Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 10

By Yuki Yaku and Fly. Released in Japan as “Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun” by Gagaga Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

We’ve spent most of this series trying to understand, and in some cases attempting to like, Aoi Hinami. She’s the second protagonist of the series. She’s the driver of most of the changes that Tomozaki makes. She’s also the driver of most of the mistakes that he makes as well. In the last volume we saw things between her and Tomozaki come to a head, and their “partnership” broken up. As I’ve mentioned before, Hinami has seemed scary a lot of the time (rivaled only by the other main girl in the series, Kikuchi) and as the books have gone on we haven’t had a lot of information as to why. We know from a book or so ago that whatever problems she has seem to stem from family issues. And now here, in a book that is dedicated almost entirely to cheering Hinami the hell up after Book 9’s fallout, we finally see what is likely driving her to be the way she is. It’s grief.

Tomozaki has been a bit depressed since he and Hinami “broke up” last volume, and is dwelling on it (in front of Kikuchi, no less, who I continue to feel a bit bad for). What’s more important, though, is that Hinami has also been depressed, to the point that everyone around her notices the cracks in her perfect mask. Given that her birthday is coming up, all her friends decide to throw a “surprise” party with an overnight trip to Super Nintendo World (or its copyright-safe version, at least) amusement park. They also divide into three competing groups, each one trying to get Hinami the present that will make her the happiest. Meanwhile, Tomozaki is determined to talk with Hinami to try to repair their fractured relationship… and Mizusawa wants to finally confess to her. But what will Aoi think about all this?

I’ll be honest, I spent a lot of this book waiting for the other shoe to drop, and was rather surprised when it didn’t (though we may be saving that for the next book). The back half of this book is wonderful, showing everyone going around, getting on rides they know they’ll hate, eating lots of cheese-filled foods, and trying to get Hinami to show her real face to them. And, hey, it works! It turns out that it’s hard to always do the logical, reasonable choice when you are, say, zooming backwards on a terrifying roller coaster. It leads to the emotional climax of the book, where Hinami finally talks to Tomozaki about her past, and reveals that her need to be so certain about everything is down to an event in her life that she can never be certain about – one where the answer to her desperate question is impossible to find out. It really does explain a LOT of what Hinami was doing. That said, the actual end of this book may have more of an impact… will Hinami finally be seen to break down in front of others?

The 11th volume, from what I hear, is the final one. Unfortunately, its release in Japan has been delayed, so I’m not sure when we’ll see it. Till then, this volume is filled with happy and sad moments, and should be satisfying for all fans of the series.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 9

By Yuki Yaku and Fly. Released in Japan as “Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun” by Gagaga Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

The Tomozaki novels have always felt a bit like a college thesis. It’s the sort of series that Chitose Is in the Ramune Bottle made fun of, detailing ways to improve your life and become a normie. As such, it’s not too much of a surprise that this book is very analytical of its three main characters. In fact, arguably that’s the plot of this volume. And what it shows us is scary. Hinami, Tomozaki and Kikuchi are all characters we like and root for (well, OK, maybe not Hinami), but at the same time they can be truly terrifying. In this book we see Tomozaki realizing that the path Hinami has been leading him down is the wrong one, but the self-discoveries that he comes to are also very dangerous, and he almost chooses a totally different but equally wrong path. God bless Mimimi, who may constantly be the romantic loser but I think sees the real Tomozaki better than any of the others. She knows WHY they all fell for him.

You will be relieved to hear that Tomozaki and Kikuchi do not break up after the events of the previous book, though I admit I am a lot less optimistic about their future by the END of this book. Tomozaki confronts Hinami about the advice she gave him regarding his new relationship, and finds she was trying to get them to have their first fight – which causes him to break off their sessions. He apologizes to Kikuchi and tries to work things out with her, but we discover that the aspects of dating that everyone else seems to take for granted elude him. This is shown best in a game of Atafami with his offline group, where she shows that he’s started to use a completely different character, something that almost makes Hinami have an emotion. Meanwhile, Kikuchi is writing a new online novel… one that, once again, seems eerily familiar.

Which sounds scarier, seeing the world only as a gamer or seeing the world only as a writer? Tomozaki’s reaction to Kikuchi’s new novel almost feels like it’s out of a horror story, where you find that she’s secretly behind him as he reads it. Meanwhile, Hinami simply IS a horror story. Her statement that she never does anything without a reason, and her bafflement that others find this creepy, forces Tomozaki to wonder why she’s been tutoring him on life this whole time. What is her real reason? If it’s just “I was annoyed by Tomozaki’s lameness”, that’s a sad reason. But no, it’s actually a way to validate herself that doesn’t damage herself – only him. I think we may be totally done with the life lessons, at least on her end. Just as it turns out Tomozaki was strong and cool all along, Hinami is still dealing with past trauma, and any lessons learned in the future are probably going to be hers.

There’s a new translator for this volume, as Jennifer Ward has been freed from Oregairu and moved on to a series inspired by it. Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki may not need a glossary at the end, but its volumes are filled with emotion, trauma, and psychoanalysis. I really enjoy this series.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 8.5

By Yuki Yaku and Fly. Released in Japan as “Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun” by Gagaga Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.

I was wondering if any of these short stories would show the lead up to the cliffhanger from Book 8, but it’s the opposite. Most of these stem from the end of Book 7, and the two weeks or so where Tomozaki and Kikuchi are in love-love couple mode before he decides to forget that he has a girlfriend. That said, the real value of this book is the insight into the characters of Hinami and Rena. They’re similar in a couple of ways, with one basing her life around “goals” and the other around “guys”. More to the point, you could argue that both are vying to be the antagonist of this series. It’s become clear since the start of the series that Hinami’s advice to Tomozaki should be taken with a massive grain of salt, and that reaches its apex in Book 8. As for Rena, we get her tragic backstory, which also seems to be similar to Hinami’s in a way, in that both are characters whose minds do not work the way that we’re used to with light novel teenagers.

The stories here are: 1) a party to celebrate the success of the play, on Christmas Eve, complete with snow; 2) Some more insight into Hinami’s character, including additional allusions to her tragic past that are not third-hand like the previous book; 3) Mimimi coming to terms with the fact that Tomozaki has chosen Kikuchi over her, and talking with Kikuchi about this; 4) Rena’s past and some scenes leading up to her scenes from the 8th volume; 5) everyone gathers together to sing karaoke, and Tomozaki has the assignment to sing a song with everyone else there; 6) Kikuchi’s post-Christmas pre-New Year’s romantic glow, which also includes a conversation she had with Hinami at the Christmas party; and 7) an adaptation of a Bonus CD audio track, featuring the cast trying a virtual reality game.

Some of these stories are more important than others, frankly. The Hinami one was fantastic, and makes it even more clear (as does her conversation with Kikuchi) that she is going to be having a complete breakdown at some point before the end of this series. We’re still not sure what happened with her family, but certainly there were three siblings and now there are two. Her story, and Kikuchi’s, really hammer home how she has turned her life and her sense of self into a joyless empty shell, and I think she knows this deep down and that’s why she was briefly angry at Kikuchi for essentially figuring it out immediately. I also really enjoyed Mimimi’s story, though it once again reminds me she’s coming in third in a two-person race. As for Rena’s, it was certainly insightful, but also difficult to read. I don’t like her much.

So this was pretty much about what you want in a group of short stories, and the end audio CD story has a very satisfying beatdown that I’m sure isn’t a metaphor for anything. Good stuff. Now, let’s have Tomozaki fix his punctured romance ASAP, please.