Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 12 (Fin) – Her Skills, His Goals

After the big blow-up with Hinami, Tomozaki backslides hard into old habits and then some, as he’s even playing Tackfam with a bored look on his face that “really isn’t him.” He also failed to notice that he’d left poor Fuuka hanging by not looking at his phone for two days.

When he immediately texts back that he’ll go with her to pick up Andi’s new book, his sister acknowledges he “must be going through some stuff”, and to hang in there. While it’s a shame she never got a name, his sister (ably voiced by Hidaka Rina) struck a fine balance between typical imouto brattiness and sincere concern and quiet support for her big bro.

For his bookstore date with Fuuka, as with the fireworks date before, Tomozaki is determined to be his “real, unvarnished self”, ditching the task-and-goal based game mechanics Hinami had thrust upon him, which did nothing for Fuuka. Still, as he looks at his re-disheveled appearance in the mirror of the cafe restroom, he can’t deny that meeting Hinami’s goals made him happy too.

In keeping with his desire to remain real and unvarnished with her always, Tomozaki tells Fuuka how he’s still a little mixed up. He reveals how he had a coach teach him how to play the game of life, but how speaking to her with canned topics felt like wearing a mask or cheating, and asks if he should continue improving his skills.

Fuuka explains that when it’s easy to talk to him, she can picture the things he says clearly, directly, and honestly in her head, like she’s reading a novel. When it’s harder to talk to him (or most other people), the images lose focus. It’s no secret that she treasures books immensely, so for him to be able to have that same ability to project imagery into her head is surely a big part of his appeal!

But it’s more than that: when they first started talking, the images were in black-and-white; a “sad and lonely world”, but which made her think they saw the world the same way. She loves novels because the images they send have always looked more beautiful and colorful than the real world as she sees it. But more lately, the images Tomozaki has sent have been full of color too.

Fuuka is glad he’s working hard to change himself, and believes that if there’s someone in his world—a “magician” that gave it those colors—than he should “treasure” that person. After all, those colors have begun to convince her that she too can still change how she sees the world.

Fuuka’s sincere and heartfelt words inspire Tomozaki to make up with the “magician” who gave his world and words color, while not conceding to her own black-and-white view of it. Just getting her to agree to talk again is a little mini-battle in and of itself, but Tomozaki is victorious and gains an audience with her, partly because he’s persistent, and partly because part of her probably wants to make up too.

After meeting, he takes her to the very storefront from where she first revealed to him that she was NO NAME and they began their elaborate master-and-apprentice dance. There, he tells her why he loves Tackfam: the way he could put aside his own weakness, pitifulness, and self-hatred and pour his soul into the game, giving it color.

Hinami helped show him ways to control the game of life so it began to shine with color too. He wants to be a controller in that game, not just the controlled. Hinami shuts him down, dismissing his “this is what I really want” talk as being “drunk on idealism” and “wallowing in sentimentality.” But…but…if he’s saying his “true desires” actually exist beyond those hollow constructs, she’ll need him to provide proof.

In a lovely inversion of their early discussion in which she explained to him the value of the game of life, Tomozaki tells her the proof consists of “many simple rules in combination, intersecting in complex ways that make them harder to grasp”. She won’t find her true desires simply by asking for proof they even exist, but by struggling to discover how she feels and making steady, honest progress.

As someone who believes true desires don’t exist, Tomozaki says she’s only been going through the motions from a player’s POV; without experiencing true, genuine fun. She may be better at playing the game of life, but he’s certain he’s got her beat when it comes to enjoying it. So just as she resolved to help him learn how to play it, he’s going to show her how to enjoy it more than she does now—and in doing so, find what it is she really wants.

Hinami won’t go on this journey with him until he’s given her something to make her rethink her belief that true desires don’t exist, and he has one: She still hasn’t managed to beat him at Tackfam…not once. That’s not due to lack of effort. It’s because his true desires have always fueled his gaming. He knows what he really wants, and she doesn’t.

In the world of Tackfam where they’re both hardcore gamers, he’s Japan’s Top Player nanashi and she’s NO NAME and winless against him. She can’t complain about his “false logic” until she can beat him first, and Tomozaki is confident that if and when she does beat him, she’ll already understand what he’s on about.

Hinami admits she’s impressed by his thoughtful argument, couched though it may be in irrationality. As such, she decides to meet him halfway: not accepting that “true desires or whatever” exist, but can’t say they definitively don’t exist either. If he wants to convince her to come down from that fence, he’s welcome to try. In the meantime, Tomozaki wishes to continue trying to conquer the game of life with her guidance.

