WataMote

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To my utter surprise, this manga brought me to tears.

WataMote:

  • ワタモテ
  • Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui!
  • 私がモテないのはどう考えてもお前らが悪い!
  • No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!
  • or It’s Not My Fault That I’m Not Popular!

by Tanigawa Nico (谷川ニコ), who is two people (a man and a woman, I think; lady draws and guy writes, or maybe they both draw and write?). Here’s a manga people know without me telling them about it, especially on the Western internet. Why? Because of a certain website I frequent’s involvement in its meteoric rise to (ironically enough) popularity during its early days in 2011. I can say I was a part of the initial fervor and volume purchases, though not part of the flood of twitter cocks. What was expected and apparently even intended to end in a few thoughtless volumes has enjoyed great success for 11 so far, gotten an anime, gotten anthologies, gotten an English license, and even gotten a short spinoff. But I’m not going to talk about why it got popular here very much, I’m going to talk about why now it’s very, very good. Why it’s become a splendid arrangement of characters, an emotional and thoroughly detailed story, and funny in ways different from its start. Specifically, I’m going to talk about chapter 69 and beyond. Also, this article is going to be very long.

WataMote began as a gag manga with, at least for the time, a semi-unique premise. On the imageboard where it found a fanbase, it found such a fanbase due to feeling a lot like relatable and ridiculous MS Paint comics made by the users with long tradition. The main character was a cynical and bitter high school girl who got into many painful situations that dredged up painful memories, and her unique design caught a lot of hearts in folks’ chests and pants as well. It was nostalgic, perverted, and pretty damn funny. That it was largely successful due to the FOREIGN market (without even having been licensed) also really increased love and attention on the series. It did very well for quite a while. Then it sort of faded from memory.

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The reason for this, I have to imagine, is because it got repetitive and old. That’s how it was for me. Furthermore, the me from nearly 7 years ago is a lot different from the me now. Upon rereading this series while I enjoyed some of the first half of it I also didn’t care for most of it. There were a few good jokes and a few excellent moments but one big problem was the protagonist, Tomoko, herself. She was an asshole. She still kind of is but honestly, Tomoko was a real jerk and she couldn’t always garner my sympathy (really, a lot of the time it felt like you weren’t supposed to sympathize). Since she was alone and her only friend was a character I didn’t like much (and eventually her only other acquaintance was someone she disliked) that meant spending a lot of chapters with a downer for a few laughs and heartfelt moments. Things changed drastically, however, with chapter 69 and the Kyoto school trip arc.

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As the manga is currently, I would describe the series as a shockingly well-written coming of age story that’s dripping with subtlety and full of really, really complicated characters and relationships. Tomoko is no longer alone, and one-note type characters that used to regular orbit her…don’t. Instead the manga is populated with interesting characters obviously living their own lives and involved with Tomoko for whatever their reasons. I could say a lot about it, so I will. Let’s talk about why WataMote is truly incredible.

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From whence we will discuss this series, protagonist Kuroki Tomoko has spent a year and a bit not socializing in high school. Her one friend from middle school, Yuu, both went to a different school and changed significantly (though they are still friends and…well, I’ll get into Yuu later). One person she knew from middle school, Komi-something, also goes to her school, but for various reasons Tomoko can’t stand her. She’s gotten vaguely friendly with one person in her class who I must discuss, but basically at this point Tomoko isn’t a “loner”, at least not by choice: she’s an unpopular, awkward, bitter and lonely girl who desperately wants friends. Enter her awful homeroom teacher.

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Tomoko’s homeroom teacher from her second year onward is Ogino and she’s…”kind”, I guess. And I don’t even mean she always has a gentleness to her, because she can be really harsh with her kindness. She’s an overly concerned and attentive teacher who’s blunt and clumsy in her idealistic nurturing of her students. Usually when she’s on page she’s doing something that’s going to very specifically piss Tomoko off, like here. Anyway, I don’t exactly want to give her credit for it, but technically this teacher is partially responsible for shifting Tomoko’s life direction. Basically, like with many of Tomoko’s brilliant ideas in this series, her plan to avoid being the odd man out during grouping decisions for her school trip backfired, and her teacher made her the leader of some random-leftovers group rather than just being a part of one. But, here’s where things get interesting.

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The subtlety begins to show itself.

