The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
How would you rate episode 1 of
Otaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Wotakoi isn't just cute – It's Hecka Cute™. From the moment we're introduced to our hapless otaku heroine Narumi to the final scene where she and Hirotaka finally begin their relationship, Wotakoi turns the Adorableness Factor up to 11 and never lets up. Amazon may have taken its sweet time actually getting this episode out stateside, but the wait was well worth it, because this is easily the best romance series to have premiered this season.
Wotakoi's secret to success is really obvious when you look at what makes for a good rom-com. Its two leads, Narumi and Hirotaka, make for an exceptionally cute couple, even just as friends before the romance starts. We get far more time in Narumi's headspace than Hirotaka's, which works out perfectly since she makes for a great lead. She's cute without coming off cloying, and the fact that she's an adult woman out in the workforce gives her romantic perspective more nuance than if this were a saccharine high school love story. What makes Narumi a truly excellent character is that she's likable while still being allowed a degree of relatable flaws. She's an otaku who has become ashamed of her hobbies, a woman who obsesses over cosplay and yaoi manga while scoffing at the possibility of ever dating another nerd like her; she'd rather hide her passions than share them with someone who might also risk social pariah-dom.
This is where Hirotaka comes in, and while his laconic attitude might give off the impression that he'll be a one-note character, his interactions with Narumi prove otherwise. The two gently tease one another while still supporting each other at their jobs, and their dynamic goes a long way toward establishing real chemistry between them. He may call her names and chide her work ethic, but Narumi is allowed to give as much as she gets, and by the time Hirotaka suggested that he might be the perfect boyfriend for her at the end of the episode, I was rooting for them one hundred percent. The two other protagonists we meet in this premiere also play well off Narumi and Hirotaka, though Hanako gets much more time in the spotlight than Taro. Despite the show relying a little too much on boob gags every now and then, I appreciated that Narumi's hobbies actually help her her make friends with a woman who is equally passionate about cosplay.
This is perhaps what I appreciated most about Wotakoi. While Narumi and Hirotaka are definitely nerds, they're also perfectly average working adults, and the show doesn't make a huge deal out of it. Wotakoi acknowledges that for every bad breakup or workplace disaster that might come from being seen as a geek, there are plenty of places out in the grown-up world for nerds of all stripes to find love and success. It would be easy for a series like Wotakoi to adopt an “us vs. them” mentality, but instead the show seems to be focusing on the sweeter side of otaku life. Couple Wotakoi's endearing sweetness with a charming and colorful aesthetic courtesy of A-1 Pictures, and you have one of the season's absolute must-watch series.
Wotakoi gets one very important thing right in its first episode. As an otaku-themed comedy with adult characters, it does a good job of depicting the occasionally awkward process of trying to figure out whether or not a new acquaintance shares your interests. While Narumi has an easy time geeking out with her childhood friend Hirotaka, this episode puts her through the full range of emotions as she tries to figure out if her new coworker Hanako is “one of us.” There's the horror of being marked as an otaku in front of someone you've just met, the flash of recognition when that person understands an obscure reference, the elaborate process of trying to drop subtle hints, and finally the relief of realizing the other person is on the same wavelength. This episode makes that whole song and dance feel amusing and relatable, and that alone gives me a good amount of hope for the series.
From a romance perspective, Narumi and Hirotaka make for an interesting main couple. Alone, neither one of them is especially compelling: Narumi fits a little too neatly into the “scatterbrained rookie” mold at the office, and Hirotaka is perpetually low on energy. Put them together, though, and you end up with a believable pair of old friends with some good chemistry. Hirotaka is able to question Narumi's perspective on dating without being too preachy, and Narumi is able to needle Hirotaka for his gaming hobby without coming across as mean-spirited. There's something refreshingly frank and open about their conversations at the bar, and that plays into Hirotaka's very low-key and straightforward suggestion that they start dating. It may lack the emotional intensity of a teenage love confession, but it's a sweet little moment nonetheless.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, Hanako makes a pretty good first impression. There's a decent little arc here as she goes from being Narumi's company mentor to her otaku friend, and it could be interesting to see if her approach to hiding (or not hiding) her hobby from her coworkers differs from Narumi and Hirotaka. Kabakura is more of a question mark at the moment, as we've only seen him in “work mode” thus far. His role in this episode is mainly to observe and react to the other characters, so all we really know about him for the moment is that he's pretty laid-back by white collar standards. If the series develops him well, he could work well as an anchor for the rest of the cast.
If Wotakoi plays its cards right, it could be the best of this season's romance titles. It has the potential to be a slightly more grown-up version of Genshiken with its broad coverage of otaku culture, or perhaps a more generalist version of Recovery of an MMO Junkie. I like what I've seen so far, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this one. It's not every day that us crusty old late-twenty-somethings get our own romantic comedy anime.
There's definitely more to being an adult than age. At twenty-six, heroine Narumi doesn't seem to be doing a bang-up job on that front, which I suspect is intended to be part of her charm. It's one thing to have a room full of whatever it is that you love, but when you get to work, it's probably best to actually, you know, work instead of checking your newsfeed and screwing up making copies. (Although those new photocopiers with 900 functions can be intimidating.) That's largely what's holding me back from loving the first episode of Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku – Narumi reads to me like a teenage protagonist arbitrarily aged up ten years in order to set the story in the workplace.
