By Nico Tanigawa. Released in Japan as “Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!” by Square Enix, serialized on the website Gangan Comics Online. Released in North America by Yen Press.
Despite a title longer than your arm, this new manga series is not, in fact, based on a light novel. It’s usually shortened to “WataMote” in fan discussions – indeed, I’ve used that tag for my Category on this review, rather than screw up the sidebar. Still, with a title like that, if you’re someone who’s been a fan of anime over the past few years, it comes with certain expectations even before you read it. High school slice-of-life, comedic misunderstandings, discussion of otaku interests. And indeed, all that is true. But it’s the heroine who drives this title, and Tomoko Kuroki is not going to simply lie back and be cute and moe.
Tomoko gives new meaning to the term “socially awkward”. In her head, she’s got it all down – she’s starting high school, will make new friends, get a boyfriend, and her life will be wonderful. In reality, not only is she a cripplingly shy girl who can barely manage the most basic interaction, but she’s not even cute and adorable like most manga heroines with those issues. Tomoko can be hard to like. She emotionally manipulates her brother, is crass and opportunistic, and has an inability to see even basic human interaction and understand what it means.
Notably, she’s not bullied or picked on at all by any of her peers – they mostly just ignore her, but it’s not in a ‘she’s creepy’ way, she simply rarely registers on their radar. When occasional peers do speak to her, it tends to be friendly, and mostly the only time they rear back in awkward horror is when she says or does something incredibly inappropriate. Honestly, that’s a little unrealistic, but the mangaka doesn’t really want to go in a bullying direction here – Tomoko makes her own problems. We can’t even blame a poor family life – her mother and brother seem to be perfectly fine with social interaction, though her brother regards her as incredibly annoying and exhausting. And, well, he’s correct.
An anime adaptation of this aired over the summer, and many people kept asking themselves whether the intention of the work was to laugh at Tomoko’s foibles, feel pity for her attempts to bond with life and other people, or just feel incredibly uncomfortable at watching her existence? The answer, of course, is all three. We don’t want to be seen to laugh at someone like Tomoko, but honestly, some of the behavior here is pretty hilarious, and her snark is also pointed and amusing. That said, there aren’t real punchlines here, just a setup that goes off the rails. Instead of a punchline, we see Tomoko sitting on a park swing, looking miserable, as her brother silently stares at her. Or in a bathroom, ripping a pair of panties to shreds in a terror-stricken bout of mortification.
This manga seems to push against its own audience, which is otaku-oriented males. At one point, Tomoko talks to her one friend (who I hope we see more of), and is asked about the new anime season. Tomoko blithely responds that it’s all moeblob shows this year. This may be slice-of-life, but it’s no K-On! I do want to read more, but I am very grateful that it’s only coming out here every three months, as Tomoko is as exhausting and frustrating to read as she must be to live with. Definitely recommended, but be aware that this title pulls in several different directions at once, and deliberately doesn’t resolve any of them.