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.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 8

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.

If you ever wanted to see someone trip on page 1 and spend the next 276 pages falling to the ground, then have I got a book for you. In all fairness, I should have seen this coming. Everything was going far too smoothly for our boy Tomozaki lately. He’s got friends, he’s got a girlfriend, and he’s even teaching his mentor how to not be some sort of Japanese high school girl cyborg, though signs point to that not really working. But one of those things is a very different beast from the others, and as the book goes on the reader starts to notice how Kikuchi just… isn’t in it. She shows up here and there, she and Tomozaki are cute with each other, but she’s not part of the life he’s trying to live right now, she’s a separate entity. And that leads to everything crashing down for the cliffhanger. So it’s a good thing we’re not gonna have another short-story volume next… hrm? What’s that? Volume 8.5? Ah well We must all suffer.

Things start off well, as our new couple go for a New Year’s shrine visit and run into Izumi and Nakamura, and Tomozaki gets to see what an actual long-time couple who are not worried about doing the wrong thing at all times act like. After that, though, it’s back to assignments – for both our protagonists. Tomozaki has to start working towards his next major goal, which is to be the “head” of a clique of friends. As for Hinami, he takes her to an in-person Atafami meet-up, hoping to show her the fun that can be had in gaming and that it does not have to be as analytical as possible. This meet-up is impactful for him as well; first because he ends up meeting a pro gamer who makes Tomozaki wonder if that’s a future he can do himself; and second, because a college-aged girl named Rena starts hitting on him aggressively… something he does not really handle well at all.

I’m going to be honest here: if your mentor is so emotionally broken that you’re trying to get her to have fun as a goal, why are you trusting her with your romantic thermometer at all? Every time he asked Hinami “is this OK” in regards to Kikuchi’s increasing fragility, I wanted to smack him in the face. She is the LAST person he should be asking. Sigh. But that’s Book 9’s problem, I guess, though if this new romance turns out to be only about 2 weeks long, I fear readers may get annoyed. Other than that, though, Tomozaki does pretty well here. He’s gotten better at asking leading questions without suspicion, and is forcing himself to think about his future in ways that aren’t just “college, I guess” like most of his classmates. I really enjoyed the gaming battle with the pro, not because of the endless pages of Atafami description (again, not a gamer), but because it showed off that there’s a different way of thinking you can access when everything you have is on the line.

Let’s hope Tomozaki accesses that when he tries to rescue his relationship next time. Well, next time after the short stories. Till then, this was painful but excellent.