Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku ?
All good things must come to an end, and while we've had a lot of fun frolicking through these otaku delights, even Wotakoi has to ground itself in some semblance of reality. As much as we might wish to ignore such things, it's a wide and colorful world out there full of all kinds of people, which means Wotakoi finally had to introduce a non-otaku character.
Indeed, our main characters seemed downright horrified when they realized that Naoya had no freaking clue what they were going on about. Like much of the show, this moment is played up for humor, but also like much of the show, it contains a vital nugget of painful truth—being an otaku is kind of embarrassing. Wotakoi so far has been a celebration of finding friends and lovers who can cry alongside you when you watch cartoons, so it's been easy to forget that these spaces aren't universal and even easy to find. Being a nerd is more in vogue than ever, but being an otaku is still a small subset of that subculture. So there's still a compulsion to not talk openly about the anime you're watching, lest you be judged by other people. It's a compulsion I've cared less about as I've grown older (which you can tell by the display cabinet full of anime figures in the middle of my living room), but I still find myself compelled not to talk about anime when I'm around strangers or acquaintances—even if they're the ones who bring it up in the first place!
To his credit, Naoya takes everything in stride and comes across as an extremely nice young man (brought to life by the talented Yuki Kaji indulging us with his cutest vocal register), especially when compared to our quartet of adult disasters who should really know better. Hanako and Kabakura's misunderstanding about Narumi's relationship with Naoya is the first Wotakoi plotline that feels like it could have come wholesale from any other romantic comedy, so it's also one of Wotakoi's weakest setups. At best, it doesn't do anything new with a tired trope, and at worst, it plays into the blatant misconception that people in relationships can't have friendships outside of it without arousing suspicion. Thankfully, Hirotaka doesn't get caught up in their rumor mill, because Naoya is his little brother! I liked the detail that neither of them were particularly great at keeping in contact with the other, despite the fact that they otherwise had a good relationship. It rang true to my interactions with my own brothers.
The newly-expanded crew heads back to Hirotaka's place for another game night, where a terrible discovery is made. Despite not being an otaku himself, Naoya is still intimately familiar with the concept by virtue of growing up with Hirotaka as an older brother. He doesn't quite follow what the rest of them are talking about, but he still has fun playing some Smash and hanging out with everyone. He's not good at Smash, mind you, and Hirotaka is quick to slide back into “frustrated older brother” mode, even though the punchline is that Hirotaka ends up winning the match on his own after Naoya falls off the stage too many times. He's not the strongest comedic addition, but Naoya brings a necessary down-to-earth quality to the show, and the situational comedy of a non-otaku hanging out with otaku certainly has some legs the show can use in the future. I just hope we learn more about Naoya's own passions as well, because the dude makes a mean frappe.
After trying to stop Narumi's suspected reunion with her suspected ex, Kabakura's fatherly streak continues when he later suspects that Naoya is trying to hit on Narumi. His traditionally masculine impetus to “protect” Narumi would bother me more if Wotakoi weren't so clear about showing us that he's a big idiot. He's a lovable idiot, but these attempts at protecting Narumi's pride all begin as misguided ideas and all end with him getting owned in some fashion. Both he and Hanako can share the blame for the coffee shop mess, but he's all on his own when he thinks Naoya is trying to pull a fast one on Narumi. His intentions are good, but his paternal feelings come across as patronizing, blinding him to the fact that Naoya is just an old friend. The sensible conclusion that Naoya comes to is that Kabakura is with Narumi, because he's acting exactly like a possessive, jealous boyfriend. Kabakura's dumbstruck face would have been reward enough, but Hanako steals the show by stealing an extremely public kiss from her bae. It's both a simple way to show Naoya that he got the wrong idea and a devilish way to completely embarrass Kabakura in front of everyone. Amusingly, at the end of the episode, Kabakura's fatherly impulses shift to Hirotaka, making sure that he maintains a close relationship with his brother. That seems much more his speed.
Hirotaka spends most of the episode trying to get through his day despite being completely exhausted, and I've never related to him more. But this is a good opportunity to talk about his character. He rarely wears his emotions on his sleeve, much less his face. However, he does open up when he's around Narumi. For instance, I like how he's much more playful in his text messages, which are full of slang and emojis—it's a small detail that feels true to life for withdrawn nerds. He's also gotten comfortable talking to Narumi about his flights of youthful fancy and the otaku impetus to prolong one's childhood as much as possible. Hirotaka also has his own inner sadness and loneliness, which Narumi has certainly helped with. But while Naoya cries because he's so glad that Narumi is saving his brother from his loneliness, Wotakoi thankfully doesn't frame Narumi solely as a savior swooping in to fix all of his problems. She's given her own passions, her own strengths and weaknesses, and her own story. The two of them simply seem to have contrasting but complementary personalities, and Wotakoi is smart to show both the flirting and the friction, both the comedy and the romance of their relationship.
Overall, this episode wasn't as funny or as insightful as some of Wotakoi's past offerings. The setup in the first half of the episode was pretty weak, and the comedic timing left several moments hanging flat. Nevertheless, the core of Wotakoi remains affable enough. I can't overstate just how nice it is to have an anime about a bunch of adult dorks having a good a time and being cute together. That said, Naoya is an adorable addition to the cast, and I can only pray that these filthy grown-up otaku don't corrupt him too badly.
Steve is a longtime anime fan who can be found making bad posts about anime on his Twitter.
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