Title: Watamote aka Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!
Company: Silver Link
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 9 Jul 2013 – 24 Sep 2013
Synopsis: Kuroki Tomoko is a shut-in who spends most of her time playing dating sims and aimlessly wandering the Internet. She wishes she had more friends, but she believes that once she enters high school, everything will change. After all, all the protagonists in high school anime find a close-knit group of friends. Once she’s in school, Tomoko pulls every trick she can to get the high school life she desires.
Humor: Sticks to a formula, but executes that formula consistently well.
Visuals: Excellently portray Tomoko’s social delusions, embarrassment and crushing fear of interaction.
Hope: Practically none to speak of until near the end of the series.
There are many reasons why people laugh, but sometimes we do it because there is no other reasonable reaction. Watamote‘s Kuroki Tomoko lives a life of social isolation. She plays dating sims and other games, watches anime and otherwise occupies her time glued to her computer screen. Her social cues and general understanding of the world are derived almost entirely from fiction. She made it through middle school with one actual friend; however, the slate is wiped clean in high school, and Tomoko is determined to have the ideal high school life, just like the protagonists of her favorite stories. Tomoko’s attempts to achieve normalcy regularly leaving something to be desired. All the viewer can do is laugh, lest they fall into despair.
What makes Watamote work so well is that it’s clearly a satire, but it retains enough truth for the humor to cut deep. Tomoko is a cartoonish young woman. Her attempts at maturity are often ridiculous, such as when she undergoes “training” to become a cabaret girl. However, while the situations in which Tomoko finds herself are often silly, the show doesn’t turn her problems into something equally cartoony. Many of Tomoko’s issues are self-exacerbated. She lacks the confidence to speak clearly to people, but when they fail to understand, she launches immediately into raging inner monologues about how awful everyone is. She is also passive; her preference is to launch weird schemes to get people to notice her and then wait for the friends to come pouring in, which, of course, doesn’t happen. This makes Tomoko a frustrating character, but also recognizably real, which gives the punch lines of Tomoko’s failure a blacker edge.
Watamote‘s humor flows from a quickly familiar formula. Tomoko conjures up some reason why she hasn’t achieved popularity and endeavors to correct it. She puts forth a huge amount of effort into various schemes to either learn social phenomena (like how to have conversations with boys) or quickly gain popularity (like when she mistakenly thinks that spraying herself with soda makes boys notice her), only to have these efforts backfire in the most cringeworthy ways. The laughter comes from a place of horror as much as humor. They continue to work because there’s usually a glimmer of light somewhere, even if Tomoko can’t see it — she often misses one little thing that would earn her a normal interaction with a human being, because she makes a wrong assumption somewhere along the line. One thing Watamote goes out of its way to show is that nobody is really out to get Tomoko. In fact, she attends what may be the most pleasant high school in existence.
Watamote seems almost devoid of hope because Tomoko has crafted a nearly hopeless world for herself, albeit not purposefully. However, Tomoko does move forward in increments. She reaches out to her brother, though mainly in clumsy ways that infuriate him. She tries to help out around the classroom during culture festival season, even if only in a small way that earns her little recognition from her peers. Tomoko’s efforts snowball into a scene that would not be half as touching without all the existential suffering she endured beforehand. Even though Tomoko is often an unpleasant person, her desire to have someone who means something to her and to mean something to someone else is earnest and true. That’s a part of comedy that is often overlooked — much comedy comes from simple desire. Empathy often comes hand in hand with comedy.
None of these themes would be quite as hard-hitting without the visuals. Oonuma Shin is often a director who lays it on thick and goes for empty flash rather than meaning like in the Baka to Test anime. However, his style is perfect for showing the extent to which Tomoko’s pop culture experience colors the way she views the world. There is a distinct contrast between the plain scenes of everyday school life and the periods where Tomoko is focused on herself and her social issues. Tomoko’s delusions are more appropriately kinetic, colorful and weird than scenes where she’s talking (or trying to talk) with another person. The actual animation is rarely better than average, but the style of the art and direction mostly makes up for it.
Watamote is a solid, clever comedy that focuses on a single goal and pounds away at it for 12 episodes. This would probably get boring if it didn’t have such a clear, confident view of its protagonist; as it stands, this is a comedy well worth watching. Well, when you can stand the second-hand embarrassment, anyway.
The Rating: 7
Reviewed by: Shinmaru