Wotakoi: A Love Letter to a Misunderstood Community

The following re-view contains heavy spoilers. Proceed with caution.


I must have a moment with you to tell you how stressed I was at last’s week’s review. I read my own review three times after it was posted to see if it didn’t come across as mindless hating.

If you read that review, you may have noticed that got a little upset about how the premise of that Anime clashed with the reality of a misunderstood group in Japan. I must confess that it made me nervous to touch any type of Anime that made allusions to any type of community thinking that I would see more misrepresentation; at the same time, I wanted to watch something in the same line but contrasted Re:Zero completely.

So I had two paths: Welcome to the N.H.K. and Wotaku no Koi wa Muzukashii (aka Wotakoi).

Welcome to the N.H.K. was in the same spirit as Re:Zero but it painted dark themes in a respectful way. What it lacked in world-building it was abundant in characterization. The complexity of the situations kept escalating and the same time that it was heartwarming in many ways. The problem was that I have watched Welcome to the N.H.K. multiple times, it is an Anime directed towards a much mature audience and a contrast between the two would not be fair. (If you are interested and don’t care for spoilers, check this thematic analysis to see why.)

I decided to watch Wotakoi instead.

It is lighthearted, it is comedy, it is a romance story, it is not innovative, it’s uncomplicated, almost drama-free and the Anime doesn’t try to be anything else than that, so this was the perfect contrast. The characters are older (around 26-30) but all of them shared little quirks that made the characters who they were. More important than this, Wotakoi laid out a more accurate portrayal of a group that gets stereotyped very often in other Anime, successfully grasping what makes Otaku a part of a wide community.

It was adapted from a Web Manga series that was released through Pixiv in 2014 by the Manga artist who people know as Fujita. Later, it was serialized by Comic Pool in 2016 and currently has 5 volumes in circulation. After four years of releases, A-1 Pictures picked up the project and it broadcasted the Anime in early 2018.

Fujita was able to create something special unknowingly. More than that, she strikes to me as someone who had to have a similar experience or she had to know someone with a similar experience because the situations, dialogues and social awkwardness of the characters are so close with reality that it’s impossible not to relate.

No Translation Needed?

I know that we strictly talk about adaptation when it comes to “The Case Of”, but I must point out how faithful the Anime is to the source to let you know how visually talented Fujita is.

Her panel placing, expressions, onomatopoeia usage, character designs and strategically placed bubbles, made the storyboard artist, the director and the sound department’s job easy. In fact, I would not be surprised if Yoshimasa Hiraike, the director of the Anime, didn’t use a proper storyboard artist to make Wotakoi happen.

As much as I don’t like the fact that directors take Manga as a storyboard, there is an exception to every rule and Wotakoi is that exception; Hiraike understood that any other change to the story would not have the same impact in the delivery of the punchlines.

With that said, there were a few changes in the first episode that added more exposition about the main character’s first day at a new job and the introduction of the rest of the cast.

In the first few minutes we find a few subtle clues about who and what Narumi, the main character, is. What she wants, where she is in life and what we are about to see. The first episode does a great job explaining the type of relationship she had with Hirotaka (the love interest) through a few words with each other between drinks. We also see bits and pieces of who Hanako is and why she becomes close to Narumi.

The Manga does this straight away and without much explanations; however, in the Anime, these added fillers only makes us feel acclimated to Narumi and the encounters she had at a new company and, in my opinion, it is a better introduction of the series.  From then on, the Anime follows the Manga very closely; keeping the backgrounds, the dialogues, the exposition 4th wall breaking boxes as internal dialogues, pretty much intact.

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I have known people who love anime just by looking at their reaction when I mention “Anime”. My gosh, this anime is…

Also, there is an effort to include some extras of the Manga intertwining them with story that only helps to expand on the characterization of each one of them. That’s how the Anime staff was able to capture the feeling that we were looking at the Manga in animation form.

