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!
For this viewing, I took in the English dub; both language tracks are available in 2.0 stereo. While I always like to see a good 5.1 mix, it isn’t really necessary for Watamote, as it is a series based in dialogue—often even in monologue as we spend a lot of time in Tomoko’s daydreams. The dialogue stayed pretty even across the center of the channels, but I did notice some directionality with sound effects and background noises, so it was more than fine for this release.
This series is shown in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer looks pretty nice. Colors are bold, the lining is clear, and I can’t really say I noticed any significant technical issues. The character designs are pretty unique as well, especially with Tomoko. Nobody would ever confuse her with another anime character.
The three discs for this release come in a standard size amaray case with a center insert to hold two discs. The front cover has a montage of Tomoko with different expressions, most looking creepier than the last, which symbolizes pretty well both the insular nature of the series as well as just how many different ways Tomoko sees herself in her fantasy worlds. The back has another shot of Tomoko, as well as one of Yuu, mixed with the summary and some screenshots, with technical details below. Overall, it’s a relatively simple, but well-designed case.
The menus are also fairly basic but well designed. The main menu has an image of Tomoko to the left while the selections are available to the right. They look as if they’ve been printed on a piece of notebook paper with some doodles around them. The cursor is a pixel art image of a broken heart, and the pink shows up well against the white background of the menu. It’s functional and looks fine, and that’s all that matters.
All that is available on this release are some clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Watamote is a series that sparked my interest the moment it was released in Japan, because it seemed like a bizarre psychological experiment. I had the opportunity to check out a few of the early volumes of the manga and found that I both enjoyed it and cringed through it. It can be an uncomfortable read at times. So I approached the anime with both anticipation and trepidation. The good news is that everything that makes the manga fantastic is on display here, but what makes it uncomfortable is probably even moreso here.
Tomoko Kuroki didn’t have much of a social life in middle school. She had exactly one friend and was too shy to attempt to stand out any other way. But now she’s going to high school, and her best friend—Yuu Naruse—is now going to a different school. So Tomoko is determined to blossom into the popular girl she has always dreamed to be. As long as nobody gets in her way, her dreams have no choice but to become reality.
The problem is that while nobody else gets in her way, Tomoko does a perfectly fine job of that herself. Crazy expectations combined with a crippling social anxiety causes Tomoko to contrive ridiculous attempts at gaining attention and popularity, only for her shyness to kick in at the worst moment and make her attempts come across as even more ridiculous in the long run. In this case, she is her own worst enemy. She tries to doll herself up, but rather than keep it simple and pick a style, she goes in too many directions and just looks creepy. She tries to get cutsy photographs at a photobooth only to get flustered at the instructions and have the photos look horrible. And anytime somebody does try to speak to her, she’s so shy that she mumbles and often just runs away. It never works out the way it does in her fantasies.
Her situation would be sympathetic enough if the people around her were ever mean, but they aren’t. Some even try to be friendly, but Tomoko is so wrapped up in own misery that she never even notices. At one point, she gets caught out in the rain after her umbrella breaks and has to take shelter at a bus stop with a couple other boys. They try to talk with her, accept that she’s the quiet type, and leave her alone. But she ends up falling asleep before the rain ends, and one of the boys runs and grabs a cheap umbrella at a nearby store and leaves it for her. When she wakes up, rather than understand that a kind stranger (and likely one of the boys) helped her out, she assumes somebody left the umbrella behind by accident and wonders why boys never do nice things for her.
And it’s this obliviousness that can make Watamote so difficult to watch sometimes. Again, were she faced with a situation where everybody around her were catty and mean and made fun of her as much as possible (I’m thinking Kotonoha’s three classmates in School Days here), then we’d be rooting for her to overcome them and succeed in spite of them. But nobody is ever mean to her. If anything, she is so unassuming that she doesn’t really register with them (which can be worse, really), and when she does, they just accept that she’s really quiet and leave her alone. Her struggles are all in her head.
The only person who is ever particularly rude to her is her little brother, Tomoki. Tomoki is everything that his sister isn’t: good looking, athletic, and popular. A year younger than Tomoko, he finds her weird and cannot be bothered with her morose emotions. Her conversations with her brother are the only times when Tomoko is really honest with herself, and they could be really touching moments, but he shows no sympathy for her issues. It’s possible I haven’t gotten far enough into the manga just yet, but he’s the one character who came off far worse here in the anime to me than in the manga. We see from flashbacks that the two of them were at one point really close, but that is no longer the case. Tomoki is just too frustrated with her for it to be otherwise.
But as uncomfortable it can be to watch Tomoko, it is that realness that makes it so good. It’s easy to laugh at her crazy ideas and rationales, but it’s a cringing sort of laugh because she embodies every teenage insecurity there is. Watamote could easily fall back on the tropes of the genre and overdramatize conflicts, give Tomoko an obvious antagonist, or add in some slapstick comedy, but in keeping with the mantra “truth is stranger than fiction,” it never really does any of that. It just lays Tomoko’s insecurities bare and lets us react to them as necessary.
Watamote is a title that truly plays on all of our emotions. It is ostensibly a comedy, but that comedy is built upon uncomfortable tragedy. It is easy to laugh at Tomoko and her strange ideas, but that laughter is always sad and sympathetic. Watamote does a great job of pushing both buttons at the same time. And it’s such a fascinating character study that everybody should check it out at some point. If I had any complaints, I only wish it had ended an episode sooner, just because I loved the way the eleventh episode ended and wished it was how they were wrapping the series up. But that’s as nitpicky as possible. It’s fantastic otherwise. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Running Time: 300 minues
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System