Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 6

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.

Despite what some people may think, particularly those who watch the opening of the recent anime adaptation, these light novels are not meant to be a romantic comedy. That is not to say they don’t have elements of it – they certainly do, and that’s the subject of much of this book. Tomozaki has been kicking the dating can down the road, at first simply as he didn’t want “get a girlfriend” to be a goal Hinami sets for him to tick off, but, as she correctly points out, he needs to start examining his own feelings and ask himself if there is a girl he really likes. Because there’s certainly someone who likes him… in fact, is there more than one? This isn’t a harem comedy, but it may be a love triangle, as, after several scenes showing Tomozaki accidentally being seductive (we see it, she sees it, he does not), he gets an honest to God confession. There’s just one problem – he needs to actually have some love for himself first.

Having seemingly run out of heroines to put on the cover (sorry, Tsugumi, maybe next time), Mimimi gets a second appearance, and she gets a lot to do. The school festival is coming up, which is right in her wheelhouse, even if she doesn’t actually want to be in charge of it. Meanwhile, in addition to being on the festival committee (which he volunteered for even before Hinami assigned it to him), Tomozaki is getting into social media! Yes, he has an Instagram account now, and his job is to fill it with specific photos Hinami asks him to get. This, of course, involves him getting into situations where he can easily get those photos… some more easily than others. It’s a good lesson for Tomozaki, who needs to be reminded “this is what normal teens do, and I am a normal teen”. Meanwhile, he reads Kikuchi’s stories… and suddenly knows that they should do for the festival. A play, written by her.

The whole book is filled with great scenes (as you can see by my devoting two paragraphs to a summary of it), but two particularly stand out to me. The first is when Hinami talks to him about which girls he likes, and says the idea of “I must only love one woman and be steadfast and true” is, to put it bluntly, virgin thinking. Real life is not like manga and anime (or even light novels), and high school romance does not have to be a deep commitment. Given how earnest Tomozaki is in general, I’m not sure how much he’ll take this to heart, but hey. The other scene is near the end, after Tomozaki has gone with Mizusawa to Tsugumi’s school’s festival, with Mizusawa taking on the role of teacher this time. As with Hinami, he points out that dating someone else does not have to be a OTP commitment. But after Tomozaki gets confessed to, and tries to do his usual “but I’m just a loser” waffling, Mizusawa tears him apart, pointing out (accurately) how rude that is to the girl who likes him. I actually cheered.

We may have a long wait to resolve the cliffhanger of Tomozaki responding to this confession – the next volume is a short story collection. But honestly, I think the reader can intuit the way that it’s going to go anyway. In any case, light novel readers, particularly ones who enjoyed the anime, will love this.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 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.

As I write this review, the Tomozaki anime is about to start, and I am very curious to see how it does, given how much of this series is just dialogue with very little action. It’s about two gamers, and at times reads a lot like you’re reading their gaming log, particularly when characters get together to try to decide how to fix things. On the bright side, Tomozaki has improved by leaps and bounds, and there is very little “normie” chatter here. He barely feels like Hachiman at all now. That said, he is somewhat humbled when he tries to apply the same lessons he, a shy cynical introvert, learned over months to Tama-chan, who is merely very serious and dedicated, and when she tries his helpful hints, she improves far faster than he ever did. That said, the true star here is probably Kikuchi, who starts high above everyone else and just soars ever higher. It’s a shame girls like her are never the lead.

Hinami is the lead, but… let’s save her for later, OK? A good 3/4 of this book is a lot of fun. Tomozaki tries to help Tama-chan by helping her change herself so that she’s more open and likeable to her classmates, which would defuse some of the tension caused by Konno’s bullying. Part of that is simply not fighting back constantly (It’s noted that Tama-chan is basically “attack, attack, attack” in terms of game metaphors), but also to try and have her fit in with banter, conversation, and self-deprecating jokes. There’s a great moment when everyone realizes that Tama-chan does not really care much about the rest of her class, and I enjoy that it’s seen as a flaw but she’s not shamed for it. He also bonds with Kikuchi, brought in as a conversation partner for Tama-chan, and I think he is beginning to realize he likes her as more than a friend.