I also want to bring forth the magnificent job of all the voice actors did and how the casting department wanted to replicate the feeling of the Anime in real life. It was quite a meta-Easter egg.

Tomokazu Sugita voiced Kabakura, and I don’t think there was a better person to voice him, since Tomokazu has been known for voicing people who do not care (the best example? Gintama.) He has had a long and prosperous career; this Anime was a checkpoint for him.

What can I say about Miyuki Sawashiro as Hanako? I mean, her work speaks for itself. She is a veteran who has worked with every big, small and in between franchises you will ever know. So much so, that counting the Anime she hasn’t worked with would be a shorter list (an exaggeration, I know, but trivia: approximately 251 titles/franchises under her belt).

Arisa Date hasn’t worked in many Anime, she is a newcomer. I hope that after voicing Narumi she fills her schedule up because she gives her all in Wotakoi. Girl has talent.

Now, if I am being honest, I was not sure about Kento Itou as Hirotaka judging by his work during the first episode and the fact that he is a newcomer. At many points his delivery was weird, for lack of a better term. I could almost hear him reading the text nervously with awkward pauses in his sentences that went beyond the stoic persona. With each episode he grew confident in his lines and he was able to have a cleaner delivery as the episodes were released. Now I can’t wait to hear more of him.

Could you notice the parallels? Two newcomers paired with two veterans. Nice one, casting department.

If there is something I can criticize the Anime for, it’s the music and some weird frames. The first one is more in line with my preference as the music is forgettable and plays more like background noise. The weird frames, the way I see it, are a product of rushing the animation to meet the weekly deadline.

In terms of the story, structure and clichés…

People could give a pass on this series pointing out how it is a generic forced love story, and I could understand why; the series proposes the idea of the main character accepting a relationship with a childhood friend worthy of the niceguy, how to get out of the friend zone Reddit’s page; Hirotaka would also fit in two or three tropes, however, this view is too simplistic and misguided of the series as it doesn’t explain the candid reception that the community gave Wotakoi.

Explaining the Complexity of the Uncomplicated

The rundown of their relationship is this: Hirotaka and Narumi were childhood friends; Hirotaka fell in love with Narumi, while she didn’t find him interesting; Narumi went onto live her life, date other guys and test waters distancing herself from Hirotaka, while he remained in love with her. After many years and with the power of storytelling, they reunite, made a deal and ultimately Narumi accepted to date him.

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Look at these innocent little people… Anime ruins lives. (jk. of course)

Now, it is important to notice a few things that make this story fluid and believable even if the rundown of their relationship doesn’t seem promising.

First thing to establish: Hirotaka never pursued actively a relationship with Narumi and knew from the beginning that she would not be interested in him. If his confession came at an earlier time, I don’t think it would’ve gone anywhere.

Second thing to establish: they were childhood friends, which is different from growing up together to get to a point where both of them would see each other as siblings.

Third thing to establish: they are adults and the way we form relationships is very different from when we were younger. Moreover, they are Japanese; so “convenience” has always played great part in their culture, hence, they don’t see arranged marriages as the end of the world (maybe only in cases where one of the parties are in love with other people and could spark a great controversy, otherwise, is not a big deal).

The reason I am bringing these points out is because I thought their relationship was really unnatural at the beginning, especially from Narumi’s part since her reasons to stay with Hirotaka seemed too shallow and having her falling in love too fast felt out of place. Then sketchy dialogues are introduced like, “Otaku are creepy” and “You are a Fujioshi that puts herself in a pedestal” to explain why Narumi comes up with excuses as to why they shouldn’t be in a relationship.

This was episode two and I was ready to flip my desk. My heart can’t take another rage-writing!

But after episode two, I skimmed through episode one again and this dialogue was re-introduced to me:

“Making you my boyfriend would be such a waste. You are one of my dear otaku friends.” Narumi said. Just like that, my heart and fingers calmed down.

Before anything else, Narumi and Hirotaka are adult otaku.

