I’ve been staying clear of most anime lately because it either A.) doesn’t interest me in the least, or B.) is Attack on Titan and I swear I’ll watch it sometime when everyone shuts the hell up about it. In the case of Watamote, I ended up watching it because a friend showed me the opening sequence, told me Tomoko Kuroki is me as a Japanese school girl, then got mad when I wouldn’t shut up about how fucking perfect Tomoko is.
The show is like Welcome to the NHK lite. A girl, Tomoko Kuroki, is completely socially awkward, demented, in love with anime and nerd culture, and doesn’t understand how the world works. It follows her life as a freshman in high school, a world where everything sucks, no one is her friend, and she can barely do anything without failing. Most of the failure come out of normal, everyday social situations while the rest come from demented fantasies. It’s a show aimed at a demographic that rightly knows who they are and rightly understand the situations that Tomoko gets into. The show gets a lot of hate from some people who rightly know that they are just like Tomoko and reject the fact that someone made a show aimed at them, but to me, I’m not afraid to laugh at myself. Just like Welcome to the NHK, it’s there for people with social problems and total nerds who aren’t afraid to look at themselves in the mirror and laugh.
The anime follows its respective manga pretty well, in fact it rarely deviates from the source material. Sometimes the anime puts a part from the manga before it happened in the manga, but that doesn’t matter. The problem the anime faces as opposed to the manga, which managed to stay pretty balanced, is that there is a slump in the middle of the series where a few of the scenarios and episodes fall into general comedy tropes. The most embarrassing offender is the panty episode. While chuckle-worthy at points, it deviates so far from the fairly original comedy of the previous few episodes. And then there’s a part where Tomoko wants to get raped on the train because she feels it would make her feel popular. While kind of funny and contributing to that skewed view of popularity that she has, it’s not as relatable or likable as her previous and later attempts at popularity.
The show is excellent when it goes through real life scenarios rather than crazy ones. The episode where she goes to Starbucks, doesn’t know what the hell she’s ordering, and ends up screwing up royally after getting her coffee is funny, but also really cute and sad in a way. It’s when she’s doing very normal things that you feel so bad that she screws up so much or can’t manage to do it. Another example is the very first episode where she has to say goodbye to her teacher. Those moments of social awkwardness that can be related to are where the show shines. It’s a new kind of humor that is funny because it’s realistic and relatable for many people. Which is why some of the more outlandish attempts at humor fall flat; they just don’t seem to fit in. They fit Tomoko’s character, but they don’t fit the style of comedy.
As far as supporting characters go Tomoki is Tomoko’s brother and a rather unattached and unlikable fellow. Her mom is just there to be a mom. Her best friend Yuu is a busty—as Tomoko would call her—“bitch” with very little personality. But that’s one of the main points of the show. That’s why I can understand the faceless background characters. Tomoko lives in a world where everyone has the same personality, everyone is looking for a girlfriend to bang. It’s seemingly one of the reasons she is the way she is, she sees the world as being totally faceless and everyone to be without a distinguishing personality.
The style of the comedy combined with the style of animation and great directing really lead to a very unique show that has a few slip ups along the way, but manages to continue being funny and original for much of its run. It’s in no way perfect, but Watamote is really damn good.
Watamote is an anime that either speaks to the deepest parts of your soul or causes one of the most uncomfortable, awkward viewing experiences in anime history (that doesn't involve an anime called “Boku”). The whole purpose of the anime is to show that there are stories to be told even about the most introverted, socially anxious people in our society. The way that the anime gets inside the head of someone so reclusive is paralleled only by the cult classic Welcome to the NHK! In some ways, Watamote is even more relatable, since most social introverts are forced to actually live “in the world” and therefore how Tomoko actually behaves is closer to real life social situations. Of course, her form of social anxiety is very extreme, but the her emotions and thought processes definitely reflect those of someone who is shy or has an intense social phobia (speaking from experience).
Figure 1: Talking to the opposite gender is one of the many challenges of being really shy
I've described Watamote to my friends as “Welcome to the NHK! meets B Gata H Kei but without the interesting girl from NHK or the boring guy from BGHK.” Without the complimentary character, the enjoyment of the anime solely centers on how much you like Tomoko. As an isolated introvert, she hardly interacts with others, and a good 75% of the anime is focused on her thoughts as she goes about her day. It's the epitome of slice of life, with its honesty being brutal at times and little left to the imagination. At times one might get frustrated at Tomoko for her fundamental lack of understanding of social norms, but if it weren't for her ineptitude, there'd be no story. If she really developed into a social person, the humor would honestly end. In the end, the anime is played for laughs, exaggerating the elements of social anxiety and otakuism to their logical extremes. What often results is a brilliant observation into our main heroine's slow decent into a sort of insanity brought about by her inability to interact with others normally. Other times it's just cringeworthy awkwardness, which while honest, isn't any less painful to watch.
Figure 2: Have I ever told you the defintion of insanity?
