandeur, I can’t see Tomoko as anything but a lost little girl – someone who wants to be happy but can’t figure out how to do it.

As she gets older the fantasy world that sustains Tomoko becomes harder to maintain and the overgrown tomboy she is becomes even less socially viable (it’s hardly a surprise that she seems to feel most comfortable around boys younger than she is, because that’s what she acts like a good chunk of the time) and that happiness seems ever-more elusive.  If I had to sum up Watamote in one word it’d probably be “heartbreaking” because it’s the moments where Tomoko confronts her loneliness head-on that I remember the most distinctly.  I want to end on a high note, but I don’t think it would be any more honest for me to do so than the series itself – in reality Watamote is a dark ride, full of uncomfortable moments only somewhat leavened by the true gallows humor.  But it’s a ride I’ll never forget, one that made me feel more deeply than the overwhelming majority of anime I’ve seen.  It’s a series that has something important to say and says it brilliantly, and that combination makes it one of the best anime of 2013.

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13 comments

  1. R

    Hopefully there will one day be a second season, and hopefully it will be as good as the first one.

  2. U

    I agree with this 100%. This show has been amazing from start to finish and even though Tomoko hasn't made any friends yet, she is definitely on her way to getting one, if she keeps pursuing the Megumi route and doesn't keep her inner thoughts get the best of her. She hasn't made much development, but she has changed a very tiny bit nonetheless. And the more self-aware of her problems she becomes, the better, as that might help her avoid the pitfalls she's encountered thus far.

    I really like the stylistic choices they've made in this show. Silver Link went all out and they deserve nothing but praise for it. Same goes for Izumi Kitta as Tomoko. Casting her was a stroke of pure genius.

    I'm gonna miss this show so much next week, which will make waiting a whole year for the OVA even more nerve-wrecking. I hope we'll see more of this show in the future, but I'm not holding my breath over it, as it seems like the shows that have the most potential are the ones that fail to sell and this one seems to be no exception, if predictions are anything to go by.

  3. L

    Sounds like this show ended up being good. I'll go marathon it before Fall season starts. o/

  4. M

    Definitely good,although I think this is the type of show that you'd have enjoyed it more if you watched it weekly since it doesn't really go anywhere πŸ˜›

  5. i

    Back at episode 1 and even on the Summer preview I had chalked WakaMote as a potentially great. From the PV and premier and alone I knew it would be one of the funniest.

    Thing is with comedy anime, particularly one cour ones, they generally get a bit more substance in the final few episodes which feels forced, shallow or just boring. But for WataMote it was the only logical and fitting away. These last few episodes have been heavy and touching and certainly the right way forward both for her and the anime.

    I initially cared little for Tomoko, her problems and people like her. I couldn't understand why they can't just do something and that really is the magic of this show that over the course of it my general apathy for her kind as evaporated. It's gone from annoyance to pity. I really think that is ultimately what the mangakas wanted, that they (she) can hope those suffering like them (her) in school get a bit more care and love.

    I totally agree with Tomoko with being a moe character, not in the introverted sense that term is used now, but a character that so it has become too difficult to keep your heart apart from.

    The last thing is that I'm sure Imae is based off a real person, in one of their lives. She's treated with a lot of dignity (panty shot aside) and the fact that she's a girl not a potential partner guy helps drive that belief for me.

    This show should sell out. More than any other show, this one just should. Its different, brilliant, relevant, hilarious and touching. There's a clear and unwavering commitment to a cause in the series that only Gin no Saiji also had this season (maybe year). I don't know how fall will turn out but for now WakaMote is in my top 5 just for being the complete package.

  6. R

    Watamote is a rare beast. I don't know how open the Japanese are towards SAD and the like. My assumption is not, and people seldom talk about it. As such, I think a huge applaud has to be given to Nico Tanigawa, Shin Oonuma, and everyone involved for their boldness and sincerity in bringing this story — and the subject matter — to the public. I hope that more people can understand and show more empathy to people like Tomoko. For as little — or big– a difference the manga and the show have made, it still means a lot, especially for people who have suffered or are affected by people suffering from mental disorders.

    Watamote is really a one-man show. It's simply a slice-of-life story of Tomoko's — no more and no less. Throughout the course, the comedy could run dry, and the story could become stale. It does not happen here with Watamote at all. The success speaks volume to the greatness of the source material and the strength of the adaptation team. Every episode shows a different — and painful — adventure of Tomoko's, and every episode shows how hard Tomoko tries to break through her own issue. Her progress is little but huge enough to bring joy to my heart.

