Story Pile: Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku

Smoochy anime undeniably focuses on a narrow age range. I think of the vast majority of anime I’ve watched with a ‘romantic’ theme tends towards the romantic interaction between ‘the traditional’ anime protagonists, which usually means a pair of 14 year olds. There are of course, exceptions, but by volume, you’re going to see the Default, and that means that you usually see fourteen year olds.

This is not the way of all things, of course. If we cast our minds back to the works of Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma 1/2 (oh no, is this going to happen all this month again?), she did a long-running slow-boil romantic comedy story called Maison Ikkoku. Basically, as long as there’s been rom-com anime, there’s been rom-com anime about adults.

And this is one of them.

And it’s really good.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is a webmanga series illustrated by Fujita (and that’s all about the author I know) that started over on pixiv in 2014. It was made into an anime back in 2018, and that anime serves as a sort of condensed sort of synthesis of the webmanga. The premise is that Narumi Momose, a perfectly standard Japanese office lady, has to start her new job at her new workplace. And she runs for her train and she rushes to get to school work on time. You know, same old same old.

Then you learn that she has a secret that meant she had to quit her last job. It was so traumatising her boyfriend dumped her and she couldn’t handle the social pressure, and so she fled, and found this new place to work.

And her secret is she’s an otaku.

Dun dun dunnn.

A quick aside.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, otaku, or basically ‘your house,’ is a term for a grouping of different interests we might commonly call ‘geek’ media. It’s a nonsense term in the west, because nerds have kind of taken over the world – saying ‘Oh, they’re a Star Wars nerd’ means nothing because Star Wars is as mainstream as bread. But in Japan, all that anime and manga and videogames and cosplay is stuff that since like, the 80s, was filed as ‘otaku’ stuff. It’s kinda seen as a perjorative way, but as time has gone by, and you know, capitalism, now it’s a little more neutral…

but it is seen as kid stuff.

And her specific interest, amateur manga about boys smooching boys, known as BL Doujinshi, is seen as especially embarrassing. There’s a special term they use for women like this, fujoshi or ‘rotten women.’ See you may be able to imagine that almost everyone plays videogames and watches cartoons, but even in the west, not everyone thirsts over fanfiction of two boys banging. Which is a shame, it’d be more nice if people were okay with that.

Now, I am not on side for this particular judgment of fan media, especially since Japanese fan media is on a next level compared to the stuff we make in the west, but look, there you have it: It’s culturally seen as kinda bad to be into otaku stuff. It’s not ‘serious’ as interests go.

But okay, Momose starts work at her office and immediately is shocked to find an old friend from her school days is working there. An old friend named Hirotaka, who recognises her from nerd conventions. An old friend who then, without meaning to, outs her as an otaku.

Right in front of her new coworkers.

But! The good news is the coworkers in question are also otaku – different types of otaku. Oh, sure, her new senpai Koyanagi is a fujoshi too, but she’s more into cosplay; Hirotaka is a true hardcore gamer, including all-night gaming binges and skipping meals for classic games, and his coworker Kabakura is into bishoujou stories.

That’s it.

That’s your premise.

You have four nerds, with nerdy interests, who have nerdy conversations, in an otherwise unremarkable office life, where they talk to one another about common interests and a slow-boil romantic relationship between Narumi and Hirotaka bubbles up and blossoms and grows, and it’s all very sweet. There’s an episode about visiting a coffee shop. There’s an episode about working con floors. There’s an episode about a ‘normal date.’

Do I think you should watch Wotakoi? Well, yes, I do. Particularly because I find it very funny, just in the way it tells jokes and the things it wants to tell jokes about. By contrasting nerdy interests with the very ordinary ‘let’s spend some time hanging at a friend’s place’ kind of storytelling, it’s got a lot of opportunities to talk about games or manga, but also talk about engaging with those things. The metaphors are very sincerely nerdy, in that very true-to-life way.

There’s also something to be said for Hirataka as a character. There are scenes in the series where he’s basically pitched to behave in ways that you might see as ‘a bit gamer’ or ‘toxically masculine,’ and… he doesn’t. He’s good at games, but he is good in an understated way. He isn’t good at teaching how to play, but he’s not defensive about games, he’s not demanding about games. When he looks into Narumi’s interests, he is neither repelled nor disgusted, and is willing to try out cosplay.

It’s not perfect, by any means. Kabakura and Koyanagi’s relationship has worse communication in it, and that means that ultimately, Kabakura has room to improve, and there are things he should have apologised for in-show, but doesn’t. There is something about him I like – there’s a point later on in the story where he reads a Boy Love manga, and realises he likes it, because it has the same kind of emotional story to the bishoujou stories he likes. That’s cool, especially because it indicates he’s not reading the bishoujou stories for entirely superficial reasons too – that the stories are similar is good enough for him.

It’s also short? I’m normally fine with anime being short, but this one is only 11 episodes, and that’s a bit of a bummer.

Throughout the whole series there’s this undercurrent of how real relationships have compromises – things that aren’t ideal but that you can accept and deal with. Things that you can love because they aren’t what you’d choose. It is a story about some people growing together, at their own pace, and not because they are going to be in love, but who love each other because of who they are.

I really like Wotakoi, and recommend it.


Anime screencaps came from Anisearch.

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