“Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilization.” – Winston Churchill
This anime is somewhat oxymoronic, because the lead character has arguably become the most popular unpopular character in anime. This series has won praise and criticism for the way the lead deals with the issue of anxiety.
WataMote, an acronym of its Japanese title which translates into English as No Matter How I Look at it, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! (which is the name the original manga is published under in English) is all about 15-year-old schoolgirl Tomoko Kuroki, who believes that she is brilliant, beautiful and should easily be the most popular girl at her new high school. However, she is anything but brilliant, beautiful or popular.
Tomoko is not that attractive, having messed-up hair and bags under her eyes. She considers herself popular, but purely on the basis that in her three years of middle school boys spoke to her just six times. Most of her knowledge of romance comes from playing romantic/erotic video games, totalling 50 years of virtual dating with 100 different guys. Tomoko also has a low opinion of most people, considering most girls that have plenty of friends to be sluts. Finally, Tomoko is also cripplingly shy and anxious. She cannot even bring herself to say “Bye” to her teacher as she leaves school.
Thus Tomoko decides to try and make herself popular in any way she can. However, because of her misguided knowledge of just about everything, nothing ever goes right. Usually she just ends up annoying her football-loving younger brother Tomoki. Tomoko’s only real friend is one from her old school called Yuu Naruse, who looks very different from how Tomoko used to remember her.
There is a lot to commend WataMote, even right from the start. Much has been commented on the opening title sequence, which features the theme song “Watashi ga Motenai no wa do Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!” (the original Japanese title of the series) sung by Konomi Suzuki and Kiba of Akiba, a kind of heavy metal-like song. The animation also visually depicts Tomoko’s anxiety and fears, such as being chained up, and holding a police-identification sign saying “Tomoko Kuroki: Mojyo” – this last word meaning “unpopular girl”.
Because of her love of anime, games and other related subjects, much of the humour is referencing other anime and manga. You see references to series such as Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!, Another, Terra Formars, Battle Royale and so on. Mind you, due to Japanese copyright law, they have to censor these titles whenever they are named. Annoyingly, however, unlike the manga release of the series there is no version of the “translation notes” to use as a reference. In fact, the only extras on this release are textless opening and closing, and trailers for other series.
There has been some criticism of Tomoko. Some people debate whether the character is meant to be a serious depiction of anxiety or not. Speaking as someone who has in the past suffered with issues relating to anxiety such as panic attacks, I do not find Tomoko to be offensive. In fact, there is much of the character that I can personally identify with, even though she is obviously taking the issue of anxiety to the extreme.
If I were to have a problem, it would be with some of the jokes used in the series. There is plenty of stuff in the moments to make you laugh, but at times you wonder whether you should be laughing at it. For example, there is one episode in which there is discussion about groping on trains. Later on Tomoko goes on a packed train and thinks she has been raped. When she gets off the train she shouts that she has been attacked, but later discovers she was not feeling a penis, but a naginata – a form of pole used as a weapon.
When it comes to the subject of rape in fiction I am of the belief that it is something that needs to be tackled, but you need to think carefully about how you do it. There is great difference between a satirical piece attacking rapists and rape culture, and a person “joking” that someone is “gagging for a rape”. This joke is not as offensive as the latter example, but after laughing at the joke I did wonder whether it is the sort of thing I should be laughing at.
This is therefore a troublesome anime, whether it is because of the characters suffer from or because of the kind of jokes that are sometimes used. Ultimately it is up to the viewer to make up their mind on the matter.