What’s it about? Narumi Hirose’s last breakup went about as poorly as possible: her then-boyfriend found out she was a fujoshi and spread it around the office, causing her coworkers to shun her. Now she’s starting a new job and planning to hide her fujoshi side from everyone (including any future boyfriends). But when she runs into Hirotaka, a childhood friend from her middle school otaku circle, keeping things quiet may be harder than she planned.
I’m going to say it straight out: I loved this premiere. I love romances between functional adults with common interests. I love grounded stories about likable nerds. I love relatable characters, and my boyfriend more than once turned to me during the episode and said, “That’s you.” Wotakoi, it seems, was made for me.
Romances live and die on how likable the leads are, and Wotakoi has that in the bag. Narumi combines peppy energy with a slightly dark sense of humor, and Hirotaka is a bit of a jerk, but not an outright asshole. They have the perfect rom-com balance of traits—friendly and likable enough to be sympathetic, but with enough of an edge to them that they’re not totally saccharine.
There’s nothing wrong with romances about kind, gentle people—My Love Story!! and Recovery of an MMO Junkie have that covered, at the very least. However, it’s also important to depict a variety of relationship dynamics, and affectionate ribbing works for a lot of couples (mine included).
Hirotaka and Narumi, though they haven’t seen one another for over a decade, fall easily into a comfortable patter. They tease each other, but they both can give as good as they get, and it never crosses into mean-spirited. The sole exception is a jarring moment is when Hirotaka makes a comment about the size of Narumi’s breasts; otherwise, they have an easy chemistry.
From the start, Wotakoi seems aware of the unfairness in the difference between how nerdy men and women are received. Narumi doesn’t want to reveal her fujoshi side because she’s embarrassed or thinks it’s wrong; this is because there’s still a stigma against women having geeky interests. Narumi’s work life was more-or-less ruined when her ex told their coworkers about her fujoshi activities, but Hirotaka feels free to whip out his Vita and play Monster Hunter on his lunch break.
Narumi even feels like in her next relationship, she’ll have to keep her fujoshi activities from her partner completely. Hiding part of yourself is a one-way trip to a dysfunctional relationship, and it’s terrible that the stigma is so strong that she feels like she’d have to go that route.
That’s why love is hard for an otaku—not because they’re weird nerds, but because other people perceive them as weird nerds. Love is hard when you can’t be your whole self around your partner. Love is hard when you can’t talk about a major component of your life.
Love is hard for Narumi, because openness leaves her vulnerable in a way that could leave her shunned at work and by people she cares about. That’s no way to live. And that’s why, though Hirotaka asking her out by offering to work at her Comiket booth isn’t the most romantic declaration, they could make a great pair. Because they know each other and can be their whole selves around each other.
That said, Narumi does find friends at work she can be herself around. I loved everything about her interactions with Koyanagi—that flash of recognition when Hirotaka mentioned Comiket, the little “are you into what I’m into and how much” dance. It was all so very familiar, because I’ve done that dance dozens of times at my own job.
Do they just like Ghibli movies, or Naruto, or do they have subscriptions to Crunchyroll and HIDIVE? They mentioned playing video games; is is just Halo and Call of Duty, or would they be able to go into the finer points of Shin Megami Tensei? You probe delicately to gauge just how much or how in-depth you can go without becoming overenthusiastic or alienating them.
Narumi just happens upon Koyanagi looking at cosplay on her phone, which settles the matter right away. On the one hand, I was a little disappointed that the probing didn’t get drawn out a little more; it would have been fun to see. On the other hand, that means we can get right into cosplay and take a look at two female-driven aspects of transformative fandom. It also gives Narumi a female counterpart, so she doesn’t just have her relationship with Hirotaka.
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku makes a great counterpart to last year’s Recovery of an MMO Junkie as a romance for nerdy adults. While the latter featured two shy people faltering toward a relationship, Wotakoi features more outgoing characters who decide to just go for it. If it can keep developing its cast’s chemistry (and drop the out-of-place boob comments), it could end up one of the best shows of the season.