The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki
How would you rate episode 1 of
Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki ?
What is this?
Tomozaki is one of the best gamers in Japan, and in his opinion, the game of real life is one of the worst. No clear-cut rules for success, horribly balanced, and nothing makes sense. But then he meets a gamer who's just as good as him, and she offers to teach him a few exploits.
How was the first episode?
Halfway through Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki's preview, I was convinced it was a horror anime in disguise. The titular Tomozaki is presented as such a pathetic, unlikeable creep, and I absolutely hated the way that he forced self-identifying as a “gamer” into every facet of his life and thoughts. With the way he projected his self-loathing out towards the pretty people that were born with “high-tier stats”, I figured he was just one bad Smash Bros. game – I'm sorry, legally-distinct generic IP TackFam game — away from getting out the butcher knife and going on a murder spree. When he discovered that his lone TackFam rival was actually the single hottest and smartest girl in school, Aoi, and she proceeded to be a righteous asshole to his face about it, I damn near shut the show off. Maybe it's because I live in a post-Elliot Rodger world, but I don't need any more anti-women, woe-is-me-for-being-such-an-unpopular-(but-still-superior!)-loner manifestos.
To its credit, Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki does pivot to being a story about self-improvement, where Aoi goes out of her way to give Tomozaki some harsh-but-fair lessons about taking responsibility for the way he comes across to other people. The guy dresses like a sewer rat, hates everyone around him on instinct, and is generally awful to be around, so why would anyone want to build him up? I appreciated the story a lot more when I realized that we weren't meant to fully hop on board with its protagonist's toxic world-view. The show also has some admittedly appealing visuals going for it, so for those who can get past those agonizing first ten minutes, BTCT might prove a worthwhile watch.
I'm not convinced it's going to amount to much in the end, though. For as relieved as I was when the show took its pivot away from Tomozaki's toxic world-view, the show is still wallowing in a pretty insipid wish-fulfillment fantasy, wherein a beautiful and smart girl swoops in and devotes her every waking moment to completely transforming the life of a guy who has seemingly done nothing to deserve her time and energy, and who she is also probably secretly in love with. Don't forget, she's a gamer, and that automatically makes her cooler, because it's definitely not like most young people all over the world play video games as a casual hobby now, or anything. “A gamer girl is as rare and valuable as a golden unicorn, except you can also do sex with her!” Thanks, but no thanks, Bottom-tier. I get enough of that just scrolling through Reddit.
I used to be the kind of person who tried to reach out to withdrawn nerds, to offer them a hand of friendship when no one else would. I never offered to train them up, but I thought that maybe, if someone showed them a little kindness, maybe they'd open up a bit and become a little kinder themselves. As pretty much any woman who has tried this can say, this almost always ended with my hand getting bitten off. After getting hurt or feeling betrayed too many times, I've stopped investing my energy in these kinds of people.
That's why I have a deep bias against shows like Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki. Tomozaki is a misanthropic nerd, bitter and suspicious of all so-called normies. I disliked him immensely off the bat; the sad, minor-key piano music that plays as he insists his sore-loser classmate admit that TackFam, the fighting game he specializes in, is god-tier was positively ludicrous. This kind of sad-sack character is everywhere in anime these days it seems like, and I have as little patience for them in fiction as I do in real life or on Twitter.
Hinami isn't totally wrong; while there are advantages to certain inborn traits, we have more control over how we present and how people perceive us than a lot of people are willing to admit. Things like attractiveness and approachability are practiced skills, not purely inborn traits. I have a lot of doubts about her methods, since they seem focused on superficial changes to presentation rather than a genuine change in attitude. There's also some unintentional comedy where Tomozaki doesn't recognize her without her makeup even though to the audience, she looks exactly the same.
The more I think about it, the more I believe Ishigami's subplot in the latest season of Kaguya-sama: Love is War is the only really good example of this kind of story. You can't help someone who doesn't want it; it's up to them to take the first step and open up to the world.
I feel like maybe I'm grumpy and not fully aware of it, because I kind of hated this episode. That's less because I found the whole thing unpleasant and more a cumulative effect of its various bits and pieces, because on the surface there's not much to set Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki apart from a host of other high school-set rom-coms. You've got the loser hero, the vivacious popular girl with a secret, and an under-the-table arrangement for her to help him rise above his loser status, with the theme song showing a slew of other girls for him to interact with, including, of course, his younger sister. (Who may not have been in the ending theme. Honestly, I don't recall.) So then why is it that this episode rubbed me the wrong way so much?
The answer is probably in the premise's underlying implication, which is that Tomozaki isn't fine just the way he is. There's nothing wrong with not being social in high school (or ever), and if he's okay with it, then it's definitely not Aoi's place to try to “reform” him. There's definitely some wiggle room in that Tomozaki isn't particularly happy. He does feel like life operates without rules and logic, though it's not entirely clear whether that frustrates him or actively upsets him. And Aoi is right, there are basic social conventions that could make Tomozaki's life easier. It's just the condescending way she goes about setting up her campaign to make him adopt a “normal” persona in school that's annoying. His goal is to get a girlfriend by the end of the school year? How is that a marker of normie success? What if he doesn't want a girlfriend? Yes, Aoi is operating based on the rules of teenage status symbols, but she's definitely not taking Tomozaki as a person into consideration.
