Narumi Momose has had it rough: every boyfriend she’s had dumped her once they found out she was an otaku, so she’s gone to great lengths to hide it. When a chance meeting at her new job with childhood friend, fellow otaku, and now coworker Hirotaka Nifuji almost gets her secret outed at work, she comes up with a plan to make sure he never speaks up. But he comes up with a counter-proposal: why doesn’t she just date him instead? In love, there are no save points.
Story: It is a bit strange, as someone who has been watching anime for over 20 years, watching the push and pull of the Japanese medium evolve over time. In some sense, there exists a stigma that anything animated is for children, and therefore anime as a whole must be targeted toward children. Countless generic shows are reproduced and repackaged to keep the scene fresh for an ever-revolving door of youth; for example, the marvelous trash of Green Green which I was unfortunately exposed to during my teenage years could parallel any number of modern stock shows. Yet, behind the tidal wave of triviality, there has always been a market for something more. Picking the sparkling shells off the shore of mundane sand is what has kept me coming back to anime time and time again, and I’m always amazed at the creativity and ingenuity talented Japanese authors can conjur with a modest budget and a open mind. Wotakoi is definitively one such diamond among the rough, aimed precisely at persons like myself who have stepped beyond our childhood anime fancy and now live in a very different world. On a superficial level, Wotakoi is a slice of life comedy with a sweet dose of romance tucked away pleasantly behind its veneer. Peel back the onion a bit, however, and the series blossoms into a charming commentary on the evolution from child to young adult to working adult. The story plays with terribly complicated and nuanced themes, yet does so with a deft and humorous hand. Take, for example, the ebb and flow of people that sift in an out of your life as you pass along through the years, which the show foils through the Narumi/Hirotaka pair and the Hanako/Tarou pair in many ways. In one regard, I often laughed audibly because the presentations of such a theme were legitimately funny, and in another I laughed poignantly because the show just gets it. Indeed, despite the intellectual heaviness way in the background, there’s no great philosophical drama overarching the story. Wotakoi simply aims to have fun with many things adults come to understand and deal with through life experience, and does so with classy humor and a great deal of parody that older fans of anime will no doubt appreciate in spades. All that said, many younger viewers may not appreciate the delicate and slow pacing on which the series moves its romance along. Hirotaka and Narumi are not a typical love-shy couple who can’t express their feelings for one another – quite the opposite, they are a very real couple who handles their romance in a strikingly believable fashion. Both have battle wounds from past relationships that shape how they approach new ones, both cannot let their personal life impact their performance at their job, and both understand that real romances are not a joinder of two perfect unicorns together. Not to mention, they have a busy job which keeps them occupied for a significant portion of their time. The couple recognize and understand that their relationship actually takes work, and that means dealing with fluctuating insecurities, the difficulty communicating between the sexes, and the balancing acts of work life and personal interests in a mature and non-dramatic fashion. And yet, amidst all fundamental backstory, Wotakoi is not at all a heavy drama or a sappy shoujo. The core of the show is a slice-of-life, lightly-touched romantic comedy that aims at the development of a relationship working adults can relate to. The story and themes are delivered concisely, intelligently, and hilariously, often rife with feel-good and nostalgic moments that also ping you with the softest bit of melancholy come the time the iconic ending theme begins to roll. Animation: The animation is stock and standard for this day and age, spinning off with a bit of its own style in the character designs that generally works well. Character designs are thematic, and the visuals match the comedic intent quite well along the voice actors. Generally, these types of shows tend to have limited animation budgets, and it certainly can be noticed; yet, Wotakoi has a certain unique visual charm that works well for its delivery, so there’s not really too much to criticize here. The show worked with the resources it had quite well. Sound: The musical score is decidedly average and unmemorable, but it functions aptly for a slice-of-life setting. There’s no need for deep dramatic overtures, high-strung orchestral battles, or gripping tear-jerking elegies. Instead, the series has a fitting light-hearted, silly set of tracks that fulfill their functional role precisely as intended. More than anything else, though, the voice acting is what makes the show successful. The banter between Hanako and Tarou is fantastically done by their respective seiyuu, and complements wonderfully the stoicism of Hirotaka and Narumi’s upbeat charm. Each character’s seiyuu appeared to be simply having fun doing their job, and this brings the fun and upbeat nature of the characters to a higher level than might have otherwise been done. Characters: Wotakoi’s four primary characters are absolutely stellar. As, hands down, one of the most well-written character ensembles I’ve seen in the past 20 years, it’s amazing to see just how much character development can be fleshed out in such a short period of time with clever dialogue and skilled writing. Hirotaki and Narumi (despite her being a vile fujoshi) are incredible leads, each painted with interesting backstories and strong motivations for acting the way they do. Sure, the “otaku” meme is played out strongly in both, but the series splashes several serious undertones into their relationship which are handled flawlessly without disrupting the greater comedic flows of the episodes. Hirotaka, for example, is an unsocial nerd, but he’s neither antisocial nor an emotionless automaton. Deeper beneath his mask is a man wrestling with a greater existential struggle – his games are satisfying to a degree, and yet he wants some more in his life. This flickering dissatisfaction drives him to pursue Narumi in a paced and respectful manner consistent with his personality, and while he’s clearly content with his life as it is, he’s