「モテないし、夏休みを満喫する」 (Motenai shi, Natsuyasumi o Makitsu suru)
“Since I’m Not Popular, I’ll Enjoy Summer Vacation”
I’m going to need the thesaurus to do justice to how freakishly brilliant (and freakish) this episode of Watamote was.
This series has been an emotional roller-coaster from the very beginning (except it would have to be a roller-coaster where you’re going up, down and upside-down all at the same moment in time) but in terms of sheer laughs, I think this episode was probably the best to date. There were certainly plenty of classically Watamote tragic flashes, but the humor definitely took the starring role this time. Usually this is a black comedy with the focus on the black – this time it was on the comedy.
My initial reaction was that for a while at least, Tomoko seemed as much a typical high-school girl in this episode as she has at any time so far. Wasting a summer break doing nothing is about as elemental an experience as a teenager can have. No, it certainly isn’t the healthiest thing in the world for Tomoko to be sequestered in her room non-stop, playing eroge, watching anime, surfing the net, and failing to sleep for every moment of her school break, but let’s face it – it isn’t what you would call highly unusual, especially for a kid who isn’t especially popular. By contrast, of course, we have Tomoki with his stable of friends coming over to plan their outings – and then there’s Mom, oblivious as ever to her daughter’s isolation as she smilingly goes through her denial-fest of a life.
When you dig a little deeper, though, you see that it isn’t so much a matter of Tomoko blissfully wasting time as it is Tomoko agonizing over how the passage of each second brings her break closer to its end. This is a classic part of her neuroses, constant worry over what’s going to happen next – not abnormal in itself, but taken to a frightening extreme. It keeps her (and by extension, Tomoki) awake most of the night. More pleasantly for the viewer, it also gives her incentive to think of nutty ideas to fill the time. Like the online request for an explanation of "peropero"(“lick-lick") and what parts of people’s bodies are being licked ("I suspect their naughty bits" Tomoko theorizes, but alas no one answers her). Or her disastrous attempt ("Viva one-click ordering!") to launch a stream on Niconico, complete with the requisite stream of nasty commentary from the audience.
The meta-humor is strong with this one – it’s a big part of what makes the comedy part of the Watamote recipe work, and the mangaka nails the peculiarities of the online world Tomoko inhabits with unerring accuracy. A big part of the pleasure of this ep is watching her immerse herself in all her distractions, even something as simple as watching Detective Conan and muttering the supremely ironic "It’d be great to go back to the body of a child but retain the mind of an adult", or as over-the-edge as her grabbing the kleenex box when her eroge dialogue gets especially hot. Tomoko is a nonstop stream of hilarious aphorisms, such as when she responds to the "How to enjoy summer break alone" suggestion of visiting the pool with "What am I – an ascetic?" These scenes almost seem to be shot in real-time, giving you a real sense of Tomoko’s stream moving at a different pace from the rest of the world.
The "climax" of the episode certainly is the humor and pathos derived from Tomoko’s realization that she has an event ticket for a "Meet-and-Greet Recording Session" with Ishimine Jun (Toriumi Kousuke), star of one of her current favorite VNs. The fun starts when she starts researching the limits of what she’s allowed to ask a seiyuu to say for her "personal recording", and winds up getting sidetracked looking at stories of supernatural horrors until she’s too freaked out to even go to the bathroom, and must rouse Tomoki at 3 AM to walk her there – but not before she "pees herself a little". Then we have a truly genius bit where Tomoki walks in on his mother playing bright, cheerful home video of toddler Tomoki and Tomoko, where he declares his love, demands a kiss, and professes his intent to marry her (if only Fushimi Tsukasa had as much common sense as a 5 year-old budding bundle of disorders). Tomoki’s reaction to seeing the video alone would have made this a successful ep.
Finally the moment arrives, a huge crowd turns out, and Ishimine Jun turns out to be a hunk. Tomoko has settled on the rather sweet "I love you, Tomoko", but, emboldened by the girl in front of her asking for "I’m going to mess you up." decides to go with "You sow! You stink! Not really, just kidding. Your hair smells great, Tomoko. And it’s so smooth! I love you." And Jun-san, being the consummate pro he is, delivers with a smile, even petting Tomoko’s hair as he delivers the line. It’s another of those rare moments where things go better for Tomoko than we expect – though it’s mitigated by the fact that her mother walks in on her playing back the edit of her eroge audio track she’s made with Jun’s dialogue and her own responses (delivered with hilariously bad acting by Tomoko) patched in. This scene is a perfect example of the ingenious way Watamote makes you laugh and squirm all at once – the camera just lingers on Tomoko and her mother staring at each other as the offending audio drones on, refusing to spare us the discomfort of the moment.
I haven’t stopped feeling conflicted when I watch this show, but I have moved past feeling conflicted about it – because it’s now 100% clear to me that I’m reacting exactly the way Tanigawa Nico wants me to react. Watamote is not only a brilliant black comedy, but it’s also quite compassionate in the way it portrays its hopelessly miserable heroine – without sparing us from Tomoko’s considerable ugly side, I think it unequivocally asks the audience to feel for her, not to dislike her. This, as I’ve said, is clearly the work of a writer who knows and loves someone like Tomoko (probably a sister), and hated her a lot of the time, too. I can’t help but imagine it’s the author staring out the window as his sister sets off sparklers at the end of summer break, and only doing that because he was bribed with ice cream. It’s a terribly sad moment – especially when contrasted with the home video of a few moments earlier – but somehow, oddly contains a kernel of hope to it as well. This is great stuff – Oonuma Shin’s most restrained and clever work in years, and I could hardly do justice to the performance Kitta Izumi is delivering as Tomoko. So much of the show rides on it, and she just kills it – she gets Tomoko. She’s funny, and dark, and angry, and sad, sometimes all at once – much like Watamote itself.