Ah, Watamote, where do I start…?
I usually prefer to go into anime without having first read/watched reviews. I might get a general sense of it – if it is worth watching in the first place. But I go no further. At first glance, I like to make my own judgements, whatever they might be.
Watamote – I would be lying if I said it was entirely pleasurable… because in many parts, to a person like myself, it was incredibly hard to watch. Though, that’s not to say I shouldn’t have watched it, because its humour alone makes up for the things – on occasion – I’d rather not be remembered of.
Themes and ‘Story’
To say viewing Watamote was awkward, would be a huge understatement. Awkwardness is integral to the series. Tomoko finds herself in these situations at least half-a-dozen times an episode. Such situations are usually centered around her frankly disastrous social abilities, and the interactions she… well, can’t interact within.
Often we are very close to Tomoko in framing, The people surrounding her are colourless, grey outlines, this is representative of her world-view – they don’t see her, and in turn, she finds it painfully difficult to see them as people with personalities, not just objects who poke fun at, and ridicule her.
A major theme that runs throughout Watamote is anxiety, more specifically Social Anxiety. It isn’t portrayed as being overtly serious, not in the same sense as the themes in Welcome to the N.H.K are. But nonetheless, they are present, hiding behind the humour which people so often use as a barrier, a facade. This is what dragged me towards Watamote after such a long period of somehow ignoring it.
Over the years I, have suffered from varying amounts of Social Anxiety; years in which it was manageable, and many more years as I grew older when it wasn’t. Watamote is personal to me in this regard, it pulls at the still-fresh heart-strings. I’m able to look upon it with humour now, even when it is still as ever-present in my life. I do not shy away from things like Watamote which show it in such an awkward, hilarious light. Being able to do that, to see humour in something which is otherwise life-changing, I think that is an important quality to obtain. Of course, this really isn’t of any use to Tomoko herself, who seems to encounter one bad situation after another, despite her often misguided, but steadfast efforts.
Throughout, I found that Tomoko bleeds quite an amount of sexual tension. Often – and rather uncomfortably so – this is aimed towards her younger brother Tomoki. These moments, they cut through the humour here and there, showing the vulnerability of Tomoko, and what really hides behind the fake, and optimistic exterior. She is relentlessly, agonisingly lonely. Many times, she reminisces of the past, of times when the relationship between her and Tomoki was much stronger. Looking into the past is a major theme here, one that brings her endless trouble. One that, until solved, will prevent her from moving on. But that’s the problem, Tomoko’s inner monologue, her anxieties manifesting, they prevent that. And it is through these observation, we connect with her and feel her pain.
How Does Watamote Get Humour so Right?
Undeniably, what keeps Watamote afloat is the gut-wrenching laughter that flows out from it in droves. I have never laughed so much at any anime like I laughed at Watamote. Maybe it is its overtly self-depreciating style, maybe it is because of how it all so personally relates to my life, maybe it’s something I have yet to discover and grasp. But, if Watamote only has one thing going for it, that’s it, no doubt.
It is comedy, and it is slice of life, and yet it doesn’t fit into the average Joes of those categories. It’s story is near enough non-existent, and yet, it doesn’t need it. Tomoko makes sure of that, a gem in the world of otherwise deadpan anime characters. She shines from the screen – and not always in the ways you expect. You find yourself both gunning, and resenting her as a character. It’s the dynamic of her construct, an equal measure of love and loathing.
A significant portion of the laughs are supplied through Tomoko’s facial expressions, here’s a particularly expressive montage:
Her most personal inner feelings are captured perfectly by the animators. And, whilst Watamote itself isn’t visually stunning in the same regard as Sound Euphonium! might be, the visual-storytelling is top-notch, allowing us to see straight into the rocky interior of Tomoko; who is neurotic, needy, and desperately alone.
Otherwise, Izumi Kitta who voices Tomoko, does an amazing job at pinning down the subtleties of her character. In the moments when her social interactions hit the downwards spiral, Kitta truly gets across the gut-wrenching anxiety, whilst always retaining that unique humourous tone. It’s one of the best voice overs I have heard in a long time – many values of which, I suspect wouldn’t translate over to a dubbed version, (though, I haven’t seen it, so I cannot comment on that explicitly, it’s just a hunch.)
Ultimately, Watamote’s humour truly is ‘meta.’ People like myself are the target audience. People who are able to look back on days gone by, relate to what they are seeing, and laugh at it – even if it has not yet entirely left them/me. Watamote covertly makes light of reclusive ‘otaku culture,’ whilst still keeping its roots solidly grounded in the real, pressing social issue that torments far more people than it should. It’s an apt expose of a problem that is almost entirely invisible, one that uses humour to convey its message, one that show us how petulant, and how silly the human mind can truly be.
A story is composed of three main acts: A beginning, (the setup) a middle, (the confrontation) and an ending, (the resolution.) Now, strictly in this sense, Watamote doesn’t exactly fit into this structure. Sure, Term 1 could be seen as the setup – the needed exposition. Term 2 – the confrontation – a situation in need of solving. And after the culture festival, the ‘resolution.’ Yet, it is not the ending we are often used, and treated to, especially when it comes to anime. There is no concrete resolution, there is no revelation that suddenly falls on her, she simply comes to an ambiguous understanding of herself and her situation.
And, I realise, it’s completely adequate. I could see it coming; in the way the last episode panned out in the same format as most of the others, and as the ‘resolution’ came to its quiet climax. That’s the thing though, isn’t it? That’s life… there are rarely any grandiose happy endings, rarely anything but a thought of how things could have been different, and how things will be different if it happened again. It’s not as though Tomoko learnt nothing, because she did – she learnt how to be herself. And how that is vastly more important than the quest to be some person who is widely admired, yet utterly fake.
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Thanks for reading, as always!
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter and consider supporting me on Patreon!)