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Beer, cigarettes, potato chips, Wii console and a sleepover… yep! I would say that sums it up.

I think, that we understand this feeling more than we should, especially when adult otaku are single, with money in our pocket and freedom we wouldn’t have otherwise. Bonding with people who love Anime has a lot to do with comfort. For otaku, especially adults, romantic relationships comes at a cost: we would prefer to stay home watching Anime, gaming, reading Manga, drawing or listening to our favorite soundtrack instead of going outside and have an awkward evening with someone we are not sure we even like.

Although we tend to find people who like the same series, games, Manga, books, who we can talk about references and get our lingo, our sense of humor and our topics, the reality is, we spend most of our time isolated. Dating someone like us seems ideal but not practical (not saying it doesn’t exist or impossible to find).

So, for Narumi it was not a matter of feelings, the hurdle she needed to get over was that she couldn’t imagine a relationship between two otaku, since she would be looking at her own reflection.

To this, we have to add that dating for mature adults, is not as intense as when we were teens. Our approach to a new relationship is often based in mild-selfish reasons (“What would I get out of this relationship”) than sentimentality or finding true absolute love.

Narumi went for guys who she was interested in keeping her Fujioshi side secret and ultimately causing her a lot of internal dilemma, something adults who watch Japanese cartoons can relate when you are out there trying to date.

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Oh yes, I have been in both sides of the spectrum: not wanting sharing my hobby with co-workers because of fear of their judgment and being completely open about it.

Experiencing a new relationship without the need to hide who Narumi was and still getting something out of the relationship was win-win situation. This is why Narumi’s decision to keep the relationship with Hirotaka doesn’t look that forced. He would have her company and she would have all the perks of being with a person who loves the same thing as she does (well, not entirely but you get the point.)

The fact that she didn’t want to break up only shows that she wanted to give Hirotaka a real shot and only adds to her personality as an honest, kind and open minded person which she shows more of throughout the runtime of the series.

So, something so simple, ridiculous and laughable could give me a lot of insight and, at the same time, being part of a punchline, all the while reflecting a piece of complicated human behavior. Whether Fujita was writing it knowingly or not, I am not sure, but what I am sure of, is that it makes me think that she is a talented writer, a genius or just lucky to have found the perfect premise and title for her Manga: Otaku love is hard!

Breaking Stereotypes; Reinforcing the Relatable

If I could pick one thing I liked the most about the series it’s the way it breaks with the otaku stereotype in Anime bringing up the interpersonal issues we have in real life based on those stereotypes.

Yes, adult otaku love to re-watch old Anime for nostalgia sake.

We run into people from across our country who we met once during a convention.

The feeling of “never wanting to grow up” is more prevalent in our adult years and that is why we turn to escapism time and again.

Yes, people look at us weirdly when we say we love Anime; if you feel that as a teen, it’s a shame to tell you that this never goes away, in fact, you will run to judgmental people more regularly… you just stop caring about how people perceive you at some point.

Sometimes, we do forget to eat or to do our daily activities because we are so involved with our hobbies.

Yes, we do quote Anime (less) frequently.

We do feel sad during the day because our favorite character died.

We wait until the weekends to binge-watch Anime when we can’t during the week, neglecting our partners and friend’s offers because of it.

Yes, we do isolate ourselves very often sometimes unconsciously and without ill intent.

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Everyone parts ways preferring a night of reading than going out and having a normal social event… this anime…

This portrayal of adult otaku has been brought up in other Anime in a grim manner; often to bring forth pity of a character for its sad lonely virgin life, for guys. I have also seen the theme portrayed in a positive light in other Anime where the girl is Otaku, but most of the time, this part of her gets neglected and forgotten later in the story (mind you, these types of Manga are directed towards a different demographic). Wotakoi not only portrays the character’s hobbies in an optimistic manner, it goes a step further: it shows us a part of otaku older people and people outside the community refuse to see.

Most adult otaku are open minded. (I could write a 3,000 word essay about why but I will leave it there.)

