WATAMOTE RETROSPECTIVE: "SHE'S JUST LIKE ME FR!"


  I have abandoned this blog for too long, counting almost two years on the dot. However, a lot has happened since my last review!

  1. I got into a PhD program, and I am indeed focusing on queer representation in Japanese animation and comics;
  2. I published a book on the same topic (it is in Italian, but maybe one day I will translate some chapters or some extracts);
  3. I presented a section of my research at a university for the first time;
  4. I am writing a paper (this will be in English, so maybe I will share a link lol);
  5. I have added links on the sidebar to two articles I published on online animanga news sites!

I have not been slacking off!! I swear!!

However, I thought I could not keep writing twenty pages for each review I wanted to make: it takes a lot of time, and many people prefer shorter insights. I do not mind the idea of writing less, but I will have to keep my you-must-know-everything-about-this-topic monster at bay, or I will never complete anything. I remember some friends enjoying the deep dives I used to make. Maybe I will write something similar again if I have the chance and the will to do so.

So, This review will be shorter than usual compared to what you were used to reading here. And, nonetheless, on an anime that turned ten years old this July.

🎮 SPECS & STATS

   Let's cut to the chase and have some info about this piece, shall we.

WataMote or, in its full-length title, Watashi ga motenai no wa dou kangaetemo omaera ga warui! (「私がモテないのはどう考えてもお前らが悪い! 」“Im not popular, and its all you guys fault anyway!) is a 12-episode anime by SILVER LINK Studios (notably Ikuharas Yuriguma harashi, some Fate titles, mostly ecchi-leaning works) made in 2013. The story adapts the still-releasing manga of the same title written and drawn by the artist duo working under the pen name of Tanigawa Nico. This review will only cover the WataMote anime, as I have not read the original work and do not plan to.

The plot follows Kuroki Tomoko’s everyday life as a fifteen-year-old freshman in high school. Sounds familiar to many other iyashikei or school-themed anime? Well, the catch is Tomoko’s alienation from the real world, which causes her to feel isolated and lonely while developing traits linked to anxiety and depression. This work should be a comedy, mind you. And it did make me laugh, sometimes, but it mostly made me think.

If we were to analyse the show for its style, the animation has no particular flare to it. There is nothing that hints at an interest in pushing the limits of the media, but, like many other anime, it does the job. Colours, shading, and backgrounds are all competent (see: basic) but nothing to ride home about—the composition of the shots, though, can become interesting during some sombre moments. Of course we are not talking about heart wrenching scenes with tears being wept and noses are blown, but silence is there, and it helps. 

So does the music. My girlfriend at some point told me she only knew WataMote because of its “edgy opening”, and boy, that surely is a way to describe it. The j-metal by Kiba of Akiba immediately reminded me of Maximum the Hormone, but a little softer and less genuine in a way. More fabricated to be actively edgy - the visuals for the opening theme are just, amazing. That is absolutely what a middle schooler would eat right up. The song is interjected with a melodic, feminine counterpart, Suzuki Konomi. She was pretty popular at the time of WataMote's anime release, so it made sense they would include her, much like LISA is now a big name in the anime music industry (although LISA has always been pretty popular, lol). I am not a big on idols and Japanese singers, sorry. 

This clash of styles - metal x softer voice - fits with the protagonist’s inner world, and I enjoyed the incorporation of the song in the ending section of the last episode. It was really funny. The studio decided to treat their audience and record different endings that matched the final part of three different episodes, with linked lyrics that often expressed Tomoko’s thought process or provided some emotional description of the scene. The ending song itself was also very... cute. It is not outwardly "cute" in the "adorable" meaning of the word, but more on a "sweet" or "interesting" side (not in a condescending way!). The visuals has Tomoko interacting with various phones to keep a little version of herself from halting her walk to/from school, failing most of the times. It was fun to watch! Also, the frantic way the lyrics are sung made it a perfect match for the show.

 
This is the ED (Dō kangaete mo watashi wa warukunai! by Kitta Izumi, Tomoko's VA), 
not the edgy OP.

 

🎮 MOJO (喪女)

  I started watching WataMote out of boredom. I wanted a short anime to keep me company while I had lunch or dinner, so I played one or two episodes, though I was adamant I was going to hate it. For some reason, I thought I would end up foaming at the mouth exactly how I did when I watched Mushoku tensei¹ back in 2021, wondering if I would encounter the same anime tropes or characters I am now so tired of seeing and/or have grown out of. 

To my great surprise, I was wrong.

One fun thing I have gathered over the years is that this title was quite divisive: most people would call it any variation of “cringe”, berating the protagonist for being a quote-on-quote “asshole” or “too anxiety-ridden”; the other half would happily side with her and defend whatever action she took in the story. Now, since this review is a good chunk shorter than the usual, I did not look up the authors and if there was any specific intent related to their own life or if they just wanted to portray this character as a peculiar take on gag comedy. WataMote surely is not the first nor the last anime/manga dealing with otaku characters. For this one I did not read any interviews, thinkpieces or other reviews as research, folks. We are just vibing.

