Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
Episode 8

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku ?

Every Thursday afternoon, I look forward to spending a pleasant 20 minutes chuckling along with the colorful escapades of Wotakoi's nerd gang. But this week, things took an alarming turn. Why is my sweet boy Hirotaka SAD?

Wotakoi has certainly had its share of somber moments amidst the otaku shenanigans, but the melancholic atmosphere that hangs over this episode sets it apart from all the others. The typhoon casts a pall not only over the normally bright scenery, but over the moods of our main couple Narumi and Hirotaka. This departure from the show's sunny disposition is eased by the lingering presence of some jokey segments and above-average storyboarding that reflects its more contemplative mood. The character who benefits the most from this detour is Hirotaka, whose thoughts take center stage in both the past and the present.

The high school flashback should hit pretty hard for anybody who was shy, introverted, and moody as a teenager. Hirotaka's reason for piercing his ears was pretty much exactly what I thought—a desperate and jealous reaction to Narumi's boyfriend. The piercing scene itself is a journey through teenage impulsiveness, ennui, and anxiety, and it all rang true to my own experiences in high school. There's the thrill of trying something new and doing something “taboo,” followed by the empty feeling that nothing's really changed, topped off by a mild panic attack as you fear that your boneheaded move has branded you for life. Of course, it isn't permanent and Hirotaka does eventually get the earring out, but he still fixates on a perceived distance between him and Narumi. Despite the fact that the two of them hang out a lot, their interactions tend to lean on the platonic side more than the romantic.

Narumi also ruminates on their frequently nerdy but rarely intimate choice of date activities and consequently becomes slightly flustered. There's absolutely nothing wrong with building a relationship this way, but it's clear that the two of them want more out of their nights together than Monster Hunter co-op. Unfortunately, this is complicated by the fact that the two of them are big awkward nerds who are equally loathe to broach the topic or rock the boat. I totally understand, but I'm a bit less charitable toward Hirotaka in this instance, since his inability to let himself be vulnerable and confide his insecurities to Narumi is exactly the thing he chastised her for a couple episodes ago. The episode ends without either of them having the conversation they need to have, but Hirotaka at least finally takes some initiative and sets up a "real" date for him and Narumi. It's gonna be weird, but it's gonna be good for them too.

Thankfully, the episode isn't all relationship woes, and we learn some important facts along the way. Most importantly, we learn that Hirotaka is afraid of lightning, which is adorable! His friends are nice enough not to rub it in too much, but he's still a grown adult with an extremely moe fear. His justification for his phobia is no laughing matter for anybody who grew up before the age of the autosave, of course. Few things are more despair-inducing than losing hours of progress in a JRPG. Hanako and Kabakura also have their share of scene-stealing moments. Hanako has a history of being a flirty drunk, but Narumi appears to be the primary target of her affections, and Hirotaka seems to be okay with it, so no harm no foul—well, except for her getting on Kabakura's nerves as usual, but she shuts his sourpussing down by proposing a world where she and Kabakura are lovers in a gay relationship. We already have plenty of evidence that Hanako makes for one handsome dude, so I for one welcome this what-if.

More so than most Wotakoi episodes, this feels like a weird interstitial week, setting the table for next time without standing out much on its own. Nonetheless, I appreciated the show's willingness to forgo comedy for a more introspective tone. It easily could have tripped over its own seriousness, but the heightened attention to detail—especially the lighting and framing of key scenes—let me get inside Hirotaka's headspace and understand both his frustrations and his shortcomings. The current drama between him and Narumi is extremely low stakes, but I like these characters a lot and I'm invested in seeing their relationship through its ups and downs. Even in these stormy times, they find ways to cheer each other up with small gestures and silly games, so I'm not worried for them. If anything, I can't wait to see how adorably awkward their normie date is going to be next week. Will they share a passionate kiss under the stars? Will Narumi remember to wear her pink underwear? Will Hirotaka ever learn how to wink? Whatever the outcome, I wish both of these disasters all the luck in the world.

Rating: B

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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