If I’m being honest, Watamote is a pretty difficult show for me to review, especially while remaining unbiased. Recently during my review of Bocchi the Rock, I referenced Watamote while discussing its status as a more honest, realistic portrayal of its subject matter when contrasted against Bocchi the Rock’s more lighthearted, cutesy and optimistic portrayal of that very same subject matter. And you know, let me say this right off the bat—Watamote (with the full Japanese title of “Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!” or the English title of “No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!”) is easily the most realistic portrayal of its protagonist’s particular character archetype ever written, anime or not; or, at the very least, the most realistic portrayal of that archetype written from a place of self-awareness and genuine understanding. Despite how convincingly written its main character is however, the question ends up being not one of believability, but instead a question of actual entertainment value. What lies at the core of what makes the show compelling? Well, before we start breaking Watamote down into its essential components, let me explain what it’s actually about (assuming the title didn’t already clue you in); essentially, Watamote is a Slice-of-Life anime chronicling the comical misadventures of female protagonist Tomoko Kuroki, a shut-in, deluded otaku with an extremely high opinion of herself on a mission to become popular and live an idyllic, fulfilling high-school life—but of course, things don’t exactly go as planned. If I had to describe Watamote in the most blunt way possible, I’d say it’s a show about its protagonist slowly but surely being forced to wake up to and recognize the depth of their own self-delusion; it’s not a show about its protagonist becoming popular, it’s a show about how their failure to become popular forces them to confront reality. Realistically, I think that much is probably evident to any mature viewer willing to empathize with Tomoko’s plight even without having experienced anything similar themselves, but I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say Watamote is best appreciated by those who have been in Tomoko’s position before, even if only to a small extent. The way in which this show tries to convey its message to its core audience—those capable of relating with the protagonist’s plight on a deeply personal level—is downright uncanny, it is executed so perfectly (albeit with some exaggerated elements) that it really isn’t too dissimilar from the feeling of looking into a mirror and not liking what you see in the reflection (which is actually something the show references directly). I want to stress that I’m not saying this from a place of unbiased professionalism; I can recognize how genuinely real some of Tomoko’s behavior is because years ago, I was in a very similar place. As an outside observer, I think the easy criticism of Tomoko’s character would be the hypocrisy inherent within her behavior, but the truth of it is that hypocrisy in-and-of itself is the most integral, core aspect of what makes her character genuinely believable, even when taking the over-the-top, exaggerated and comedic elements of her personality into consideration. It is blindingly obvious that Watamote was written by someone who has hands-on experience with its subject matter; but does that experience translate into a show that’s actually fun to watch? Well, first and foremost, I will be the one to express that Watamote is not perfect. It’s a show trying to invest time and energy into making comedy out of a situation that is funny primarily for two separate extremes—those who can look back and laugh at their own stupidity, and those who can point and laugh at the protagonist from a place of pure pity without any real empathy or attempt to understand. We can establish immediately that the show’s core audience is clearly not the latter of those two groups. But for the former—the people whom the show’s narrative is actually aimed at—how funny is it, really? When you get right down to it, there’s a lot of depressing subtext here underlying the protagonist’s constant failures, which ultimately leads to situations that are often funny and ridiculous in the moment, but exhausting and emotionally draining when considered as pieces of a much greater whole. While the portrayal of the subject matter here is realistic, there’s hardly any indication for the viewer as to what exactly it is the protagonist is doing that’s wrong, what about her character is redeemable or what it is that needs to change, etc. Instead, the show expects you to decide upon and understand the subtle nuances of its narrative for yourself, not shoving any particular takeaway or opinion about its story down your throat. “Is Tomoko actually a good person at her core”, “How much of what happens to Tomoko was deserved” and “Does Tomoko actually experience any significant growth” are all valid questions the show doesn’t spoon-feed you the answer to, much in the same way it doesn’t offer any magical solution or easy avenue towards personal growth for the viewer. And you know, that’s a good thing. But assuming a viewer who, in reality, is in the midst of a life experience none too far removed from that which Watamote depicts, how are they really going to perceive what happens in it? Does it serve the purpose its intended to as being a wake-up call, or will it just fall on deaf ears and reinforce that kind-of viewer’s pre-existing delusions even further? Basically, does the show’s realism truly benefit the viewers it’s trying to target? I think a common trend I’ve seen among that specific chunk of Watamote’s audience is the sentiment that the show is nothing more than a pointless, morbid showcase of unrelenting pain and sadness without meaning, but I would categorically disagree with that notion (especially when considering it’s something the show touches on directly). Is there no meaning to the struggles people go through in reality? Is life no more than a pointless, irredeemable cycle of constant pain? Surely it shouldn’t be lost upon the viewer that the title of “No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular” is a sarcastic jab aimed at the protagonist, intended to highlight how much of what they experience during the show can be blamed squarely upon them, and how little of it is truly as a result of unfair, uncontrollable external factors. The idea that Watamote only exists for the sake of entertaining sadists who want to watch someone fail at life is simply false, and I think the primary reason as to why this opinion is so prevalent is because none of what Tomoko herself takes away from her own experiences is immediately apparent to the viewer. A while ago during my review of Bloom Into You, I said something to the tune of “Life isn’t defined by specific milestones or particular moments”, and that same philosophy can very much be applied here; the idea that while we don’t see Tomoko experience overt success, she is slowly and subtly outgrowing her delusion and learning to understand through failure how her perception of herself and the world around her needs to change. Even moreso than that, Tomoko herself doesn’t truly understand or appreciate what she’s getting out of the life experiences she’s