Building Character: Tomoko Kuroki

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

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Tomoko Kuroki | oprainfall

Watamote is perhaps one of the greatest depictions of clinical depression and social anxiety to ever exist in any form of fiction. The entire series is based around Tomoko Kuroki, a young girl whose main goal is to become popular despite having crippling social anxiety  The series follows her attempts to try and reach out to the public and make friends. Despite sounding like a light-hearted premise, Watamote is perhaps the single most depressing anime I have ever seen.

The reason for this is just how much insight into Tomoko’s mindset it gives you. To her, so much as saying “Hi” to another person puts an enormous amount of pressure on her. She does everything in her power to avoid talking to anyone else, despite her wanting to be popular. Things that sound relatively mundane in practice become overwhelming and dramatic. For example, in one episode, Tomoko deals with a teacher calling her out in front of the class for not having an assignment done because she was too nervous to get notes from another classmate. This later leads to her becoming massively depressed and stressed afterwards, which does not help with the stormy weather outside, especially considering the fact that someone took her umbrella. After discovering that someone took her umbrella, she ends up breaking down mentally about how someone could steal an umbrella in the rain and goes off on a depressing soliloquy, only to discover that she had it in the other umbrella container.

Tomoko Kuroki | Cute

Yes… yes, you are.

The unique aspect of Watamote’s presentation is that 90% of the script is in monologue. You get a very detailed view of Tomoko’s perspective that shows just how different some people can see things than others. Tomoko carries a very strong resentment toward her other classmates due to not being popular, yet, at the same time, she wants to be recognized by these people. She also does have her own character flaws and is occasionally selfish. This is what really makes Tomoko’s character amazing. People always assume that the quiet and mysterious people are also the smartest and most mature. This is not actually the case in real life. It just appears to be that way because quiet people don’t show any stupid things they do.

An example of her own flaws would be that she cheats at a card game against little kids in order to impress her cousin. Another is that she takes care of her younger brother while he is sick just so she can attempt to catch his cold to stay home from school. Despite this, Tomoko is one of the most endearing characters I have encountered in anime. She just manages to connect with the average otaku on so many levels. A lack of social interaction or desire to leave the house, greatly enjoying anime and video games, perversion and the tendency to have a very cynical view of things, yet still occasionally have a happy moment.

Tomoko Kuroki | Bed

One can also draw a lot of conclusions about the concept of socialization in general based on how Tomoko is portrayed. Unlike a lot of comedy anime whose only plot is to be viciously cruel to an undeserving main character (oftentimes a harem series protagonist), the surrounding characters in Watamote are actually pretty nice (with the exception of Tomoko’s brother, Tomoki, who is a heartless asshole). It really shows that the biggest obstacle that people with social anxiety face is not other people; it is themselves. The fact that so many fans of the series have found Tomoko endearing really shows that some people are nicer than what one may expect. The series may make light of Tomoko’s predicament at some point, but real life is not always depressing; even for people with social anxiety and depression. It also shows that anyone out there could be a Tomoko, and that some people are just afraid to reach out. It is for this reason that Watamote is probably the only anime I have ever seen to outright alter my entire perspective on people in general.

Another excellent aspect of Tomoko’s character is her design. She has a look that is both somewhat tomboyish, and, yet, is also very cute. The marks around her eyes do a great job at showing that she is the type that is not exactly social. Her facial expressions are also amazingly well handled. In addition to this, the backgrounds go grayscale and shift in appearances to reflect her mood. This often manages to work in reflecting both comedic and serious moments.

Tomoko Kuroki | Moeshit

Oh, the irony…

Lastly, the aspect of Tomoko’s character that goes with Watamote’s message is actually quite simple; she’s a girl. As weird as this may seem, there are a lot of messages that would be missed if this series had a male protagonist. Particularly, it is because there is a stereotype that any moderately attractive woman does not even need to try to get guys to come after her. In reality, such a thing isn’t as easy as people think. Typically, a lot of women are afraid they do not look good enough because they don’t live up to the Hollywood standards of beauty. If you don’t believe me, then just look around Facebook and see how many legitimately attractive women are convinced they are ugly. Of course, a lot of these women also are socially isolated and depressed, as well.

All in all, that is what makes Tomoko’s character so well done. It’s not just that she is cute or likable; her character is great because all of us are like her in some way. A lot of us nerds also tend to have been the type that can’t talk to people or are nervous around them. A lot of us also tend to be the much more sensitive or depressed types (granted, not everyone, but I imagine there are a lot more people who have aspergers or depression that visit oprainfall rather than mainstream sites). I am sure all of us can agree that middle school was utter hell, as well. I can easily say that Tomoko Kuroki’s portrayal is one of the best in recent media, and is a far better example than some recent games.