To this point in the series, while Tomoko has yearned for popularity, she has also scorned the popular, the befriended, the loved. She’s extremely harsh, jaded, and vindictive. Her planning as the group leader for her school trips marks one of her few genuine efforts to make friends with others. She had vague attempts earlier that were often unrealistic or poorly thought out, but she actually puts the thought in to plan out the events of her trip (and she’s not really lazy about it) and she makes the attempt to talk to her group members about it all beforehand (though it goes nowhere because one of the members is a loner herself who’s currently moody, another is an absent delinquent, and the last is only in her group because there was no room for her in her original group (which she’ll still be hanging out with for the trip)). So what’s subtle about this? Well, Nico begins disguising genuine character development and serious things behind humor. All of Tomoko’s efforts are made light of, her failures are played for laughs, and no focus is given to the fact that just by trying at all, Tomoko has shown marked improvement from how she was at the start of the series. This kind of thing, from hereon out, happens a lot.

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And so, meet the new core cast of WataMote (minus one, actually), though I remember glancing at these chapters when they were released thinking “whatever, they’ll just be a bunch of one-off characters”. I probably should’ve kept up with the series, because they’re all fantastic. It does take a bit of time to fully appreciate them, though.

Basically during and after this arc Tomoko forms a bond with each of these three. They are Tamura Yuri, Yoshida (a surname, her given name is Masaki), and Ucchi (a nickname based on her surname “Uchi” (内), though we recently learned her first name is Emiri). Yuri is the dark-haired girl with pigtails, Yoshida is the delinquent on her phone, and Ucchi is the girl with an odd face like an emoji. Of them, Yuri becomes the most significant character and gets the closest with Tomoko after coming to terms with how stupid and weird our protagonist is. Yoshida takes longer, though she does end up being a friendly acquaintance after the trip (they have a difficult relationship because Tomoko is a tactless idiot). As for Ucchi…more on her later.

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There’s also this girl, Nemoto Hina (Nemo), who was an amicable classmate of Tomoko’s from before the trip, but it takes her quite a while to be fleshed out. Anyway upon her return to school, Tomoko’s social life and the entire manga have both dramatically changed. Tomoko begins hanging out with others, and the series has already begun intricately weaving character relationships. Where to start?

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Somehow during the Kyoto trip, Tomoko seems to have gained a trait or two from typical harem protagonists. Through strange misunderstandings (that are frankly pretty damn compromising in her case) she does some perverted things to girls. That said, she actually wants to do perverted things to girls many times in this series, and simply doesn’t (or…does; it depends). I wouldn’t necessarily call Tomoko 100% gay, but she’s rather gay. Bisexual, I guess. At any rate, one of the unfortunate targets of her “accidental” lewd acts and completely intentional sexual harassment is Yoshida. Yoshida is a good girl.

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Yoshida is probably the least utilized among the new main characters in WataMote, but she’s one of the most well-liked due to how she acts during her few appearances. While she’s the “kind-hearted delinquent type” (in spite of the girl being an annoyance, she’s helped Tomoko out several times), that type of hers is portrayed surprisingly seriously. She’s violent and quick to anger, but enormously innocent, and while that innocence is played for laughs she actually suffers sometimes for it. To be honest in some cases I find her position depressing. You see, she has delinquent friends apart from those friends she made during the series-changing field trip, but her friends and her don’t entirely click on the innocence front. It’s part her fault, part theirs, but overall it’s not the greatest relationship. I’m hoping she gets more focus in the final year of school for the manga, and some of her troubles are addressed. So far, they’ve been present, but not brought to the forefront. Like a lot of this manga nowadays, it’s either subtle or in the background.

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As someone with a liking for delinquents and gyaru, I think Yoshida is A+, however even outside of that bias I know she’s an excellent low-key character. But now, let’s return to Tomoko’s odd “harem” qualities. Pictured above is a character I can’t say too much about, yet like a character I’m leading up to she starts obsessing over Tomoko at least a bit. It should be said: Tomoko is mostly not considered charming or anything, though what friends she’s made seem to like her…let’s call it “quirky” personality. In this girl, Mako’s, case she misconstrues some acts of Tomoko’s as selfless, and combined with some of her own thoughts and interpretations due to events earlier in the series she winds up with a bizarrely high opinion of our protagonist. That opinion of hers does not top perhaps my favorite character’s though.

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うっちー!

Talk about a dark horse; Ucchi is just amazing.

To make a long story short, Ucchi is in love with Tomoko. She wasn’t always, and nobody would’ve called it, but she is now. To me, it is simultaneously one of the most hilarious and sweet things to watch.

