Of all the new anime that I’ve seen this season, it’s probably WataMote that has left me with the strongest impression, to the point where I went ahead and started reading the manga straight after watching it. With its English title of No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Unpopular! you can guess what it’s about, but to summarise, it’s the story of the unpopular high-school girl Tomoko and her titanic struggle to be not so.
That may sound like the beginning of any given high-school anime (which is, let’s face it, almost every anime,) but the twist to WataMote is that there’s no external salvation for her. No-one notices her, she doesn’t join the light music club, she’s not infatuated with her brother, she’s a dedicated fujoshi, but for all of her hundreds of hours of “training” through dating sims, in the end no real boy so much as looks her way. As the title alludes, her problem isn’t that she’s unpopular, but that she’s blaming everyone else for it, and therein lies the harsh truth that under pins this series. Tomoko’s so clearly denying reality. No one has bullied her to make her this way, she’s just an introverted, really shy girl, and her unpopularity is of her own making.
What’s interesting to me is that WataMote is airing in the same season as Genshiken Nidaime, another series that’s about the otaku experience, but like the other side of the same coin, Genshiken has always been such a beacon of reassurance. “You aren’t alone,” it’s screaming, “You can become a normal person, too! Get a job! Get a girlfriend! Just join the anime club!” There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s preaching a nice, positive message, it just makes me feel sick, that’s all.
This is coming from someone who enjoyed the original Genshiken anime back when it wasn’t as common to see anime culture so shamelessly glorified every season. Now it just feels escapist and fake. Happiness comes from within, it isn’t about who you’re with, what you buy or what you watch. Looking back at Aku no Hana, Nakamura is rallying against Kasuga’s attempts to be a normal boy. He’s a pervert. She just wants him to be honest with himself, to stop trying to be something he’s not. It’s not an easy or clean process. It’s messy and weird and difficult and there’s no end in sight, no paradise on the other side of the mountain. Genshiken Nidaime has the feel of an easy answer, and I don’t want that any more.
WataMote and Aku no Hana are distinct and passionate reactions to the wave of escapist fantasies that have been daring us to believe that salvation lies in the arms of another. What Kasuga and Tomoko have in common is the total objectification of those around them. They don’t see people to empathise with, just more rungs on a ladder that leads them towards an idea of happiness. Watching these notions (or walls, as Nakamura put it) be torn down isn’t pleasant, but it’s a hell of a lot more meaningful than just another iteration of “it’s okay, you’re fine!”