Here’s a series that’s billed as a comedy but is really more of a horror show. No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular (Watashi ga Motenai no wa dou Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!) (Crunchyroll) is about a high school girl who takes not fitting in to unheard-of levels. The show is actually very well done but it often feels like watching a beautifully choreographed train wreck, splendidly executed.
Tomoko Kuroki has been in high school for 2 months before she admits to herself that she is not popular. It’s not that she was popular before but her capacity for self-delusion is enormous.
There are reasons why she isn’t popular. If she tries to talk to anyone who she doesn’t already know well her voice becomes an inaudible squeak. Her social judgement is very poor, largely based on anime and otome games. Her clumsy attempts to make herself look prettier just make her look absurd. She sits sobbing silently after her teacher gives her a mild reprimand. When a boy tries to make casual conversation she panics–afraid that she is about to burst into tears she squeaks out an unfunny and humiliating witticism and runs away.
Everyone who comments on this series points out that her isolation is her own fault. Indeed that seems to be the main point of the story. Nobody seems to be bullying her. It’s more that her classmates aren’t even aware that she exists. She comes from a nice middle-class family, though her mother is oblivious to what is going on with her and her father isn’t visible at all. I’m not sure whether he’s dead or missing or just a salaryman who comes home at 9 PM.
Tomoko isn’t even a very nice person. Most teenagers are self-absorbed, but Tomoko is so wrapped up in her own misery that she is totally oblivious to anyone else’s feelings. She resents anyone who seems to be happier than she is (which is just about everyone.) She bullies her younger brother, though mostly to get him to pay attention to her. That’s sort of understandable since he is the only person she can talk openly to.
In fact, given that the heroine is so unlikeable, it’s surprising that the series seems so popular. Probably it’s because Tomoko represents all of us at our stupidest and most vulnerable moments. Feeling compassion for Tomoko is like feeling compassion for ourselves. I also think the writers, and seiyuu Izumi Kitta, deserve a lot of credit for making her sympathetic. If this were done less skillfully it would be unwatchable.
Anime and manga have a standard set of advice for students who don’t fit in. “Join a club. You don’t need to be popular. You just need to find a few friends who share common interests.” Tomoko has undoubtedly heard this but it doesn’t do her much good. She can hardly join a club if she can’t even speak to anyone.
If Tomoko were an American she might well be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, prescribed anti-anxiety drugs and hopefully be given a rigorous course of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This won’t happen in Japan. If she were to ask for help she’d probably get a lecture about the need to do one’s best, along with the standard admonition that “you shouldn’t take medicine if you aren’t sick.”
Nevertheless this girl is obviously at risk. In the first episode she threatens suicide. (Just to guilt-trip her brother, but still…) In the second episode she shows signs of an eating disorder. And I suspect that if a boy were actually to ask her out she would behave with her usual desperation and lack of common sense and would end up pregnant within a month.
The most satisfactory course for this show would be for Tomoko to gradually gain insight and start to straighten out her life. I’m not counting on that. The series is based on an ongoing manga which makes it more likely that things will just continue indefinitely without much change.
(Everyone suspects that this is semi-autobiographical and based on mangaka Nico Tanigawa’s own experiences. If so, she must have straightened out her own life to the extent that she could become a successful mangaka. But that won’t necessarily be reflected here.)
I’m interested enough to keep watching–but I’m going to drop it if it looks like it is just going to recycle the misery endlessly.
In the manga, Kuroki-papa once finds Tomoki sleeping on the floor and carries her into her bed. Apparently he habitually returns late. It is strange, however, that he’s always absent at breakfast.
That supports the salaryman hypothesis. If he has a 2-hour commute (not uncommon in Japan) hew would naturally not be present when the kids eat breakfast. They should see him on weekends though.