That said, this is not helping with the basic issue, which is Konno. Except it isn’t, because in the back quarter of the book, we realize that Hinami has taken this far more to heart than Tomozaki or anyone else had expected, and she proceeds to wreak an absolutely epic r3evenge that almost destroys Konno. (It does not completely destroy her, and thank god for Tama-chan coming in at the end, or else this book would be even darker than it already is.) The book ends up being about Hinami, whose “mask”, as it turns out, is pretty obvious to most of the rest of the class, particularly Tama-chan, who feels responsible for Hinami having to go as far as she did. Notably, aside from one or two brief meetings, Hinami and Tomozaki barely interact here. I imagine readers ended up being pretty unnerved.

That said, I have to agree with Tomozaki: I desperately want to know more about the real Aoi Hinami, and she’s still my favorite reason to read this book, as I find her fascinating. (As for who Tomozaki should date, well, let’s leave that for now.) For a series that started off as “what if My Youth Romantic Comedy but milder”, it’s really started to come into its own. I can see why it got the anime.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 4

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

We have reached the point in this series where Tomozaki is starting to get good at playing Hinami’s “game” of life, and for the most part he sails through her directives in this book. In fact, the first two thirds of this book are a great deal of relaxing fun, especially after the confrontation between our two leads in the last volume. Most of this chunk of the book revolves around the sports festival, where the boys and girls in the class will be competing. The role of girls’ captain is somewhat thankless, and is at first foisted off on one of the quiet wallflowers in the class, then by Izumi. The true stumbling block, though, is Erika Konno, the Queen Bee of the class, who does not want to try hard or care unless she has to. So Tomozaki’s task is to get Konno interested in the sports festival. And now that he’s become something of a social animal, he can even ask others for help as well.

Izumi gets a lot to do in this book, as she’s involved in every single plot and subplot. She and Nakamura make their relationship clearer, and they’re now going out. She’s also the one who’s most invested in another issue – due to Nakamura and his mother fighting, he’s not coming to school, and it’s taking a worryingly long time for them to make up. This was probably the funniest part of the book, as Hinami is very reluctant to get involved in this – until Atafami is brought up as the reason for the fight, when she suddenly changes her tune. As with previous books, Hinami is at her best as a character when we see her mask cracking, which it does several times here. The sports festival also goes well, and provides Tomozaki a chance to bond with the other boys in the class AND have a laughable anti-sports manga moment. Everything’s great, and the game is fun. What could go wrong?

…well, life is not a game you can stop playing when it ceases to be fun is the lesson we learn in the last third of the book, when Erika Konno moves from apathetic Queen Bee to nasty bully, picking on the shy girl in the class because, well, for the same reason that bullies always pick on the quiet kid. The book then gets really good again (the author is excellent at making the last fifth of so of each book really sing) when Tama-chan gets involved. She hasn’t been a big part of the series so far, and most of what we know about her is that she’s very serious and straightforward. That ends up being both a strength and a weakness when she confronts Konno, and we get an excellent look at how this sort of bullying can affect the mood of a classroom, and why the sympathy of a group is rarely with the bullied. We also see the previous crack in Hinami’s armor get larger – just as she was willing to get involved when Atafami was being dissed, here she’s ready to go to bat for her friend. That said, Tomozaki is not the only one growing and learning in this series.

The book ends with the problem unresolved, and given Tama-chan is on the next cover, I expect we’ll get a lot more of it. It’s a good way to end a great book in the series, one willing to deal with problems both small and large, and with an excellent view of classroom dynamics and mood. Forget “read this if you find Oregairu too depressing”, just read this, period.