What They Say:
At the tender age of 15, Kuroki Tomoko has already dated dozens and dozens of boys and she’s easily the most popular girl around! The only problem is that absolutely none of that is real, and her perfect world exists only via dating games and romance shows. In fact, the sad truth is that she gets tongue tied just talking to people, and throughout middle school she’s only had one actual friend. All of this makes Kuroki’s entrance into the social pressure cooker of high school a new and special kind of hell.
While Kuroki desperately wants to be popular, she’s actually worse off than she would be if she was completely clueless as to how to go about it. After all, the things that work in “otome” games rarely play out the same way in reality, especially when the self-appointed “leading lady” isn’t the paragon she thinks she is. There’s not much gain and plenty of pain ahead, but even if it happens again and again, there’s always someone else to blame!
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid but works within what it is as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the English language dub, both of which are encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is pretty much a dialogue heavy piece and it utilizes the forward soundstage well to get it across, especially since a good portion of it is all in the lead character’s head with her internal dialogue with herself. There’s some decent placement at times and some of the more unusual moments expand the presence of the track, but for the most part it’s a straightforward school based piece. The opening gets to stand out a bit more than usual due to the music but the work as a whole really does a good job here in conveying the feeling that it wants. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this twelve episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show gets a fairly standard disc/episode split with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Silver Link, I really liked the look of it when I saw the simulcast and this brings it up a few notches in terms of color depth and solidity and the overall warmth of the colors in many of the scenes. There’s a straightforward school setting here, but it’s given a good color palette to work with and the result is something that definitely works well to convey something warmer and richer than usual as it presents our lead characters high school life as she believes it should be. Detail looks great, there’s some solid flow to the show in many scenes and the overall look of it hits a lot of sweet spots and makes for an engaging visual presentation that’s easy to get absorbed in.
The packaging for this release gives us a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds both discs against the interior walls. The front cover is a busy piece that along the left has a larger and almost full length look at Tomoki as most people usually see her while to her right are all her other looks through various instances across the series. It’s definitely an interesting approach to take but it highlights how she views herself and wants to be viewed, speaking to the nature of the show. The logo is nicely done as we get the shorthand version of it as well as the overly long piece which, even though I generally dislike that trend, works well here. The back cover provides a few school oriented widgets in the background as we get the white notebook paper design that also has the premise covered well in the summary. A few shots from the show litter it and we get better artwork for both Tomoki and Yuu. The extras and the discs/episode count is cleanly listed while the remainder breaks down the production credits along with the easy to read and nicely designed technical grid that conveys it all accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works well as it has a kind of dark feeling to it that’s rather appropriate for the show. The left side has the navigation which plays up the school side similar to the back of the cover where it has the note paper that’s torn while breaking down the episodes by number and title with highlighters across it. Submenus for the languages and extras load quickly and easily as well. The right side goes for the character artwork and does set the tone well, especially the first one that has Tomoki pointing outward with a kind of spooky expression as Yuu and Tomoko are in the background, which has a purple night sky feeling that’s kind of creepy all on its own. Submenus load quickly and easily and the main navigation looks good when you bring it up during regular playback as a pop-up menu.
The only extras included with this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences, but there are multiple of each of them due to small changes with so many of them, so they end up spread across both discs in the extras section.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Nico Tanigawa, Watamote is the short form name for No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!, one of the longer names of the last few seasons that translates a little awkwardly but gets the point across. The show is certainly an interesting one in its design as while there is a decent cast of characters to it overall, it’s that rare series where the vast majority of it is dependent on one character with a whole lot of internal dialogue. The supporting cast does help from time to time, but it’s a show that lives or dies by its main actress. And luckily for fans – both Japanese and English language – it succeeds wonderfully and making us connect, sympathize and empathize with her. That’s not always easy to do in situations like this but the show really does. You may just not want to watch it all in one sitting.
The series revolves around new first year high school student Tomoko, who is hoping to have a very good year by being popular and making lots of friends. She has a kind of idolized view of how her high school career should go and it certainly is understandable because most kids at this age, boys and girls alike, want to be liked and to be popular. Tomoko has a view of her middle school time that’s kind of amusing because as we see from the few flashbacks, she was definitely the odd duck out because of the things she talked about and her ongoing desire to grow up to be an arms dealer. That’s more comically done than anything else, but it’s an off-kilter kind of humor that set her apart. She had a great friend in Yuu, but they’ve gone to different high schools and Tomoko doesn’t really know anyone here. You root for her of course in that she’ll make friends, but as the first month goes by and she’s still sitting by herself, you cringe.
