Defining the girl and not the hobby: WataMote episode 1.

"Here we have a particular girl...an unpopular girl...

“Here we have a particular girl…an unpopular girl…”

A standard shortcut to identifying people is to learn about their hobbies. Naturally, we sort ourselves into figurative boxes by what we profess our love for: be it sports, video games, anime, and the like. We then gravitate towards others with similar interests, further organizing ourselves into like-minded groups. It’s simply easier to open up to and relate to another when you both have an interest in common.

Similarly, we identify with characters with complementary interests. A hobby is an easy way to garner empathy and emotional resonance with a specific target audience. Once this connection has been established between audience and character, then the series can move forward with developing that character further on a more personal level.

That being said, there’s something instantly charming and relatable about Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!‘s Tomoko Kuroki, and it has nothing to do with her hobbies.

Tomoko is first introduced to us as an unpopular girl – in spite of the fact that she believes everything to the contrary – on the intimidating precipice of entering the social jungle of high school. It is made clear that she is also a bit of a recluse who loves anime, video games, and spends altogether too much time on the internet. However, WataMote subtly makes a point to acquaint us with Tomoko’s awkward, self-centered nature above all. Compared to other heroines that anime has given us in the past, Tomoko is a breath of fresh air because of this focus on her personality over her specific hobbies.

The easiest line to draw between Tomoko and a supposedly like-minded character leads us directly to Kirino Kousaka, of a series with a similarly long-winded title: Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai. As the titular younger sister who cannot possibly be this cute, Kirino is first identified by her prurient interest in specific visual novels and anime. The series revolves around Kirino balancing hiding these hobbies from the so-identified “normal” people in her life – who presumably wouldn’t understand her passion – and learning to let her otaku hair down among the like-minded people that she meets, all with the support of her loving older brother. Perhaps it’s important that the series identifies Kirino by her otaku interests first, as she becomes difficult to empathize with the more one gets to know her actual personality. She is a beautiful, popular, and somewhat selfish girl who has the majority of things handed to her by the series. This makes it difficult for me to personally connect with her, in spite of the fact that we do share similar interests in anime and video games.

My biases against Kirino are showing, so I’ll move on to another character whom I love: Konata Izumi of Lucky Star fame. Konata is another female character with an interest in anime, manga, and video games, and is presented to the viewer as such. She has close friends, but would never be considered popular in the same way that Kirino is. Often, in conversation, Konata will momentarily lose her friends’ interest due to her often obscure anime and manga references. She is sometimes compared to a 40 year-old perverted otaku in the body of an adorable high-schooler and this is where it becomes difficult to relate to Konata: she doesn’t move beyond the label of “otaku” as a character. I still love her, and inevitably find her antics fun to watch, but I don’t see her as someone with whom I can personally relate to beyond having common interests.

Tomoko is different than both Kirino and Konata due to the series’ treatment of her as an actual person first, rather than a walking bundle of otaku hobbies. Instead, she is defined within this first episode by her inability to communicate with others and understand why they wouldn’t want to reach out to communicate with her. Yes, there are various references within WataMote to different anime and manga, and yes, part of the first episode involves Tomoko playing a DS game designed to arouse. However, what makes Tamako so endearing to me is her personality. I am an anime fan, and I also play video games; however, neither of these encompass the reasons why I resonate with Tomoko. Additionally, I can’t help but think that an inability to communicate, regardless of what one’s social standing in high school is or was, is something that everyone can relate to.

9 comments

  1. Amen to this. I don’t feel I am very much like Tomoko but the way she is characterised makes it easier for anyone to relate to her. Her loneliness, her shyness, her inability to talk to others, even her depression – it’s these that strike close to home, not the portrayal of her hobbies.

    Your other examples, namely Kirino and Konata, are examples of characters created to appeal to otakus. One relates to their hobbies but draws the line upon relating to these characters as other people precisely because they are cute girls and they are meant to be idealised as the “otaku girlfriend” any geek would want.

    On the other hand, I don’t feel that Tomoko is fetishised at all, at least so far. Her outlook on life is more sad than it is cute. I actually think Watamote is the kind of show I’d show to people who are not even anime fans – because the core of the show resonates that strongly with anyone who has ever felt lonely.

    Also it’s funny.

    1. Exactly.

      You hit the nail right on the head, my friend. The lack of fetishization is exactly I why I wanted to call out how Tomoko is subtly different from her brethren and applaud WataMote for that.

      This is especially considering the target demographic of the manga. WataMote runs in a shounen online magazine overseen by Square Enix. OreImo is marketed to a seinen audience. Similarly, Lucky Star runs in a shounen magazine, which means that all three of these properties’ primary target audiences are males. It would have been very easy to fetishize Tomoko as an attempt to market to this audience, but WataMote doesn’t, or hasn’t yet, and I love it for that.

      Thanks for commenting. ^ ^

  2. I like the angle you took with this. I’m very tired of seeing characters identified by their hobbies, or merely their quirks. I didn’t find the first episode of Watamote particularly funny. I found it a bit sad. And I think that’s because the show helped me understand her as a person, a delusional, neurotic, obtuse and socially handicapped person, but a real, identifiable one.

    I honestly don’t care about her hobbies, I want to know how she’s gonna learn how to connect with people. If she was obsessed with League of Legends, sci-fi TV series, Joss Whedon material or poker, I think the message would be the same. I hope the show ends up focusing on that.

    I’ll refrain from making any comments about Ore no Imouto, while I liked some characters and it had some really endearing moments, anything I say towards that show would be needlessly bitter. I’ll just say that I’m with you in the not being able to relate to Kirino part.

    1. You’ll notice that I refrained from making many comments on OreImo myself. ^ ^

      I found the episode very endearing, not especially humorous or sad, but I wanted to give Tomoko the biggest hug after it ended. It was hard to watch at points – I wanted to grab her hand before she walked out of that public restroom and say, “Stop, you REALLY don’t want to go out there looking like this” – but I love how the series frames her character. You don’t want to laugh at her pain, you want her to learn how to communicate with others.

      “I want to know how she’s gonna learn how to connect with people.”

      I’m in complete agreement with you here. This is where I’m really hoping that WataMote chooses to focus.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. It is indeed true that it is a relatable topic. Not only are you left alone, you cannot find anything to communicate with. A hobby could be a possible connection.
    On Kirino, I think she is relatable in a sense that she has a hobby she is unable to express and only finds comfort in expressing them with people that aren’t her immediate surroundings. If you’ve build an image and are in an uncertain phase in your life, which she is, it is hard to let it go. Perhaps you are afraid to let it go, afraid to be left alone. To see if those people are true friends is another discussion, the fact is that you’ll see those people as friends in that time and place.

    1. Kirino started off strong. I found I could relate to the hiding of her hobby from the so-called “normal” people in her life, as she was afraid that they would think less of her or judge her. Where Kirino falls off for me is, and where the show loses me overall, is the way that Kirino has everything handed to her by the series. A side-by-side comparison of the first episoes additionally reveals a level of introspection by Tomoko that is absent from Kirino, although some of this can be attributed to the fact that it’s Kyosuke and not Kirino who is technically the protagonist.

      Thanks for the comment. ^ ^

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