The snow is falling and the fire is crackling as we continue celebrating the twelve days of (anime) Christmas! Everyone else has had their say, so it’s my turn again to don the ol’ Santa cap and peer into our recent media-soaked past.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
FIVE GOLDEN (C)RING(E)S
While Meganebu! wins points for its unapologetic and avant-garde direction, my favorite comedy of the year can only be the surprisingly adept adaptation of No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! (hereafter referred to as Watamote). It took what was already decent source material, and, through smart composition and direction, strengthened it with a more cohesive narrative, as well as an impeccable realization of its main character Tomoko Kuroki. Moreover, Tomoko emerged as a breath of fresh air with the series’ frank and far-from-idealized portrayal of her thoughts and neuroses. Whereas other stories would see fit to paint the otaku girl (or nerd, or fujoshi, or any other signifier) as either an object of male wish fulfillment or a thoroughly-detestable caricature, Tomoko’s character emerged as much more nuanced person. Simultaneously familiar, pitiable, and laughable, Tomoko was the subject of enough schadenfreude and first-hand embarrassment to pierce its target audience with an unprecedented amount of cringing. I can still feel some of my muscles ache just thinking about certain scenes.
But Watamote‘s unromantic portrait of high school was also significant for me in its thorough (and hilarious) dismantling of the mythic persecution complex that modern nerd culture hides behind at every opportunity (as an aside, I love the internet, but I hate that it has made “nerd culture” a pair of words whose connotation I need to acknowledge). While I’m not saying that nerds have never been the victim of bullying (hell, I was bullied), I am saying that the stereotype of the weak nerd being given a wedgie by the hunky jock is hardly the predominant form of modern bullying, and hardly justification for the entitlement and aggression that nerds proceed to dish out online at the slightest provocation. For me, Tomoko’s high school experience rings more true, in that other students just don’t care for the most part. Her problems don’t stem from her identification as an otaku, nor are they a result of other students perceiving her as such. Her lack of popularity is not the machination of some external maliciousness. She’s simply a shy, awkward girl who is afraid to reach out to others, and is unlucky enough to have (almost) nobody reach out to her. It’s not nerd persecution; it’s social anxiety. Watamote is at its most telling when it reveals Tomoko’s own thoughts and actions as the reason for her misfortunes.
However, to identify Watamote as a mean-spirited condemnation of Tomoko’s character would also be incorrect, because the show recognizes her genuine desire to just be liked by other people. And although she does vent her frustrations, it is never at the expense of other people’s feelings (except, perhaps, her dear brother, but that’s what family is for). Tomoko is pitiable, but not entirely pathetic, and the show throws in enough pathos to take itself beyond the boundary of pure comedy fodder. Of course, the show does want to make its audience laugh above everything else, but it rings too close-to-home in its observations for me to call it a complete farce. Rather, Watamote strikes me as a great character study, and an opportunity for its audience to participate in some self-reflection. In the end, instead of lashing out, maybe it is best to sit back and have a good laugh at yourself. You know what you’ve done to deserve it.
Finally, I’d like to nominate Izumi Kitta as seiyuu of the year for bringing every stutter, warble, yelp, whisper, and chuckle of Tomoko’s into brilliant realization.