In Japanese pop culture, an “otaku” is someone whose interest in a particular hobby or activity has reached such obsessive levels that it almost completely dominates their life. Narumi Momose is an attractive young woman but somewhat indifferent office worker; she is also an “otaku”, obsessed with a sub-genre of manga known as “yaoi”, a fact she desperately wants to keep secret from her colleagues. When she starts a job at a new company, she is alarmed to encounter an old school friend: Hirotaka Nifuji, himself a hard-core gaming “otaku” who is indifferent to what other people think of his obsessions. Hirotaka assures Narumi that he will keep her secret; and eventually, he gets up the courage to ask her on a date, having harboured romantic feelings for her since their student days. However, since both are socially inept, the rituals of dating and the protocols of a workplace romance prove difficult to navigate, let alone the emotions that begin to emerge as their relationship deepens.
Based on the popular manga by Fujita, “Wotakoi: Love Is Hard For Otaku” was originally produced by A-1 Productions and aired on Japanese TV in 2018. A gentle and sweet-natured comedy, it nonetheless paints an at times painful picture of the difficulties which socially inexperienced introverts face when they encounter the emotional turmoil of love and the give-and-take demands that come from sharing their life with another human being. “Wotakoi” also provides a glimpse into the many unusual, odd, and sometimes frankly disturbing corners of Japanese pop culture; and, more obliquely, hints at the pressures which a conformist society and the demands of the “salaryman” workplace culture bring to bear, revealing the “otaku” to be less an attempt to stand out than an effort to preserve a sense of individual self within an at times crushing social context.
© Text Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.