Summer Anime Season 2013 Round-Up Part 2 The Best Show of the Summer
The Best Show of the Year??? Perhaps…
This anime is heartbreak. At first I thought it was comedic, a female version of My Youth Rom-Com. Loner protag vs everybody else. Early episodes had a mix of the funny and the tragic. I would be in hysterics over Tomoko’s fujoshi world-view and her misguided antics to become popular and makes friends but be rebuffed through some mishap and I would also be genuinely moved by every episode’s slice of Tomoko’s social anxiety because it was so real and the situations were relatable. A fine balance was achieved.
Every Tuesday I would race home from work to devour the latest episode and I would laugh and feel uncomfortable. The laughs became fewer and fewer and the anime became so uncomfortable to watch I began to wonder… is this comedy?
Tomoko is a hapless and misguided protagonist. In a ruthless and very post-modern sort of deconstruction of the pretty and popular heroines of anime and otome games and their scenarios that Tomoko devours and believes in, we saw her pop-culture fuelled fantasies of and desire for popularity come apart as people seemed to be blind to her presence. We then saw the messy results, what it was like to suffer the peaks and troughs – or should that be cliffs and chasms – of Tomoko’s desires, neuroses and anxieties.
Tomoko was not being bullied or deliberately ignored, she just found it hard to make an impression and connect. Like a lot of people at that age she finds it hard to deal with people and her anime-inspired dreams and schemes, her way of interpreting the world, are shattered… and so keeps to herself and fails to make any lasting connections with those around her which makes her feel increasingly unhappy as the series goes on.
The thing that makes this heart-wrenching is that her desires and social anxieties are not too fantastical or OTT, they are ones that most of us have felt (do people see me? Will I be loved?) and it soon became less an anime about the chuckles we could find in seeing anime clichés and stereotypes shot down and turned into a portrait of a very lonely person who, after a series of brutal and humiliating encounters, realises just how alone she is and seems to fall into the grip of depression. It was so palpable that it wasn’t long before it felt like suicide might be waiting for her in the next episode.
I know precisely where I stopped finding it funny and that was at the end of episode 7 (I’m Unpopular, So I’ll Enjoy My Summer Vacation). Tomoko, having failed in the previous six episodes to get a boyfriend or make friends or even any form of contact with her high school classmates, is so desperate for human contact, so desperate to enjoy lighting fireworks (a typical summer activity for friends and families to gather together) that she resorts to asking her brother Tomoki who, sort of sensing that Tomoko is in a pit of despair (and feeling guilty after seeing the home movie showing him and Tomoko as children), agrees to watch her.
What broke me was the look of satisfaction on Tomoko’s face, the fact that the pathetic resolution (Tomoki watching her from his bedroom window) made her feel some joy.
If it sounds like Tomoko is purely a victim, she isn’t.
In general she can be very hard to like. She isn’t a kawaii girl or a typical moe character, all bumbling and good-natured. She’s real and thanks to her monologues we have access to all of her thoughts and feelings. Like most teenagers, she is quick to answer back to her mother, and is pretty lazy, prone to outbursts of unpleasantness with family members who are going easy on her and just living their lives. She often belittles people who don’t fall in line with her world-view or cass them as villains out to get her. She refers to her friend Yuu, a genuinely nice and charming girl who is a true friend, as a bitch simply because she has friends.
Because we get her thoughts in an unfiltered format we know she wants to be loved, she yearns for friendship and she is willing to settle for small victories but her actions and delusions isolate her from everybody else and no matter what she tries (and it’s usually some misguided anime inspired thing) her actions cause her to be isolated and humiliated even more and we see how vulnerable and alone she feels which makes us feel for her more. This isn’t a complete misery-fest because each episode would maintain its balance of light and dark by giving moments of hope. Tomoko might not get her every wish but there is something or somebody around to give her some comfort. It’s usually a twist on what she wanted but it is still much needed relief for a viewer who is concerned for Tomoko. The people around her offer glimpses of a normal life if she would take the pressure of being popular off herself.
The anime is realistic in portraying the way people have their own lives and their different levels of comprehension of Tomoko’s problems. Her family are remarkably patient with her. Her mother tries her best to discipline Tomoko and feels deep shame when she walks in on Tomoko during awkward moments. Tomoki listens to her, a sort of counsellor who Tomoko ignores and mistreats. The universe isn’t conspiring against Tomoko, it’s just rolling along indifferently.
The writing is clear and concise and doesn’t shy away in laying out her bad points but it ensures we understand her hopes. They are reasonable ones we all share and it is this that makes us relate to her and every disappointment Tomoko feels and her overwhelming mood of negativity so stifling and upsetting. It is a vicious circle but every episode and the end of the series offered hope: Tomoki taking notice and tolerating Tomoko’s mean behaviour, their mother trying to take Tomoko in hand, Yuu’s unwavering support, and Imae, the most popular and beautiful girl in school, has taken note of Tomoko and seems most likely to be the one to help draw her out of her shell.
Most importantly the series ends just like it begins with Tomoko looking at a definition of an unpopular girl. Instead of taking it seriously and trying to cook up ways of becoming popular, she laughs it off. Perhaps over the course of her antics she has grown. I hope so.
This post has gone on lone enough but I hope it indicates how affected I was by it. Re-reading my first-impression it is clear that I was shocked by the anime and the shock continued. I never thought that it would be so relentlessly brutal and effective and humanistic in describing the anxieties around socialising and making connections which meant that I was taken by surprise. It meant that Tomoko became a character I cared about and made this a unique title.