OP: 「私がモテないのはどう考えてもお前らが悪い!」 (No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!) by (Konomi Suzuki and Kiba of Akiba)
「モテないし、ちょっとイメチェンするわ」 (Motenaishi, Chotto Imechen suru wa)
“Since I’m Not Popular, I’ll Change My Image a Bit”
That definitely goes down as an experience…
I had some idea of what to expect from Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!, both by reputation and from having read bits and pieces of the manga (which is always displayed prominently in seemingly every bookstore manga section in Japan). But still, those don’t really prepare you for the experience of seeing it play out on screen. I’d still consider myself a new viewer in the sense that my reactions can’t be taken as indicative of what loyal manga readers think of the job Oonuma Shin did with their beloved series.
This is a strange sort of comedy to say the least. In fact (though perhaps this is not so unusual for comedies) it may very well be the saddest anime I’ve seen this year. There are obvious comedic elements to Watamote, starting with the often hilarious sight gags and the fact that it may be one of the least politically correct shows you’ll see. But the overriding gut-level reaction from me is that this is more tragic than most tragedies, because hidden underneath the absurdity is a scenario that’s eerily and uncannily close to a very sad reality for many adolescents. Even the aforementioned sight gags are at the expense of the main character, and usually highlight a moment of extreme discomfort for her (which is almost every moment, truth be told).
Watamote is very much the world as seen through the eyes of Kuroki Tomoko (Izumi Kitta). It’s a scary, claustrophobic place, in which most of the people have no faces (they’re just not important enough to Tomoko for her to notice). Tomoko is, simply put, one of the biggest losers you’ll ever see. She not only has no friends, but hasn’t had a conversation with anyone in her high school for three months. She’s addicted to otome games and because of her dexterity with virtual bishounen had convenced herself that high school would be her great blossoming, building on the six glorious times a boy spoke to her in middle school. She has to blackmail her little brother Tomoki (Nakamura Yuuichi) by threatening suicide in order to force him to converse with her for practice. In short – Tomoko may not be a hikikomori, but she may as well be for all her lack of social interaction.
Make no mistake, there are laughs here. When Tomoko experimentally tweaks her look to impress her brother, or disguises herself in a "WcDonald’s" bathroom to avoid being recognized (and pitied) by classmates, or throws up after looking at herself in a mirror for too long I laughed – the visuals are very funny. But this all hits uncomfortably close to reality. Tomoko isn’t a hikikomori, and she’s not being bullied. And what she wants is very reasonable and normal – to have friends, and to be looked at by guys, and to go out on a date, and to be cute. But her life is a complete disaster, a kind of self-contained and self-perpetuating hell – and it’s almost worse because for the most part, her classmates (and brother and teachers) aren’t overtly mean to her. They just ignore her, and she shrinks further and further inside her own neurotic and delusional shell.
I don’t know too many details about mangaka Tanigawa Nico, but I’m guessing she (I’m not even 100% sure she’s a woman) knows something about depression. I grew up with a family member who suffered from it, and the moment when Tomoko threatened to commit suicide if Tomoki didn’t converse with her for an hour a day was one of many jokes that didn’t feel like a joke, because it’s a very unpleasant and real part of living with a depressed person. Tomoki seems like a nice enough kid, guilty of nothing more than being "normal" – and popular – and it sucks for him to be caught up in his sister’s darkness when he’s clearly unequipped to deal with it. The episode is full of those sorts of authentically uncomfortable moments – sometimes I didn’t laugh, and sometimes I laughed and felt bad for laughing. There’s something in the experience of seeing Tomoko as an animated, speaking girl that makes the experience altogether more painful than the manga.
That all leads back to the question of whether Watamote works as an anime. Oonuma Shin is a bit of a hyperactive director, to the point where I often find myself annoyed (as I do sometimes with his mentor Shinbou) and the premiere here is full of his usual visual gimmickry, but because the show is effectively shot from Tomoko’s perspective it works better here than it might (so far anyway). The OP and ED (sung by Kitta) are great – visually clever and lyrically on-point. There was grumbling from some manga fans about Kitta-san’s casting but I think she’s excellent, especially in the quiet moments where Tomoko struggles to eke out a word to her teacher or a fast food cashier. Watamote is clever, dark, emotionally penetrating and often very funny – but it’s too early for me to say whether I’ll actually enjoy it. This is a dark ride, and in a sense I think it would be easier to tag along if this were played straight, rather than for laughs. But then, I’m not absolutely confident yet just how the series wants to be taken – and that’s one of many reasons I’m intensely curious to see where it goes from here.
ED: 「どう考えても私は悪くない」 (No Matter How I Look At It, It’s Not My Fault) by (Izumi Kitta)