Monday, March 31, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #89: No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 3 by Nico Tanigawa

We're back with one of Japan's greatest otaku, the lonely and deluded teen Tomoko Kuroki, as she continues into the back half of her first year of high school in Nico Tanigawa's No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 3. (I reviewed the first two volumes of this series as Day 56; see that link for more details of her particular affliction -- though, for the purposes of today's review, all you need to know is that she's shy and obsessive and entirely ignored at school.)

Tomoko still assumes that her life will be like the stories she reads or games, and that would cause more problems if she weren't so hermetic and alone; her weird assumptions mostly stay in her own head and color how she sees the world. But, despite the title, Tomoko has mostly stopped trying to be popular in this volume -- she's even unhappy when her seat is moved away from "the back row next to the window...that's where the protagonist always sits in anime or light novels" and she's stuck into the middle of the classmates she was so desperate to make friends with a few months before.

The first three stories here all center around her schools Culture Fest -- the preparation and the event itself, when Tomoko has to dress up for her class's maid cafe. (Another one of those small signifiers of how different Japanese culture is to the American equivalent -- here, it would be too sexualizing to have teen girls dressed up as maids to serve adult customers, though those same schools wouldn't mind at all if their teen girls wore tight short outfits for a carwash.) The Culture Fest also sees one of Tomoko's few moments of real happiness, when her middle-school friend Yuu comes to visit and the two girls spend a few hours together. But, like most events in Tomoko's life, what it mostly is is a sequence of events where she's uncomfortable and out of place and either complete silent or acting inappropriately.

After the culture fest, Tanigawa -- who is actually two people, a writer and an artist, and my suspicion is that both are female -- returns to the episodic stories of the first two volumes, with Tomoko over and over again misreading situations and following her unique set of expectations into weirder territory. She gets through a day of lousy weather, and tries to catch her brother's cold to miss some days of school. She tries to start a very anime-like school club, which goes nowhere. She tries to make some cute pictures in a photo booth, with the expected un-cute results. And she gets grumpy when she hears her classmates complaining about being groped on the train, since that's never happened to her -- is she too ugly to get assaulted?

And that last story points to one of the most interesting and characteristic things about her: Tomoko is a hormone-raddled teenager in a way that teens often aren't allowed to be in media. She's obsessed with "s*x" and men, without actually liking to be near people, or having any idea what she'd do if she had a boyfriend (or was groped on the subway, or anything else). She's so young and such a ball of raw nerves: created by the media she loves and not yet clearly understanding the ways those media are not like her actual life. No Matter What is showing hints that she will grow and learn -- and she did have that moment of happiness with Yuu here -- so I hope that, by the end, this can be the story of how one geek became a woman...and, even more so, that she can become the kind of woman who still loves her geeky things and yet lives in the real world and maybe even has some real friends.

At this rate, Tomoko has at least another volume to get through her first year of highschool, and then say eight more for the following two years. That might just be enough, even at this rate: good luck to her, and to all of the socially awkward geeks, all over the world.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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