In the grand scheme of anime rom-coms, this is hardly a deal-breaker. I do know that. And there's a lot about this episode that looks nice – the frayed cuffs on Tomozaki's jeans, for example, or the changes in body language when Aoi is in “pretty mode” and out of it. The animation also looks pretty nice, with one girl's turn-around really smoothly and beautifully animated. But the story really doesn't work for me, from the characters' personalities to the basic premise of the show.
Based on the advertising blurb for this franchise, I was not expecting much; just the standard, improbable “pretty girl reforms loser guy” scenario. As a result, this was the first minor surprise of the season for me. Fridays are going to be packed for the Winter 2021 season, but I still might end up following this series anyway.
To be clear, the surprise is not in the subject matter; the first episode is exactly what the series advertises itself to be. Fumiya Tomozaki is the top-ranked Japanese player in the game TackFam but considers himself a loser in real life: he looks dumpy, he is socially inept, and definitely does not fit in with the “in” crowd. He sees everything in gamer terms, and regards life as a really bad game as a result. He is challenged to change that attitude when he has an IRL meeting with TackFam's #2- ranked player, who turns out to be not only one of his female classmates but also one of the “in” crowd girls.
As stereotypical as this may sound, the execution matters here, and that makes all the difference. Aoi, the girl in question, may be one of the school's elite students, but she does not seem to be secretly pining for Fumiya because of some earlier crush or enamored with him because of his “gamer skillz.” While she respects him within the game, she's disappointed because she expected the one player better than her to be like her: someone who put serious effort in on everything, not just the game. Even more importantly, she does not cut Fumiya any slack. Without exactly saying so, she is quick to point out the blatant hypocrisy in Fumiya's attitude. He decries those who trash-talk games just because they are not willing to put in the effort to become the best, and yet he takes that same attitude towards life, which he also sees as a game. He decries people who think someone can just be inherently good, yet that's how he's treating Aoi, and she is offended by that. She put in a lot of effort to get where she is (she implies that she wasn't anywhere near this perfect-seeming when younger) and is disgusted that Fumiya seems unwilling to do the same.
To an extent, she has a point. Simple things like one's posture, not trying to hide behind one's bangs, dressing respectably for meeting someone, or even just smiling more or wearing make-up can make a big difference both in your confidence and how you come across to others. She's being slightly unfair by not acknowledging that social anxiety is a very real thing, but really no more unfair than Fumiya is being the other way. Her motives here for trying to reform Fumiya are also understandable and appreciable: while some of it might be just wanting to prove a point to Fumiya, she also wants the one person better than her in her favorite game to be a person she can respect.
The technical merits here are quite solid as well, so this one shows a lot more promise than I initially expected.
Well, that was an ordeal.
I'll admit upfront that Tomozaki was fighting an uphill battle to win me over just from the synopsis. As I get further and further from high school, I've grown increasingly tired of stories about sad-sack teenage dudes getting their lives turned around by a special, pretty girl who miraculously deigns to become their life coach. I get the appeal of these kinds of stories, but they always seem to carry some weird baggage along with them that makes it really tiresome to follow – look no further than last year's Rent-A-Girlfriend for how quickly that idea can start spinning its wheels for eons. Suffice to say it was going to take some stellar and nuanced execution to make me pick up what this show is putting down. That's not what happened.
Instead, by about the 5-minute mark I was ready to pick up the titular Tomozaki and throw him into a lake, if only to escape his incessant inner monologue for a few minutes. The internet has already made me lose all patience for game jargon-laced misanthropy in general, but the repetitive and obnoxious way the script uses it is just insufferable. If I never hear the phrase “god-tier game” for the rest of my life, it'll be too soon. Unfortunately that aspect permeates every interaction in this premiere, and made it impossible to grasp onto anything it was trying to do with these characters. I'm sure there are some folks who will relate to Tomozaki's brand of self-loathing, or find Aoi's hard-nosed admonishment cathartic, but I was so tired of hearing about “the game called life” that I just wanted both of them to stop talking. When we reached the point of Aoi literally having to teach him how to SMILE I knew that this show wasn't for me.
There's also just the issue that Tomozaki's roadmap to being less miserable, as designed by Aoi, is entirely built around finding a girlfriend. It's a really tired idea that the ultimate achievement for a high school guy is to get a girlfriend, and if the goal is to just make him a happier and more social person then trying to make friends with common interests seems like a far better way to go about it. Maybe that'll be the twist later on in the story, but the quartet of girls (and leering camera angles on Tomozaki's sister) in the OP don't give me much confidence. And either way, this premiere was enough of a slog that I'm nowhere near curious enough to find out.
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