WOTAKOI: Love is Hard for Otaku by Fujita
Kodansha Comics, 2015; 269 pp
Reviewed by Britny Brooks
In today’s world of blockbuster superhero films, genre adaptations, retailers branding popular characters and properties on everything, and the growing presence of the convention scene (comic, anime, and others), it’s surprising that “being a geek” still carries a social stigma. It is okay to be a fan of popular culture, but to be someone who is completely immersed in your favorite show, game, tv series, etc.? Well, that is a different situation all together. That is probably one of the many reasons that WOTAKOI: Love is Hard for Otaku is so satisfying and resonates in a way that other manga and graphic novels don’t. Instead of turning the geeky main character(s) into the “chosen one” because of their savant-level skills or just saturating the pages with just fan service and pop culture Easter eggs for readers, the series really takes the slice of life and relationship elements of the story seriously and hones in on exploring the characters’ lives in a realistic—albeit humorous—way.
The general story follows the relationship and antics of two otaku couples as they navigate their traditional workplace, growing friendship, various comic conventions, and the complications of trying to keep their otaku status a secret from everyone else. For those who aren’t familiar with the term an otaku is broadly defined in Japan as a person who has obsessive interest in particular aspects of popular culture that includes anime, manga, cosplay, collectibles, video games, etc. and generally is seen as a detriment to their social skills. What makes Love is Hard for Otaku refreshing is that each character is essentially a normal, flawed person who is made a little more eccentric because of their interests. This is turn is what makes each character so easy to relate to and also creates tons of opportunities for pretty fantastic references, call backs, jokes, and even some more serious moments about why these characters should be keeping their interests a secret in the first place.
Awkward, sweet, and surprising authentic at the same time, Love is Hard for Otaku’s romantic pacing between the story’s two couples Narumi Momose and Hirotaka Nifuji, and Tarō Kabakura and Hanako Koyanagi is a subtle but, I think, crucial part of the story and is what makes the moments of tenderness and romance feel earned. Narumi and Hirotaka’s relationship is newly formed and full of the uncertainties of a young couple trying to establish their routines, interactions, and understanding of each other, while Tarō and Hanako have a more established relationship and, for better or worse, express their love and concern through teasing and testing of each other’s limits. The manga leans into the slice of life genre first and romance second, which is the perfect compliment to the humor and vignette-styled plot, plus it gives Narumi and Hirotaka time to start to grow vulnerable around each other and let their relationship blossom. This makes them feel more realistic and also stays true to their personalities, while also looking at the “anti-social” and “socially awkward” otaku tropes through the lense of a relationship—both platonic and romantic.
Honestly, Love is Hard for Otaku is just a fun, laid-back read perfect for nerds and non-nerds alike with compelling characters and just a touch of romance. Currently, there are three volumes out from Kodansha Comics, the original webcomic, and a recent anime adaptation available, so you can check out this amazing, light-hearted story in any medium, anytime you want.