My enjoyment stemmed from a deep connection I felt with Tomoko’s character. Throught high school up until my late university years I had been, indeed, her.² Except for the horniness, that doesn’t belong to my sad tear-jerking story. Much like Tomoko, during middle school I had stopped connecting with society in a way that could be described as "healthy", projecting a happier yet delusional version of the world onto anime, manga, cartoons and video games.

I thought I was too cool, too misunderstood, and too different to find friendship. To cross the fine line that separated me and what we in the know call “normies”. It was not just my ∼gender journey that put a rift between me and the rest of the world, but also the people I did interact with. 

Fifteen-year-old me in their natural habitat.

My nuclear and extended family did not understand my love for comics, animation and video games, except for my older sister and later my younger cousin. In the early Noughties, I did not have "normal" hobbies by any standards one could find in a rural Italian village of 4000 people. No one even knew what a manga was, and if they did, they thought they were hentai³ since the general idea at the time was a a simple equivalence of Japanese comics = pornography. Most of my classmates made me feel weird for enjoying cartoons⁴ that much, too much. In the end, I actually managed to make one friend when I was eleven, and I shared with her my love for Japan and Japanese pop culture - or what I could find on the internet at the time. With the three years of middle school coming to an end, we stopped hanging out regularly after she chose a high school in a different city from mine.

When I entered a new school at the age of fourteen, I had learnt I should not talk about the things I enjoyed because those dumb idiots around me wouldn’t understand my superior tastes! Nobody was ever going to enjoy the things I enjoyed, with the same pure heart! I had developed a gatekeepy attitude for myself: nobody I were to meet outside of the internet had to know I drew, I read fanfictions, I read manga, I watched subtitled anime, I had a social media presence.

I became isolated and extremely lonely. Looking at the years of my adolescence slipping by while sitting at a computer left me emotionally stunted for years to come. Of course, I had online friends, but all of them lived far away and I had never been properly pushed to just travel and go places by myself. So, my life was mostly staring at a computer, hoping something would change, at some point. Someday.

This recounting of my life is, of course, just from my point of view. It took me years to understand that people had attempteded to connect with me: my parents, my family, my classmates. They had all wanted to communicate with me or be near me, but living in one’s head for too long will make you suspicious. It will make you wary of intruders, of stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

This is actually not a sad scene in the anime, but it fit the mood. Let me live!

Why do you want to talk to me? Why do you want to talk to me? Why do you want to talk to me?

Same question, different thought processess all gearing up at the same time. Constantly, forever in a loop. I recall one time I was sitting alone during a school trip and a girl, one of the pretty girls, an alternative and rebellious one of my class, came to sit next to me and said “I know you like Japan! I enjoy Beat Crusaders⁵”.

A well-adjusted sixteen-year-old would have started talking to her. May even asking their favourite songs, or wondering where they had discovered the band. You know, having a conversation. Instead, my reply was of shrugging and muttering a condescending “Okay?”. I remember her face; she looked distraught and thought I was a jerk. She was absolutely right.

If you are familiar with how WataMote portrays its characters, you will understand how deeply it resonated with me as a now thirthy-one-year-old trans man, finally emerged from the escapist world I had created for myself. 

🎮 LOSER

  Tomoko has an absent father (appearing only once in the entire show), and a mother that – for the little she is on screen – does not particularly make fun of her daughter, but she clearly does not understand Tomoko nor tries to. She is just there, existing as a generic Japanese housewife, who rises on the occasion to phisically abuse Tomoko whenever she is deemed not "fitting". We see her mother slap her once after one of the girl's hijinks, but the same is not reserved for her brother. I wonder why. Thinking emoji.

Tomoko’s younger brother, Tomoki (yeah), actively hates her. However, I suspect that is his version of alienation, not from the world but from his own emotions. The story goes out of its way to show how close he was to his sister as toddlers and elementary school children, since they basically are the same age (Tomoki, as far as I understood, is 14). His behaviour could allow for an interesting reading on toxic masculinity in teens and how it often pushes them to act violently, angrily and egoistically towards the people in their family - especially women - or who need help/are perceived as weaker.

Besides Tomoko managing to talk to her family, the show itself constantly presents us with other people attempting to connect with her. Sadly, this attempt is met with her inability to “behave normally”. Her facial expressions are “wrong”, her replies are “wrong”, her comedic timing is “wrong”, and her entire body is “wrong” (excessive sweating, unkept hair, not being “cute for a girl”, bag under her eyes, whatever beauty standard you want to inflict on her). 

