Monday, June 16, 2014

The Return of Otaku san: WataMote

After a gap of several unremarkable months, Nanga Fakir returned to the world of anime-watching and boy was it a grand homecoming of sorts!

WataMote (or the longer, original title: No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys' Fault I’m Not Popular!) is a terrific, brilliant cringe-comedy that manages to both tickle and unsettle at the same time - the mark of genuine greatness.

Imagine a gender-swapped Osamu Dazai as he would've been as a middle/high school otaku in modern Tokyo. Our heroine, Tomoko Kuroki is a diffident, nondescript loner whose crippling social anxieties make it impossible for her to communicate with fellow classmates - so much so that she hasn't spoken to, much less made friends with, any of her classmates in school. Her models of how to interact with humans come from her vast, formidable knowledge of anime and manga; and her heavy experience with otome games (dating simulations). However, all her attempts at becoming popular (or more accurately, becoming noticed) in school are thwarted by her inability to channel outwards, her inner, surprisingly loquacious monologue. Episode after episode, we see her try and fail - in a way that is funny and yet somewhat dark. The series is not just good - it's too good - it zeroes in on some very uncomfortable truths and rekindles memories best forgotten.

Which brings Nanga Fakir to say a few words about why the series hits home - it's about Ghongha Basant - his childhood, adolescence, youth (or lack thereof). 

Those of you who know NF, know also that his best friend is Ghongha Basant and his misadventures with humans in general, and women in particular, sometimes find their barely fictionalized tellings in NF's blogposts. Watching Tomoko's travails released, during a marathon empathy session, demons better off sealed - much like the dreaded Saamri in Ramsay brothers' low budget horror films of the '80s (cf. Purana Mandir and Saamri). Much like Tomoko, Ghongha's childhood was sad and lonely, crippled as he's always been by anxiety, self doubt and debilitating loneliness. The intense peer pressure of being successful and popular didn't help matters much either. Much like Tomoko, reality continued to interrupt GB's life. Much like Tomoko's, GB's attempts at connecting with real, flesh-and-blood humans failed miserably, as (he would icily note one day) they didn't seem to conform to Dostoyevskian archetypes, nor shared their characteristic existential ennui and general weltschmerz. 

GB's stint in college would prove just as isolationary. For Ghongha Basant, Tomoko chan's attempts at being noticed by the opposite sex brought back painful, sad memories of women who were unapproachable and loneliness that was complete; and while Tomoko, being a modern day otaku, could express her fantasies in a wide variety of otome games, NF would rather not speculate as to the particular nature of the otome games Ghongha Basant indulged in. Being the classic country bumpkin from the mofussil, he thought he could blend in with his elite classmates in college by pretending to read Kafka, listening to Pink Floyd or by watching Tarantino (imagine his shock when he was made known that ACDC had nothing to do with Electrical Engineering); when his heart, in fact, beat fast only for the uncool Bollywood - that too, of an era bygone - landlocked in times far more innocent, simple and artless. To this day, NF's heart goes out to GB, who struggles still, to navigate the vast expanse of emptiness that lays ahead of him - much like Tomoko's interminable-yet-transient summer vacation - captured so exquisitely in WataMote. 

That sad misfit - that clueless loner - that Ghongha Basant! Tomoko Kuroki is but his fraternal twin.

And yes, everyone else who's seen it is correct - Tomoko's voice actress is beyond brilliant - in fact, so impressive was her performance that NF was compelled to notice (before this series, NF had never paid attention to this dimension in animes). Also, the visual stylization was extremely impressive as well - so much so that sometimes NF was reminded of Sayonara... - that benchmark for the simple-yet-stylish visual aesthetics in anime production.

If the prospect of unleashing the demons of a battered, unhappy childhood don't bother you so much - go ahead and watch!

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