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Because of “misunderstandings”, at the very end of the school trip Ucchi got the impression that Tomoko was a lust-filled lesbian. In reality, she’s a lust-filled bisexual who didn’t necessarily mean to creep on Ucchi sometimes. Really, I don’t blame the emoji-faced girl at all for thinking this panty-stealing, skirt-peeking, shower-watching girl wanted to molest her or something. I mean, seriously, Tomoko has molested girls or wanted to, and she does get aroused by women. Ucchi’s reaction to her is thus disgust, but you know, there seems to be more to it than that, especially considering this disgust is not forever.

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Basically, Ucchi demonstrates a lot of “closeted lesbian” qualities. Mainly, her dilemma is played for laughs, but for one as I mentioned before Nico’s begun hiding serious things behind laughs, and that aside she does have a few little serious moments so far. It feels as though her attraction to Tomoko may in large part due to Tomoko making her realize she liked girls in the first place. To be honest that’s speculation, but she has a lot of extreme and excessive revulsion to anything gay for a while (not just Tomoko, just generally any hints at it). Meanwhile she ends up doing things like this…

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…Checking the classroom just to see if Tomoko’s there even though she’s currently with friends. It’s classic denial. There’s…actually a lot of stuff like that, and as I said, it makes me laugh and makes my heart go doki. Seriously, Ucchi does some really cute shit sometimes. I’ve noticed many people think Ucchi is just a joke character. Well, honestly, she’s not, not considering this series and not considering her path as a character. In the first place pretty much everyone is a joke in this series except maybe Yuri, in the second as I’ve been repeating: jokes are frequently masks in the series now, and I can’t see how you can deny Ucchi’s growing love at least, so why not also recognize her progress (and believe me, she has progressed)? Actually come to think of it, it seems some readers miss when precisely her weird fascination with Tomoko came to be love. It was here:

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Since Tomoko’s gesture really got to her. After this point she says KIMOI (creepy) less and seeks Tomoko more. She seems to have become attracted to Tomoko: wanting to see her, wanting to be near her, and liking the sound of her voice. She also gets jealous often. It’s fucking great. It’s all very cute.

But wait, there’s more (I cannot shut up about Ucchi, and I still have two complex characters to discuss)! Well for one thing, Tomoko is friendly with Ucchi. Unfortunately they aren’t actually friends, but neither have made a concentrated effort to connect. Nonetheless, Ucchi has regularly been nice to Tomoko even pre-love. She’s actually generally just a nice person, and even saved Tomoko’s dumb ass as their first genuine interaction in the series (not that it was her first appearance, and in fact she’s the one among the new characters to show up earliest which makes me suspect she’ll be doing more as time goes on). Tomoko doesn’t have some wretched preconception of her and actually seems to have no problem interacting with her. Man, I want them to actually talk again now that Tomoko’s less absurd.

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It’s really too bad she can’t be entirely honest (yet?), since I don’t think it’d take much to sway Tomoko’s heart. The manga long ago separated from whatever plans were had at the outset of the series so a lot about it is unpredictable right now. I’d be surprised if Ucchi’s love got recognized, but I wouldn’t all the same. I want it in any case. I’m rooting for that crazy girl. Latest chapter as of this writing (127) marked big progress for her! Do your best, Ucchi!

Now then, before we get into the meat and potatoes of the cast (in case you hadn’t noticed, WataMote is 100% character-driven) — that is to say Nemoto, Yuri, and Tomoko herself — I should mention the older characters. They still do show up in the series, after all, albeit rarely.

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So aside from Tomoko’s brother Tomoki who…there’s just not much of interest to mention (he’s a straight man who used to like his sister, grew to dislike her, and now is beginning to think she’s okay), there are three side characters from the early days of WataMote that still show up. They are Yuu, Komi-something, and Kii-chan. Yuu is the pretty one from the first image and I’ll try to be brief. Yuu is a nice person. Yuu is pretty accepting. I don’t like her. I simply can’t. I don’t know if this is just my own bias or what but fundamentally I have a big problem with her character. That problem is: she changed herself. She used to be a somewhat plain girl who wore glasses, and now she’s what you see. Like, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to change who you are a bit, or changing your look some, but aside from a vague innocence she never seemed to have lost (and generally being kind), Yuu basically changed everything about herself and became a different kind of person rather than accepting the kind of person she was and owning that (which is what Tomoko eventually does). For a lot of reasons it bothers me, like it’s the death of a “person”. She got a frivolous boyfriend, seemingly insubstantial friendships given how hard she tries to keep her old ones from middle school, she dyes her hair, she forces her introverted self to be much more outgoing… I guess it’s all a choice, but it’s nothing I can get behind. A piece of Tomoko’s old cynicism still rests within me and I can’t say I like the way “popular kids” can be. It seemed all stupid and pointless and full of lies then, it still does now. And Yuu gets HURT for it to seemingly no real benefit aside from getting complimented on how hot she is. I just don’t see why you’d want to be a part of it, why not just be friendly with those you are naturally friendly with? Why force a change? Maybe that really is why she keeps in contact with her old friends; she kind of gets that being honest and open is better for you.

