There are few titles that have been more anticipated than No Matter How...oh god that's too long to write over and over. Maybe an acronym will work. So, few titles have been as anticipated as NMHIL...ugh, that will just be a mess. Oh screw it, I'll just call it WataMote like everyone else on the internet. As I was saying, few titles have been more anticipated than WataMote, so does the title live up to the hype?
NO MATTER HOW I LOOK AT IT, IT'S YOU GUYS' FAULT I'M NOT POPULAR (Watashi ga Motenai no wa do Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!), by Nico Tanigawa. First published in 2011, and first published in North America in 2013.
Tomoko Kuroki is certain that she is going to be popular in high school. After all, she believes she was popular in junior high (despite getting insanely nervous when asked to respond to the simplest and most mundane of questions). She also believes that she can't be unattractive - surely her flat figure, messy hair, dark undereye circles, and lack of style will blossom into the beautiful, stylish woman she wants everyone to see. Plus, all those otome games she loves to play always involve shy, unpopular girls who become popular, gorgeous man-magnets, so surely the same will happen for her!
Of course, life is not like a video game, and two months into the school year no one has so much as talked to Tomoko. She tries to change herself to make her dream a reality, but between her own strange media-choked viewpoint on the world and her crippling social anxiety, the results never go as they should. Still, Tomoko is determined to make the world recognize her and gain the attention she so desperately desires.
WataMote is a fascinating and surprisingly honest character piece. There's no great overarching plot save for Tomoko's quest for popularity, which is onto itself a never-ending comedy of errors. Such a plotline, as vague as it can be, could be little more than a cover-to-cover round of Mock the Geek. Amazingly, WataMote's humor never descends into outright cruelty. I think the biggest cause of that is because it's so committed to fleshing out Tomoko for the audience, flaws and all.
She's no mere otaku stereotype. Yeah, she's a social outcast who is too obsessed with dating sims for her own good, but she's got a surprising well of confidence in herself, even if it's often misdirected and delusional. She's also got a healthy (if heavily frustrated) libido, and her sexual frustration is so great that when she isn't taking it out on digitized bishonen, she tends to misread even innocuous incidents (like accidentally seeing a classmate's panties) or perfectly normal things (like going to a lingerie store with her junior high friend Yuu) as something oddly sexual. As for talking to boys, she can barely spit out a few words to her homeroom teacher. When confronted with guys her own age, she agonizes over her response so long that she inevitably says something strange, all while desperately hoping others will see through her awkwardness and believe her to be someone loveable and fun. She's also got a bit of sour-grapes bitterness about her social situation, as when confronted with her classmates having normal social lives and interacting with boys like they were normal people, she snidely wishes death and despair on them, or disparages them for being slutty. Of course, she doesn't see the hypocrisy in wishing her classmates death one moment and wanting their acceptance the next. Tomoko doesn't live entirely in her own head - she can talk to her brother Tomoki, who simply thinks her weird, as well as Yuu - but even the most superficial reader can pick up that Tomoko has some serious social anxiety issues that no mere makeover can fix, issues which are both realistically and empathetically portrayed.
Tomoko's not a stereotype and she may be deeply flawed, but she's weirdly compelling and relatable because Tanigawa was so committed to making Tomoko a person and not just a character with a quirk or two. Some found the anime adapted from this series hard to watch because they could relate a bit TOO much to Tomoko's mindset and social anxieties, and while the manga isn't quite as visceral in that regard, I could easily see this being a love-it-or-hate-it sort of series because of that quality. I'm honestly surprised this has done as well with otaku as it has, because that audience (both the Eastern and Western halves) have rarely responded well to having critical portraits of themselves and their community portrayed in the media they love. Chalk it up to good writing, I guess.
WataMote's art is simple, but surprisingly effective. The character designs themselves are quite simple and generic, save for Tomoko herself. She treads that thin line between cute and awkward, with her permanently messy hair, wild sketchy eyes, and her frumpy fashion sense. She's also wildy expressive, ranging from pissy scowls to wild pervy grin to awkward embarrassment, which give life to her inner monologues. Aside from her, the rest of the art is unremarkable. The backgrounds are vauge and infrequent, and the panels tend to keep things tightly focused on Tomoko and her reactions. It may seem a bit claustrophobic, but considering the story it's actually a perfect fit for such an introverted story.
The only thing to speak of are some translation notes.
WataMote isn't always a comfortable story to read, but it's an honest one. Its focus on fleshing out Tomoko, flaws and all, and giving her wild expressions to go with her lively thoughts go a long way towards making this one of the most compelling manga of the year, and one well worth the hype.
This series is published by Yen Press. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 5 volumes available so far. 1 volume has been published so far, and is currently in print.
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