We are able to bond easily with new people.

We are able to bond easily with people we haven’t seen in a long time.

In real life, we are able to debate, fight and reconcile without discarding our friendships.

It proposes that we are functional adults with particular hobbies. That’s all. Like it or not, we are part of a wide community that shares thoughts, ideas and strong bonds over something so simple and it shows that we are not entirely anti-social.

We are not always fatting away our feelings thinking that 2D people are better than real people. I mean, some people do and they have reasons to (call it immaturity, cynical mindset, negative driven people, internet trolls, etc.) But part of the experience of being an otaku is to find other people who you can share your opinions, excitement and theories about things we like.

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No matter what type of obsession we have. There is always something that will bring a group of Otaku together.

Fujioshi tend to have the short stick when it comes to stereotypes. Out of all of the media I have seen about them, the Fujioshi is portrayed negatively and has to change, negate, forget or choose between her obsession and the guy in order to make a relationship functional. That is not what happens in reality, in fact, it’s closer to what we see in Wotakoi: either guys accept that side of Fujioshi but want nothing to do with it (which have been the case in some friend’s relationships); or the guy is able to check it out just for the sake of understanding Fujioshi (which I also know friends who are like that).

The broken stereotypes get introduced so smoothly and subtle through action rather than exposition. Even if the Manga and Anime does have large texts about 4th wall breaking explanations; it didn’t need to lecture me about how adult otaku are, the character’s just acted according to their personalities. Fujita’s interventions are limited to put the characters through certain events and nothing more.

While everything might seem to paint otaku in positives, personally, I don’t think the Anime is trying to paint otaku as a positive as you might think. In fact, Fujita’s narrative is so guarded by the story and characterization that it makes it difficult to separate the negatives from the positives like we do to black and white. The way I see it, it is more a tint of gray.

The Perfect Gray

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That piggy bank… I think it represents much more than intended.

An interesting theme was brought up when Hirotaka and Narumi went for a date. It left open most of our problems with being fans of Anime and Manga while trying to date people who don’t understand the appeal.

Let me begin this section with a personal experience.

I do have friends and know people who do not like Anime. My conversations with them are limited to general culture stuff, our problems, chit-chats etc. While I do know some series, movies and other media, most of my sources come from documentaries, essays and basic trivia type of stuff. (I know, lame.)

When it comes to bonding with co-workers, it’s not difficult but it’s not our ideal situation. This becomes a problem when trying to date people and it reminded me when I dated a high school ex-classmate during my University years. He was someone who liked Dragon Ball Z but was not interested in anything else related to Anime.

Most of the things we talked about were about people at our high school, clearing up misunderstandings, asking things about each other for curiosity. To be honest, I was mostly uncomfortable because I didn’t have anything interesting to talk about with him, since all of his references and preference was placed in soccer, politics and TV Shows I knew but didn’t like them in the same degree.

After a few dates, we both became very tired trying to balance out our conversations that we decided to break it off. Something similar was pointed out during Hirotaka and Narumi’s date.

We need the required Anime talk at some point. Watching Anime and reading Manga is all we do and we want to share that with the people we care about so they can be with us for the ride; but when this is removed from us, the conversations tend to go down a path we are not accustomed to. At least, I can hold conversations about other things but there is a point when I am just in the mood to talk about series I like, episodes I loved or have people recommend series to me. I can’t be the only one who feels this way… if I am, then… oh well!

While there are successful relationships that can balance these hobbies out, people who delve completely into Anime, Manga and games (like I have), tend to find more difficulties to find the “perfect” person, especially when they seem not interested in it. Finding someone that completely understands the introversion Anime causes, and why all of the conversations tend to gravitate towards the series we have watched is very difficult to find.

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This. This right here is what I went through every single date I had with my ex-classmate.

“Going out”, “hanging out” and “dates” may have a different meaning in otaku world or just non-existent in our vocabulary, which is why I found Narumi and Hirotaka’s desire to have a normal date a little funny because is not what we do.

