In her never ending quest to become more popular, Tomoko attempts three different personality changes: first, inspired by an anime, she tries to become a Yuki Nagato-like “expressionless character.” Not only does it make her even more outcast–silence is natural for someone who’s all alone anyway–it ends up making some people (like her brother) angrier or bewildered (the handsome barista). Apparently that personality only works if a guy is already hanging around you. Next, she attempts to follow other smiling cute couples and get a picture taken at the purikura booth, but after being denied by her friend Yuu and her brother, she ends up going alone, and making only grotesque faces instead. Finally, Tomoko believes that becoming a hostess will improve her social skills, and gets herself ready for the role by learning to light a lighter and mix drinks–only to find out that the red light district of Kabuki-cho isn’t so innocent and friendly.
This episode is more subdued compared to last week’s extreme situations and raunchy humor, and it highlights one of Tomoko’s key problems: she thinks that a single big change, or a single personality shift, will solve all her problems. While some of this owes more to the structure of the gag-per-chapter original manga, it’s also a perennial temptation for many people who are stuck in bad situations: if only I had x, then I’d… What’s also interesting is that in two of the scenarios, they were both inspired by what Tomoko saw on TV: an anime and a talk show interview. As an otaku, media actually is very influential in Tomoko’s life, informing her fantasy life (hence the reference to Akira, Haruhi Suzumiya, and other shows) and what she considers solutions to her problems.
Her treatment of her brother Tomoki appears to be worsening. She seems to be in the habit of stealing his food and drink–ramen last week, his sports drink this time–and even her lame attempts to be nice usually end up backfiring. Tomoki reacts with predictable irritation and now puts her in a face lock. I remember watching my teenage cousins–also an older sister and younger brother pair–get along not much better, so this sort of interaction is based in reality, minus Tomoko’s doubtlessly anime-fueled attempts to get Tomoki to do things by saying “but it’s your sister…” (Welcome to a non sis-con world, otaku girl. It’s sad that this is actually refreshing in light of all the recent anime trends, but I’ll take what we can get.) I’m beginning to feel more pity for him now than ever before. Enduring someone like Tomoko on a daily basis would try anyone’s patience, and he’s starting to lose it.
There are some bravura Oonuma directorial moves in this episode, though less on the spastic faces this time and more on the way the scenery moves. The sparer emotional mood, which depends less on outrageousness this time, actually feels somewhat sadder than before. I felt a pang of sympathy when Tomoko fell down at the Starbucks, spilling her terrible concoction of condimented coffee. On the other hand, her bad attitude toward Tomoki is getting less admirable by the episode, which is a reminder that as hapless as she is, she’s also incredibly self-absorbed. It exists alongside her painful self-consciousness and attempts to be someone she’s not, an effort which is always going to end in failure if one isn’t a fantastic actor or actress. The strain is too much. So many of us learned that the hard way in our teenage years. The cost of fitting in is often higher than can be paid.