Well now, that wasn’t brief at all. Don’t worry, I don’t feel as strongly about the other two.

The other two are Komi-something and Kii-chan. Komi…tani(?) is Yuu’s other friend and basically just a frenemy of Tomoko’s due to lusting after Tomoki and generally being kind of weird. She can be nice, and she’s alright I guess. Kii-chan is another character I don’t like. She’s Tomoko’s insidiously manipulative younger cousin. I just don’t like the jokes involving her. When she was introduced it was kind of amusing seeing how awful Tomoko was in her efforts to impress the child, but that’s about it. Kii-chan’s weird and not really funny, and she and Yuu and Komichita(?) are all pretty one-note. Komi: pervert, Yuu: sex object and nice, Kii-chan: nuts. Having ranted about Yuu I realize now you could maybe extrapolate more about her character, but she’s not one of the series’ foci. That said, at the very least I can admit she’s gotten slightly better over time. Now, let’s TALK about the new foci!

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I’ll start with Nemoto.

Nemo is an interesting character: she actually initially appears rather early in the series but there isn’t much done with her. She’s friendly with Tomoko, which put her in a positive light back then, but there wasn’t much else to it.

As it turns out! Nemo is a barrel full of surprises.

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Unfortunately revealing most of them would make them no longer surprises for first time readers, though. I need to reveal one thing to make this easier and add intrigue to her character, but overall I’ll instead talk around her deal.

Basically, Nemo is Yuu if Yuu was way fucking better. She was friendly to Tomoko because she resonated with and even respected her. Nemo is a powerlevel-hiding otaku who seeks to become a seiyuu (voice actress), and Tomoko only finds this out because their homeroom teacher’s awful (it was supposed to be a secret). She does enjoy her friendships, but she’s scared of bringing out the truth of all her interests due to how she might be perceived for them. Eventually she finds out that Tomoko knows what her dream is, and basically the things that happened when she did justifiably shocked everyone. Y’see, Nemo is seriously full of surprises.

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THE WEIGHT OF THIS STATEMENT CANNOT BE UNDERESTIMATED.

She’s turned out to be a bit of a wildcard who may actually be more fond of Tomoko than anyone could’ve imagined. Not to say she’s harboring yuri feelings for Tomoko, but what may have seemed at first to be pity or something toward the unpopular girl in class could’ve actually been “no, I honestly think you’re cool and want to know more about you”. That said, she’s not altogether…together. She’s kind of like Tomoko, I guess, in that she’s got a mouth on her, except unlike Tomoko she’s much more confident and won’t just say what she thinks under her breath at best: she’ll just tell you what she thinks if the two of you are on an “honest” wavelength. Interestingly this has subtly spawned its own tense  background arc involving the girl who seemed to be her best friend in class. We’ll see where that goes.

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Subtlety in action. “Of course Kuroki would be worried about me.”

Personally I think the best thing about Nemo so far is that she’s a lot like much of the audience for this series, and when that became clear many fans grew frustrated with her (at least at first), not truly realizing what sort of person she was. Nemo is pretty damn sick. I have no idea where things will go with her but I’m eager to see (if it really goes lesbian harem that shit will be bananas).

And so, I come to the final character (before Tomoko). Yeah. Yuri.

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Oh boy.

Art by @namicha73

If Nemo reflects the opinionated and bold nature of those who relate to this series (at least while they’re online), Yuri reflects how most loners who read this act overall. Basically, Yuri would perhaps be the realistic protagonist of this series were it more on the serious rather than comedic side.

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Put down your shoes properly! …Well, not like I ever do.

Full of small and never highlighted believable mannerisms, possessing a quiet yet not “gentle” personality, and definitely self-loathing, Yuri is basically probably you in high school. She was me, at least. Especially how she’s always got headphones on, listening to music. This is never actually brought up, but if she’s not with someone else then it’s rare to see her without them.

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Unlike Tomoko it seems Yuri is truly a loner by choice. She has one friend upon being introduced (Mako) and hangs out with nobody other than this friend. While Tomoko does, Yuri makes no effort to become friends with others. She’s simply polite at best, but mostly prefers being alone or being with the few people she’d call friends. In fact, she finds those people so precious to her that it is both an endearing character trait and a noticeable character flaw.

