Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku ?
(Before I start the review in earnest, I just want to draw attention to how cute and relatable it was when both Narumi and Hirotaka cried at a rerun of Sailor Moon R. I didn't have a good place to put this in the review itself, but I didn't want to leave it unaddressed. Bless these dorks. Thank you.)
Passions flare in this extra spicy episode of Wotakoi. The growing pains of Narumi and Hirotaka's fresh otaku dating experience take a backseat as the spotlight shifts to the seasoned and tempestuous relationship between Hanako and Kabakura. Much of that spiciness comes from the first half of the episode dedicating itself to dressing the boys in cosplay—or more specifically, crossplay. Narumi starts the day all too pleased with herself, showing off her selfie with girl mode Hirotaka to Hanako and Kabakura. Hirotaka is understandably kind of embarrassed, but to his credit, he owns it and later brags about how cute he ended up looking. Kabakura is much more resistant to the idea, despite dating a famous cosplayer (or precisely because of that).
I get the impression that Hanako has been relentless in her drive to get her boyfriend to cosplay since they started going out, and their friends' impromptu photo session finally pushes her over the edge to rather forcefully persuade him into doing it. I do like that Kabakura's apprehension isn't solely based in some hackneyed fear of wearing girly stuff, but rather more general anxiety about his looks. Cosplay is about performance, and he doesn't want people to look at him because he doesn't think he's handsome. But Hanako does think he's handsome (come on, look at him), so she wants him to feel more confident and understand why cosplay is so important to her. Also I think she just really wants to see girl mode Kabakura, and the results are to be expected from somebody of her prestige and talent. Plus, Kabakura got a Kancolle figure out of it, so it's a win-win for everyone!
The gang goes out for drinks in the second half, and believe it or not this is actually the first time they've all gone out drinking together. They have such a great rapport that it's easy to forget Narumi only started working with them recently, and they've been existing as a pair of otaku couples for even less time. However, Narumi quickly learns that Hanako is one heck of a lightweight, becoming affectionate and talkative the minute the buzz hits. She lets her proverbial guts spill almost immediately, reminiscing about the time she and Kabakura started dating, which quickly leads into an argument about which one of them asked the other out first. Despite Narumi's best efforts, the two of them get into an actual fight over this, but thankfully the evening ends with everything patched up.
Wotakoi was on some of its strongest game with these two storylines. The comedy succeeds because it's not just a parade of otaku in-jokes; the humor mostly comes from the pace of the dialogue. Everything's snappy, but it still manages to flow naturally, and everyone gets equal opportunity to throw out their jabs and japes. It can get a little mean sometimes, but it's playfully mean in the way that friendships and flirtations can be. Hirotaka's bone-dry zinger delivery often steals the show, but it's also wonderful to see Hanako's face light up with a devilish grin as she shows off her lovey-dovey phone background. Wotakoi doesn't have the virtuoso character animation of a Kyoani production, but it still has a good sense for the body language and expressions of its couples. Angry Hanako gets some quick cuts of getting ready to give Kabakura a piece of her mind (and fist), while a crying and vulnerable Hanako gets a series of lingering shots as she hugs Narumi. Both the storyboarding and directing were above average this episode, which went a long way toward making it so memorable.
Beyond the comedy part of its romcom equation, Wotakoi continues to be surprisingly thoughtful in its approach to nerd romance. The big pratfall it tackles this time is the concern over building a relationship purely out of convenience. Nerd communities tend to be insular, which can contribute to a culture of forging both friendships and romances out of a few specific shared interests. There's nothing wrong with this, and most relationships of any kind start out this way, but it's narrow-minded to prioritize these common interests unilaterally, especially when it's something like a shared interest in media. Just because someone likes the same anime you do doesn't mean that they're going to be a good friend or lover. Amusingly, Hirotaka did propose a relationship based on shared otakuness, but their success as a couple is based on a chemistry that goes beyond this. As this episode points out, even as otaku, the two of them have mostly non-overlapping interests, but that's okay! It's healthy to have differences, because you're different people, and learning new things from each other is one of the best parts of being in a relationship.
However, with differences comes friction. Hanako and Kabakura's penchant for silly arguments clearly comes from a degree of comfort they've achieved by going out for almost a decade, but that doesn't mean they can't hit each other's weak spots. She still has insecurities about not being desirable enough, or that the two of them are stuck settling for each other. These worries might be unfounded, but they stem from real raw feelings. That said, I wish we could have seen more of her make-up conversation with Kabakura. He plays it cool, but it's only fair that we should see some of his vulnerable and conciliatory side too. I'll just imagine that he managed to convince Hanako he loves her by saying there's no way he'd miss out on dating the hottest bishounen cosplayer in the country.
Narumi has similar worries, but unlike Hanako she doesn't have years of dating Hirotaka under her belt to assuage her. She does at least possess the gumption to bring it up to him, and he has the courage and clarity to tell her that he genuinely likes her for who she is. Their relationship might be one of compromise, but it's also one of mutual joy and respect. There's no one-size-fits-all equation for any romance, even otaku romance. What Narumi and Hirotaka do have is an indelible spark that's as brilliant as their pair of smiles in the episode's epilogue. And in a show that's full of adorable moments, seeing Hirotaka finally smile was perhaps the most adorable of them all. I'm really glad we have a show as funny, realistic, and tender as Wotakoi this season.
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is currently streaming on Amazon.
Steve is a longtime anime fan who can be found making bad posts about anime on his Twitter.
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