Rating: 5/5 – A More Intense Manga Version of Charlie Brown.
Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui or Watamote as fans of the series refer to it in shortened form is the story of Tomoko Kuroki, who has spent much of her young life learning to be popular through otome (dating sim) video games, figuring the experience will be all she needs to be immediately popular when she starts high school. Reality sets in after two weeks when she still has yet to talk to anyone…either the females around her who all seem to be cliquing up nicely, or the men who barely seem to notice her. Something is clearly wrong, and the series chronicles Tomoko’s attempts to figure out exactly what that something is.
At its core, it would seem that the manga world has found its equivalent to Charlie Brown from Peanuts. Tomoko wants nothing more than to be popular. Really, at this stage she’d settle for just being noticed. Unfortunately, she’s self-sabotaging, with her worst enemies an over-active brain that confounds her every attempt at communication and a mouth that has no shut-off valve. Many have postulated that Tomoko must have some form of mental disorder, or that she speaks to an overall psychological trauma experienced by shut-ins or a fear of the outside world.
The truth is much simpler, and not so heavy-handed: Tomoko’s a sky, awkward, not necessarily attractive girl who can’t figure out the world around her. Anyone who grew up as a nerd or a geek in school (back when “geek” wasn’t a positive term) knows her pain, and will find a kindred soul in these pages. The isolation she feels is often self-imposed, and it builds on itself, as she longs to be part of the conversations the girls in her classroom have, yet at the same time she disdains them as being vapid, superficial, and boy-crazy. You know, deep down, that there’s some part of her that longs to be that vapid, superficial and boy-crazy. She just refuses to do it. While it’s commendable to be your own person, it’s also a very lonely path to walk, particularly in high school.
Nico Tanigawa (a combination of the two creators who work on the title) are at times merciless to their creation, but they have to be or the story wouldn’t work as well as it does. The artwork is perfect, shifting from the sad-faced Tomiko to the happy, beautiful people who surround her (if you do not laugh out loud at her attempts to make herself pretty like her classmates, there may be no hope for you!), and the translation/adaptation by Krista Shipley and Kara Shipley makes this book wonderfully accessible to social outcasts on this side of the pond.
To me this book is the polar opposite of one of my absolute favorite manga, Yotsuba, but in a very positive way. Yotsuba deals with a girl who sees the world with eyes wide open and a sense of wonder, while Watamote deals with a girl who’s become hardened and cynical by that same world, but only based on her perception of it. Both titles will hold a cherished place on my bookshelf.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow – firstname.lastname@example.org
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