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Yuri is actually introduced in the middle of fighting with her friend, Mako. The reason Yuri is in the leftover group for the Kyoto trip is due to Mako being asked to be part of a different group by a person Yuri really does not like (and Mako accepted). Since, as far as we know, Mako is her only friend, this makes Yuri pretty upset. Not just depressed: pissed and frustrated. Typically if things get serious with Yuri, anger is mainly brought up instead of sadness, not that I can spoil examples. She’s the type who bottles up or gets aggressive when stressed or bothered. Interestingly, when observing someone kind, she agrees that this girl is a nice person “unlike Kuroki-san and me”.

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Yuri’s value of her friends actually winds up creating a situation that is a first for me: a case where what honorifics or names are used between people feels legitimately significant. I’m not Japanese so I don’t have the cultural context necessary to understand their society of politeness, and in pretty much all Japanese fiction I’ve seen, first-name basis or use of honorifics has either been played for laughs or not seriously. In Tomoko and Yuri’s case, due to Tomoko’s awkwardness it just so happens that she’s never called out to Yuri by any name. Really, she doesn’t with most people, but she’s ended up being friends with Yuri, so even she recognizes that she’s not sure how to call her. And it, like, actually creates a spot of drama when Yuri realizes this person she feels honestly really close to hasn’t ever used even her last name. She seems to be feeling similar feelings to when Mako “betrayed” her before the Kyoto school trip, and it’s genuinely kind of saddening, because the two of them have gotten pretty close with a pretty solid rapport.

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If Tomoko’s crap chocolate and Yuri’s acceptance of it are a metaphor for their friendship I’m sort of blown away by the mere idea. Considering the difference in her decisions during a chapter where she goes fishing, I’m really thinking it might be.

Notice how Yuri stutters on “friends” there? It’s her first time openly acknowledging it, and it’s amazingly easy to miss that she was apprehensive. In the end, Yuri is a very self-conscious character due to her self-loathing. The reason she values her friendships so strongly is probably because she feels like she doesn’t deserve any. In a lot of ways Yuri presents a far more compelling and depressing situation than Tomoko does, because it’s way more believable and easy to relate to, and because almost nothing about her ordeals is portrayed as comedy.

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As I type all this out I realize I have a lot of wishes for where WataMote will go. I’d like Tomoko to call Yuri by her first name and vice versa (my wish has been nearly granted!), I’d like to see Nemo’s relationship problems come to a head, I’d like to see Ucchi confess to Tomoko, I’d like Yoshida to open up rather than be cagey, and I just want more of it. The manga has developed in such a way that I hotly anticipate new chapters. I want to know what happens next. This is entirely not what I expected from this manga when it first started, but there are so many interesting elements, so many small details to go unnoticed and pick up on repeat readings, so many character arcs to follow. It’s just so great like holy shit. And no the review isn’t over: I still haven’t talked about how Tomoko has changed!

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While Tomoko is still rather an awkward mess, she is significantly less of one now. She still stutters sometimes, even with friends, but she can actually hold a tiny bit of conversation, even with other dudes (though there are very few opportunities for this in her case). She’s had two particular traits added to her character since the Kyoto arc that make her a lot more likable, too. The trait I personally like quite a bit is that she’s more snappy and pretty much only ever intentionally mean to people who deserve it on some level. She quips much better and insults more smoothly and she’s oddly even charismatic (one of my favorite chapters is entirely about something she said and did to Yoshida and it’s just hilarious how Tomoko explains herself). Before, she was just really miserable. It was fairly upsetting. Now I can actually see why people might like her, and when she’s being funny I genuinely laugh.

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Now her other particular trait is one she gained over a long time, culminating in the chapter of this series that made me actually cry: Tomoko has become pretty mature.

She still makes lewd jokes and poop jokes, but she’s a lot calmer and a lot more reasonable. She’s not very mature, but still pretty mature. She’s on her way. In strangely large part I feel credit must be given to a character in the series who rarely appears, but had extreme influence on Tomoko’s development even way back in the early volumes: Imae Megumi.

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Imae is the student council president of Tomoko’s school and she is an extremely good and mature person. Although they meet only a few times in the manga, Tomoko comes to like her and respect her a great deal. She never says she does, but she shows it in how she treats her senpai and how she wants to be seen by her senpai. Imae appearances in the chapters before 69 were always highlights of the entire manga because they showed Tomoko receiving kindness without duplicity and Tomoko trying to be better. Like in the page above? I’m pretty sure that little scene marks the first time Tomoko even attempts to greet another person in high school on her own. That’s huge.

