I didn’t want it to be like this. To understand why I was let down by what the ending did wrong, I have to first explain what I think the rest of the series did right leading up to that.
For the uninitiated, Watamote is about Tomoko, a teenage girl with severe social anxiety. She’s a hardcore otaku and, despite not being popular in middle school, expects to become stupidly popular once she reaches high school because that’s what all her media tells her should happen. Obviously she doesn’t become popular because she never talks to anyone, but she can’t understand why she doesn’t instantly become popular and starts blaming those around her. The absurdly long real title is “No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular”, pretty obviously reminiscent of the kind of light novel titles that informs her world view. This is one of the very few shows where heavy referencing other anime feels relevant. Her world view comes through the media, so of course she views the world through that lens.
Tomoko’s main problem is she blames others for her problem, convinces herself that she isn’t lonely and concocts quick schemes that will ensure the universe rights itself. The show really needed to move Tomoko’s character forward in some regard though otherwise it would be get dull. The turning point came in the episode where she visits the red light district. After convincing herself that the reason nobody will talk to her is because she’s just so far above everyone else with her pornographic fantasies, she decides to abandon her family and school and embrace her destiny to become a host girl. After going through rigorous training (offering a lighter to a random man reaching for a cigarette on a park bench) she goes to the red light district and suddenly feels very scared and alone. After panicking and realising her own immaturity, she gets a reassuring call from home asking to pick up some milk and wishing her a safe trip back.
Family becomes a much stronger theme the more the show progresses. Tomoko starts to realise the value of her family simply being there for her, and the simplest of interactions with them make her realise she just wants someone to experience her life with her. One of my favourite lines of the show was when Tomoko asks her brother, for whom they had a pretty antagonistic relationship beforehand, to watch her set off fireworks so she doesn’t feel like she’s doing it alone. She stops blaming others and it becomes more about how she cannot work up the courage to do anything to help her position. Watamote was always depressing in its own way, but the tone got way more downbeat when it became less delusional and more crying herself to sleep at night. The perfect scene that captures this later tone is her trying to get her out-of-town friend she sees very rarely to hug her again so she can be temporarily relieved of her loneliness.
This was a Good Direction for the show to go. Tomoko can’t develop while using delusional tactics. She was never going to become Miss Popular Social Queen by the end, and if you expected or wanted that then you had gotten the completely wrong end of what the show was trying to do. It was about how these get-popular-quick schemes drawn from the media she consumed would never work. Towards the end she’s still lying and being delusional, but every now and then is trying some more basic things. OK it’s as basic as offering to cut up some flyers for the culture festival, but baby steps people. This also couldn’t make her suddenly popular either, because that’s just the same get-popular-quick fallacy in a different hat, so she still hits brick walls that shatter her confidence.
Positive things do happen eventually. I wouldn’t say she gets a new ‘friend’ since that would be extending the term ‘friend’ far beyond its boundaries. At most she gets ‘sempai to notice me’, but that’s still something. It’s recognition of her work to try make a friend. The ending of episode 11 is brilliantly heart warming and wouldn’t have worked anywhere near as well without the previous 10 episodes of delusions, misery and failures. In many ways I feel that should have been the final episode. It didn’t cover all bases though. It was a once-off event that didn’t offer any light for the future. The final episode could fix that, and very nearly did. Obvious spoilers from here on:
Tomoko goes up to her new idol sempai to say something. Anything, even a series of squawks and mumbles, it sort of doesn’t matter. They weren’t going to become best pals or anything, but something that offered light for the future. In my head I had imagined Tomoko wanting to ask her how she becomes popular, but as per the development over the course of the show she instead blurts out a question on how to make friends. Then she can run off in a wild panic, leaving us with some final scene of the sempai getting a form for Tomoko to join the student council. A final scene that said Tomoko has learned and something might be looking up for her in the future.
But no, instead she says nothing and runs away, leaving us with a final scene of her going “eh, it’s not like it matters anyway”. If you’ve been following my train of thought with this post, that retreat and single line kinda undoes her development. She’s back to believing it’s no longer her issue and running away from the problem. This is all done in aid of restoring the status quo for the ending, which pisses me off. She’s still clearly Tomoko. She’s still a stuttering, unattractive mess. You don’t need a hard reset to assure people it’s the same show. The development is subtle, but important. It gave the story a narrative arc. But instead nope, back to square one because the manga is still ongoing and we can’t go providing a narrative arc to a season for an ongoing property, can we? Oh never mind that other anime like Spice and Wolf, Genshiken, Berserk, Arakawa Under the Bridge, Silver Spoon etc. managed to do just that.
At most, what you could say the ending provided is someone recognising her effort. Someone acknowledged that Tomoko is working hard to improve her life, even though this was done already by episode 11. And hey, maybe they plan to make a second season. Unlikely, given Japan doesn’t give a shit about the show and foreigners don’t pay for anything, but it would at least give them more leeway to pick up the work from last season and develop it fully. Not that it would forgive the ending reversing the work the rest of the series did, but it gives them room to fix the problem. Ultimately I still do love the show to bits. I recognise that not many other people do, but being able to tell this depressing story through comedic means is a massive achievement and it’s what I think more comedy should strive to do. But it was set to be possibly my favourite anime of all time. It was so close too.