Anime Editorials Reviews

Death to the fantasy

Of all the new anime that I’ve seen this season, it’s probably WataMote that has left me with the strongest impression, to the point where I went ahead and started reading the manga straight after watching it. With its English title of No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Unpopular! you can guess what it’s about, but to summarise, it’s the story of the unpopular high-school girl Tomoko and her titanic struggle to be not so.
That may sound like the beginning of any given high-school anime (which is, let’s face it, almost every anime,) but the twist to WataMote is that there’s no external salvation for her. No-one notices her, she doesn’t join the light music club, she’s not infatuated with her brother, she’s a dedicated fujoshi, but for all of her hundreds of hours of “training” through dating sims, in the end no real boy so much as looks her way. As the title alludes, her problem isn’t that she’s unpopular, but that she’s blaming everyone else for it, and therein lies the harsh truth that under pins this series. Tomoko’s so clearly denying reality. No one has bullied her to make her this way, she’s just an introverted, really shy girl, and her unpopularity is of her own making.

What’s interesting to me is that WataMote is airing in the same season as Genshiken Nidaime, another series that’s about the otaku experience, but like the other side of the same coin, Genshiken has always been such a beacon of reassurance. “You aren’t alone,” it’s screaming, “You can become a normal person, too! Get a job! Get a girlfriend! Just join the anime club!” There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s preaching a nice, positive message, it just makes me feel sick, that’s all.
This is coming from someone who enjoyed the original Genshiken anime back when it wasn’t as common to see anime culture so shamelessly glorified every season. Now it just feels escapist and fake. Happiness comes from within, it isn’t about who you’re with, what you buy or what you watch. Looking back at Aku no Hana, Nakamura is rallying against Kasuga’s attempts to be a normal boy. He’s a pervert. She just wants him to be honest with himself, to stop trying to be something he’s not. It’s not an easy or clean process. It’s messy and weird and difficult and there’s no end in sight, no paradise on the other side of the mountain. Genshiken Nidaime has the feel of an easy answer, and I don’t want that any more.
WataMote and Aku no Hana are distinct and passionate reactions to the wave of escapist fantasies that have been daring us to believe that salvation lies in the arms of another. What Kasuga and Tomoko have in common is the total objectification of those around them. They don’t see people to empathise with, just more rungs on a ladder that leads them towards an idea of happiness. Watching these notions (or walls, as Nakamura put it) be torn down isn’t pleasant, but it’s a hell of a lot more meaningful than just another iteration of “it’s okay, you’re fine!”

8 replies on “Death to the fantasy”

Based on this assessment of the others, I’d strongly recommend it. I think it takes the same perspective on these outcast characters (that their situation is largely self-inflicted but not that simple to remedy), but handles it with a bit more empathy and nuance than Watamote. Plus its characters are more standard precocious, insecure kids and less directly otaku-focused.

Nidaime gets pretty depressing for Madarame, and Hato too. Of course the main goal is self-acceptance in the end though.

I’m not sure the original Genshiken really glorified otaku culture. I think it was just a comedy series back in the day, and Kasukabe was always pretty scathing about the group.
I do think somewhere along the line the story did start to shift though.
But, ultimately, I think series like Chuunibyou, which are ultimately about accepting people for who they are (within reason), are a positive thing.

Thanks for the tip, I remember watching the first episode of Chuunibyou and not being sure what to make of it, but I’m much more interested in KyoAni these days so will probably give it another look.

I’m watching this series, haven’t read the manga so not sure how it’ll end, but I think by now I’ve figured there possibly won’t be an ‘external salvation’ as you put it Since the first episode, I’ve been wondering how it’s going to end: is she going to find at least one friend? Is she going to find it within herself to be happy, and accept her introversion? Still, I think a lot of times, and this coming from experience, that even to start looking for happiness within yourself, there’s an influence that opens your eyes and pushes you to make that shift. I can argue that, for character development, it’s almost necessary. Doesn’t have to be a person either. Just a wake up call.
I’m definitely curious on what this anime will end up communicating to us in the end.

Yup, seeing a change in Tomoko, and how it’s instigated within her, is what’s compelling me to follow up on the WataMote manga. If she comes through and finds some semblance of real happiness, it will have been through her own determination to improve. How great would that be?

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