Talking about news and daily grind all the time gets us bored. In my opinion, talking to a fellow Anime lover can bring much more interesting conversations regarding morality, theories, explanations, recommendations, in-depth arguments about characters, author’s decisions, intentions and more. Kind of what we do here.

I may be painting this in a positive way, but it has a downside that is also displayed in Wotakoi.

While we are seeing a really cute story with not much depth, we are also able to see our own faults in the characters as well. Perhaps we fight with people for something so ridiculous, we might isolate ourselves from the world, we might have high expectations from our partners and most of our Anime talks with new people tend to go on for hours leaving behind a huge portion of what normal people would do: talk about each other.

The rule of paying every time Narumi and Hirotaka talked in “nerdy” terms and how they would leave awkward silence immediately after, it’s a window to how self-conscious we become in similar situations.

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Beware of fujioshi, they will… recommend you manga, novels and anime.

There are many points when watching this series reminded me of many encounters I have had. I, also, have seen relationships build because of Anime, keeping that relationship in check is another story. Personally, I struggle with isolation and keeping a balanced relationship with my friends; this last one is a tough one especially when I love Anime that my friends don’t and vice versa. When we want to fawn over a series but our levels of interest is different, or when they have a predetermined opinion about an Anime… and vice versa.

Otaku relationships are not easy.

However, there is something that my friends and I have silently agreed on: even if we have disagreements, all of our relationships are based in understanding each other’s preferences (maybe sometimes we push each other a little to try new things) while being open about our thoughts and opinions.

That’s where Wotakoi comes in. All of the characters seem to be accepting of each other’s faults, have relationships based on understanding and honest talks about their favorite characters, episode, Manga ultimately keeping what brings them together: it’s all in good fun.

Characters and Bonds

This is the part in a review when people start to deconstruct each character, however, the most interesting part to me about this show is how each one of the characters build their interpersonal bonds and how resonant it is with real people.

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Again, their relationship reminds me of my own.

Hana and Narumi

They are quite polar opposites of each other in personality and looks. Hanako loves to Crossplay and Narumi loves to write stories, mostly about BL and Yaoi. To put it this way, they are different types of otaku and their contributions to the community are varied.

When it comes to series, novels, games etc., they are able to talk about it without any problem. When it comes to BL and Yaoi, they always have the opposite opinions. They are seen arguing about the roles of the characters they like and then forgetting that little fight jumping to another topic.

Kabakura said in episode 2, “Girls are so weird, why do they always want other people to like the same thing. Isn’t it better not to be fans of the same thing?”

Hirotaka got it closer but it’s not entirely true: “I think they’re just war hawks.”  To that I say, it’s just part of the fun. To be honest, their interaction seems reminiscent of my own friendships.

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These two have the biggest contrast and yet… they are seen everywhere together.

Kabakura and Hirotaka

We have both ends of the spectrum in them. Kabakura is a mild fan of Anime and Manga, he is not that obsessive about it but likes it anyway. Hirotaka is a full time gamer that likes to be left alone. Their relationship as boss and employee resembles a friendship more than anything and although they talk about other things, because of Hiroaki’s dependence to games, every conversation ends up in that realm anyways.

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Problematic couple? Yes. Non-believable couple, no.

Hana and Kabakura

Many would say that their relationship is dysfunctional and I would agree. We have to consider that this is a type of relationship that has gone for too long so mild disagreements tend to escalate because they know each other so well.

They both have an explosive relationship and sometimes, their fights get ugly. They both find in each other a place of comfort and they also do little things for each other without noticing that it means the world to one another and that’s what keeps them together.

The smell of a new relationship is what moves them (shippers at heart) and act like parents looking out for their inexperienced children.

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Both got something out of this deal. No losers found.

Narumi and Hirotaka

With this relationship, we see a reversal in roles: the guy gets his wish of dating his first love, while the girl tries to catch up with him.