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Mother of fuck, I’m tearing up typing this.

Imae, without pity and instead with honest care, tries to help Tomoko. She notices the girl’s awkwardness and loneliness and rather than just feeling sorry for her or something she gives Tomoko opportunities to grow by helping others or speaking (while also just plain helping her emotionally). Considering how desperate Tomoko used to be for human contact, rejoicing in the ability to mumble a sentence out to a boy, it’s no wonder that as Imae offered such without any malice and treated Tomoko with nurturing and respect, Tomoko ended up holding her in very high regard and bringing me to fucking tears, god damn why is so hard to write this shit.

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…Okay, now that I’ve taken a few minutes to recompose myself and prevent a crying session I can say that ultimately this all culminates in a denouement for Tomoko in a small, quiet, and heart-wreckingly devastating, emotionally powerful scene (hands down one of the best I’ve read and one of the best written). It’s simultaneously uplifting, satisfying, and sickeningly sad, and when it’s over Tomoko is a much better character for it. When you reach this scene (it’s obvious), pay attention to Yuri in it. I just really like what small thing she does there.

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So the last thing I can talk about, for first time readers or those curious, is really how I take the first 68 chapters of this series. Do I think the second half wouldn’t work without the first?

My answer is yes and no. I think that, to make WataMote a perfect series, the first half needed to be a serious manga with comedic elements rather than a comedic manga with rare serious elements. The reason the second half works as well as it does in regard to Tomoko’s changes is of course because she’s different now from how she used to be, but the memories that come to my mind when reading the latest chapters and thinking “I’m proud of you, Tomoko” are like those of her sadly eating at a quiet place in school during lunch to avoid feeling depressed and uncomfortable amidst a class of friends, not like those of her getting soft drink sprayed on her and having ants crawl along her body. There are many more moments like the latter in the first 68 chapters than the former. Really, how can you root for a moron who makes out with a vacuum cleaner while trying to give herself fake hickies and cheats to beat kids at card games? There’s a lot about Tomoko back then that I just can’t relate to, but the times she IS relatable are extremely bright spots from those days.

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Considering how many people liked part 1 of this series for at least a long while, I think first time readers of WataMote should still find enjoyment to be had while the manga is a gag series about a walking social disaster. For those who dropped it, like me, getting through those chapters is pretty fast anyway and it doesn’t take long to get to the part where the series evolves. In either case, the really great moments, scenes, and chapters from part 1 are probably going to stick with you regardless of the surrounding jokey joke stuff and powerful bitterness. And wherever you stand, the second part of this series is massively compelling. After all, it was what convinced me to give the series another chance. I’d been noticing the latest chapters and thinking “damn, isn’t this pretty good now?” It was very much worth reading. Amazing series.

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Final thoughts: I’m really happy I read this series again start to finish. It really got me thinking, about so many things, and it’s been an incredible journey that I don’t really want to end. Sometimes you hear about comedy manga getting shockingly well-written serious chapters or arcs. I can’t really think of another manga that started off gag and ended up a wild web of character and relationship study with a lot to love, root for, and look forward to. There’s even plenty of background and side characters with arcs you can follow! The writing in this series just…it just makes me say wow. I gotta take my hat off to Nico. Super job, sensei; keep it up.

This is now the longest essay/review I’ve written for this site, the previous being Unsounded‘s article (a comic that, IMO, requires a lot of explaining to truly appreciate). Really never would’ve imagined this given my first impressions of WataMote. It was really enjoyable to write, so I hope people enjoy reading it.

WataMote may be purchased in these ways: Official English translation, CDJapan, Bookwalker (guide), honto (guide), or ebookjapan. Please consider it, I highly recommend this series. There’s a spin off that I don’t like too much since it’s mostly like part 1 of this series, but you can look into TomoMote yourself if you’re interested. Also, if I remember right, the anime adaptation was pretty good. That’s all I’ve got. Seriously, thanks for reading. See ya next time.

31 thoughts on “WataMote

  1. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I skipped it for years because I got the impression it was just making fun of the main character. This review seems to indicate that it’s now treating her like a human.

  2. stevebrandon says:

    As much as I’m on team Ucchi, I suspect the romance trajectory for her is another year of unrequited affection before she meets new girls in college.

