Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Blame the Game

“You cannot lose if you do not play.”—Marla Daniels, The Wire

“I’m not fucking crazy … I’m just goal-oriented.”—Annie Landsberg, Maniac

Our protagonist Tomozaki Fumiya (handle nanashi) is teen with a dearth of social skills and friends and seeks solace and contentment in the world of gaming. In the first of a veritable festival of metaphors this show dishes out, he’s a god-tier player of the popular fighting game Tackfam, but a bottom-tier player in the Game of Life. As such, even though he splashes the popular Nakamura Shuuji in Tackfam, it’s Shuuji who leaves school flanked by two pretty girls.

This leads Fumiya—who is not a refugee from a war-torn nation—to declare “The game of life is garbage”, followed immediately by an establishing shot of his family’s above average-sized detached home in a quiet neighborhood, thence to his spacious bedroom with hardwood floors, a Mr. Slim, and his own entertainment center.

I actually laughed out loud at this juxtaposition, even if it wasn’t quite the show’s intention. Then I couldn’t help but think: This guy is a whiny loser and I don’t like him. But hey, that’s the point: I’m not supposed to! In stories like this, something or someone becomes a catalyst for positive change.

In this case, it’s a someone—a fellow gamer (handle NO NAME) who is second only to Fumiya in the Tackfam national rankings. Fumiya respects NO NAME a great deal, and when he plays him he can tell how much effort and dedication he puts into training. When NO NAME suggests they meet up IRL, Fumiya doesn’t hesitate.

Little does Fumiya know that not only is NO NAME not a guy, but she’s someone he already interacted with at school prior to their meet-up, as she extended him some obligatory class-rep friendliness upon learning he and Shuuji played. NO NAME is Hinami Aoi, the “it” girl at his school: top grades, top athletes, loved by all. He considers Aoi a god-tier player of the game of life, like Shuuji.

Thankfully, Aoi’s reaction to Fumiya being nanashi is spot-on: “This sucks,” she declares, quickly losing her interest in further interaction. Her reason is plain: just as Fumiya is in awe of her as a player of life, she was in awe of nanashi as a player of Tackfam. To learn the real nanashi is a “rock-bottom loser” who has “given up on life” is deflating, and in turn reflects poorly on her, since she pegged nanashi to be a better person IRL.

Voiced by the wonderful Kanemoto Hisako, in with a feminine strictness that had me wondering if Aoi was really Nakiri Erina with dyed hair and contacts, Aoi brings legitimacy to “polite rudeness”—a term I may have just made up—in her takedown of Fumiya. She also has just the right response when Fumiya protests that the game of life is unbalanced, and her “high initial stats” imbue her and those like her with baseless confidence.

What’s so satisfying about her response, and can be tied to the tightness and cleverness of the dialogue throughout the episode, is that she repeats to Fumiya the very same words Fumiya said to Shuuji when he called Tackfam trash: There’s nothing more shameful than blaming the game, especially when you’d barely played. Fumiya goes on to argue that you can’t change characters IRL…and that’s when Aoi takes his hand, and before he knows it, he’s sitting in her bedroom.

It’s at this point in the ep when I began to develop a measure of concern about the emergence of a somewhat unpleasant subtext: Aoi seemed to be going extremely out of her way to be this dude’s archetypal “guardian angel”. After all, what does she get out of helping him? You can say she’s simply being every bit the “good person” and “perfect heroine” Fumiya saw her as to this point: helping those in need help themselves.

But there’s more to it than that, which justifies the extent of her effort vis-a-vis Fumiya, which we learn when she invites him to her room…her very similarly-sized and appointed room:

They’re practically mirror images of each other! Whether this was intentional or the creator/producers simply drew up some normal high school kid rooms, I appreciated the symbolism. There’s common ground between Aoi and Fumiya: their passion for the games at which they excel. Aoi happens to be good at both Tackfam and life, but she shows Fumiya the latter success isn’t due to high base stats.

She does this simply by being who she is—someone Fumiya didn’t know—by appearing before him in cozier clothes and without makeup. She assures him he can attain normie-level looks just fine by practicing better expressions and proper posture. When Aoi watched Fumiya play as nanashi, she saw the same serious effort she applied IRL—in fact, she thought him more capable of effort than she!