Narumi and Hirotaka try hard for the relationship to work, even if it means leaving each other alone for the most part.

As dysfunctional as their reason to date is, what I can draw from their relationship is that even when they have different types of hobbies, they are able to find a commonplace where they can share their moments together.

The Verdict

If I continue with my rambling I would actually take away a big part of what makes this Anime special. The best thing you could do is to check it out if you haven’t. As you can see, it really took me into memory lane and to reflect my choices and my lifestyle during the series with a simple narrative, maybe you will too.

From the directorial decisions, to its geeky humor, comedic timing, to the toned down romance and after an upsetting review last week, Wotakoi feels like a warm sun bath that reflects the social affinity otaku have without trying too hard, trying to be gritty or complicated, most importantly, without being judgmental towards the community in general.

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Not all of us fit in the lonely, obsessive, entitled, rude, anime reference encyclopedia other anime wants us to believe we are.

The premise it’s all the Anime needs to guide us through the story: seeing how otaku keep their bonds, name it friendship, love, camaraderie, etc. Fujita lets her characters talk and act according to who they are and doesn’t shy away to sprinkle drama, although the resolutions play exactly as we would expect for each character.

The truth is, as I mentioned, this may be the most relatable work I have seen about the community in general, without trying too hard to pull out excessive references that turns the characters into walking stereotypes or transforming the series into reference validation TVshow (The Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, Genshiken and yes, Gintama). Instead bringing to life the things we do every day of the week with likeable characters, familiar situations and “Just otaku things”.

I never knew the daily lives of adult otaku would be as interesting as it was, to the point of me forgetting to write my notes and started to enjoy the Anime halfway through, as if I was watching it in my spare time.

I must confess I lied, there is another thing I can criticize the Anime for: it left me craving for more. Eleven episodes are not enough to quench my thirst for Narumi, Hirotaka, Hanako, Kabakura and the newly added arc about Nao (Hirotaka’s brother). Just when it was starting to get even more interesting, the Anime ended. We will have to wait and see if A-1 Pictures wants to pick up Fujita’s work again.


I RATE IT:

Rating System 2

This is the type of story you can watch with friends during a sleepover, you can poke fun at yourself or bring you memories whether they are bad or good. The animation may look derpy sometimes and in the end is just another love story… but! I think this is an accurate portrayal of adult otaku… you will have a great time watching it.

 

4 Replies to “Wotakoi: A Love Letter to a Misunderstood Community”

  1. I would dare to say this show is intended for adult audiences, since we are the ones understanding fully the situations that this anime portrays even with no need of dialogues.
    Most of the times, as you said, for nostalgia, we rewatch something… it happens to me a lot, cuz I have a hard time finding an anime that really catches my eye. Maybe for Fujita, either she is portraying her life to an extent on the show or something like that, because you can truly relate with the situations shown in the anime… dont think I have more to say really, is a must watch, to realize we have grown.

    Like

    1. Definitely this is for mature audiences, the new otaku wave may not find it interesting nor accurate. Who knows, maybe they do. For me it was like I was seeing myself at many points.

      Yes, I thought that she was projecting considering where she came from (Pixiv) and not through traditional media, which means… she must be one of us.
      Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Too bad this anime lacks of rich genre and it sounds another generic love story.

    If Re:Zero author research the misunderstood hiko properly like this author he should come up with more better series even rival Kyou Kara Maou. Too bad the author is too smug.

    Like

    1. Well… it’s comedy and a cute pinky-love story. It is not supposed to be a deep look into the issues of extreme cases. There’s not much going on if you are looking for “story” with complicated lore since its main goal is that you sit back and relax a Sunday evening. My praises are basically at how accurate the portrayal of Millenial otaku that are not reclusive is.

      And yes, I agree with you. If only the author of Re:Zero had done a bit of psychological research he could’ve found inspiration midway to pose more compelling ways to treat Subaru and his world.

      Like

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