by Nico Tanigawa; adapted by Krista Shipley and Karie Shipley
published by Yen Press; $11.99 US
That great, excessively long title No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! has little to do with the content of the book — although the premise is even more out-there than the title suggests — and is thankfully abbreviated “WataMote” (after the first two major words in the Japanese title).
It’s the story of Tomoko, who’s entering high school dreaming of being popular. She’s terrific at dating sim video games, you see, and she (quite wrongly) thinks that experience will translate to popularity with boys. Instead, all the time she spends on her computer has made her withdrawn, shy, and exhausted-looking. She’s also such a shut-in that she’s nearly unable to talk to anyone not in her family.
The series is quite episodic, and I recommend not reading it all at once, since Tomoko’s cluelessness and humiliation can become overwhelming, particularly if you’re the sympathetic type (and I’m assuming you are, since you’re reading about comics on the internet). On the other hand, her behaviors are so exaggerated and pitiful that it becomes funny. (Other people’s tragedy is our comedy, right?) Other girls, especially the more normal ones who socialize with each other and talk to boys, are “bitches” or “shallow, boy-crazy idiots”. She berates them, in her mind, for living cliched lives, yet her ideas of high school are formed from mass-market entertainment full of predictable moments. She has contempt for those she wants to be accepted by, which explains why her plans aren’t very successful.
Each chapter’s title begins “I’m not popular, so…” concluding with different techniques that make up the subject of that story. “I’ll try a little makeover”, perhaps, or “I’ll play video games” or “I’ll see an old friend.” It’s that last one that was my favorite chapter. We find out, when Tomoko reconnects with her “plain, nerdy, underachieving friend” from middle school, that the friend has blossomed, with a cute new look. The contrast is painful and yet hopeful.
I was reminded, between the anime references and the temperament of our lead, of the missed series Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, although Tomoko isn’t self-aware enough to be suicidal. Her activities are identifiable: going to the manga bookstore or a fast-food restaurant. Yet no matter how normal, she’s still the same weird person. It’s not the environment, it’s the personality.
In the second book, we see more of her life, but she still hasn’t learned much. In fact, some of the things that happen to her are even more outrageous, such as getting attacked by ants or giving herself hickeys. A younger cousin visits for a while, which puts even more pressure on Tomoko to try and appear as the person she wants to be, instead of who she is.
I found myself wondering why Tomoko didn’t try to find more of a community of people like her to make friends with, why (since she has a computer) she feels the need to worry about her schoolmates. One chapter shows her playing a card game with kids down at the candy store, although she seems to have contempt for them, in spite of their shared interest, as much as those she goes to school with. Perhaps that’s the problem — she wants the quality of popularity more than actually dealing with people.
It’s an odd type of story, and I’m not sure how to take Tomoko, but I’ll keep reading so long as she’s getting into ever more stressful situations. Book 2 also includes a short Christmas story and a couple of pages of illustrated notes from the author team. (The publisher provided review copies.)