She can keep setting goals and he’ll keep working towards them, but from now on he’ll choose which ones conflict with what he really wants. He can’t deny her skills have worked; not when they brought color his life, and by extension, Fuuka’s. But he’ll adopt a hybrid playing style going forward: balancing her goals with his desires. While celebrating their making up by ordering the same salted mackerel dinner, Hinami assigns Tomozaki his next goal: acquiring a part-time job.

Hinami ends up setting him up with a job at the same karaoke parlor where Mizusawa works, where she knows he’ll have an ally to help ease him into the sub-game of Employment. Tomozaki continues to hang out with his new circle of normies, helping (or rather not helping) Yuzu pick out an outfit for her new first date with Nakamura. He gives her sister a strap Mimimi likes, which of course his sister loves because Mimimi does. He and Mizusawa serve their friends while they’re at the parlor singing the show’s theme song.

He also keeps dating Fuuka, who is working on a new novel and excited for Tomozaki to read it and even more excited to hear his thoughts about it, since they’ll surely shine with dazzling color. And he keeps having his debriefing sessions with Hinami, only now thanks to his job it makes sense how he can afford to eat out so much!

The episode, and the series, ends with nanashi beating NO NAME yet again, Hinami stewing with frustration and immediately demanding another match, and Tomozaki gladly agreeing. This, to me, is the perfect set-up for a second season in which Tomozaki and Hinami will be both student and teacher to each other.

While a 2-episode OVA will ship with the Blu-ray, no second season has been announced. But I for one would love to return to the vibrant, complex characters, smart, precise dialogue, and adorable dates of Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki, an unexpected breath of fresh air in a sea of high school rom-coms.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 11 – Shedding the Mask

If Hinami was genuinely scared of the cicada, it was only for a moment. It certainly didn’t keep her from getting back to her feet by herself. No, the ensuing embrace and almost-kiss is only more practice, more training … more lies. Of course! Tomozaki wonders what would have happened had he not dodged her kiss. She probably would have kissed him, but it wouldn’t have meant anything.

How either she or Tomozaki feel about each other wouldn’t factor, because she wouldn’t ever let it. The test of courage ends with Misuzawa reporting that Nakamura and Yuzu agreed to make plans to hang out at some point in the future. It’s baby step, perhaps, but a meaningful one, because neither Nakamura or Yuzu are following a script or playing roles.

Later that night Hinami texts Tomozaki to see if he’s still up, and they review his progress throughout the trip. But they’re interrupted by Mizusawa, who is also up. Tomozaki hides, and Mizusawa has a very important chat with Hinami. Watching Nakamura and Yuzu fumble through their courtship, and Tomozaki fumble through socializing, he can’t help but admire and even envy how goshdarh sincere they are.

They do what they want and getting emotionally involved in everything. He mentions Tomozaki calling life a game, but Mizusawa feels like he’s holding the controller but moving someone else around. Because of that remove, he gets neither hurt nor happy when the player does. He feels like he’s merely putting on a show, and asks Hinami if it’s the same with her.

Hinami responds by saying maybe she is watching from a distance as she goes through the motions. But due to the perfect ideal she represents to everyone, she unconsciously suppresses her real self, and speaks of “one person” she can show her true self to. Tomozaki, listening in, knows that Hinami isn’t being sincere here; she’s just removed one mask to reveal another, subtler mask.

By not shedding all of her masks, Aoi puts Mizusawa in a position he’s not used to: being the sincere one to open up. He’s a high-tier character, but he’s no match for a top-tier. Mizusawa confesses he likes her, and while he already knows the answer, he’s still glad he came face-to-face with what he wanted and gave it an honest shot. One day he wants to know how Aoi really feels, and asks her how long she’ll “stay on that side.”

Hinami would probably have preferred if Tomozaki had stayed hidden, but he can’t, and when he emerges to apologize for seeming to eavesdrop, he explains the “it would be weird to stay hidden”. That’s very telling, because it reflects Misuzawa’s own thinking on the matter after watching Nakamura, Yuzu, and Tomozaki acting with sincerity the whole trip.

Hinami suggests they all head back to the cabins, and is content to pretend nothing that was discussed or heard ever happened. But neither Misuzawa or Tomozaki want to forget. Misuzawa exhibited growth by being sincere and confronting what he wanted. Hinami “wasn’t the slightest bit moved” and simply continued her “perfect performance” by keeping her mask on.

Watching how Hinami reacted to Misuzawa’s sincerity made him realize that he can’t continue to follow Hinami’s training regimen. She tells him to tell Fuuka how he feels after their fireworks date, but to him it sounds like she wants him to put on another show; another mask.