 

Yet another unrealistic beauty standard for women. 😔

Many neurodivergent people can and will see themselves in Tomoko’s struggles. Understanding social cues is fucking hard. Knowing where to stand in a crowded room full of strangers is atrocious. Talking to new people feels like walking on pointy nails, especially if you misread their faces, their expressions, their intentions or body language. A slight negative twinge of their mouths, a rise of their brows— and you will remember them. You will be scared of them. Of course, not in a "I am afraid for my life" type of scared, but a deeper, more terrifying trick our brains play with us: you will be scared of interacting, of upsetting them, of being seen, of being awknowledged.

I cannot go any further without mentioning Tomoko's chūnibyō⁶ (中二病, second year of middle school syndrome"). It is a common trope found in works pandering to people who identify as otaku and/or fujin (the gender-neutral term for someone who loves BL/yaoi), with various degrees of self-pity and actual understanding of how they navigate society. Chūnibyō is not a real syndrome. However, it is a useful way to describe people who view the world through a "main character" lens.

"Those behaviours are different from usual changes experienced during puberty. People with chūnibyō act aggressive, defiant, delusional, withdrawn, boastful, and/or in ways that refer to characters specific to Japanese culture, such as those found in anime, manga, cosplay, and gaming, which draw on teenage fantasies about temporarily possessing supernatural powers during puberty"

Shimoda M, Morimoto K, Tanaka Y, Yoshimori K, Ohta K (2021) Characteristics of “chūnibyō” identified by a questionnaire. PLOS ONE 16(11): e0260375. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0260375

Tomoko is constantly testing different roles she picked from anime, manga, and light novels to see which ones will stick and make her like her (= "slutty", which, in her head, reads exactly as "well integrated girls I envy") classmates. Will she manage to become popular (モテル, moteru of the title) if she acts like a cute-girl-trope or maybe a kūdere-trope? Or maybe it will happen if she manages to perform a role like the bossy Suzumiya Haruhi or a cool card player like Kaiba Seto?

Since Tomoko is not able to read the room without clear options to pick from, her attempts to understand social interactions through otome and BL games reveal her need to understand what loving, being loved and being in love mean. Her wish for friendship and love is often portrayed in contrast with her friend Yū, who was on her "same level" in middle school: a bit nerdy, big glasses, timid and fan of anime and manga. The perceived betrayal, the horror Tomoko suffered by the hand of her friend is clear as day whenever Yū shows her understanding of communication and relationships. She even has a boyfriend! 

There is a deeper reading in their bond. It is pretty clear Tomoko likes Yū beyond a simple friendship, hinting at her possible queerness: she doesn't hide the fact that she thinks Yū is cute, or wanting to touch her (big) chest and, more chastily, wishing for Yū to give her a hug. Tomoko feels safe and at peace with Yū. Sometimes Tomoko's child-like behaviour resurfaces, treating the girl like a prop or someone to dispose of after the (umpteenth) demonstration of her friend being integrated in her class or having, you know, other friends. 

Yū-chan is an angel.

🎮 CONCLUSIONS

From the point of view of a socially integrated or emotionally sound adult, Tomoko acts like a “loser”. That does not stop her from wanting to impress the people she cares about, namely her brother (sometimes, lol), Yū or her little cousin Kiko, that has an entire episode dedicated to her. Tomoko cares deeply about their judgment, often to her detriment. That same judgment pushes her to make up lies that, once discovered, make her look even more immature. She keeps forcing herself to be someone she is not.

It is interesting to see her attempting to accept other people are just as real, human and problematic as she is, especially when they do not fit her fake-world expectations. The show ends exactly with Tomoko finally understanding the world is not made to revolve around her and she should not give so much thought to being "popular", whatever that means.

TL;DR

Did you like WataMote? Yes.

Should you watch it? It depends on how much cringe you want to feel. If you had a healthy, active adolescence filled with positive relationships, you might find it amusing in the worst way possible. Or feel a kind of pity for Tomoko.

The bottom line is that WataMote is an okay anime that connected with me in a way I was not expecting. However, it will not do the trick with everyone, turning annoying and boring very quickly. Ten points are added specifically for my personal experience lol!

73/100

Notes:

¹ Fun fact: I almost started this blog to rant about Mushoku tensei but advised against it. Then I watched WEP and a monster was unleashed.
² For more *+*exciting lore*+* about my life, read the first section of the Shin Evangelion review.
³ Just a source for that claim. Sadly, it's in Italian, but Fumettologica is a reputable source of information about comics.
Italy has had a lot of anime imports since the early Seventies, so they were just "cartoons" for most children.
⁵ A band that was popular in the early 2000s, especially for the anime BECK.
⁶ You might have heard this term thrown around in many other titles, namely the most famous one would probably be
Chūnibyō demo koi ga shitai! (中二病でも恋がしたい!, 2011-2017) by Torako and Ōsaka Nozomi.

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