Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #56: No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vols. 1 & 2 by Nico Tanigawa

The geeks of the world we will always have with us. They might not always be precisely what we expect -- the rotund T-shirted basement-dweller of Eltingville fame turns out to be more American than universal -- but there are always ways to tell the true geeks. They're fanatical about some piece of popular culture, for example: comics or movies or games or even a sport. Their social skills are notably lacking, which fact they may realize or not. And the true geek is usually young: whether that's because geeks generally grow up into more rounded people or because stories about middle-aged geeks are wrist-slicingly depressing I'll leave as an open question. But those are the hallmarks of the geek in media: young, obsessed, obtuse.

Tomoko Kuroki is a world-class geek, and she's only just starting high school. She's been obsessed with otome games -- dating simulations, some friskier than others, portraying teen girls and the boys they chase and win -- throughout her middle-school years, and she's sure that experience will set her up for massive popularity. On the other hand, we readers can tell that she's barely able to speak to any non-family members, let alone the cute boys she hopes will fall over her. So we can tell from the first page that she's setting herself up for failure -- but the true geek usually is about as good as understanding herself as she is at understanding the society around her, so Tomoko is predictably blind to her own faults. Interestingly, she's also as obsessed with sex -- as as confused and misled about what actual sex and relationships are like -- as her stereotyped male Western counterpart, though the details are different. But Tomoko's mind is always turning things around her into dirty jokes and sexual references, of the kind that can never be shared with others.

There have been two volumes of Tomoko's adventures so far: each volume of No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! has nine or ten stories, each one titled "I'm Not Popular, So I'll {Foo}" -- with each Foo being the thing Tomoko is trying to do in that story to be normal, attract friends, become popular, and be a brilliant success. They all fail, of course: Tomoko may one day find a place in the world where she fits, someone who she loves and loves her back, and true friends, but her lack of all of those things is what drives No Matter How I Look at It, and so she'll stay that way for the run of the series.

If you're young and geeky, or particularly empathetic, Tomoko's story may be painful to read: she really is clueless about how to get what she wants, and she's not going to get any better at the rate she's going. But her stories are amusing and cutting, particularly for an American audience used to a very different kind of geekery, and that's enough to make these two volumes compelling reading. (It might not be enough to keep the series going indefinitely; Tomoko is a one-trick pony. But we'll have to see how that goes.)

One sidebar note: the series title seems to be Tomoko talking to someone -- a person or persons who keeps her from being popular. There's no character in the series that she could be speaking to, though, so I have to take the title as poetic license: not only is Tomoko herself obviously the reason she isn't popular, even she knows that, and the series is about her trying to overcome her own issues, or sidestep them in her quirky ways.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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