And the months go by more and more. Summer break hits and still no friends. The rest of the school year arrives and she’s still without friends as we go throughout the series. This is, to me, what makes it the most interesting. She spends time after time doing her best in her own way to make friends with others but never succeeds. She doesn’t even really come close. In fact, she’s often her own worst enemy in a very big way because she sets herself up to fail and then dives right into that failure. Largely, she simply doesn’t know how to connect with other people and doesn’t understand how they think. Part of what happens is just her presence as she doesn’t really make herself accessible to others, though I like to believe that the physical representation of her, essentially her face, is just her view of how she sees herself because it does obviously look creepy and desperate a lot of the time and that makes it easier for others to ignore her and make her invisible to them. But there’s also that sense that this is just how she is as she doesn’t take proper care of herself in a way in how she presents herself. There’s a few views you can go with it and each have their own merits in how she views herself and how others view her that complicates the situation.
Tomoko is a bit of an otaku in some ways as we get plenty of references over the course of the series to other shows and films, which are often given subtitled liner notes during playback for those that may miss some of the visual gags. These add plenty of levity to the various situations and there’s a lot of silliness to be had as we see Tomoko do her best to try and become popular. Some of the best moments come at home where her older brother Tomoki play well against her as they’re not cruel or angry or rough with each other, but they’re separated a little by age and by gender, though Tomoki realizes that she is suffering and does try to help her at home in some small ways. This is made even more so when he ends up seeing her while out with his friends who don’t realize who she is and they all make fun of her. That cuts deep for both of them but they do find some reconciliation with it all. There’s cute moments with their mother as well, though the sharpest moment is with her father when he goes to see her in her room one night and she’s passed out on the floor, a hitachi vibrator buzzing away next to her, playing an adult game. That he just picks her up and puts her to bed without saying much really works well.
With a fairly good support system at home, the show works most of its time dealing with the school situation that keeps her on the outside and eventually spending some time with Yuu as they reconnect after a bit. The school sequences can be a bit painful to watch at times because you can see how she’s trying hard in her own way but is simply being ignored. She participates in certain activities, doing the heavy lifting with the culture festival for example, but getting no recognition. She eventually goes catch the eye of an upperclassman, but that doesn’t really get to explore much within this series but rather is more of a focus in the manga as it goes on. Her time with Yuu does get a good bit of time though because while Tomoko is struggling with her identity and popularity, Yuu has become a fashionable high school girl, one that works as well in a cute cafe. Tomoko tries to replicate what she does to no success at times, which just reinforces the problems.
There’s plenty of laughs to be had in the show to be sure, the parodies and satire moments work great and just seeing the situations play out really does make you smile a lot of the time because you can’t help but to root for her. What I end up really liking about the show, as hard as it is to say in a way, is that it doesn’t actually change anything for her in the end. She puts in a lot of effort, or perceived effort, but she’s really no better off at the end. There are a few hints of hope, but it’s not an upbeat ending with a great sense of where things can go. It’s not exactly downbeat either, but it’s hard to read it any other way when you really look at where she was at the start of the school year and where she is at the end of the show. And that’s just great to see because so many shows won’t put their lead character through all of this and keep it going as much as they do. Similar to when I watched the simulcast, well, I just felt even more sad for her at the end.
I had thoroughly enjoyed that simulcast and the performances given in there, and up until the casting was announced I was worried about the dub for it. It’s a role that requires a strong performance and a very committed performance as you can almost entirely ignore the rest of the cast as they’re a tiny fraction of dialogue compared to Tomoko. When the first dub clip hit with Monica Rial playing the role, it was golden. And thankfully, the bulk of the series is pretty much the same. She captures a lot of what makes Tomoko as engaging as she is and drives home her need to be accepted in a beautiful way, while still making sure to capture that nearly creepy side to it as well. Tomoko’s heart is totally in the right place but the way she does it is what comes across so wrong. Rial manages to capture that mixture in both the internal and external dialogue so well, while making it her own performance and not just a copy of the Japanese performance, that you can completely enjoy both and get much the same out of them, but also to enjoy the small bits of nuance and differences that come because of the language.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with Watamote the first time I watched it but I fell in love with it as I kept hoping that Tomoko would find her way in some form. You don’t expect her to become popular, but you do expect her to make a few friends. That she can’t even do that is such a radical change from how these shows usually operate that you really do get taken in by it since it’s not playing to the usual formula. With great looking animation, solid parodies along the way and fantastic performances all around, Watamote delivers the kind of painful, honest and close to home kind of school age drama-comedy that we could use a few more of each year in order to balance out all the slapstick. When shows take chances, they tend to stand out more for good reason. Watamote takes some good chances here and the results are definitely worth all the risk. Very recommended.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 26th, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.