So yeah, from where Aoi stands and how hard she’s worked, Fumiya doesn’t get to say the game of life is unbalanced garbage. He just needs to start applying the same effort of which he’s already proven more than capable in Tackfam. She’ll prove he can—and validate her ideals—by helping him out. Fumiya is initially dubious because he assumes Aoi ranks life higher than Tackfam, but when she reveals her belief that life is tied for first with Tackfam, he’s moved.

He’s moved because while he’s always gotten online recognition for his online efforts, those same efforts have netted him precisely zero friends and recognition…until he met NO NAME/Aoi, who bridged the divide between games. In Aoi he finally has someone IRL who recognizes and moreover values his efforts.

As flawed as Fumiya is, he still recognizes his own hypocrisy and has a sense of honor, and is thus motivated to put more effort into “playing” life as Aoi suggests, so he can find out for himself if the game is actually good. This, along with Aoi using the Fumiya Reclamation Project as a means of continuing to grow herself, goes a long way towards making their budding relationship both balanced and compelling.

As for what form Fumiya’s training will take, well here’s where we must suspend disbelief in Aoi having a half-hour to spare in her clearly packed academic, athletic, and social schedule. They meet at the school’s deserted sewing room (where I thought for a moment she’d teach him how to make better clothes, LOL) and Aoi lays out an aggressive plan composed of large, medium, and small goals. The primary goal is “to be as satisfied with offline life” as she is.

Fumiya can see by the structure of the plan that it’s not all that different from how he trains for Tackfam, a realization Aoi was both counting on and appreciates as it will save some explanation time. She’s already given him a facemask behind which he must constantly smile behind in order to improve his expression (this leads to an awkward scene with his imouto, who asks him not to be more creepy than he already is).

But like Nakiri Erina, Aoi has no intention of going easy on Fumiya offline, considering she knows the effort he’s capable of online. He must acquire a girlfriend before starting his third year. Before that, he must get a third party to notice his appearance/vibe has improved, which has already started with the smiling training, but also means he must actually talk to at least three girls at school.

That’s no mean feat for a bottom-tier character in a game he’s barely played to this point, but part of improving one’s character involves occasional stumbling and getting ones ass kicked (figuratively, of course). I notice there are four girls in the middle ground of the promo art, so I imagine Fumiya will start with one of them. So begins a long, fraught, but hopefully rewarding journey towards not thinking life is a garbage game. And as you can tell by how many damn words I’ve written about it, I’m game!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 05 – He’s with Me, and She’s with Him

Hirotaka and Narumi are not kids anymore, and the former is far removed from his “bad boy” days when he thought getting an earring and acting like an adult would help him become one quicker. In hindsight, he wondered what his past self’s big rush was; he’d much rather stay a kid. Being surrounded by games and toys from childhood certainly helps.

That philosophy works against Hirotaka the adult when he stays up playing games all night on a weekday, making him a virtual corpse at the office. It’s a downside, but at the end of the day a small price to pay for You Doing You.

Still, an unconscious Hirotaka is hardly interesting, so Narumi heads to the Starbucks for a grotesquely elaborate frappé she orders entirely in English, and the barista is a super cute! Not only that, they soon realize they actually know each other.

Kabakura and Koyanagi are also there. Kabakura, who’s always carried a torch for Narumi, is stunned by Koyanagi’s assertion that the blond kid is likely an exe. But while Koyanagi tries to take the high road and stay out of it, her and Kabakura start feeding off each other with increasingly hypothetical theories.

Then Koyanagi texts Hirotaka to come, and she and Kabakura learn the truth is somewhat more mundane: the blond kid, Naoya, is Hirotaka’s 19-year-old little brother.

Naoya asks to stay at Hirotaka’s (it’s closer to his college), and Narumi extends the invitation to the whole gang. Soon, the core quartet has dropped its guard and starts talking about obscure things Naoya doesn’t quite understand because he’s a normie.

That normie-ness is borne out by an evening of complete gaming ineptitude (while Hirotaka, ever the big brother, simply plays as though Nao isn’t his partner and wins anyway, before passing out again).

When the time comes for everyone to head home, Nao offers to walk Narumi to the station, and Kabakura springs to attention, warning him she already has a girlfriend. Even I slightly suspected that Nao was using a pure-and-innocent act as a front for his playboy-ness, especially when he acted dumb about what he was doing.

