While looking through the anime for the Spring 2018 season, I stumbled across a title called Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku. From the poster and short description it reminded me of Recovery of an MMO Junkie from last year, which was excellent, and I later discovered that Kodansha Comics had also licensed the Wotakoi manga just in time for the anime’s debut. With the first volume in hand, it’s time to find out if this series is what I expected!
The story starts with 26-year-old Narumi Momose beginning her first day at a new job. While being shown around the building by one of her new coworkers, Hanako Koyanagi, she bumps into childhood friend Hirotaka Nifuji, which throws Narumi into a panic as she begins to worry that Hirotaka will reveal her most embarrassing secret: that Narumi is an otaku. Hirotaka, oblivious to Narumi’s worries, casually asks her if she’s planning on attending the upcoming comiket – thus Narumi’s dreams of keeping her hobbies separate from her work life come crashing down around her.
Later, as Narumi and Hirotaka catch up over drinks, it’s revealed that Narumi switched jobs due to her ex-boyfriend (who worked at the company) finding out she was an otaku and eventually dumping her. This leads to Narumi declaring that love is hard for an otaku and she’s all but giving up on the idea! However, Hirotaka has feelings for his old friend and asks her out shortly afterwards, declaring that he will always be there to help with and understand her hobbies. Thus, the two begin dating and the story that follows sets out to warm our hearts.
Although the title would have you believe that this is a ‘will they, won’t they’ kind of story, it actually isn’t because the two protagonists are a couple by Chapter 2. Wotakoi is really about exploring their relationship as well as watching them indulge in their hobbies, as a couple and together with their friends and coworkers, Hanako and Taro Kabakura. While the plot does move along at a slow pace, the majority of Wotakoi basically boils down to short episodic stories focused on one particular theme or idea.
Normally I’m not fond of this kind of episodic structure when it comes to manga. I like a clear overarching plot with goals and progress volume to volume. However, while reading Wotakoi I found myself immersed in the little things. The series is incredibly silly, full of charm and difficult to put down. Every chapter aims to leave you smiling and with warm feelings.
This is helped immensely by a strong cast of characters. Narumi is somewhat childish and quick to anger with Hirotaka, but she’s also adorable and shows all her feelings on the surface. In contrast, Hirotaka is hard to read and not very expressive in person. Instead his personality shines through in the text messages he sends to Narumi and others (something which is mentioned several times throughout the volume). He’s more mature than Narumi and plays off her innocent personality well.
On the flip side we have Hanako and Taro, who are also a couple and both very quick to anger. They’ve been together since they were high-school students and care for one another deeply despite seeming like on the surface that they hate each other! Being older than Narumi and Hirotaka, they take it upon themselves to be responsible senpai and watch over their relationship, helping to work out issues if they arise. Although the constant bickering between the two might get on your nerves (it never bothered me!), they’re both charming characters in their own right and their strong personalities balance out the more mild-mannered leading protagonists.
Despite all this there is one thing that has to be said about Wotakoi. As wonderful as the series is, I’m not sure it will work for everyone. Much of the comedy is hinged on sometimes obscure references; and although there are some great translation notes to guide you through, not everyone is going to get them. If you don’t watch a lot of anime, play a lot of Japanese games, or just aren’t very familiar with Japanese culture, there’s much that can go straight over your head. There were even a couple of jokes that I didn’t understand until reading the details behind them later (but I also found this fascinating and acquired some fun knowledge in the process).
What it comes down to is that Wotakoi is a series that requires you to understand its comedy because it’s more often than not the main focus. There is a story here and the characters and their interactions are heartwarming, but that alone doesn’t give you quite enough substance if you don’t click with the humour.
Where artwork is concerned, Wotakoi has a really nice style. Although it’s rooted in the josei genre and shares a lot of similarities with shojo manga in terms of design, there’s a large range of background effects and comedic styles thrown in to mix things up. This leaves us with something unique and it’s a lot of fun to flip through. While most scenes are relatively busy with objects and/or members of the cast, mangaka FUJITA has a knack for directing your eyes to where they need to be. This release also includes a number of colour pages, which are bright and cheerful while also conveying the fun and laid-back nature of the series. Likewise, the character designs are nice to look at but they aren’t overly cute. They strike a balance between being pretty and realistic in nature, which lends itself well to the tone of the manga.
This release has been brought to the UK thanks to Kodansha Comics, and despite being labelled ‘Volume 1’ it actually includes the first 2 volumes of the Japanese release. The release includes colour pages at the start of both volumes and even has an embossed front and back cover, both of which help justify the fact that this is a more expensive release than your average manga. The translation, handled by Jessica Sheaves, reads well throughout the volume and there are a number of in-depth translation notes scattered throughout the book that are really insightful and helped me a great deal in understanding some of the more obscure jokes. All-round, this is a really well put-together release.
Overall Wotakoi is a heartwarming comedy series with a firm message to convey in that love is difficult – not just for otaku but for everyone. Your hobbies can be judged and make people run for the hills but that isn’t right, and Wotakoi does its best to show you the great times you can have when the people around you do accept and understand you. The plot might move incredibly slowly but there is so much charm in the story and characters that this really doesn’t matter. I highly recommend checking it out.
Read a free extract at Kodansha Comics here .