So for his date with Fuuka, he tries something different. He forgets all the conversation topics he memorized and simply speaks to her extemporaneously. It’s a little awkward at first because there’s more silence, but what he does say is sincere.

Sure enough, when asked, Fuuka tells him he’s been easy to talk to all night. His hunch was correct: on their first date, it wasn’t him going off-script that made it harder for her to talk to; it was the fact he was trying to follow a script at all.

Tomozaki doesn’t tell Fuuka how he feels, because he’s not sure yet, and their date doesn’t suffer for his omission, any more than it suffered because he ditched the script. When he meets Hinami at the station, she considers this not only a defeat, but a surrender—taking his hands off the controller.

Immediately, Hinami starts going into ways to minimize the stiltedness and clumsiness of his conversation with Fuuka, and Tomozaki does something he’s never done before: he asks her to stop it. To stop her cold, logical discussion of strategies and countermeasures that totally elide and ignore what he really wants.

Himani remarks that Misuzawa “got to him”, and now he’s being misled like most everybody else by an idea that doesn’t exist—”what I really want”—and being unable to move forward, not mincing words as she dismisses it as “textbook weak-human behavior”. Tomozaki the gamer calls Hinami out for viewing human connections in terms of tasks and goals, saying it’s “weird out of the gate”. But Hinami doesn’t want to hear someone like Tomozaki judging her for her methods.

As far as she’s concerned, abandoning her regimen and rejecting her advice is no different from abandoning his personal development; giving up on progress. She expresses the same disappointment in Tomozaki she expressed for Misuzawa when he dropped his mask, and judigng that there’s nothing more to be said, gives Tomozaki back the button he gave her, asks for the backpack she gave him back at a later date, and hops on the next train.

While I know there hasn’t been a lot of romantic chemistry between Tomozaki and Hinami, that doesn’t mean there’s none there whatsoever. In the spirit of the sincerity Tomozaki has chosen to start living his life and interacting with people, he’s not going to confess to Fuuka willy-nilly simply because it’s the next assigned task. Both he and Fuuka preferred him being his genuine self, warts and all.

By trying to be no less earnest and open with Hinami, Tomozaki thought he could bridge the gap between them. Like Misuzawa, he wants to know what she truly feels and wants behind the mask. But in trying to find out, he called her entire philosophy into question, causing her to retreat even deeper within her mask.

I think losing Tomozaki as a student genuinely hurt her. She saw in both him and Misuzawa kindred spirits who played the game at a remove. Now she perceives herself as being all alone, stubbornly clinging to her ideology. Hopefully Tomozaki won’t shrink before the most challenging boss yet: Hinami’s misguided obstinacy. If her mask can be shed, he still stands the best chance of shedding it.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 10 – Not-So-Laid-Back Camp▽

After a very cute meet-up with Mimimi at the local train, Tomozaki finds suddenly himself on a perfectly conventional normie event, in which he, Mimimi, Hinami, and Mizusawa are scheming to bring Nakamura and Yuzu closer together, starting with the two sitting next to each other on the train to their camping spot. Also, Takei is there. Hinami sits with Tomozaki, and assigns his task for the trip: tease, make a suggestion, and/or disagree with Nakamura three times, with the aim of becoming his friend.

As I suspected, both she and Tomozaki learned the wrong lesson from Fuuka’s “hard to talk to” comment: It’s clear Fuuka preferred when he was just being himself and talking with her naturally rather than parroting normie lines when he fundamentally isn’t a normie. I understand Tomozaki’s obliviousness, but why Hinami doesn’t grasp this I cannot say. Maybe she’s just that far removed from non-normie life?

After arriving at Hanno Station the group heads to their campsite and goes full Yuru Camp, complete with barbecue (prepared by Yuzu and Nakamura) tarp and chairs (Mizusawa, Mimimi and Takei) and a fire, which is handled by Hinami and Tomozaki. Himami later explains why she chose the groups, and in grouped herself with him in part so she wouldn’t have to “put on an act” all the time, as she admits its tiring.

While Tomozaki reacts with relief to learn she gets tired about something, I still feel her comment flies under his radar. Not only does it confirm that she’s not a true normie (who wouldn’t have to “put on” an act or even recognize it as such), but also feels most at ease around him, with whom she can be herself. She’s a wonderful enigma: she’s both the normiest normie who ever normied, and yet to maintain that requires someone who is literally not a normie.

After a feast, some mild riverside swimsuit fanservice, and a nice accidental assist by Takei to get Yuzu literally in Nakamura’s arms, the boys and girls retire to their respective cabins for some down time. Talk of Shuuji’s ex Shimano comes up, and Tomozaki scores the first of three points by teasing that Shimano is stringing him along, engendering laughter from Nakamura and Takei.