open to having Narumi play a role in it as well. On the other hand, Narumi is a mildly social nerd who struggles to find common interest with others. With a history of failed relationships and friendships, she is cautious about wanting to jump headfirst into another relationship mistake. At the same time, she also does not completely understand her own feelings, and it’s endearing to watch her grow actual slow and real attraction toward Hirotaka despite him not being her “top pick.” These facets between the two are presented simply to be just parts of who they are, and come with no exterior drama baggage and belabored exposition – the show simply takes for granted it knows it is telling its story well, and as such the viewer will simply understand. In the greater context, the problems they face are ones all functional adults feel, internalize, and learn to deal with from day to day. Foiling the new couple, Hanako and Tarou have a long-standing, established relationship that’s presented as highly stable and mature. They are long past the “lovey-dovey” phase that many romance dramas try to target, and are presented with problems that they resolve appropriately on a regular basis. Both are developed in such a fashion that their relationship is believably deep and tested, which sets the tone for their hilarious banter which paces many of the core events each episode. Their love is genuine, and while each screws up constantly, they understand it’s a mutual failing and through that they grow stronger together. The interplay between the four is simply excellent. Overall: While it’s true the anime simply “ends”, the show caught up to the manga and left off with what content it had to fill. Given how the series progresses it feels properly-paced for a standard 26-episode run, though, and therefore it’s a bit of a letdown to see it conclude prematurely. That said, it concludes quite nicely for the point at which the manga had been written, and there exists potential for a sequel to be made once more content is available. Long story short, if you’re an adult and you like romance, this anime is hands down the cream of the crop. A very different taste from say Spice and Wolf or Clannad, certainly, but nevertheless easily fits in my top five for the genre. Check it out!
I was really struggling to enjoy Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku and a lot of it had to do with how little affection there is between the couples. It felt like I was just watching a group of friends just hang out and just looking out for each other. I wouldn't even say that there is a lot of chemistry between the characters, it's more like they've all just settled with mediocre relationships. Their odd hobbies get mentioned a lot but I actually feel that it's not really that big of an issue in the series itself. Most of the time is spend at the office, at a place where they can eat & drink or at Nifuji's house. They're just friends, casually hanging out... The only one real character that is socially a bit awkward is Nifuji. He kind of walks around with one facial expression and just seems to struggle to get words out of his mouth at times. For characters that are trying to somewhat hide their relationships they do tend to hang out with each other all time time, even at work. Near the end of the season they're still not sure how to really talk to each other and miss reading each others signals which i really see as them just really not understanding each other at all, they understand each others obsessions but I really feel we're just looking at close friends rather then couples.
Ok, so if this isn't a must-see for any adult anime fan I really don't know what is. It's basically a perfect blend of adult storyline, comedy, and otaku culture presented in a slice of life anime. First - the story. This is a slice of life anime so the story moves along very slowly. Which is a GOOD thing. What good slice of life anime does is it lets the story take the back seat and puts the characters in the front row - and Wotakoi does this perfectly. Whats even better the story is about adults and not high schoolers and/or college students (a rare gem for anime) and is a rom-com completely free from love triangles and will-they-won't-they tropes which is almost unheard of nowdays. In the first season, we follow the beggining of a relationship between two otaku co-workers and ex middle school friends. The story blends comedy romance and slice of life elements perfectly and each episode is constructed in a way that lets the viewer learn a little more about a character or relationship between characters. Relationships (romantical or not) between each of the characters develop over time and do not feel forced. At no point do you think 'wait, why the hell are those guys hanging out with each other?'. The romance part is handled pretty well too - both couples are in a different stage of a relationship and both have different problems which they have to overcome. The viewer can easily understand why every character reacts the way he or she does and why. Second: the animation. The animation is pretty decent but nothing spectacular. It serves its purpose well and blends the comedic and slice of life elements of the story quite well. I did like the computer-game related cutscenes used for comedic purposes. Its when the show presents a dilemma or a problem in a story in a way that makes a nod to some old game or anime. It's a nice touch and shows off the otaku part of the characters pretty well. Third: the sound. The sound is ok. I can't really say anything more about it. Fourth: the characters. The characters are where this anime shines. I mean there's a two minute shot of a guy making coffee and getting out of his apartment without saying a word for God's sake! Without good characters that make the viewer interested in what's going to happen this show would be hard to watch. Fortunately, all of the main cast of characters are pretty great. Both protagonists of the story are likable and relatable. Both have a very different view of being an otaku and both views are challenged, forcing them to change a little with each episode. Their relationship feels natural - its a little forced at first (which has a reason within the story) and grows steadily as they interact. Both supporting characters are well crafted and have more than one side to their personality. With each episode, the viewer gets to know them a little more. Also: as a couple, I liked them even more than the protaginists of the story. Verdict: It's great. Go watch it already!
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