Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! – 10

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I’ll just be over there in the corner, silently weeping…

Author’s Note: In light of the news of Robin Williams’ death today, I thought I’d top this post as I couldn’t help but be put in mind of Watamote when I heard this news, because it’s one of an extremely rare (and I mean probably low single digits) breed of anime that really deals with depression in a thoughtful, compassionate but ruthless and non-gimmicky way, and this episode is the most devastating of the series for me.

Before I even begin this post about Watamote I’m going to hijack it for a bit.  I’ve tried a few times during these write-ups to explain what it’s like to live with a person like Tomoko, and why this series isn’t simply a matter of standard anime teenage angst and she just needs to “suck it up”, and all that.  I’m a huge fan of Stephen Fry – the fantastically eloquent and compassionate writer/actor/comedian/tech blogger/diarist – and about a million other things, one of them being a manic depressive.  He’s attempted suicide twice, and did a documentary about people living with bipolar disorders.  Not surprisingly he manages to capture the experience – both for the victim and their loved ones – far more concisely and keenly than I ever could in this video, taken from a one-man show (actually the Q & A that followed) he did at the Sydney Opera House.  Now, what Stephen suffers from may not be the precise condition Tomoko likely does, but the larger description is on-the-money.  The relevant portion begins at about 3:25:

Impossibly, with this episode Watamote seems to have upped the ante on bleakness and despair.  The reason, I think, is because it’s by far the least outrageous episode so far.  There’s not much comedy, really, and there are really no developments that are remotely unrealistic.  There are no victims of Tomoko’s selfish anger, either – it’s just 22 minutes of Tomoko alone in her misery.  And what seems to be happening as the series progresses is that Tomoko is becoming increasingly aware of just how alone and desperate she is.  The darkness is almost literally closing in on her – she’s aware of it and we’re aware of it, but we seem equally powerless to stop it.

Several things stand out as I look back on these two chapters in one unhappy life.  We start with Tomoko returning for the new semester, only to find that the seating chart has been rearranged (which seems to be a standard practice in Japan, as shocked as she is) and she’s been dumped in the second row, surrounded by the full flock of gabby social gadflies in her class.  What do we see here?  In fact, there’s an attempt to include Tomoko in their conversation initially – irreverent, yes, but not savage or outright mocking in any way.  This is an opportunity for Tomoko in fact, though when presented with it, she can only see it as a curse.  She retreats – first to a bunker she makes for herself among disused desks at the top of the stairs – and mutters to herself about how “annoying” all those normals are.  And she’s blissfully happy for her lunch breaks at least, playing games on her phone and reading manga, until the desks are removed and she’s left homeless.

Here’s the dirty little secret – when Tomoko isn’t despairing over how lonely she is, she’s happier when she’s alone.  Why?  Well, partly because when you’re a smart and unusual person most people are annoying a lot of the time, especially in high school.  Other people are a lot of work.  But of course there’s also the fact that Tomoko is under extreme stress every moment she’s around those people, dreading the moment when they might break into the loneliness she also dreads, and try to include her.  It’s the trap of someone in Tomoko’s position – she’s caught between two possibilities, and they’re always “bad” and “worse”.   There are no escapes for her, no happy places.  It’s so bad, in fact, that with her lunchtime womb deprived her she doesn’t even eat, and passes out in gym class.  It’s only at the end of the day after everyone else has left that she’s able to relax – and she arranges the desks in the empty classroom to resemble the disorder of her hideaway so she can relax enough to eat her lunch.

And the, there’s what follows – which is even more depressing.  It’s so cutting because we realize that for all her delusions of grandeur, even Tomoko’s fantasies are mostly setting their sights incredibly low.  She thinks back to the middle-school past and imagines a club that didn’t exist, and there’s nothing glamorous about her imagined memory – it’s just a group of unpopular kids who sit around and do nothing, but at least they’re not alone in doing it.  In a rare moment of decisiveness she grabs a new club application form and after much cogitating and trial-and-error at home, comes up with a proposal for a Nichijou-bu – a “Daily Life Club” for “Doing fun things and finding happiness in everyday life”.  I confess I was surprised when she actually summoned the courage to submit the form the next day, and the fantasy she concocts around this club is even more modest – just Tomoko and two other kids, who barely seem to speak to each other.  But at least they’re not alone in doing it.  The reality, in fact, is that Tomoko isn’t silently drinking tea with this boy and girl but silently drinking tea in her room with her two plushies, fantasizing about silently drinking tea with that boy and girl.  And when she returns to school the application has been denied because of “Club description unclear“.