Takei unwittingly assists the others again by distracting Nakamura with arm wrestling while they all LINE about how the operation is going. The guys report that Shuuji mentioned a girl he could see himself going out with, but who is asking him for advice about a guy she likes. The girls confirm that it’s Yuzu telling Shuuji there’s a hypothetical guy she’s interested in.

During a game of tycoon in which Hinami and Tomozaki dominate, Tomozaki gets in his second tease by pointing out Nakamura never made it past Commoner in the game. Nakamura concedes the point, then moves on to Mizusawa, and how he’s been flirting with a girl from another school. This almost seems to irk Mizusawa, as he excuses himself to go to the bathroom.

Tomozaki follows him, and Mizusawa seems comfortable talking about it with him more. Tomozaki can’t imagine himself being bold enough to ask out a girl from another school, and when Mizusawa admits he might not like her, Tomozaki asks why he’d date someone he didn’t like. Mizusawa’s response under his breath, “You’re not just being polite, are you?” is cryptic.

Maybe the girl is just good in bed. Maybe he’s seeking to date someone outside of their circle, say, to give Tomozaki a chance at Hinami. In any case, when the boys are bathing, the other three learn that Tomozaki is hung, nicknaming him “Army Boy”, and he scores his first point by playfully calling Nakamura “tiny.” Hinami and Mimimi can apparently hear all of this.

While it was hinted that Hinami might’ve been lying when she denied she and Mizusawa were dating, but this episode seems to help make the case she was being honest. For while show is eminently comfortable executing its more nuanced version of the standard High School Camping Trip scenario, Tomozaki is anything but laid-back, especially when the Test of Courage comes around.

After Nakamura and Yuzu head off together as planned, rock-paper-scissors puts Hinami and Tomozaki together once more. This presumably means Hinami can relax and “drop the act” like when they were building the fire. Instead, she decides to make it walking-confidently-with-a-scared-girl practice for Tomozaki, suddenly acting timid and clinging to him.

Tomozaki is convinced Hinami is merely teasing her, deriving pleasure by getting him all flustered. But considering she’s never been this close and physical with him, you have to wonder if her motives go beyond mere teasing, and whether she’s using that as an excuse to be genuinely clingy with him. Otherwise, how far would this kind of “practice” go?

The episode seems on the cusp of answering that question when Tomozaki attempts to exact revenge by disturbing a live cicada. It works better than he expected, as she seems 100% genuine in being so horribly startled she ends up on her knees. She insists he help her up, and she wraps her arms around him, the two seem to realize in what a romantic position they’ve ended up. As his gaze settles on Hinami’s soft lips, both we and Tomozaki have to ponder: is simply practice taken to the HEXtreme, or is it something else … something real?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 09 – The Normiest Summer Ever

Summer break is here, but it won’t be a break from Tomozaki’s mission to master the game of life. It can’t be; it’s their last summer break in high school! His first task—go somewhere one-on-one with a girl who isn’t her—can be satisfied by going to that movie with Fuuka. But for Hinami victory ultimately means him regularly dating Fuuka, and she’ll be setting other goals for him between now and the end of August.

Hinami wants Tomozaki succeeds in his first date, so they have what she calls a “rehearsal date”, in which she texts him places he’ll suggest they go as if he had chosen them, and she’ll speak in a higher register and act like his date. While clothes shopping, she gives him a slightly scratched backpack she bought earlier for a cute button he buys for her. Then they hit up the electronics store and play some Tackfam at the Yontendo display.

It’s here where we watch Hinami openly struggling for once and not being The Best. I emphasize that she’s not acting here; she’s being her genuine self with him, and the pretend date suddenly feels like a real one. He considers their Tackfam playing to be the “best form of communication” for them; it’s when he realizes she’s not just a top-level normie but a dyed-in-the-wool gamer like him.

While having a bite, Hinami tells Tomozaki she already got the OK from Fuuka to give him her LINE ID, which saves him the trouble of asking her in person. Hinami gives him the brass tacks of his message, and Tomozaki bangs it out. It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s earnest and straightforward, so she clears it for sending. And despite warning Tomozaki that sometimes it takes a while for Fuuka to respond, she responds almost instantly with an enthusiastic “yes”—a definite good sign.

Before parting ways for the day, Hinami tells Tomozaki to keep the 4th and 5th open, as she and the rest of the gang are going to have a barbecue and sleepover, ostensibly as a ploy to get Yuzu and Nakamura together. But such a youthful normie event will be a veritable goldmine for Life XP Tomozaki needs to level up. I don’t think that Hinami “pulled strings” to get him invited—I’m sure they were all fine with him joining them—as someone who wishes to master the game, this is a challenge he can’t pass up. He’s in.

