The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?Narumi has been an otaku since her elementary school days, and she's learned the hard way that guys aren't like to stick around once they find out her love of anime, manga, and games. She's become adept at hiding it at work (and from her boyfriends), so she's aghast when her childhood buddy Hirotaka almost immediately outs her as an otaku at her new job.
She is glad to reunite with him, however, and after he listens to her gripe about her bad luck with men, he makes her a surprising offer – why not go out with him? There'll be no need to hide her fandoms that way, and after all, they are already friends – what does she have to lose?
Is It Worth Reading?Rebecca Silverman
As far as manga about actual adults goes, Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku may be more relatable than most for manga readers. Not necessarily because we all identify as otaku, but more because if we're reading manga, that means that there's a pretty good chance that at some point someone has asked us why. Thankfully the days when it was assumed that all manga was porn are largely behind us, but there's still some stigma about reading a graphic novel in public that persists, or about being a gamer of any stripe, or being into Star Trek or Game of Thrones or whatever. If you've ever felt that you had to hide your hobby or just gotten used to getting looks, you'll probably find something to enjoy here.
What's then interesting about this book, an omnibus of the first two Japanese releases, is that ultimately love isn't hard for our quartet of protagonists specifically because they're otaku, but rather because they're kind of awkward people. That's clearest for Narumi and Hirotaka, the (arguably) main couple – Hirotaka's a gamer, but more importantly he doesn't have a lot of affect, and Narumi's a fujoshi, but she feels some shame for that. This leads them to having difficulties communicating with the outside world, because he's prone to being misinterpreted (and is just an introvert who doesn't care much for people anyway) and she's almost never her authentic self in public. Of course, since this is fiction, they're also childhood friends and he's been in love with her since elementary school, but when they start dating, they keep having weird misunderstandings where he's sure he's told her he loves her before but really hasn't or she's depressed one day and it turns out to be because a character in one of her favorite manga died and she's embarrassed to tell him. Making the characters otaku simply gives readers a foothold into the story rather than defining it.
It helps that Fujita has a good sense of humor. A lot of the gags are more otaku-centric, but there are plenty that are just good old-fashioned misunderstandings or standard boob jokes, and the volume overall has a nice sense of fun to it that more serious romances can lack. We're definitely invested in these characters working things out, but getting them to work it out isn't the sum total of the author's goals. At the end of the day, it's this combination of romance, laughs, and relatability that really makes Wotakoi work – because even if you don't call yourself an otaku, you'll still find something to at least make you smile in this collection.
What's a couple of long-time nerd friends to do when romance seems scarce? Start shacking up together. The fujoshi Narumi and her three equally nerdy friends navigate interpersonal relationships with a lot more success than I expected from the title. It's a little bit of a misnomer, so put aside expectations of a grown-up WATAMOTE, Wotakoi stars far more functional otaku whose romantic endeavors are more or less a success while still being heart-warmingly honest.
Narumi's interests center around boys-love and otome dating sims, her boyfriend Hirotaka is content grinding away for rare loot on his PlayStation Vita, Hanako is all about crossplay, and her boyfriend Taro seems mostly along for the ride. The couples have different relationship dynamics with the focus mostly resting on whether Narumi and Hirotaka will evolve their relationship into something more akin to romance than a friendship with a title on it. Otherwise there's the usual trip to Comiket and arguing over shipping intermingled with standard insecurities and working out communication.
I would have liked to see something resembling the personalities I know from being a nerd all these years, something beyond humorous office worker types who have an unusual hobby. None of these characters really struck me as someone who'd have a hard time getting a relationship off the ground with the exception of Hirotaka, who is pretty quiet and has his nose in his PlayStation Vita whenever he's not on the clock. This is a pretty well-adjusted group given the negative connotations of their hobbies in Japan and the potential for social ostracization.
Artist Fujita keeps things interesting though by investing time in short story arcs and mixing it up with short pages in between. Ideas that work better as quick gags are delegated to the shorter pages while Comiket arc and Hanako and Taro's big fight get the larger page count. This lets the drama breathe but also makes sure things never stay too serious for too long.
Wotakoi is a rare read, starring actual adult characters in a romantic comedy. It also shows that growing up doesn't mean you have to grow out of the things you like or that you can't share and build a relationship with others around those hobbies.
Wotakoi is a rare romance that gets the “romancing” out of the way to depict couples knee-deep in their relationships with minimal obstacles to impede them along the way. The two couples at the center of this tale are otaku, making their lives somewhat uneventful, but even so, there's charm in how these four friends go about their days working, then unwinding how they like best afterward, flirting (and fighting) along the way. It's especially nice to see the couples as friends, both as a group and individually. There isn't an otaku reading this manga who won't identify with at least some of the characters' interactions, and they're largely likable, even if some jokes get old over the course of this double-sized volume. Kabakura and Koyanagi's arguing in particular gets grating, especially when they toss hurtful insults at each other, often reducing Koyanagi to the point of tears. If the shtick is supposed to be that they really love each other, it still doesn't seem like a healthy relationship, even if they do get along a lot of the time. Arguing is one thing, but insults take fights to another level.
Narumi and Hirotaka are a much healthier and cuter relationship, though Narumi's dilemma over not wanting to be outed as an otaku to the “normal people” she works with isn't given any weight at all. In fact, a little more of the otaku vs. non-otaku conflict would make the story even more interesting, though some of that is explored with the introduction of Hirotaka's younger brother, Nao. However, this supportive and kindly young man never judges the group for being geeks.
Fujita's character designs are the highlight of the art, with each character distinct and at home in everything from cosplay to business suits to fancy attire to loungewear. Backgrounds are sorely lacking, though, with Fujita almost always preferring blank spaces or screentones to convey moods, and it's noticeable that there's so little emphasis on the settings.
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku volume 1 rather abruptly tosses the reader into the story of a relationship with next to no buildup, but as the volume progresses, Fujita reveals more details to their backstory and the characters seem more rounded. Nothing much happens in this manga, but it's appealing precisely because it shows friends having fun in their humdrum lives. However, despite the subtitle, love isn't that hard for these otaku. It could stand a bit more excitement, if not conflict, but it certainly entertains on its own merits. Manga enthusiasts looking for stories about otaku who've finished with school and are old enough to be in the workforce won't regret picking up this volume.
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