However, after Koyanagi leans in to kiss Kabakura and explains the relationships in the room, Nao demonstrates he really is that pure and innocent. He breaks into tears not because he’s lost Narumi to his brother, but because he’s so happy his brother has somebody, and always hoped that somebody would be Narumi.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 03 – An Honest Girl Magnet

“Something about changing and getting so happy is scary,” Hikari tells Itou. So much so it makes him overly self-conscious and embarrassed about how intensely his heart beats whenever Iroha is near. Unfortunately Hikari still has much to learn about communicating his feelings good or bad, so he ends up ignoring Iroha and even pushing her hand away.

The only answers he can give her are “sorry” and “it’s nothing”, as if she wouldn’t understand. He’s still too stuck inside himself to trust someone else, especially with emotions he’s never had and can’t begin to explain. So it causes a rift.

Almost simultaneously, a girl slips on a banana peel and Hikari helps her up. It’s his classmate Ishino Arisa, whose first instinct upon realizing who helped her is to call him “gross” like all the others do. But later, she doesn’t run away or dismiss him when he tries to seek advice from someone who doesn’t make his heart pound.

Because Ishino also likes someone, their common ground on which to lay the foundation for a conversation. Part of her is worried this gloomy dude will commit suicide if she leaves him alone, but part is just as receptive to talking about the strange feelings people get for one another, and because neither of them share those feelings for each other, there’s no pressure.

Ishino decides a good step to take is for Hikari to lose the bangs as part of a larger effort to look more presentable (and less gloomy), but she can’t take a single snip of hair (with craft scissors) when Iroha arrives and declares that Hikari “belongs to her.”

Hikari thought she hated him for how he snubbed her, but her rudeness with Ishino is ample proof that’s not the case. Nor does Hikari hate her; they’re merely misunderstanding each others’ discomfort with the new and complicated emotions they’re feeling, as just about anything new makes people uncomfortable.

Speaking of comfort, on both the advice of his mom and the fact Iroha likes the same show, Hikari gets into baking as a means of both expressing his affection for Iroha and releasing pent-up stress (with which, as we all know, eating sweets can help).

Iroha is contrite towards Ishino and before long, Hikari is one of a circle of four. Iroha may claim to “not need” friends, but what else do you call four kids at school sharing each others company (and cookies) and talking to one another about themselves?

When asked, Ishino mentions things are going okay with her boy Shun, but the others soon learn he finds Ishino “convenient” in the way she lends him money and doesn’t mind the sight of other girls’ clothes in his room. He’s a cad, but Iroha doesn’t feel its quite their place to intervene, and Hikari and Itou aren’t about to disagree.

However, Iroha breaks her own rules and pummels Shun with her bookbag, not necessarily to defend a friend (she’d still say Ishino wasn’t one), but because he was pissing her off by calling Ishino stupid within earshot of Ishino. Ultimately Ishino decides to break up with Shun, but her stoic face is quickly soaked in tears; she’s not happy about it, even though she thinks it was the right thing to do.

To help dry his new friend’s tears and reduce her stress levels, Hikari suggests they head to the roof and eat the cheesecake and donuts he made. When Iroha gets some chocolate on her face he wipes it off with his hand, and Ishino declares that while she wan’t jealous of them before, she is now.

Hikari marvels at how there are only honest girls around him, but he doesn’t know how lucky he is. It’s up to him to be just as honest with them, as well as Itou. I’m not saying fake or deceptive people are lame, but I don’t think Hikari is compatible with them at all. He’s someone who needs things said to him straight, and hopefully he’ll pick up the habit.

And so, up there on the roof, trying not to worry too much about what the future might bring, Hikari is simply happy he can be a “normie”, and interact with these very exotic creatures called 3D human friends. It might feel weird, but he’ll surely get used to it.

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 02

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This second episode of NetoYome didn’t cover quite as much ground as the first, and seemed to lag at times, but didn’t do any harm to my impression that this is one of the better school comedies airing this Spring. There’s an inscrutable exhilaration from watching Nishimura suddenly find himself among the real-world equivalents of his game comrades.

They seem just as exhilarated…even Segawa. As for Ako, she barely acts any differently in real life, professing her steadfast love for Rusian, and being elated to hear he chose her irregardless of what age or gender she was in the real world.

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It’s interesting, then, that throughout the scenes in which Nishimura is gaming, his mind’s eye no longer sees Apricot and Schwein as exclusively men, which he assumed they were. That makes Apricot’s garb suddenly extremely racy, but he can’t help it. He’s met the real Apricot, Schwein, and Ako, and there’s no going back.