I know I’ve said this before, but if you can’t feel anything for Tomoko here, well…  I mean, really?  Here we see her perform an act which, for her, is one of great courage – all to an incredibly modest hoped-for end – and she gets nothing for it but more loneliness.  I know it will shock – shock! – longtime readers of my posts, but I’m not a huge fan of moe and what it’s done to anime.  Yet as odd as it might sound, I think Tomoko is practically an icon of a side of moe that’s pretty close to how I first came to understand the term – someone who inspires an urge to protect and comfort.  My heart absolutely shatters for Tomoko because I know how hard the road ahead of her is, and how unlikely it is she’ll ever truly escape the prison she’s trapped inside.  I’m hard-pressed to think of many anime that have so effectively portrayed the pain of loneliness in the way Watamote has, without resorting to cheap comedy or cheaper dramatics – as outrageous as this series can be, it’s at its most remarkable when it quietly lets Tomoko’s life speak for itself.

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  1. s

    GASP you're not a fan of moe?…damn i would have never ever ever ever eeeeeeeevveeeerrrr guessed..hahaha jokes aside i think ep was the most accurate definition of what it means to just be alone and not be able to fit in; and the way it was handled wasnt by telling its audience that fact, but by showing it to them; this ep showed just how bleak tomoko's social life truly is and to me, it made this ep one of the most poignant of the series.

  2. S

    "I'm hard-pressed to think of many anime that have so effectively portrayed the pain of loneliness"

    I think 'The Pain of Lonliness' would be a good name for this series. This episode was especially effective at showing why she builds up these fantasies; accepting the truth and trying to change it has only brought more pain and misery.

    As you said, in reality someone like Tomoko will never truly heal from the mental damage of being an outcast, and that's what separates feeling a bit sad and lonely from actual depession and mental illness.

  3. c

    gosh, reading your review makes me even more desperate for Tomoko! I have no idea where this is leading. It's very painful to watch how terribly lonely she is….how desperately cruel life can be in a simple manner. T. Watamote makes me think of this Welcome to NHK a bit. I guess it's because real life social problems are also treated in this anime with a touch of black sarcastic humour (one of the series i will never forget). I can't help but hope something good will happen to her…………but i'm afraid for Tomoko that this anime will keep true to the path it has taken…….no happy ending in sight…..

  4. G

    I can't ever remember seeing an anime where the main character is shaded gray and anonymous and the bit players in the scene are all annimated and brightly lit. Usually its the other way around with the MC bright and all the other minor characters are drawn to be anonymous.

  5. S

    This episode also made me think… is the reason the main character in anime usually sits next to the window the fact that it's easier to draw him that way (without a need for other students as background)? If that's the case, why Light Novels then? Did it become such a trope that it was adopted even in a medium where the technical reasons which prompted the need in the first place do not exist any more?
    In some way, I felt this was the most "meta" episode of Watamote yet. Though also incredibly sad.

  6. a

    Not just next to the window, but next to the window on the left side of the room (facing the blackboard). I've never figured out why animators favour that spot so overwhelmingly.

  7. p

    I have never wished so hard for anything as i did for the end credits to start at the dream club scene. I really hope they don't do this kind of episode again with NO COMEDY. It's just too much for me like that, it's too real.

    One thing I'm wondering about is why are they purposely going out of the way to show "others" around Tomoko being really nice. This episode especially because this time Tomoko couldn't even get a squeak of a word out. In reality it's Tomoko who is being the "bitch". There's just no way that she wouldn't get picked on by people.

    If Tomoko isn't being picked on then what causes her to act this way?

  8. Again, she's sick. She has a disorder, she needs help and she's not getting it. It's not a choice – that's the hard truth. I guess there's only so specific anyone is allowed to get in a manga and these matters are not discussed much in Japan, but anyone who's dealt with mental illness can see that the author's intent is crystal clear.

  9. R

    I used to have similiar socialicing problems like Tomoko back in Highschool, but even now looking back at it, I can't really pinpoint the cause of my Social Disorders to a single source or event.

    So, rather than her behaviour beeing the result of one single source, it's more probable IMO that her case is the result of several smaller incidents coming from several different sources.
    Sometimes we don't even realize that something leaves an impression on us because they are only small events that are quickly forgotten.

    Two Examples in this Episode would be Tomokos chair beeing used by a Classmate and people criticising her work from the Haunted House in Middleschool.
    Both of them on their own probably are probably not much more then a drop on a hot Stone. But if you add several more drops, they will start to have an effect on the Stone.

  10. S

    I think there's a sort of natural disposition too, though – after all, this kind of silly things happen to everyone, and not everyone reacts in the same way. The main thing is insecurity after all, fear of being not appreciated, or looked down upon, by our peers. Not everyone has it. I'd argue it might be linked with a lack of what is usually called the "optimism bias" – something that I hear is linked with depression as well – but I'm not a psychologist, so I can only wild guess.