    Watamote is very personal and heartbreaking. Darn, it brings back old memories, and I cannot make myself to laugh as much. I don't know how many times I wanted to reach out my arms and hug Tomoko tightly. At the same time, she reminded me of the frustration and exhaustion that our family had in the past. I "blame" this to how accurate Nico Tanigawa portrays Tomoko and how well the director and writer bring the story to screen. While it's both a joy and torture to watch Watamote, I wholeheartedly appreciate everyone involved in bringing Tomoko's story to life.

    P.S. I still love the ED of episode 2, Musou Renka by Velvet.kodhy.

  7. D

    Although I think you're a wonderful and observant writer, I frequently don't agree with your reviews, finding them altogether too charitable towards shows which I personally believe to be mediocre or worse.

    Believe me, I'm not damning you with faint praise! I very much enjoy your blog. I just think that anime, and popular art in general, should be held to a higher standard than it often is.

    Which is why I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for this absolutely stellar review. No one else in my social circle follows anime, so it's difficult for me to find the means to discuss it. As a result, when I see something which truly moves me — like Watamote or, say, Hyouka — I desperately cast about seeking reviews which match my feelings and allow me at least some kind of vicarious outlet for what I'm experiencing.

    And, to my mind, many of the reviews I've read about Watamote have widely missed the mark as to why it's so appealing. They say it's funny but repetitive; or not funny enough; or simply too "cringe-worthy" to warrant further viewing after watching a few episodes.

    For me, Watamote is so fantastic because it hits the sweet spot that only the best anime — I should say, the best art — ever even attempts. It uses a mainstream genre to tackle an uncomfortable subject, and it does it not only with flair, but with a deep empathy and understanding of the subject matter it's portraying. Like many great anime, Watamote is suffused with a beautiful melancholy — a life depicted as both heartbreakingly sad, yet never too far from true hope.

    I confess that I found some of the humor in Watamote, especially in the earlier episodes, before it found its footing, somewhat overbroad. But it never strayed from showing the people surrounding Tomoko as essentially good. Yes, her life is sad, but it is never hopeless.

    I'm a grown man, and yet many of the endings, including this final episode, left me so moved I was almost in tears.

    Bravo for this review. And bravo to an industry that can still produce works of such beauty as Watamote.

  8. As long as half the audience condemns me for being too charitable and the other half for being too negative, I'll continue to believe I'm doing something right.

    Thanks for the contribution – I appreciate the thoughtful comment. And I heartily agree that many of the reviews of this series tend to – at least for me – widely miss the mark about what the show is trying (successfully) to do and to be. I think it's because anime has become so mired in formula that many people tend to view every anime through the lens of how it measures up to all the usual suspects of the formula. That's not what Watamote it about, just as it isn't what MGX was about.

  9. R

    It also doesn't help that this series is by most categorized as a Comedy and while it can be pretty hilarious, IMO it would more appropriate to call it a Tragedy.
    And I think the series is more appealing to somebody who is able do recognise the authors codes, then it is for somebody who doesn't.

  10. Z

    It's very much a black comedy. I haven't enjoyed an anime comedy this much since Sayounara Zetsubou-sensei. I was getting worried that Hataraku Maou-sama was the best they could do.

  11. S

    For me this was the saddest episode of the series. While Tomoko has accepted her situation she still can't break out of it and just ends up running away from it all and collapses at home in tears because of how bad it all is.

    I totally agree with you when you say this is incredibly accurate. When I had no friends at school I couldn't wait to get home and go back to my own little world because of how painful the reality was. It's a shame so many reviews miss the mark, the negative ones saying "it's boring" or "Tomoko isn't likable". It's just a very, very honest series.

  12. A

    Heartbreaking work of staggering genius. No offense to Dave Eggers!

    I found it hard to enjoy watching, but just as equally hard to stop watching. There were times I could identify with Tomoki, but most of the time, I was also hoping that she would actually suffer the withering denunciations or scathing criticisms of some cruel antagonist, just to shock herself out of her lonely state of invisibility, and grow as a person. But OTOH that the show decided not to make anyone a classic villain is itself brilliant.

    Easily the best anime of the year (since PSYCHO-PASS and Shinsekai Yori began last year).

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