The last of the series from the excellent last season that I picked up before it ended - and like *Magi, one that I started watching because of advertisement I saw in Japan, as well as an episode that aired as we happened to have the television on late one night - I like most others I know found WataMote hilarious and deeply sad.
A strange little gag comic, it has quite a pleasant success story, from being effectively a webcomic for Shounen Gangan's site to appearing in print in Gangan Joker, and then finally becoming a short anime series, I'm sure it has gone further than anybody involved in its making expected. And as a short, 12-episode gag series, its limited premise is very watchable and difficult to dislike because it does not outstay its welcome.
The bittersweet premise here is that the short, plain fifteen-year-old Tomoko starts at her new high school full of hopes of becoming popular and finding others like her, who love otome games and enjoy her rather grim and often perverted sense of humour. However, her contempt for popular girls, crippling social anxiety and somewhat creepy appearance - with dark messy hair covering half of her face and heavy bags under her eyes - mean that she is largely ignored or feared. She comes up with a series of schemes to make herself more well-liked, but they are mostly either based on anime and thus not applicable to her life - like being the expressionless character - or utterly delusional, like when she thinks that she is attractive and lucky because she has sprayed a can of Coke Zero on her face, when in fact she just has ants crawling in her hair. Most of the humour comes from just how far poor Tomoko falls, how much she ends up making us cringe, like when she buys fancy panties to fit in, misplaces them, then ends up thinking she is fanning herself with her handkerchief when in fact she is waving her panties at her teacher.
Tomoko doesn't really interact with others and is cripplingly shy around her peers. She has a little brother who used to dote on her but now is a surly yet popular teen who is sadly only driven further into a kind of dull horror by his sister's attempts to be affectionate. She also has a best friend who attends another school, who has blossomed into a pretty and popular young woman, exactly the sort that Tomoko wants to be, and though their friendship remains strong, Tomoko's attempts to imitate her usually end in disaster and humiliation for her. Even the little cousin who used to dote on her, upon meeting her again, starts instead to understand her lies and her affection turns, rather more tragically than if she had been repulsed, to pity.
Of course, Tomoko's design isn't that repulsive. She is cute in her way, and towards the end, random acts of kindness by strangers towards her, especially the popular student council member, are rather lovely moments. When she gets enough rest (thanks to the sexual gratification of an otome game) she even looks cute for a while, much to her own pleasure. It's no secret that this is an anime made for the male otaku who see themselves in Tomoko and can fantasise about finding a girl like her, with such similar intersts, and helping them with their self-esteem issues, while finding their clutzy antics sweet and amusing. It's also part of the increasing number of depictions of fujoshi culture in anime - which perhaps started to boom with Lucky Star, through Chuunibyou and became dominant in Genshiken Nidaime, a pleasant melding of affectionate mockery and glorification that can appeal to male otaku and the subjects themselves.
The main criticism I've seen of WataMote is that it's just too much. The poor girl has to suffer too much humiliation, to the extent that it's painful to watch. For my money, though, despite the fact that I admittedly watched slowly, there's a decent balance, especially towards the end, between the abject misery of her existence and the rays of light that come into her daily life thanks to others.
If there's another series, I think I will watch, in hopes that things start to perk up for young Tomoko. I'd like to see more of her attempts to date boys, even if she fails spectacularly, and it would be good to see her open up to someone apart from her friend Yuu-chan. Silver Link obviously had a lot of fun here in the same vein as their work on Baka to Test, pitching their tone as something akin to a less abrasive and frenetic Shaft, utilising the same shifts in art style, pastiche and references to other anime, but with less obscurity, randomness and in-jokes - something I find to be quite well-judged here.