On a technical level, Watamote wasn't really that impressive. The voice acting was overall average, although Izumi Kitta as Tomoko Kuroki deserves special mention as she really portrays the desperate yet cynical attitude Tomoko has towards relationships. She reminded me of how Aya Hirano portrayed Konata Izumi in Lucky Star if Konata had no friends. Kana Hanazawa puts on a fairly good performance as Tomoko's best friend Yuu, but she's certainly had better performances in her storied career. The opening song sounds like it would be more appropriate for a dark action show like Mirai Nikki or Death Note, which was jarring but certainly unique. Everything else, the animation, the other voice actors, the music, was generally average with nothing standing out as either good or bad. The focus is really on the story and main character rather than the technical aspects of the anime.
Figure 3: The face of mercy?
On a personal note, this anime really struck a chord with me. I consider myself a very insular person with a very small circle of friends and spending most of my free time in front of a computer playing games. I saw a lot of my own actions and habits reflected in the main character. Of course, I'm not so socially inept that I can't hold a normal conversation with a stranger, but I remember when I was younger the times I would be so nervous that I wouldn't be able to order food from a cashier at Taco Bell. The attitudes that Tomoko has towards popular cliques definitely echo my own, which in the anime (and in reality) can come across as simply excuses to stay alone. I say all this because what I see as brilliance may simply be a result of the strong relationship between Tomoko and my social experiences. On the other hand, I doubt that I'm alone in this regard.
Overall, I'd highly recommend Watamote if you're into anime about otkau lifestyles or just want to see a slightly different take on a slice of life. If you relate to Tomoko, it will be fun simply relating to her dilemmas and seeing that some author somewhere does in fact understand what you're going through. If you can't really relate to her, I don't see much value in this anime. However, unless you're really a social butterfly I think many will at least somewhat empathize with her. Personally, I really really want to give her a hug.
Figure 4: A hug please :(
Or as my buddy Corvus Corax put it so succinctly
Story: While short is very original. The concept and execution is remarkable. It's not anything fancy like Death Note or Code Geass. But you have to really appreciate how well the captured the essence of each character as a real person. Honestly the only thing keeping this at an 8 and not a 10 is length. Had they gone to at least 24 eps I'd hand a 10 right over.
Animation: While of course nothing fancy again you can tell they did try. Nothing's out of place or poorly done. But it's nothing groundbreaking either, above average maybe but definitely not the focus.
Sound: Very befitting theme for the opening...well you know what I had this at a 7 but let's bump it up to an 8 because they changed the ending up quite a bit. Since it's not a long anime I appreciate they went the extra mile to change songs and sequence.
Characters: This is the main hook to the entire thing! Your atypical protagonist who isn't a hero, they're not super hot/cute chick, they're nothing that out of place at all. In fact that's what makes her atypical. Her very average real-life plausibility. She's a recluse because her interests aren't necessarily the things other people like. But she has a very human struggle. At the beginning she's determined to be the popular girl. As time goes on, just popular. But by the end all she wants is to be noticed. Excellent portrayal and character development.
Overall: Well this is a solid 8. But you really must watch it. It's an emotional ride. Odds are if you watch this you also watch anime on a regular basis. That being said you will identify strongly with at least a quarter of what Tomoko does. Honestly I grew to be very attached to her, watching her struggle. But another thing that makes this story shine is that they don't just kick her to the ground constantly as the driving force for the whole show. They just utilize it to highlight the inner struggle. The factory scene actually made me wanna die though...that hit home all too well. Except instead of decorating cakes I was sorting through chicken evisceration. But enough about me... point is it's worth a watch and it's short so get to it!
Anyone who has ever suffered from or known someone who has suffered from social anxiety disorder will struggle to watch this show. So perfectly have they caputred the pathos that the presentation of the main characters struggles as comic have sparked controversy. However you may feel about that, WataMote is both genuinely funny and deeply heartbreaking. The kind of show everyone should watch, even if it isn't exactly appropriate to call it "enjoyable."
Beyond the subject matter, the show is very well done. The animation style, particularly when it lapses into Tomoko's moments of frenetic anxiety or when the screen splits between internal and external realities, is refreshingly different. Both the voice acting (of the main character particulary, which is noticable even if your Japanese is poor) and the music are top notch.
There are real drawbacks however, one of which is that basically all of the characters are two-dimensional. Part of this can be explained by the way the main character sees the world, but even so the lack of depth becomes frustrating. The other area that might turn people off is that the story isn't really a story so much as a series of variations on a theme: Tomoko's fruitless struggle to tackle her anxiety. Growth, change, sustained tension, they're all largely missing. That's a bit like real life, admittedly, but at the same time it makes for unsatisfying fiction.
Altogether though, WataMote is definitely worth giving a try.
Overall this anime is pretty original. It looks like a typical screwball comedy, but after the jokes the main character, Tomoko, has actual character development. I kept expecting some cliche sort of bully to put her down, but that never happened. She has an ongoing hatred for the talkative group in her class, but they never actually bother her. In the end she is her own worst enemy.
This is a comedy, and the jokes are funny throughout the series, but the endings have a surprising amount of depth, and that's what really stands out for me. Around the middle I started getting tired of seeing her fail repeatedly in life, but after this section things tend to get interesting again.
Towards the end they started developing a character that was the polar opposite of Tomoko, and she seemed aware of what Tomoko was going through. I was sad with the series finale because it seemed like something interesting was just starting to develop with her. I suppose I'll have to start following the manga.
I recommend you watch this series even if you're jaded with most anime by now, although I would warn that if you're currently sad and lonely, you shouldn't watch this because you'll probably end up depressed by the end.