As a self-proclaimed rom com connoisseur, you can bet I love Wotakoi. Maybe the manga more so than the anime, though it’s a competent adaptation, and you know that OP slaps, but as a whole, Love is Hard for Otaku hits all the right notes.
It’s not the only anime to tackle the unique challenges and quirks of different species of otaku dating, but I would say it’s the definitive anime to do so. Something like Saekano is more focused with its plot and harem shenanigans than discussing the finer points of otaku romance. There are anime where only one romantic lead is an otaku, like Romantic Killer or More Than a Married Couple, but Not Lovers, but that’s not quite what we’re looking for.
However, that’s not to say that Wotakoi is perfect. It succeeds best at being a rom com about nerds and in portraying realistic relationship drama, but if you haven’t seen the show and are unaware, there’s a third element to its relationships, the workplace and adult romance aspect.
The problem with Wotakoi, well, is that it tries to tell a story about adults, and they all act like teenagers.
But I can only really talk about that once you have the full picture. Wotakoi is all about, you can probably guess, how hard love is for otaku. To give series author Fujita all the credit that is due, Wotakoi does an excellent job of portraying different stages in those relationships.
Our main couple, game otaku Hirotaka and hardcore fujoshi Narumi, were childhood friends who wind up dating after Narumi is hired in…because she quit her last job after breaking up with her boyfriend who also worked there. Yikes.
The second couple, Tarou and Hanako, a casual anime otaku and a hardcore cosplayer, have been together a lot longer, and it’s fascinating to watch because most anime don’t ever talk about couples who have been together forever. They’re a lot more familiar with each other and comfortable in their own skin than Narumi is starting out with Hirotaka, but that comes with the added benefit of them constantly bickering because you try coexisting with someone who left their dirty socks on the floor for the third time this week.
And then for our third, there’s Naoya, Hirotaka’s younger brother and a normie trying to get into video games to get to know his classmate Ko…who he doesn’t realize is a girl. Gosh, hate when that happens.
Immediately, Wotakoi sets itself apart through showing these different stages, and Fujita really takes advantage of that. The most effective use is when the same problem is presented to two of the couples; what might be a disaster to Narumi and Hirotaka is trivial to Tarou and Hanako because of the longevity of their relationship, or vice versa, where the newer couple might not worry about falling into a rut like an established couple would because the relationship is so new.
Fujita was clearly interested in romantic dynamics and exploring that, but where their interest runs just a little deeper is how otaku habits affect those dynamics.
One of my favorite parts of Wotakoi is seeing how the different hobbies of each otaku character plays against and bounces off their partner. Tarou’s a real man’s man, so of course he won’t be reading none of that silly yaoi! That’s for fujoshi and…wait, why is the plot so good that I’m crying?
And there’s a wonderful balance of success and failure in trying to get your partner to try this thing you love because they just have to try this, and they have no interest in it. Yeah, that stings. While Tarou may have had his eyes opened to the power of yaoi, he’s never going to quite get into cosplay or other outward displays of his otaku side.
And that goes double for Hirotaka, both our resident game otaku and introvert. Dating’s hard enough when you’re both homebodies or love going out, but when those don’t always match up, he and Narumi have to communicate and compromise. And that’s the genius of Wotakoi’s characters having so many disparate passions; you and your partner are always going to have your differences, and the success of your relationship depends on how well you’re able to bridge those gaps.
It’s cranked up even further for Naoya and Ko’s relationship, because she’s so shy that she can’t even tell him she’s a girl at first. Despite their differences, though, Fujita nails one of the hardest parts in writing a romance; making all of your characters compatible.
You can see why Tarou and Hanako have worked out for this long, or how Hirotaka and Narumi’s relationship is an extension of their friendship as kids…which is where we get to the problem.
I could see the element of childhood friendship working as a springboard for the relationship, but the problem is, we never really graduate from the childhood part.
Manga and anime have a hard time writing adults. Anime with young or college-aged adults like The Case Study of Vanitas, Remake Our Life, or Rent-a-Girlfriend just fall back on making their 18-20 characters act like the same 15-17 characters you’re used to. Anime with significant adult casts, though, like Recovery of an MMO Junkie, Spy x Family, or My Roommate is a Cat still wind up doing the same things, Wotakoi included.
As an art form, anime relies on simplified and expressive features or behaviors, so it’s often difficult to kick that tendency for characters to look like teenagers. I could forgive that, but Wotakoi as both a manga and an anime renders their adult characters well; it’s writing them as adults that it trips up on.
I was initially hopeful that this wouldn’t be the case, as there’s an entire fiasco surrounding Hirotaka inviting Narumi to his home, only for her to get the wrong idea, but the problem is that we never actually deal with adult issues. The characters might get married, but you better believe we’ll never mention sex, or even really the romance side of a romantic relationship. They go for dates, usually just shopping or to an amusement park, and the “adult” stuff they do is just go drinking after work. It all feels very superficial. Wotakoi could be rewritten as a high school rom com with very few changes.
And it doesn’t even have the excuse that most manga do, that they’re conforming to editorial standards, because Wotakoi started as a web manga. Heck, Scum’s Wish is a much more adult show while being about teenagers and having to deal with editors. Maybe it’s not fair to compare a comedy and a drama, but it’s really weird watching a show where two characters have been dating for a decade and don’t live together. There’s so much material in the trials of cohabitation that it feels like a missed opportunity, and considering how much Hanako and Tarou bicker already, you have to wonder how it got missed.
Now, the lack of real adult problems in Wotakoi doesn’t “ruin” the series. I love the manga, and I really hope we get a second season. I just want the stories I love to be their best possible versions, and not capitalizing on their premise falls in with that.
It doesn’t help that I get irritated when people complain about every anime being in high school, because you have to accept getting into anime that it is made for teenagers first and foremost. So, don’t take this as me hating on Wotakoi, because I like that we got a good anime about unique subjects like differing interests, working with your partner, and relationships at different stages. I’d like anime as a whole to just be a bit better at speaking to different groups of people, but hey, I love anime just fine as it is too.
So…tell me what anime you think do adult characters the best. Off the top of my head, I would say Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and oddly enough, Chainsaw Man. You wouldn’t think there’d be so many good adult characters in a show starring the two most immature characters in anime, but Kishibe is a whole vibe.
Tell me about those good adult anime in the comments below, and if you’re not too busy after that, maybe like the post and follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress. Oh! I’m on Twitter too, @ExhibitionOtaku, where I talk about a lot of dumb stuff, but mostly anime. Until next time, thanks for reading.