On the other hand, her issue with her societally shunned hobbies is one that feels understandable. Having gotten looks myself for reading graphic novels or romance novels in public, the shaming she experienced at her previous job when people found out she's an otaku isn't all that far-fetched. While I might wish that she'd get over her fear and just not give a damn like Hirotaka, I can understand why she hasn't…and that may be part of the story going forward. The distinction between she and childhood friend/love interest Hirotaka's feelings about their fandom is at this point the most interesting part of the episode – Narumi cares too much about people finding out while Hirotaka arguably cares too little, not making any effort to spend his downtime at the office with anyone but his game. There's some sort of happy medium that they will probably achieve going forward, especially since he just successfully pitched himself as a boyfriend, interestingly enough without ever uttering the words “I like you.”
This strongly reminds me of a more upbeat Complex Age. Narumi, like the heroine of that manga, isn't comfortable broadcasting her habits, but unlike Nagisa she doesn't worry that she ought to give it up to live a “normal” life. That's a point in her favor, and it will be interesting to see how and if that theme shows up going forward, especially since one of her new coworkers is a cosplayer. Apart from some weird pigeon-toed running, this does look beautiful as well, although the conceit of giving only the protagonists brightly colored hair in a crowded workplace or bar is a little jarring.
On the whole, I think this is a story that I might prefer in manga format (in part because Narumi's voice really grates on my ears). It has potential, but I feel like something's not quite clicking yet, and reading the source material may prove to make the anime work a little better, if only because it's a story I really want to like.
Here in the eleventh hour of preview guide, the spring season finally decides to humor my taste in anime. I was worried this season would just flat-out lack a strong romance or character drama, but Love is Hard for an Otaku is apparently on the job. This first episode was easily one of the most endearing of the season, and if you're up for a romantic comedy about working adults, you definitely won't want to skip this one.
This premiere quickly introduces us to heroine Narumi Momose and her old friend Hirotaka, a boy she knew from childhood who's now shown up as a coworker at her new job. Narumi quit her previous job when her otaku nature was revealed and she was subsequently shunned, so she's determined to keep her hobbies under wraps this time. She doesn't do a particularly good job of it, though, and a great deal of this episode ends up being dedicated to her and Hirotaka grumbling about their nerd problems over a beer.
The most important quality for a romantic comedy like this to possess is charismatic, charming characters, and so far Otaku is effortlessly succeeding there. Narumi herself is an extremely relatable person, and the contrast between her bubbly public persona and her underlying snark feels completely natural. Hirotaka has mostly fallen into the role of the deadpan counterpoint to Narumi's energy, but the two play off each other naturally, and their conversations demonstrate a clear and sturdy friendship. Establishing a strong rapport between the leads is crucial, and Otaku is already there, its choice to focus on two people who are already friends letting the show build up chemistry right from the start.
Beyond its strongly written leads and their very convincing bond, Otaku is also bolstered by some solid comedy and a generally appealing visual aesthetic. The show isn't exactly an animation powerhouse, and its backgrounds can occasionally look a bit threadbare, but there were copious little character acting details scattered throughout this episode that really helped emphasize the feelings of its leads. The humor is likewise imperfect but generally a boon; there were some scenes here that relied on too-simple gags or dragged on to the point of unintentional anticlimax, but on the whole, the show's mix of natural adult nerd anxieties and specific jabs at stuff like Monster Hunter woes made for an endearing and mostly funny collection.
All in all, Otaku's first episode is excellent, and really helps to shore up the spring's genre spectrum. If you've been hunting for a romantic comedy or character drama, your show has finally arrived.
The premise of Wotakoi invites comparisons to 2017's Recovery of an MMO Junkie and, to a much lesser extent, 2016's Gamers! Indeed, it should especially appeal to the same audience who got heavily invested in the former: adults who have been heavily-involved in geek culture since their youth. As one such person myself, I found the story more relatable than the typical high school fare and every bit as charming as MMO Junkie, albeit in different ways.
One of the chief differences is that this series (at least so far) focuses entirely on what's going on in the real world, with the gaming only occasionally shown in over-the-shoulder kind of views. Hence characters are interacting in person from the beginning rather than taking half or more of the series to realize each other's identities. A second key difference is that all of the interactions come together at a common workplace rather than starting out from greatly disparate locations. The third main difference is that Narumi is an entirely different kind of character from Moriko. She's more the classic genki girl projected into adult form, which means that she's much more proactive and thus a little more fun. Having the other main female character being a crossplayer is also an interesting twist. We have yet to see what otaku subcategory the other main male character falls into, but presumably he will be one too.
So far the series isn't doing anything exceptional in a story sense, but the character interactions seem relatively natural. Seeing the theoretical central couple actually hook up by the end of the episode is also a welcome development; so many other series in this mode have that be the main goal of the story, so now I'm quite interested to see how the story will work with the characters having to figure out how to date under their circumstances. The other female character hooking up with the other male character (as suggested by the opener and closer) also looks promising, although there are no signs of that happening yet.
The art style leans in a somewhat shojo direction, with both male and female characters have long, narrow bodies. While I'm not a fan of that stylistic quirk, the artistic effort is otherwise solid so far, with Narumi in particular striking a distinctive enough design to stand out. The first episode also shows one of the season's best openers and a respectable closer. In general, it's enough of its own animal to not feel like just a retread of MMO Junkie and has the potential to be every bit as entertaining.
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