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.