Kuroki Tomoko is without a doubt the worst girl. Between her complete lack of social functionality, good will, happiness, and life skills, she pretty much has nothing going for her beyond the fact that she’s a kind-of-cute anime girl. Yet, when I talk to anyone about Watamote, their reaction is invariably that Tomoko is the best; that she’s adorable; that she’s mai waifu, daughteru, etc. How is it, then, that a character with almost no redeeming qualities manages to be so endearing to so many viewers?
In a way, it’s hard to see Tomoko as a character at all. She’s too far gone–too impossibly horrible to be a real person. While many of the situations that she finds herself in are painfully relatable, others are so over-the-top that she gives Larry David a run for his money. Moreover, the sheer lack of anything good happening to her is almost otherworldly. Anything remotely close to a moment of solace is quickly taken away, and she never learns or grows as a person from any of her experiences; she just goes on being as miserable and horrible as ever.
Tomoko functions more rationally as a symbol than as a character. She represents what average people are like at their worst and most self-destructive. She’s hardly a bad person, or even all that abnormal besides in her sheer lack of social skills, but she manages to have every negative trait that anyone can relate to all stacked onto one character. No one can probably relate to every single scenario that Tomoko finds herself in, but most have probably lived a few of them so specifically that it hurts to see them animated.
Watching Tomoko reenact the worst moments of our lives can be incredibly painful–especially when the details of the situation match up just right, or if there hasn’t been a lot of time between us now and the person that we were at that time. However, there is also an unmistakable catharsis that comes from seeing someone else who’s just as bad as you are. Knowing that you weren’t the only one who made these mistakes or dealt with these problems can help a lot with coming to terms with them, and even feeling more connected to the world around you. Particularly for someone in a position like Tomoko, who has no one that she to relate to, seeing something which reflects her so perfectly could provide a sense of camaraderie.
I think we all share a fairly universal desire to like ourselves, and to believe that we’re kind of okay. When we like Tomoko in spite of all the terrible things that she does, it’s because we want to like ourselves. Even if we have to project ourselves onto someone else in order to accept ourselves, we ultimately have that desire to approve of ourselves somewhere in our hearts.
And really, Tomoko makes it easy for us. Sure she’s terrible and disgusting; but, as I mentioned before, she’s also a kind-of-cute anime girl. The fact that she’s so ragged and sickly is endearing and even refreshing in its own way, as it brings her a little closer to reality than most anime girls. Particularly in the anime series, she’s also given a cute voice and some fairly cute outfits. She’s an easy character to get behind, in the way that anime fans always get behind their favorite characters–which makes it easier to endear ourselves to her many flaws, even as they remind us of the worst parts of ourselves. Just as Tomoko offers catharsis in relatability, she also offers it, to some extent, in vindication.
Speaking as an adult viewer who’s gotten a lot of my shit together and crawled out of depression in the time since high school, I do find myself at a bit of a distance from most of what happens in this show. I can still remember what it was like to be all alone in school, with no idea how to approach anyone, and actively repulsing them with my looks and attitude, even though internally I wanted someone, anyone, to try and connect with me–I was easily as socially ignorant as Tomoko at the time; but that’s so far in the past now that I can laugh it away at moments when, had I watched this show at fifteen, I probably would’ve cried.
But of course, I can’t pretend that I’m without self-doubt, or that I never get anxious in social situations. My favorite moments in Watamote are when Tomoko is mind-blown by what trendy clothes stores look like, and feels so out-of-place there that she runs away without buying anything. This is literally me any time I try to go into an actual clothes store, if you couldn’t tell by my typical choices of fashion. Her confusion over the names and tastes of coffee were also something I can still relate to today; but at least I’m at an age now where I can kind of accept these things about myself without getting hung up over it.
Funnily enough, I could never really bring myself to back Tomoko most of the time. I found myself laughing at her as much as laughing with her, but maybe only in the comfort of thinking that she’ll probably outgrow a lot of this. I can’t often pretend that I like Tomoko for who she is in the same way that reading blog posts I wrote at age fifteen makes me want to punch myself in the face. My actual favorite character is probably Yuu-chan. She’s nice, adorable, and voiced by my favorite actress–what’s not to love? This would probably make me Tomoko’s enemy, though.
By far the most painful moments in the show for me were Tomoko’s interactions with her little brother. Speaking as someone with two little brothers who are both way more sociable, busy, and altogether normal than I am, whom I bother constantly to the point that they’re thoroughly sick of my bullshit, I can only see the absolute worst parts of myself in Tomoko’s talks with him. Maybe I’m not as far away from all this as I want to be convinced I am. Maybe it’s just my ego telling me that I’m totally not just like Tomoko at all. Have I ever cheated while playing Yugioh against small children and then bragged about winning? Yes. Yes I have. Many times.