Dating is tricky business if you’re a gamer, especially if you live in Japan. It’s frowned upon to be a geek, at least in Wotakoi, a recently released (at least in America) manga series from writer and artist Fujita. That doesn’t mean geeks don’t deserve to be loved or to love others, which is what this manga is all about. But at its core, it’s about very specific types of people who get along because they can share in their nerdom without being judged–at least not for their gaming and manga obsessions.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
GAMES OVER ROMANCE Narumi Momose has had it rough: Every boyfriend she’s had dumped her once they found out she was an otaku, so she’s gone to great lengths to hide it. When a chance meeting at her new job with childhood friend, fellow otaku, and now coworker Hirotaka Nifuji almost gets her secret outed at work, she comes up with a plan to make sure he never speaks up. But he comes up with a counter-proposal: Why doesn’t she just date him instead? In love, there are no save points.
Why does this matter?
This is the perfect manga for anyone who has felt judged for liking comics, videogames, or something within the realm of geekdom. It’s safe to say it’s the best time ever to be a nerd, but this manga serves as a means for nerds across the globe to relate to the awkwardness of its characters and their passions for geekery.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Wotakoi is really good at nailing the little details that make us so unique when in a relationship. This manga starts at a rather innocent point for Narumi and Hirotaka, who have been longtime friends but are also fed up with hiding their true selves from significant others. As the story progresses they grow closer to each other, and more intimate, in somewhat natural and interesting ways. There’s no sex in this manga–though Narumi’s small breasts do get brought up quite a bit–but there is plenty of flirting, plus suggestive off-panel moments. That’s not really the point though since it’s more about characters riffing off each other and being their true selves. You get that in a chapter focused on Narumi hosting a booth at a local comic convention, for instance. Her passion is drawing and reading manga, and it’s sweet to see Hirotaka support her in his calm but calculated way. At the same time, Narumi is totally fine with Hirotaka playing videogames all the time, even at work, and their relationship works in part because of that.
Deep down though, this manga is about two longtime friends developing deeper feelings for each other because of a seemingly random decision to date. Fujita clearly modeled all the characters off real people–their quirks are distinct, consistent, and too real to be otherwise, and that gives the manga a sense of realism that’s hard to mistake. This applies to the leads, and also their two friends who seem to be nearly constantly in a fight, but that’s just how they work.
There’re also fun bio-like cards for each character scattered in the manga, which adds to the character work being done. One, for instance, reveals how each character can handle their alcohol and whether they smoke. That’s just one of the details that liken these characters to a videogame. Early on there’s a funny scene involving Hirotaka navigating a moment between Narumi and their friends, much like he would in a dating simulator.
Many of the chapters focus on moments in time that serve as little vignettes, in life many of which are relatable to those who have dated or are dating. Early on, for instance, Narumi is going over to Hirotaka’s house after work. It’s an exciting moment for her since it’s a more intimate atmosphere, but she’s forgotten what color her panties are. If they come off she could be horribly embarrassed. Fujita weaves this into a rather funny joke as Hirotaka leans in seemingly to make a move–Narumi non-stop worrying about the panties–only to discover he’s reaching for Nintendo Wii controllers.
The art is very focused on faces with not much time spent on surroundings unless necessary to a joke or scene. It suits this story since every scene is about what a character is thinking, feeling, or saying. The visual humor, particularly when it’s drawing your attention to something like Narumi’s small breasts, works well.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The short vignette style to the chapters can make this a somewhat scattered reading experience. You have to sort of take in where all the characters are going with no real arc to the relationships. From beginning to end they’re all working at the same place, getting beers after work, and hanging out here and there. Picking up this manga is like hanging out with some friends for a few hours. It’s enjoyable, but you won’t come away with any grand revelations or growth from the characters’ presence. They just are and will always be.
Is It Good?
A good melodrama about geeks making relationships works the best way they know how. The humor is at times laugh-out-loud funny, but Wotakoi‘s core, the characters are deeply real and worth your attention.
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