Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #254: No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 4 by Nico Tanigawa

You don't always want what's good for you. You don't always want what you can get. You don't always want a thing you can even explain. But that doesn't mean you don't want it.

Tomoko Kuroki wants to be popular; she wants her life to be like the otome games she's obsessed with, a place with rules you can work and exercises you can grind to build up your stats, answer the questions correctly, and win everything. And even if she knows, somewhere in her head, that those games are not a good model of life, and that the kind of "popular" she wants to be both doesn't really exist and isn't likely for someone with her personality, that doesn't stop her wanting it.

Tomoko is the star and narrator of the manga series No Matter How I Look At It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular! -- usually shortened to WataMote, from the transliterated Japanese title -- a highschool student whose entire view of life has been formed by the media she loves, and who has two unfortunate flaws: she doesn't quite understand how those media don't really reflect the real world, and she's so physically introverted that she can only barely speak to non-family members.

This is a comedy, of course: if it were played seriously, it would be wrist-slashing material. I covered the first two volumes as Day 56, and then came back for the third as Day 89. And now we have No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, Vol. 4. (This is probably the last one I'll cover here; there's less and less to say about an episodic series like this, unless and until something major changes.)

This volume has nine regular stories -- they're all called "Fail" here, in the way that some manga have chapters called "Episode" or "Case" or "Event" or suchlike -- plus a sequence of single-page stories in the middle. All are set in the back half of the second term of Tomoko's first year of highschool -- I don't think the Japanese use the term "freshman" for that year -- and mostly over the holidays, between the end of that term and the beginning of her second year. This time out, Tomoko is mostly alone or with her family -- well, she's so introverted that she's essentially always alone, no matter who is around her -- in a series of short, discrete stories that have an undertone of regret; this is the end of a year, so Tomoko is looking backwards and seeing that she didn't become popular this year.

Tomoko also looks forward: towards the end of this book, she's looking at her classes for the coming year, and her younger brother is preparing for his own highschool entrance exams. But none of that actually matures her: she's still the same awkward, geeky girl living deeply in her own head that she was on the first page. But that character is still fascinating and full of depth: she's an exemplar of a type while still being very individual, her awkwardnesses are endearing, even sweet. I still want her to change and grow, but seeing that would be bittersweet, since she's so vivid a character as she is -- it would almost be a shame to lose the bizarre teen Tomoko.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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