WataMote 3: Avoidance




Tomoko will go to great lengths to avoid socializing with her peers, especially if they are boys. She’d rather go without a textbook she forgot to bring than share her neighbor’s, which always gets her in trouble. When her umbrella breaks during a rainstorm and she encounters some guys at the bus stop, she’s so nervous that she runs to the bathroom in great fear and nausea. And once again she attempts to use her brother, this time attempting to catch his cold so she can avoid going to school. It succeeds but too late, ruining her weekend —made all the worse by her now coupled friend Yuu’s answer to a relationship quiz.

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What WataMote continually does, with caustic humor, is to drive home the point that ultimately Tomoko is responsible for her predicament. There’s a moment, for instance, where she thinks that her umbrella’s been stolen and her mind immediately constructs a dark profile of who the thief might be, that he might be having a relationship, that he deserves to die—only for her rage to be punctured by spotting the umbrella on the other side of the aisle. The paranoia and judgmentalism she regularly indulges in is a product not of genuine circumstance, but of her own mind. The same goes with her inability to ask a neighbor to share a textbook—something which has apparently happened repeatedly. She seems oblivious to the fact that she suffers more, not less, by taking the long, avoiding way.

I remember being that way. I’d loop around a school corridor to avoid meeting certain people. Or look away from another person hoping he or she wouldn’t notice me. Sit by myself while eating so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone, or, more recently, bow my head down toward the screen of my smartphone and endlessly check the news.

What drove me was fear: fear of being laughed at, because it always felt like other people’s eyes were on you and others were just waiting for a chance to mock you, when, in fact, most people are ignoring you. (This happens at the bus stop with the two random guys, for instance. They can’t even understand what she’s saying, let alone thinking or saying bad things about her.) The truth is that most people are far too self-absorbed themselves to care that much about what you are doing. But the fear, which for Tomoko is paralyzing, not only prevents her from saying the right things at the right time or taking an easier way out. It also prevents her from noticing when people have been kind to her, as when she wishes “a guy would be nice to me” after a guy had in fact bought her a new umbrella and left it with her while she was asleep. Fear has a way of driving out love, and, it is love that casts out fear.

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What hasn’t been explored much yet in the anime—no spoilers, manga readers—is how Tomoko became what she is now. Why is she so socially anxious? Bullying would be a plausible, albeit predictable, reason. But her behavior seems to come less from bullying-induced low self-esteem than from a generalized anxiety and self-consciousness. Is it genetic? Is it her fujoshi-esque hobbies? Her plain looks? Middle school girls can be exquisitely cruel, it is true, and perhaps they picked on her for many reasons, leaving her only with Yuu to keep her company then. Middle school in general can be a hellish time for nearly everyone, and not everyone reacts with aplomb or gets over it so easily.

What remains is this, however: her social exile is, by this point, largely self-imposed. There is a real snobbery in her attitude toward others, along with fear. Her dealings with her brother are plainly self-interested, and he sees through it easily and dismisses her accordingly, cutting herself off from a possible source of strength and comfort. (One can’t also help but think that her sisterly attempts to get him to say she is attractive is not just desperation, but also a swipe at certain types of anime fans, but I digress…) Even a stupid magazine quiz, whose methodology is highly suspect, only encourages her to think to worst about herself. How can she be so gullible?

Which is why for me, her situation is not any less sad for being partly her responsibility. This show is always teetering on the edge of no longer being funny but being genuinely tragic, and given Oonuma’s record as a superb chronicler of loneliness (much of the ef series and the serious episodes of BakaTest and Dusk Maiden), I suspect we will see Tomoko’s soul laid bare at some point. There’s real hurt somewhere in there, and she’ll have to face it and confront it if she wants to move on.

Not even funny music can hide the real sentiment behind this scene.
Not even funny music can hide the real sentiment behind this scene.

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

6 thoughts on “WataMote 3: Avoidance

  1. Japanese are genetically more prone to be introverted, so a lot of quiet people there.

    She gets very self-conscious around guys. Just making a few words is already using a lot of energy. She simply thinks too much. No wonder she looks tired all the time. Probably she hasn’t been evaluated or earned respect from her peers. That has instilled a sense of inferiority in her. How men treat her = how the world treat her. Men = world. The other. Universal theme for otakus, reach the other, the opposite sex, to reach, or to have skinship. What she needs is skinship.

    1. What you’re describing is definitely introversion–needing a lot of energy even to talk to people. That I can relate to very much; there are times I barely have energy to say “hi” to people. She actually seems to have a superiority as well as inferiority complex toward her peers, though: she can easily find reasons why she’s too good for other people, though often as a way to rationalize why her social interactions are rarely successful.

      It’ll be funny to see what might happen to her if someone tries to hug her with all sincerity. She’d like just as much push that person away probably, or cling desperately.

  2. The manga hasn’t gone that serious to even take a look at why Tomoko is the way she is. I don’t know if we’ll ever truly know as we’re just going to get more jokes in Tomoko’s expense. I wonder if her mom plays a role in all of this since she’s like “Whatever, I’ll just feed and house you guys”, but this is more comedy than drama.

    Though I wonder about the author’s experiences and how much hardship she went through in her younger days.

    1. Huh. So I guess the author wasn’t terribly interested in introspection. I did notice that the scene early on where she has a sincere moment with Yuu feels much more short and cursory in the manga than in the anime. I think here it’s possible that director Shin Oonuma may draw out or emphasize somewhat different things than the mangaka did, just like the Welcome to the NHK anime did vs the original novel. Oonuma actually does sincere and dramatic very well when he chooses to. I get the feeling we will have at least one cry worthy scene by the end of this.

      So Nico Tanigawa is a woman? I wonder if she was Tomoko or perhaps her brother–someone who watched a friend or sibling go through that. It really takes one to know one to the degree of accuracy that’s being shown and still remain sympathetic. Because frankly Tomoko can be a huge jerk sometimes, and most people would dismiss her off hand.

      EDIT: it appears Nico Tanigawa is a pseudonym for an artist/writer pair. The plot thickens!

  3. I’ve been reading the scans of the manga as they come out for a while and I can’t help but compare the original to the adaptation.

    The anime seems decided on buffing down the sharp edges. The scene where Tomoko cries in front of her brother because no one would care if she was sick is much more intently bitter. She even has comedy waterfall tears in the anime!

    1. I just started reading the manga. I haven’t quite gotten to the part you mention, but so far, I actually don’t see huge differences yet aside from chapters which have yet to be adapted. It’s maybe slightly more ecchi, but the caustic comic tone is still there. Yeah I almost felt at least that particular scene, if it weren’t for the music and the waterfall tears, it would actually be deeply sad and troubling. This tension between pathos and comedy is what makes the show tick though.

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