Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki
by Kim Morrissy,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki ?
This episode was the best possible way the anime could have ended: It's a satisfying climax, wrapping up all the major thematic threads, while also leaving more than enough room for viewers to imagine where the characters could grow from here. The light novels are still ongoing, but if this anime never received a sequel, I'd still be entirely happy with the story that was delivered here. It's rare indeed for an anime adaptation to feel this complete within a single cour.
The plot of this episode was honestly pretty simple: Tomozaki receives a pep talk from his bratty little sister and Kikuchi, and then decides to make amends with Hinami. But that's glossing over all the massive, seemingly contradictory changes that took place within Tomozaki over the episode. He starts off reverting to his old, listless gamer self, but he quickly snaps out of that when he realizes that he's been leaving Kikuchi hanging. When he goes to see her, he once again avoids using Hinami's techniques, but discovers over the course of the day that he doesn't like the person that he is right now, even if it's "genuine." All of this recontextualizes the fight between Tomozaki and Hinami in the previous episode.
I'm honestly stunned by the level of nuance in Tomozaki's dilemma. It's not just an absurd hypothetical devised to make an anime more interesting to watch – it's completely rooted in a very fundamental human problem: What are you supposed to do when you dislike yourself, but you also want to be true to yourself? How are you supposed to know what you really want for yourself? When Tomozaki talks this matter out with Hinami, their debate ends up touching on weighty philosophical issues like the existence of "free will" and how to prove something that's non-falsifiable. You wouldn't expect a high school anime about gamers to be this deep without coming off as utterly pretentious, but it just goes to show that when you earnestly explore the self-esteem issues faced by high schoolers, you'll end up treading the same ground as philosophers and theologists.
The debate between Tomozaki and Hinami isn't presented as entirely equal, even if both of them present valid points. Hinami argues that free will doesn't truly exist and therefore shouldn't be used as an "excuse" to make arbitrary decisions, while Tomozaki maintains that it does exist, and the reason he's been able to beat Hinami at Attack Family all this time is because he truly enjoyed the time he poured into that game. Ultimately, Tomozaki's position is more sympathetic because we've spent a longer amount of time getting to know him, but also his argument simply has more nuance. He says he wants the skills he's learned from Hinami in order to enjoy the game of life better, while she remains fixated on quantifiable results. When he declares that he ultimately wants to convince her of the joys of life, there's no question at all that he will eventually be proved right.
The student teaching the teacher is somewhat of a standard plot beat, but it feels like the natural culmination of everything between our two main characters. Hinami was at her least sympathetic point last episode, but there is no question that Tomozaki personally gained a lot through her intervention in his life. He argued with her because he cared about her long-term wellbeing. After all, can you really be called a "top-tier" character in life if you're not getting fulfillment out of it? It's also worth noting that although both Mizusawa and Mimimi are also vaguely aware of Hinami's true nature as a deeply competitive and calculating person, that doesn't stop them from caring about her as a friend either. Hinami isn't as easy to like as other romcom heroines, but I consider her a fascinating and multi-layered character, and she's a core part of the reason why this series works as well as it does.
In the end, Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki is the definition of a slow-burn series. It's not as if those early episodes were misleading about the theme of the narrative, but it took time to develop the characters to the point where their roles could be flexible enough to express the nuance they needed to stand out. From beginning to end, this was a story about self-improvement, but instead of being a straightforward textbook on fashion and social interactions, it asks its characters what they want to achieve with these skills and tackles the fuzzier sides of human relationships. Even if this series does not reach the popularity or emotional highs of high school romcom greats like Toradora! and Oregairu, Tomozaki's earnest depiction of a coming-of-age story has come to occupy a special place in my heart.
Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki is currently streaming on Funimation Entertainment.
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