What’s interesting is that both Nishimura and Segawa are determined to go back to their normal high school lives after the real-world meetup, and they have no reason to suspect they couldn’t. Segawa doesn’t help matters by greeting Nishimura, something I doubt she did before they met.

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But the most doom befalls the two when Ako enters the classroom, refers to them by their game names and calls Rusian her husband in front of the entire class. The class is more bemused than anything else, but Segawa in particular finds this whole situation a serious breach of what she considers a sacrosanct barrier between the game and reality.

But here’s the thing: Ako knows of no such barrier, which is why she floats right over it. Rusian is Rusian, even when Rusian is named Nishimura Hideki. Same with Schew-chan. This ‘condition’ of not being able to discern between their real and in-game personalities troubles both Segawa and Nishimura…but I wasn’t as quick to condemn her.

Initially, I thought, people fall in love sight unseen all the time, and I was backed up by Ako asserting that her and Nishimura’s hearts connected through their in-game chatting. The difference is, Nishimura and Segawa were attempting to affect personas distinct from who they really are, while Ako was doing everything she could to be herself.

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Ako is firm in her belief that that doesn’t matter. I think the answer is in the middle, and Ako’s very different mindset from Segawa and Nishimura makes for an enticing character dynamic going forward, not just as a matter of debating these matters, but the fact Nishimura is closer to Segawa on this issue, despite Ako being his waifu.

One thing I’ll say is that while Ako is usually all over Nishimura, neither Segawa or the Prez seem intent on rocking that boat, at least not for the moment. As to Goshouin, she sets up a club where their game and real selves will be in the same place at the same time, which, if Real Nishimura’s as good a person as Ako already believes, is a gesture not so much tailored to ‘curing’ her of her inability to separate games from reality, as much as it could only confirm to Ako that she’s right.

No matter wha airs the others put on in the game, they remain essentially who they are, and those are the people Ako wants to be friends with in both worlds.

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Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 01 (First Impressions)

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It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve watched a long-titled school quartet rom-com—KonoSuba doesn’t count b/c it took place entirely in a fantasy world (and didn’t have any rom; just com).

NetoYome, which I’m shortening this to for now, has a distinct game world and real world, and the group of four close friends and colleagues in the online RPG Legendary Age are actually quite distant in the real world…at least at first.

That distance is there despite all four members of the Alley Cat Guild going to the same school. It’s that intrigue; that sense of dual personalities, one of which is concealed by the anonymity of the net, that provides appeal initially.

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Of course, we realize before Nishimura Hideki who his fellow guild members are in real life. The shy girl who doesn’t show her face is clearly Tamaki Ako; enough seems a bit off about Student Council President Goshouin Kyou to suspect her, and Segawa, turning her nose up at Hideki’s public otakuism, is clearly being a hypocrite.

The last hint needed is that Hideki once confessed to a cute catgirl who turned out to be a guy in real life, making him swear off falling for girls in the game until he got over it and realized it doesn’t really matter what gender people are in the real world, becaue LA isn’t real. As long as their in-game alias is cute, he’s fine with it.

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Of course, things change when the guildmaster Apricot announces an offline get-together, and the four classmates come face-to-face with each other and learn that rather than three guys and a girl, their party is actually three girls and a guy.

Despite all the telegraphing it’s a legitimately exciting moment, whether it’s Ako suddenly realizing it’s okay to act towards Hideki the way she does in-game, to Kyou being able to discern who is who, to Segawa’s hypocrisy being exposed, and having no defense.

She is who she is; it doesn’t change the fact she still thinks Hideki is gross!

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In fact, all four members are who they are; and that’s why they’re so likable; they’re genuine. When it comes down to it, even the tsundere Segawa doesn’t deny her nature. She won’t date anyone in the real world despite getting offers because it would take away from what she truly enjoys: playing LA with the others.

I was also touched when Ako voiced her relief and joy that she can consider her comrades real friends she can talk to, as to this point she’s had no friends (neither has Kyou). Or Hideki telling Segawa he much prefers who she is to her school persona. Or Hideki hardly being able to believe his luck that this time the cute waifu he chose in-game is actually a cute real girl offline.

It started a little slow (the RPG action early on was pretty lame), but NetoYome gradually grew on me. It’s cute, it’s earnest, and it’s got lots of heart and rom-com potential.

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