First Hinami invites him to join her and Mizusawa for a planning event at Mimimi’s. There, his task will be to “mess with” Mizusawa at least three times, for as she says, “moderate teasing is key to making friends as equals.” It’s a super-clinical, even cynical way of looking at bonding rituals, but that doesn’t make it not true!

Sure enough, as soon as Tomozaki arrives ready for an opening to mess with Mizusawa, he is the one messed with. But when Mimimi requests a change of venue since her grandma is over, Hinami suggests the house of the one who lives closest to Mimimi. That’s Tomozaki, and as a result his little sister and mom totally freak out by the top-tier characters who are suddenly hanging out with their Fumiya!

While playfully searching Tomozaki’s room looking for porn, Mimimi finds a box full of totally worn-out old controllers. He explains that while they’re no longer sensitive enough for Tackfam, they’re still fine for other games. Hinami takes a particular wordless interest in these, actual artifacts of his grueling effort to become the best that she can hold in her hands. No doubt she has a few such controllers in a box in her room too!

Planning to bring Yuzu and Nakamura closer together turns to talk of the future in general, with the knowledge that with exams next year there won’t be as many opportunities to hang out; this summer must not be squandered. Tomozaki successfully messes with Mizusawa thrice. Mizusawa also noticed the hair gel he recommended to him isn’t being used too frequently, and Tomozaki demonstrates why when he applies it: he needs some pointers.

What follows is a very sweet little scene as Tomozaki films himself as Mizusawa shows him the proper way to apply the gel. Mizusawa notes that Tomozaki takes everything seriously, and wonders why he goes to such lengths, with everything from hair gel to Mimimi’s speech. Tomozaki likens life to a game he doesn’t want to lose, and Mizusawa can see, but from his perspective, if life is only a “game”, why not loosen up and enjoy it?

It’s a very enlightening exchange of viewpoints, as the two guys treat the word “game” very differently. When Tomozaki returns to his room with his new ‘do, Mimimi is the one messing with him, using a pen as a microphone to report “something fishy going on.” After everyone leaves, he suggests Saturday the 1st for the movie with Fuuka, which is fine with her.

Now comes the even I’ve been looking forward to since it was first suggested: his big date with Fuuka. Tomozaki is the first to arrive at the meeting spot, which means he gets to see Fuuka before she sees him, and watch her neutral, almost forlorn expression turn to pure quiet joy when she spots him waving to her. Both of them are so happy and giddy this is actually happening, the two freeze up a bit, until Tomozaki says “Shall we?” and they head to the theater.

When Tomozaki mentions her long sleeves, she tells him how she has extremely sensitive skin that burns easily in the sun. He misses an opportunity to compliment her, but at the same time saying something like “I think your skin is lovely” might have made her to self conscious. In any case, Fuuka is so excited upon seeing the movie posters she draws quite close to him, then realizes how close that is an retreats a bit.

Once they’re in their seats, Tomozaki can’t help but look over at Fuuka beside him and blush with happiness. After the film they grab a bite, but as he continues talking about the film in detail, Tomozaki realizes he’s talking too much and not giving her an opening to add to the conversation. It’s here where my stomach started to sink along with Fuuka’s expression as Tomozaki overcompensates by bringing up a string of conversation topics that don’t mesh well.

Worse, he thinks it’s going well when it’s clear from Fuuka’s look that she notices something is off. He realizes this too when she comes right out and says he’s a “mystery” to her, in the way he suddenly swings from being really easy to really hard to talk to. An awkward silence ensues.

Still, and this is key, those moments of awkwardness do not end up sinking the date or their prospects for each other. Instead, while on the train Fuuka clarifies her comments: she didn’t mean what she said about Tomozaki to be a bad thing, but a good thing. She’s never been good at talking with boys, so the times when it’s easy to talk with him represent the first such time. That makes her happy, which is why, without any needed input from him she tells him she wants to go out again sometime.

Tomozaki reports his great victory to Hinami over the phone while she’s painting her toes. She urges him to reflect on the “hard to talk to thing”, which really comes down to lack of experience on skills on both his part and Fuuka’s. The more time they spend together, the more comfortable they’ll get talking with one another.

Hinami may well have expected Fuuka would want to hang out with Tomozaki again, so she already has the ideal event for their second date: a fireworks show on the sixth. Tomozaki texts Fuuka, and she again gets back to him immediately with a yes. But before that he’ll tackle the barbecue and sleepover with his normie friends. I for one can’t wait for either!