Review: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku — Episode 1: Narumi and Hirotaka, Reunited. And Then…

Review

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku (Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii) is the talk of the spring season in Josei circles. Being mostly unacquainted with the Josei genre myself, I thought I’d use this series as an experiment in getting my feet wet. While the season may not be complete at the time of writing this review (with source material in the form of a web-comic (and eventually manga)), as of now, I’m not enthralled. It was not bad, per se, just sharply average.

Narume Momose is a closet otaku with a heart set on love. Her romantic history has been betrayed by her geekier interests, and so she possesses an adverse opinion of her hobbies and other otaku. Cue fated bae-boy, Hirotaka Nifuji—a veteran employee at Narume’s new workplace and old friend. He’s also an otaku of a different flavor. While Narume is predominantly a fujoshi—a fan of manga and anime with romances specifically between men—Hirotaka is a man of the controller. She swoons over idols and boy-love, he has a strict intimacy with video games. They go out for drinks a few times over the next couple weeks, and in spite of both their reservations towards dating in general, they decide to enter a relationship. Cut to outro and wrap up.

My biggest qualm with this is not the concept. I love the concept, it’s why I decided to review the series this season, but there’s a distinct lack of nuance to the narrative. Hirotaka was at risk of being the spiritual incarnation of cardboard up until the last couple minutes when his personality developed a little beyond being a distant, apathetic rock. I do appreciate the juxtaposition between his philosophy on being an otaku versus Narume, though. Where Narume is intensely self-conscious and low-key about her fanaticism, Hirotaka will boldly play games in the open, flying in the face of public perception.

We are introduced to two other characters in the first episode, including Narume’s supervisor and Hirotaka’s coworker, but not enough happened with either of them outside of some foreshadowing that they might develop their own relationship with each other over time. I suspect they will be fleshed out in the episodes to come, but for now, they were left as accessories to the protagonists.

The opening sequence was pretty solid. It made use of a fun color palette, a decent song, and purposeful, if unremarkable direction. It was cute, and that’s all it needed to be.

Let’s talk art. Narume suffers from a case of “let’s guess the protag,” in that she’s the only interestingly-designed character in nearly every scene. Her color palette, bright and pastel, clashes with everything in spitting distance—the only person of importance in a drab world of muted colors. Even her hair is more saturated than the people around her. By comparison, hot-thumbs Hirotaka suffers a super generic design, despite being supposedly attractive. These issues are not aided by the stiff animation. Characters stand and move too quickly, with not enough in-between frames to emulate anything which could be considered “smooth.” The worst transgression in animation is in a brief flashback, when a character runs forward to catch up with somebody. Their last footfall puts them too far away to be in arms-reach like they obviously intend to be, but to take another would be awkward and push it too far, so instead the animators just sort of shift the last frame over a little so the character gets closer without needing to move. This gives an illusion of the character sliding without making any motion or affecting the world around them at all—something which is comical at best and lazy at worst.

But my greatest issues all crop from the storytelling. Again, it’s not the concept so much as the development of the story on a scene-by-scene basis. Wotakoi uses several of my least favorite storytelling devices, chiefly among them being exposition dumps to introduce characters, their situations, and their entire personalities, as well as utilizing deliberate character stupidity to drive the plot forward. This last one is why I struggled to watch the American rendition of The Office. Just like how most of the situations in that series spawn from glaring, unwavering faults in Michael Scott’s personality, much is the same with Narume in this series. Certain important conversations only occur because Narume will randomly blurt out what she is thinking, in the presence of several other people. This happens at least twice, and drips with poorly-conceived plotting. Time also passes at unpredictable points in the story, which is simply jarring.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Narume briefly appeals to the mercy of God when she is late to work, and refers to a cosplaying idol as “God,” later in the episode.

Violence: No material concerns.

Language/Crude Humor: I watched the sub translation presented by Amazon Video. In this there was one instance of “d*mn.” However, there was another instance of that same word being used in English within the sub. I feel the need to clarify that. The first one could just be a translation choice (“kuso” being a catch-all term for any degree of profanity in that vein of dialogue. It could have just as easily read “dang”), while the latter is very obviously intended to be vulgar.

Sexual Content: Narume throws off her pajamas when she realizes she’s late for work. We don’t see her at all, just her shirt and shorts flying through the air. This is not delivered in a sexually pandering way, but I felt like noting it. Also two comments are made related to the size of a female’s bust.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Hirotaka makes regular smoking breaks at work, so it happens three or four times in this episode, and he and Narume go drinking after work twice.

Other Negative Themes: No material concerns.

Positive Content: The series gives an overall warm impression. Hirotaka’s blatant disregard for public shame at what he loves makes him an admirable character. I suspect both he and Narume could be relatable to much of this series’ intended audience, and it’s going to be interesting to watch their relationship over time, considering it had such a strange beginning.

The Bottom Line

 

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Cooper D Barham

Aspiring author, marriage and family therapist, and active behavioral health technician, Cooper fills his world with God, music, videogames, anime/manga, drawing, reading, writing, and some physical stuff in between. If you ever want to talk about the big or little things of life, fire him a message. Helping others through tough times is both his passion and way of living. 'Got it memorized?'

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