Tomoko suddenly looks…cuter? So she thinks, after a round of otome games seems to make her lose the bags under her eyes. Her newfound confidence, fueled by the belief that girls become cuter when they fall in love and horoscope predictions, carries over into the school day–and isn’t even stopped when she accidentally leads a colony of ants into her pants. Along the way, a couple of boys try to pick off the ants crawling over her, which she misinterprets as friendly overtures: boys are flocking to her! The problem only worsens, but she barely recognizes it as she splashes Coke all over herself, making the ant problem more severe. Only her brother seems to recognize what’s going on, and he’s not impressed.
Then, in an attempt to get a date to watch the fireworks, Tomoko conceives of elaborate plans to target potential loners in the library–all of which are much more complicated than simply asking them to come with her. Her first plot, to talk to one of the girls, is thwarted by the appearance of her friends, who are the typical sort of “bitches” Tomoko disdains. Her next subject, a nerdy boy reading a book, is supposed to be enticed by a fake performance she gives about not having anyone to go with, in the hopes he will overhear and ask her out. He does not. So she ends up on the roof to watch the fireworks, all by herself, when finally two middle school boys show up. Shyly, she asks if she can stay with them, and they consent–only to be not watching the fireworks in the sky, but the fireworks happening in the love hotel across the street between a couple. This, at last, seems to give Tomoko some joy.
This show actually seems to get sadder with every passing episode. Am I the only one who feels this way?
This one is particularly sad because it’s so full of delusions: full of scenes Tomoko thinking she’s succeeded when she’s hasn’t. Though she does look cute(r) without the characteristic bags under her eyes–you wonder if all she really just needs is a little bit more sleep–she continues to rely on specious theories she reads on the Internet or from horoscopes to determine her next steps to becoming more popular. The dramatic irony gets taken to new extremes in this episode, and, as we are at the series’ halfway point, the contrast is starting to look more and more distressing.
It also threatens, as some viewers have already concluded, to become a bit monochromatic and static. There appears to be no narrative arc or much change to Tomoko. Having read the manga now, I know this is not destined to change much should Oonuma choose to remain faithful to it, though he does seem to be ordering manga chapters in a deliberate way that might lead to some sort of character trajectory…it remains to be seen. This is one of those instances where one hopes that the director will exercise some aesthetic and narrative judgment in order to actually improve on the original work, just like the way the anime of Honey and Clover actually made it more than the sum of the manga’s parts and Sankarea added more character depth.
I keep on, however, because while Tomoko keeps digging herself into a deeper hole, there are more and more scenes where the sympathy also grows. Oonuma even pulls out an old shot from the ef series to illustrate her loneliness, and the tone of each episode since the 4th raunchy one has been notably quieter. Non-comedy tears are beginning to form in her eyes. Earnest moments are still undercut by final punchlines, especially in the last moment of the episode with the love hotel, but the more serious parts are also more emphatic than before. The final ED, an old song sung by Hatsune Miku, is more wistful than anything else. As sad as Tomoko is, I want her to succeed even just a little, at least at the end. There has to be hope for loners like her, right? Or, to put it more bluntly, for a lot of people like us?
But I also remember the anime ending I hated the most, the one for Saikano. I hated it because I found it utterly nihilistic, and the nihilism came from its delusional aspect, where the character was thinking/imagining one thing but reality was another. Strictly speaking, I’m not of the opinion that a nihilistic work is necessarily a bad piece of art. Saikano was nothing but consistent, a work of integrity. But ultimately it’s an attitude/stance toward the world that I cannot ever pretend to like or appreciate personally, because I think it’s destructively one-sided. Tomoko, after all, wants what everyone wants: to be loved. We can appreciate and laugh at the foolish things people do for love–we’ve all done it ourselves–but ultimately that desire itself shouldn’t be mocked. Tomoko may be a figure of fun, but for a viewer like me, she’s also recognizably human in her basic needs and wants. That deserves some respect.
It’s still too early to tell what direction this anime adaptation will take with the static source material. I see hints of it going either in a more reflective direction and also it staying the same. Oonuma-san: it’s in your hands now.