Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku
Episodes 1-2

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku ?

Spring has sprung and love is in the air—nerd love, that is. Allow me to guide you through this thorny world of otaku dating otaku. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll probably quote Evangelion to each other, it's Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku!

As an anime fan long past the tender age of 20 (and rapidly approaching the not-so-tender age of 30), it's difficult to find anime that acknowledge my demographic, let alone shows that directly pander to it. Wotakoi graciously does both. It's a breezy romcom following four office workers in their mid-twenties who all occupy a different niche and degree of otakudom. Our heroine Narumi is a self-professed fujoshi who's even drawn and sold her own doujinshi. Her childhood friend and current boyfriend Hirotaka loves video games and carries his Switch everywhere. Narumi's new coworker Hanako is a respected cosplayer, and her other coworker Taro is more discrete about his nerdy-ness but still educated enough to enjoy Yuruyuri.

Any romcom lives or dies by the strength of its main couple's chemistry, and so far Narumi and Hirotaka have been adorable together. The show smartly uses their interactions together to make their individual personalities stronger. At first glance, Narumi resembles your typical bubbly yet clumsy leading woman, sleeping through her alarms, breaking the company printer, and awkwardly laughing through her numerous mistakes. On the other side, Hirotaka's monotone and expressionless face make for a pretty flat first impression. But on their first night out drinking together, they open up and trade jabs left and right. Narumi's cute exterior hides an acerbic tongue that's harsh on both others and herself, while Hirotaka possesses a dry wit and and a surprisingly sentimental side. What's important is that they're immediately comfortable around each other, and it's nice to see them have a strong rapport before they even start dating.

Outside of a strong romantic foundation, the real selling point of Wotakoi is watching a bunch of nerds stumble and fumble through adult life and love. We're hit by some more generally #relatable millennial woes, like Narumi shutting off her phone alarm in her sleep (I'm an expert at that), or drowning one's sorrows with friends and big mugs of beer, but obviously the meat and potatoes is their otaku-centric antics. Speaking as a 20-something anime geek who does his best to masquerade as a functioning human being, Wotakoi is very on point for me. Narumi spends a good chunk of the first episode stealthily trying to suss out whether Hanako is a fellow otaku or not, which is a delicate song and dance that may ring all too familiar. Likewise, Wotakoi celebrates the importance of having friends you can be yourself around. Narumi hid her fujoshi proclivities from her old job and her old boyfriend, and when they came to light, she lost both of them. While she initially tries to go the stealth nerd route again at this new company, she's surprised to find people who share her passions, and she becomes much happier as a result.

Thankfully, Wotakoi's sense of humor is not entirely entrenched in references to other anime. That's not to say those references aren't there, because like most reference gags, they're a pretty mixed bag. My favorite so far is Hirotaka assuming the Gendo pose in the second episode, which by itself is unremarkable, but it's enhanced by the soundtrack going the extra mile to recreate the opening drum beat from Eva's battle music. The stronger humor roots itself in small character beats with good timing, like Narumi talking about her ex and trailing off as she chugs an entire liter of beer in despair. Narumi's face game is also admirable, with plenty of screen-cappable smirks and grimaces. Hanako and Taro's relationship contrasts nicely with their friends', as their more seasoned otaku relationship should look different from Narumi and Hirotaka's fresh one. Their more advanced relationship also means they're more comfortable being loud and argumentative in public, and I really enjoyed watching them try to embarrass each other from across the office. I haven't found myself guffawing yet, but the anime strikes an admirable balance between cute and cringe comedy.

Visually, Wotakoi's a somewhat threadbare production, but the colors pop and the character designs are solid and distinct. The opening and ending are both cute, and I love the little bit of couples dancing we see in the OP. The personality of the show is strong enough to overpower its animation woes for me, although I have to wonder whether some segments work better in the manga.

So it's time to address the question at hand: is love hard for otaku? Well, yes. Relationships in any form are hard and require constant work in order to be fulfilling, but nerds (generally speaking) come with their own particular set of issues. These don't necessarily make otaku relationships more difficult, but they create their own unique challenges, and Wotakoi's already been keen at addressing them. At first, Narumi doesn't want to date an otaku, which comes across as hilariously hypocritical, but it makes total sense because nerds do have a history of being bad at dating! Case in point, when Hirotaka finally confesses to her, he does so in the least romantic way possible. It sounds like a business proposal! But it's also sweet and heartfelt, so it's no wonder that Narumi accepts (with a thumbs up instead of a kiss, naturally). Likewise, when they start dating, they both feel so awkward that they ignore each other more than when they were just friends. I've been there! Relationships are beautiful, but they're also tricky, and Wotakoi really feels like it's written from a place of experience with both the wonders and the warts of nerd love.

Wotakoi is an easy recommendation from me if you're in the mood for a light romcom about working adults. Speaking personally, I've been itching for something like this since Recovery of an MMO Junkie ended. That was one of my favorite shows from last year, but I'm glad Wotakoi is taking a different direction, getting the confession out of the way in episode one and letting us have the rest of the show to watch Narumi and Hirotaka grow together. Episode two wasn't quite as compelling or amusing as the first one, but the banter is still fun and the couples are still cute, so I'm perfectly fine chilling with these dorks for the rest of the season. I just hope they can come up with some date ideas that aren't sitting at a bar and grinding out rare drops in Monster Hunter, fun as that may be now and again.

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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