    One less remarked upon aspect of Emiri Uchi I particularly like is that she’s actually fairly perceptive when she wants to be. Ucchi seems to be the only girl Tomoko met in high school who could tell at a glance that Tomoki was her brother the first time she saw them together, rather than jumping to the conclusion that Tomoki’s her boyfriend. That’s not to mention her ability to nitpick every little flaw in Nemoto’s Tomoko impression.

    I do have to wonder what Emiri’s connection to Emoji 2.0/Numoji is, implied in the “Why her?” scene. I’m guessing they might be related, most likely as cousins, with the less-likely possibility that they might be fraternal twin sisters (or non-twin sisters, with Numoji having perhaps skipped a grade). However, I do remember that Mako, Yuri, and Yoshida did lift up Numoji at the Cavalry Battle on sports day after not being able to find Tomoko, so it’s not like Numoji hasn’t likely already met many of the supporting characters off-panel and, as such, it’s also possible that Ucchi has some kind of non-familial connection to Numoji.

  3. theRifter17 says:

    Oh yes mah boi. I started this series a while ago, and like it for the most part, but now I love it. The field trip arc and everything after is just pure gold and so much character development. Nothing plot wise happens, but its the characters that change and drive the ‘plot’ which is the most believable way a story in the real world works. I hunger now for every new chapter, and its always a delight.

    Nice analysis that Nemo and Yuri are both different types of parallels to Tomoko. Both characters are rather similar in that they suffer from low self esteem and fear the rejection of others. Nemo fakes it, while Yuri just doesn’t put herself out there to be hurt. I feel like they will grow to dislike each other because they see too much of themselves in each other. Hopefully Tomoko will bumble her way into a solution.

  4. Wow, you’ve totally sold me on this manga! I watched a few episodes of the anime, but pegged it to be an overly repetitive comedy with gags painfully centered around social anxiety. After reading your review, it seems that the series has far more depth than I had initially thought.

  5. mcmoor says:

    Be honest, you totally like this at last because of the raising Yuri don’t you…? (Both of them :D )

    That aside, I feel like the second part is good as well. I don’t hate the first part that much but I understand if the first part fans will not like the second part and vice versa. I’m a reader since before the second part come out and I have aversion to drop my ongoing manga but it turns out really good… :D

    Well.. thank you for reviewing this. It’s always nice to see another person talks about this series! I’m looking forward for your other reviews…

    P.S : YURI IS A CUTE! A CUTE!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    > She still kind of is but honestly, Tomoko was a real jerk and she couldn’t always garner my sympathy (really, a lot of the time it felt like you weren’t supposed to sympathize).

    Yeah, I’m fairly sure the author said Tomoko isn’t supposed to be relatable at all, so it’s pretty cringey when I see nerds (proudly) saying “LOLLLLL I’M JUST LIKE HER”.

  7. Good work you did here.

    One thing that I need to say is that Watamote “was good” since much earlier.
    The “gag” aspect lost it’s importance gradually, but even when it was strong I could still see a lot of work put into Tomoko’s character development. She needed to suffer all of that, and a lot of the most dramatic chapters had a lot of reflection on what made her suffer and why. We can see thing frequently in the anime. That part pre-trip was needed to make her a bit “tired” and give up on “trying too hard”.

    • Yeah, I’m mainly of two minds because of it because a lot of what we see, in my opinion, lacks entertainment value or resonance. Still it’s not like the manga could be what it is without that first part.

  8. kelwyn says:

    Exactly my thoughts, I read up until the field trip arc but stopped there eventually a few years ago.
    Started reading there for no reason again two days and I caught up already because I couldn’t stop reading.
    The change is subtle but amazing, it’s really well written and managed to put both a smile and tears on my face.

    Also Ucchi is best girl and she and Tomoko will have a lot of puppies later.

  9. gantifandor commented:

    A series managing to reinvent itself so drastically 70 chapters in sounds so interesting, I marathoned it before reading the rest of the review. Came back to read the rest afterwards.

    I did feel it starting to drag at some point before the Kyoto trip, where Tomoko was mostly just hanging out with the “one-note characters”. But you can already see so much setup for great moments in the early parts, I love it. Having the first part focus more on the serious stuff sounds interesting, I feel like I’ll be thinking a lot about which of the early chapters are really good or necessary for the second half once I reread.

    I’m blown away how greatly the manga has improved, changing little by little relatively slowly. Subtlety really is the best way to describe it. I thought Tomoko getting new friends would feel similar to “Umaru” becoming more of a CGDCT series, but the quality difference is utterly incomparable.
    And “that moment” really did make me tear up. This whole series just evokes so many good emotions. I’m extremly invested in the main cast. And though I do feel that Kii-chan and Yuu-chan chapters, however rare they are, are lower quality at this point, the series itself pointing out the difference between Tomoko’s “friends” and friends in the fishing chapter makes me really excited for future development.

