Woah, that’s a long title! Before we go on, the fans of this manga have shortened the title to WataMote. That’s what I’m going to be referring it as for this review.
So yeah, this is probably the hardest review I’m going to write. WataMote as an entity just came out of nowhere and became a smash hit. I’m going a bit off script because this manga has a spectacular origin story that needs to be told. Originally premièring online as a web manga (just like One-Punch Man) from the creative team collectively named Nico Tanigawa, it soon gained a huge cult following on, of all places, 4chan. For those that don’t know, 4chan is a hive of scum and villainy, basically akin to a huge forum where insanity reigns. English translated scans of WataMote showed up on 4chan and everyone instantly fell in love with it. This became a huge movement among the fans, with some even buying the Japanese volumes despite not being able to read Japanese, just to support the creators. The writer even showed up on 4chan to thank the fans for their support (you can even see his message in one of the volumes). After gaining such a huge fanbase both in and outside of Japan, WataMote soon received an official English release from Yen Press.
Now that I’ve caught your attention, what makes WataMote so special? To put it bluntly, WataMote is the most brutal story you will ever read.
WataMote centers around Tomoko Kuroki, an unassuming high school girl trying to get through life and find some new friends to call her own. Seems like a simple high school story right? Well here’s the deal, Tomoko is a huge nerd and has crippling social anxiety. She can barely talk to anyone without breaking down in embarrassment. So you’ve got this very simple high school drama premise, centered around an abnormal character who doesn’t belong in this paint by numbers story.
This is what caught the attention of all those people. In mainstream media, we’re always presented with the nerdy characters who just need to come out of their shells in order to become popular. There has never been a truly realistic character that these people can latch onto in a long while. Most of the time, the solution to social issues is you just need to open up to people, but that’s really hard if inside your head everyone is against you.
This is why I personally connect to Tomoko. She is in every way an exaggerated modern day nerd, but with most of the stereotype that mainstream media likes to believe is reality stripped away. In her life, she has trouble talking to people and just begins to blush because she just doesn’t know what to do. Tomoko is very much a mirror for many people who are introverts. Here’s the thing that makes her brilliant, she isn’t written with an ounce of mean spirit and you’re never meant to laugh at her like she’s something freakish. She’s a girl with a few human characteristics exaggerated for comedic effect. You’re supposed to look at her and think, “Oh my god, I did that too.” If you have ever been in a situation where you just feel completely unsure of yourself, or you are outside of the norm, Tomoko will feel all too familiar.
WataMote is very much a comedy, and most of the jokes are done at Tomoko’s expense, but it’s usually done because of her own decisions. You see her do something and just have to shake your head and wonder why she would do that. A great example is early into the story when she is trying to escape a restaurant because she doesn’t want to talk to her classmates. She changes her hair in the bathroom so they don’t recognize her, but then she also makes a strange face to further hide her identity. She escapes her classmates, but then her brother shows up and we get to see that Tomoko is pursing her lips and furrowing her brow in just the most attractive manner. You think to yourself, why would she do that?
This brings up another thing, Tomoko is not very attractive. Contrary to almost every piece of media out there, especially manga, the artist draws Tomoko in just some of the worst positions imaginable, and it really hits home she just isn’t a pretty girl compared to all of her classmates. But this also makes her more relatable. Have you ever looked in the mirror and thought you looked really unattractive. Tomoko avoids the mirror because that’s all she can see, an unattractive young girl. Every ounce of her being is completely unsure of who she is and who she wants to be. She just wants it all to work out because she doesn’t know how have a happy and “normal” life.
And this sort of brings us to the real message of WataMote. Tomoko is a sad girl who, just like the title says, wants to be liked. She believes because she is in high school that she will blossom into this beautiful flower who will get everyone’s attention. And that’s just not how real life works and it kills her. We’re introduced to Tomoko’s one and only friend, Yuu Naruse, who became more beautiful after puberty and changed almost everything about herself in order to be popular in school. She’s happy with her life and even has a boyfriend, but there are plenty of comments she makes that hint she might wish she could be more natural around everyone like she is with Tomoko. However, all Tomoko sees is a person who has the life she wants, instead of a friend who still really cares for her. Tomoko is never really angry or resentful of Yuu, but it definitely hurts when she sees what she wants to be.
If this story were a drama, Tomoko would be one of the most tragic characters in existence. But because everything is played for laughs, we can smile and just have a bit of hope that everything will be alright for Tomoko. And to be honest, based on personal experiences, it may be a hard hill to climb, but she probably does have a good future ahead.
Now we come to the biggest issue I have with WataMote and why this review was so difficult for me. I can really only recommend the first volume to you. It’s not because of the quality of the manga, but because the later volumes become entrenched in Japanese geek culture. It becomes hard to follow at times if you don’t even have a passing interest in anime or video games. The first volume is great and gives you everything you need to know about Tomoko, but after that it is really up to you if you want to continue. It doesn’t get complex until volume four, so you’re safe if you really want to read more. I really needed to provide this warning, even though I think everyone should read this and it pains me that WataMote can’t reach a wider audience. Also, Tomoko can get pretty perverted, but it makes sense in the context of a teenage girl exploring her budding sexuality. Though most of these situations are played for some of the best and most cringe inducing laughs in the series, like the time she gives herself hickies with a vacuum cleaner. Why would you do that Tomoko?
Whew! Okay that got a little heavy for this really funny series. I think this should be required reading for everyone. It gives you a look at what many introverts and people with social issues go through every day if they haven’t learned to cope. If you do have these problems, give this a look. You might find yourself reminiscing about the past and having a little laugh at some of the stuff you used to do. WataMote doesn’t judge you for who you are or were, it just wants you to laugh at a really tough time in your life, rather than be bitter or see everything as a negative.
You can read other How to Love Manga columns here.