Buried Gems: No Matter How You Look at it, it’s Your Guys’ Fault I’m not Popular!

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Show: WaTaMoTe— Genre: Comedy, School — Episodes: 12

          The difference between comedy and tragedy is a lot blurrier than one might assume. A great deal of comedy is watching bad things happen to people and finding their reaction amusing, snickering at the absurdity of the situation, or even taking glee in karmic retribution. One of the greatest errors you can make in writing a tragedy is to write too over-the-top or making the characters unsympathetic, and in many ways a tragedy is as simple as making the audience feel sorry for characters as opposed to laugh at their misfortune.

Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dō Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!, translated to the title above and often referred to as “WataMote” to save time, is one such series that dances back and forth over the line between comedy and tragedy (even if it mostly ends up as a comedy). Best described as dark comedy slice of life, WataMote is published online in Japanese. A spinoff manga, called Watashi no Tomodachi ga Motenai no wa Dō Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui (translated as No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault My Friend’s Not Popular) has also been released. A 12-episode anime ran in 2013, and it adapts the manga fairly closely, diverging slightly but overall maintaining the same feel. It can be streamed on Crunchyroll.com subbed legally for free. As a caution, the opening is absolutely ridiculous.

The audience follows the adventures of Tomoko Kuroki, a nerdy high school girl who wants to become “more popular.” She tries to make new friends, start up a club, act cool, invoke anime clichés, and overall tries her damnedest to be popular, thinking that being in high school should be the most exciting time of her life. After all, she knows how it all works out in anime and visual novels.

To say her attempts at becoming popular fall short would be a massive understatement. Tomoko can barely have a conversation with most people, immediately freezing up and getting nervous. Only her family and best (ONLY) friend are immune to this, and even then, she often annoys her family as well. In addition to coming with “get popular” schemes so fast and of such ineptitude to give the likes of Homer Simpson a run for his money, whenever she tries taking the simple, direct path she fails miserably.

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            Besides her attempts to be popular, another recurring setup is watching her manage to get meaningful interaction with the few people that can stand her (or at least have to). She frequently torments her brother Tomoki (who could probably be the straight man in something like Daily Lives of High School Boys), and several plots involve her hanging out with her middle school friend, Yuu, who adjusted far better than Tomoko did, despite also being nerdy. Beyond her family and Yuu, there are few recurring characters; most of them are rather incidental.

Now some of you may be wondering why watching a girl try desperately hard to make friends is funny. It isn’t always; in fact, sometimes it’s downright cruel. What ultimately swings the pendulum from tragic to comic is in Tomoko, herself. She is deeply flawed as a character, although it doesn’t really relate back to her shyness and inability to converse. Tomoko is petty, hypocritical, judgmental, and overall totally self-centered. Her appearance comes across as creepy more often than endearing. She’s not particularly intelligent, nor is she at all good-natured or even civil to most people. Since the audience follows from her point of view, we even hear most of her inner musings on the people around her, most of which isn’t pretty.

So this gives us our comedic out; as much as we can sympathize with her plight, a lot of the bad things that happen to her are her own damn fault. Even worse is that a lot of the time she seems really close to finally making some progress, only for her to ruin it at the last minute by being an idiot. Though on the other hand, the few times something good happens to her are genuinely enjoyable, perhaps to sort of make up for when the universe seems to just hate her, as opposed to it being her fault. Even though it’s mostly a comedy, genuinely depressing moments are common enough.

Your enjoyment of WataMote really depends on how much humor you can find in watching Tomoko’s misadventures. It’s black comedy at its finest, and if that isn’t your cup of tea, you probably won’t enjoy the series. Some people might find Tomoko either too sympathetic to enjoy the humor or too unsympathetic that she becomes annoying. The comedy might skew a bit obscure when it comes to references to Japanese media, but I don’t think it detracts. There’s also a surprisingly large amount of sexual humor and innuendo, which while I find amusing, might turn some readers off.

Amusingly enough, WataMote has a large amount of western fans, most of whom (including yours truly) were introduced via word of mouth on Internet forums. It’s rare that I find a character endearing even as I simultaneously find her unpleasant. I hope she finally gets somewhere, even if I know she’ll suffer a lot trying to get there. It’s just depressing enough that a sense of drama is never truly forgotten, but it remains humorous and even kind of uplifting at points, given Tomoko’s sheer tenacity (one of her few good traits). If you’re a fan of dark comedy or quirky slice-of-life, I’d say give it a shot. A bunch of lunatics on the Internet can’t be wrong, after all.

Derek Delago is a UF student who is also an anime club officer. He loves anime, video games and rock.

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