    I feel sad that this series is probably mostly known only for the first half as opposed to everything after the Kyoto trip, it’s a crying shame.

    Glad I decided to pick this one up pretty much immediately, it’s a great time to get into the series. Easily a new favorite of mine, and one of your best reviews, I loved it. Thank you.

    =====
    terrenceswiff replied:

    That’s grand to hear and wonderful to know, I’m happy you gave it a chance and found it amazing. RE: the early parts another reader gave me a different perspective on them that I don’t necessarily agree with but felt still had legitimacy. Basically although some of the utterly ridiculous parts of the first 68 chapters are, well, utterly ridiculous, in a way because we don’t see moments like that anymore we know that Tomoko has improved a LOT. I guess the only problem is how, to some, it’s just not entertaining or compelling at the time while going through those absurd moments.

    Also, thanks very much for the compliments! Cheers, hope I can recommend something else you adore.

    • gantifandor says:

      I’m particularly thankful about this one since I’ve seen the series for years now without being aware how much it had evolved. It doesn’t seem to be known for that aspect. I probably would have never checked it out since just hearing it being some memey cringe comedy didn’t interest me enough.

      Btw, can you edit that post to my username, I accidentally left my real name there since I just started using wordpress

      • I actually can’t edit your username, so I instead copied your comment into my first reply and deleted the original.

        As for your comment here: indeed, that was actually something I noticed when looking into the series before I reread it again. The current fanbase is mostly pretty openly positive about how it’s changed for the better, but if you look for reviews of this series most are old and based off the first volumes. The way it’s evolved has been mostly ignored.

  10. intermittent says:

    Hey, just wanted to let you know, great review! As someone who dropped it in the first half and picked it up in the second half, I was astounded at the change in tone of the manga. Your review just inspired me to reread it; I think that’s a sign of a great analysis!

    Also, I don’t know if this is too personal to share, but your review really moved me. Like on a personal level. Your character analysis of Yuri fit my high school life a little too closely to what I’d like to admit, down to the headphones, but reading your description made me come to a profound realization. All my life, in social situations with big groups, I couldn’t talk. Even when people came to chat with me, all I could do was be polite and wait for them to leave, while kicking myself internally. I had close friends that I always hung out with, but in these large social settings when they weren’t there, I was paralyzed. And I hated myself for it, I was riddled with guilt. I wondered “why can’t I just talk to people normally like everyone else?!” All my life I thought there was something wrong with me, that I had some kind of social deficit and I needed fixing. But in that one character description you wrote, I realized I wasn’t alone. This wasn’t a problem that I faced by myself; other people like that existed and I shouldn’t feel guilty for who I am. It felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders, and it helped me realize that I was me and that’s not a bad thing.

    I don’t know, it’s really heavy stuff to realize in reaction to a manga review, but I just wanted to let you know that your writing changed me. I’m still going to try to be more social in those situations, and I want to be better everyday, but I’m not going to hate myself over it anymore. I won’t feel guilty over ever little mistake I make, and I feel like I’ve become a better person because of it.

    I don’t want to drop all this heavy stuff in a manga review, and maybe I’m silly for realizing something like that in something that’s meant to be a fun analysis, but I wanted to leave this message to thank you. I thought about maybe not leaving this comment, but I wanted to sincerely thank you, otherwise I’d be regretting it for a long time. You’ve definitely earned yourself a frequent reader.

  11. Alright! On your recommendation, I continued following this manga past the period when the main character was just being shown as a total social screw-up with a bad attitude, and it really paid off.

    Almost everyone is probably rooting for her in the second half.

    Good job!

  12. As you mentioned, you have had similar experiences to tomoko. I also have, and im wondering how much of an affect this has on our perception of the series. Would someone who was a social butterfly not be able to understand some of the nuances and behaviors? would they still be able to relate? i really want to see a perspective on this series from someone on the opposite spectrum of tomoko, and us who can relate heavily to her by extension.

    • I feel like most wouldn’t be interested, but here’s an idea: personally, I have a lot of interest in gender benders and homosexual romance series, but I myself am not interested in that stuff at all. Like, seriously. But I find the stories about them pretty fascinating. A sense of “other” can be compelling.

      That said since the comedy of this series often realize on “I can relate”, I’m not sure how well it could work for most people. But… most people don’t read manga, so it doesn’t really matter.

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