suffering through as they’re happening. That is the core of what makes Watamote’s narrative work; the idea that an attentive viewer can see the light at the end of the tunnel Tomoko is blind to because of the unique perspective from which they are experiencing her story, a story the writers reference as being “trivial” for the sake of trying to manipulate your perception as to what actually constitutes triviality and, ultimately, appreciate the amount of effort that the protagonist is putting into trying to live a fulfilling life. The pursuit of happiness and fulfillment itself is not Tomoko’s folly—instead, it’s the avenue through which she’s trying to obtain it, the romantic idea she has as to what exactly a happy, ideal life constitutes. That’s her character growth; a blossoming understanding as to what will actually make her happy, contrasted against her romantic delusions. Now, I’m critiquing Watamote professionally while maintaining a healthy emotional detachment, but that doesn’t mean I’m not letting my guard down here. I’ve personally found that acting the part of my own therapist in my adult life—setting aside emotional attachment to my issues and working through them in the very same matter-of-fact way I try to approach my critique—has helped me to become a better version of myself than I was before. But I want to stress for the sake of keeping things on the level here that no matter what I do, and no matter what you do, neither of us will ever be completely satisfied with life. I will readily admit for both of our sakes that “true” fulfillment doesn’t actually exist. But is that really a bad thing? Why do you think I bother doing anything in the first place? If I was really fulfilled, I wouldn’t waste my life waxing philosophical all the time like I’m doing right now; it would be meaningless. But it’s precisely because there’s still room left for the both of us to grow and learn that we continue to explore those kinds-of intellectual pursuits and passions. We keep trying because we don’t want to stagnate or let our lives lose their meaning. I think there’s a common warped perception among those struggling to find satisfaction in the lives they’re living that if they aren’t completely and totally happy all the time, they’re doing something wrong. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, and at the end of the day I think that’s what Watamote is actually about, not to mention the reason as to why so many people seem to misunderstand its actual purpose. Sure, the comedy has dark undertones and as a whole, the show can’t really succeed assuming that you’re judging it solely as comedic entertainment. But if you consider everything that the show depicts, represents and incorporates into its narrative as a whole—something greater than the sum of its parts, an intentional emotional rollercoaster meant to depict something more real and honest—its value becomes readily apparent. The writing itself is excellent, the direction is fantastic, the artwork and animation are top-notch, the soundtrack is very solid and the opening/ending songs are killer; truthfully, I don’t think there’s any show out there that’s quite like Watamote. It’s a show I would recommend you watch simply because the experience it’s capable of providing you with is so interesting and unique, a story coming from a place of desire for the viewer to take something worthwhile away from it. Of course, that isn’t to say the show is without problems. I think the primary ones that I had were how draining it was to watch as a side effect of the odd relationship between the show’s comedic elements and its broader underlying narrative (which is part of why it took me a while to finish rewatching it), and the ending. I didn’t think the ending was terrible or anything, and in all honesty the message it leaves you with is a positive one for the most part, but my primary issue was that the ending lacks any real sense of finality or closure; it feels like the story was left incomplete and cut-off before it had a chance to come to a definitive conclusion. You might argue that there’s a point to be made about how as I alluded to earlier, the story doesn’t have a storybook conclusion because that would take away from the message its narrative is trying to push, but my issue isn’t really with the idea of a “storybook” ending or a ham-fisted message. Rather, it’s about presentation—the way in which the ending is actually fed to the viewer. The tone is arguably too ridiculous, too light-hearted and I personally felt the ending wasn’t taken seriously enough, maybe because the screenwriters were looking for a way to end things early, maybe because they were operating under a false pretense as to how those final few minutes should be presented or how the story in its entirety should be referenced, and all kind-of looping back around to the show’s tense relationship between its serious and comedic elements. Really, a lot of the criticisms to be levied at Watamote end up being more personal grievances and points of individual opinion or interpretation than anything else, which is good; it highlights that at its core, the show is very well-done and very thought provoking. It’s difficult for me to recommend Watamote to any specific demographic, but I’d say that if you thought any of the subject matter discussed here was interesting whatsoever, the show is very much worth a watch. There is simply no other show out there that does what Watamote does, which is honestly reason enough for it to be worth your attention. It’s defined strongly by its sense of morbid self-awareness, blatant mockery of other generic shows in the genre that it was born from, its ability to showcase a story and a main character who feel real despite how arguably ridiculous the show’s comedy can be, and subtly hint at a broader meaning behind its narrative, making you think deeply about everything which takes place in it and why it matters. It’s a commentary about the warped, twisted way in which people perceive the world and the people around them for the sake of coping with their own points of failure, a deeply personal exploratory piece about how bitterness against the people you see every day seemingly satisfied with their own lives will serve to do nothing but destroy your own if you never learn to let go of your hatred and envy. I could honestly sit here and talk all day about how much Watamote actually touches on considering the personal level on which I can relate to what happens in it, but I’d rather not spoil things for you too much if it can be avoided and I think I’ve already done a relatively decent job conveying my feelings about the show to you. If there’s anything else I want to express before wrapping things up, it would be that while the subject matter of Watamote is heavy and does weigh down on you over the course of its runtime, it still does have plenty of genuinely funny moments and does a really solid job of being funny when divorced from the nature of its premise, I thought a lot of the reference humour was particularly entertaining and well done. Anyways I’ve been struggling to get all this down onto the paper and make myself sound more intelligent than I actually am for like 5 hours and I need to relax now, stay epic my fellow gamers.

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