Anime Reviews: WataMote
Stylish visuals and a compelling main character are WataMote's greatest virtues, although many will likely be turned off by its uncomfortable brand of comedy.
Title: WataMote a.k.a. Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui a.k.a. No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!
Production: Silver Link
Series Length: 12 episodes
Air Dates: 7/8/2013 to 9/23/2013
Age Rating: 13+ (mild language, suggestive content, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: All her life, Tomoko Kuroki believed that, once she entered high school, her life would be very different, and that she would become popular. To prepare herself for that day, she has tirelessly played video games, blasted through visual novels, and read light novels in order to gain the skills she thinks necessary to make that belief into a reality. Unfortunately for Tomoko, before she knows it, she's been a high-schooler for 3 months and has barely spoken a word to anyone. Turns out, all that "preparation" turned her into a socially-inept and cripplingly-inarticulate loner, and she's been forced to take a long, hard look at herself for the first time in her life. But Tomoko is undeterred--from here on out, she will work tirelessly to figure out how to be popular, and she will become a beloved member of her class, even if it kills her (or anyone else)!
The Good: Stylish and unconventional visuals create ample mood; memorable theme songs; Tomoko; incredibly awkward situations make for great comedy
The Bad: Incredibly awkward situations will also make many viewers very uncomfortable; doesn't really have an ending
The Ugly: Tomoko's taste in visual novels is questionable at best (though her taste in anime is impeccable)
I don't think I'm going to surprise many of you out there when I make the following statement: I'm kind of a loser. I spend a good portion of my free time watching and reviewing anime, for crying out loud; it's plainly obvious I lack a social life as a result. I don't know where I'm going with this, but WataMote. It's a show I watched. It's pretty recent. And its protagonist is also kind of a loser. This series has also been causing quite a lot of mixed reactions, as its portrayal of social anxiety as comedy can be a bit of a touchy subject--one side says Tomoko brings these things on herself and thus it's funny, while the other side says this stuff just shouldn't be joked about. And people have argued this point for a year and a half now. I happen to fall into the former category, so I also happen to enjoy WataMote quite a bit. And now I'm going to tell you why, because that's kinda what I'm here to do.
The first thing that'll strike you about WataMote is that its visuals are quite unique. Filters laid over the artwork make for some funny scenes, some lighting is presented as geometric color-shapes, the artwork changes often from the regular look to a more stencil-drawn style and even to the styles of completely different genres. There are also a lot of visual references to anime like Kuroko no Basket, Ouran High School Host Club, Death Note, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and many others sprinkled throughout, and their respective visual styles are replicated flawlessly. But most noteworthy of all is Tomoko's character design--she is rail-thin, short, disheveled, has a tendency to go wall-eyed, and is plagued by hideous bags under her eyes at all times. A perfect heroine, she most definitely is not. All in all, this is a series that is very solid on the visual front, and one that also manages to stand out among its very generic high-school-slice-of-life peers.
As for the aural side of things, the voice acting is also quite solid, but Izumi Kitta's work as Tomoko is mind-bendingly spectacular. She's nasally, she's mumbly, she's annoying, and she's obnoxious--just as intended. Absolutely pitch-perfect voice acting. Pure genius in audio form. Now, for the soundtrack, the background music is often just there to set a mood and does nothing to make itself stand out (aside from some comedic deflating), but at least it does its job well. Where it does shine, however, is with the opening and ending themes. The titular opening theme is a bit strange, as it presents the themes of the show via...metalcore. Uhhh, okay. Not what I would've gone with, but it's a catchy tune and the visuals are excellent, so I'm giving it a thumbs-up. The ending theme, "Dou Kangaete mo Watashi wa Warukunai," is a upbeat-sounding but lyrically-somber tune that's great on its own, but Tomoko's voice actress does the lead singing in-character, and it just makes the whole thing that much more special. The visuals are also quite clever, and that's just gravy. Short Version: No matter how I look at it, Tomoko is basically the best part of everything she's involved in.
And that segues nicely into my next point: No matter how I look at it, Tomoko is basically the best part of everything she's involved in. There are a few side characters I really enjoy, like Tomoki, Tomoko's snarky and more normal brother; Tomoko's middle-school friend, Yuu-chan, whom puberty struck like a ton of bricks; Tomoko's mom, who has to put up with her bizarre daughter; and Imae, an upstanding Student Council member who actually does try to reach out to Tomoko and help. But really, the clear and obvious winner of the series is Tomoko. She is literally the glue that holds the entire show together, so I guess it's fortunate that she's the main focus of basically every single scene. Tomoko has many, many flaws, which helps to make her feel more like a real person than just a character--her self-imposed isolation, her nonexistent social skills, and her unhealthy obsession with video games and visual novels create a portrait of a truly unlikable person, but that's exactly why I love Tomoko so much: When this unsociable thing tries its damnedest to be sociable, the end result is usually very, very funny, largely because it involves Tomoko getting her comeuppance for making extremely dumb decisions. And here's where the fanbase divide comes into play:
Tomoko has a habit of putting herself into incredibly embarrassing situations. Like, the kinds of situations where you change schools or workplaces out of shame as a result. As I said, I find these scenes very funny, but there are plenty of people who find them extremely uncomfortable, and thus can't sit through the series at all because of it. Maybe it's because they've been there, or maybe they just can't abide by a series where its protagonist is just that daft, but nevertheless, it's very possible that, regardless of everything else, you might just hate WataMote as a result. And there's nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. The fact that the simple act of the series carrying out its jokes (jokes that aren't even meant to be shocking or offensive, even) can create a lot of backlash and discomfort is a fact that can't be overlooked.
Finally, I don't know if the manga is still ongoing or if this is how it actually ends, but the ending is a bit of a letdown. It just kinda...stops. We make it past the culture festival, and then I guess we're done following Tomoko around. Some people might also be a bit bitter that Tomoko ends the series the exact same as she began it, and I would argue that that's the point, but if you're expecting her to pull a 180 or even just make some major progress, you'll be disappointed. Since I liked the show, I was just sad that it was over so abruptly. Oh well. All good things must come to an end, I guess.
So that's WataMote. It's not deep, it's not life-changing, and it's got a 50/50 chance of either winning you over or driving you insane. If you're looking for a fun little comedy and don't mind it when the comedy is the result of the main character being impossibly dense, then look no further. Fans of Welcome to the NHK who just want to watch another series highlighting a twisted and unhealthy mind will also feel right at home here. That's my recommendation, and I'm standing by it. Now, if y'all don't mind, I'm going follow Tomoko's wisdom and boot up Katawa Shoujo in order to master the art of romancing the ladies...
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. WataMote may be extremely divisive with its handling of social anxiety as a source of comedy, and it does end without warning or ceremony, but its creative visual flair and incredibly memorable heroine help to elevate it far above its bog-standard high-school-based brethren.