  11. i

    The previous two episodes have been a bit off for me. I didn't find them very funny nor endearing but this one felt every bit the latter as this show ever has.

    @plusslashlessthan the artist of this series, whose life this may be based on said that Tomoko won't be picked on due to the painful memories. She was picked on but wants to omit that part from Tomoko's life. Also a serious episode is needed once in a while for a show that is essentially dark humor. Still I do hope for more funny episodes like the first 3 or 4.

  12. W

    Can I just say that the transition from the opening scene to the opening song in this episode was perfect. Seriously, I absolutely loved it.

  13. D

    Thanks for this re-post.

    For all of its black comedy, Watamote is one of the most deeply emotional works of art I've ever experienced in any medium. Its beauty and truthfulness stem largely from the fact that it doesn't portray the world as an awful place – almost uniformly, everyone is nice to Tomoko – and instead shows the dark, inner turmoil of someone having trouble growing up.

    I'm surprised that I haven't read about more people having the reactions I did, as I can honestly say that I cried at the end of several episodes, so true and heartrending did I find my emotions driven by the story. How could someone not be affected by seeing Tomoko start to tear up on the rooftop at the end of episode 6, when she just wanted to watch the fireworks with someone but instead winds up as a peeping Tom with middle-school kids looking in the window of a love hotel? Or by the mad dash she makes at the end of the final episode, trying and failing to run away from who she is…?

    Whether it's born of the faint glimmer of hope in her ever-so-slightly improved social graces, or just in her recognition that she is who she is in the closing scene of the anime, there's an undeniable beauty even in the sadness, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing about it here.

  14. You're welcome, and thank you.

    How can people not be affected? I think anime viewers are so saturated with false emotion, false moe and pretentiousness that when something genuine like Watamote – something like presents real adolescent pain and sparks a genuine wish that you could protect the protagonist – comes along, they just a view it through the lens of that falseness and assume it's nothing different. Or tune it out altogether for daring to make them uncomfortable.

  15. n

    R.I.P. Robin Williams. My favorites are Hook, Jumanji and Good Will Hunting.

  16. D

    Watamote strangely came to mind as well when I heard of his passing. I suppose it's one of the key pieces of fiction that comes to mind for me when it comes to the subject of depression. It managed to handle it so well (both in terms of adapting the source material as well as the overall execution) that it left quite a mark on me, and it's indeed a rare breed among anime. A show I'm still firmly behind in calling it the best show I saw last year.

    I also don't think any celebrity death has affected me as much as William's did. It wasn't just that he was a childhood icon, or an overall funny comedian, but he was just such a good guy. And to see him lose his struggle against the depressions he'd been struggling with for years is just heartbreaking. Because I know how those can eat away at people. He didn't deserve to go out like this. Nobody does. But well, c'est la vie.

  17. He was actually a customer at one of my shops when I was a district manager for a coffee company in the Bay Area (he lived in Tiburon, Marin County, in his later years). A pretty nice guy on the whole – had his dark days, but incredibly expansive when he was on. That's pretty typical of manic depressive people (watch the Stephen Fry video I linked to hear him describe it in powerful terms).

  18. S

    Shit, I thought there was a new Watamote out that I haven't seen. That's depressing in three different ways.

  19. OVA in a few months.

  20. m

    I can't tell if that's a dark humor joke in respect for a man not fully known (for those who haven't seen his stand up anyway) for his dark sense of humor, if it's sincere and just awkward (or I just don't get it as intended), or if it's just in poor taste but that seemed real messed up if it wasn't option 1.

    I can say this is only the 2nd (Greg Giraldo being the first) time I've ever cared when a celebrity died, outside of the whole it's sad when anyone dies part. Not only was he a massive part of my childhood (I can't count how many times I've seen Aladdin), but he was one of my favorite stand ups and to this day An Evening With Robin Williams remains one of the funniest 1 1/2 hours of anything ever. I've bought countless stand up albums, gone to countless live shows, and watched countless specials but there have been so few comics that have ever brought out such consistently hilarious material. Not to mention to have those kinds of skills and to be able to go to the other end of the spectrum as such a phenomenal serious actor. It's a shame that such brilliance came at the cost of his mental health.

  21. m

    I saw it more as sincere. This is a brilliant man who felt chained to depression, alcoholism, and addiction, but after years of bringing laughter and entertainment to the world–much like the genie in Aladdin–he's been freed, so to speak.

    While suicide is never the way to go, I think most of the heartbreak comes from the fact that Robin Williams, one of the funniest men on Earth, felt so much despair to the point that he had to kill himself. There's a sense of poignancy that in death, he's been liberated from it.

    I'm sorry for your loss. You seem like a true fan of Williams.

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