Wotakoi: Love Is Hard For Otaku


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Wotakoi: Love Is Hard For Otaku
"By far the most brazen piece of fan service at Fantasia 2020." | Photo: Fantasia International Film Festival

If you're unfamiliar with the term otaku, the closest cognate in English is probably geek or nerd, but there's also an overlap with the broader term fan, and there are no particular gender expectations attached to it. Basically, otaku are people who base significant parts of their lives around their favourite entertainers or forms of entertainment, and, usually, spend significant parts of their money on related merchandise or events. Despite the popularity of Japanese entertainment exports elsewhere in the world, however, otaku and not greatly respected on home turf. Having such inclinations is something they might opt to keep secret at work or in their romantic lives.

Is it different when an otaku dates another otaku? That's one of the central questions addressed by Yûichi Fukuda's quirky romcom. It centres on Narumi (Mitsuki Takahata) and Hirotaka (Kento Yamazaki), two childhood friends who are surprised to find themselves working in the same office. Geeky though he may be (he has the thick-framed glasses to prove it), Hirotaka doesn't waste any time in asking Narumi (whose peculiar ears may be an equivalent signal) on a date. She's more hesitant about getting into a relationship, not least because she's worried that he'll out her to her other colleagues as an otaku. Telling her that she's already bad at hiding it, he sets out on a mission to improve her social skills, adding to the awkwardness of their already difficult dynamic.

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He doesn't want to force her to change but he wants the best for her. He doesn't think to ask what she might consider that to be. There is, however, a definite dom/sub vibe between the two, and when he's not around Narumi has a tendency to seek the company of other men who will tell her what to do. She gets most room to develop as a character; pretty much all he does is push her around or sulk, and he's a little too old to fit that particular bishonen subtype in a flattering way. He does, however, cope fairly well with her fujoshi tendencies and support her in creating her own manga. Can love find a way?

If none of these Japanese words mean anything to you, you may as well forget about watching this film, because you'll be completely lost when it comes to the cultural expression of different forms of otaku culture. The most important thing to understand, however, is that Hirotaka and Narumi are different types of otaku themselves - he's into games and she's into visual art - and as such, each feels slightly superior to the other, at the same time as having internalised prejudice and consequent low self-esteem.

By far the most brazen piece of fan service at Fantasia 2020, Wotakoi will hit the spot perfectly with those who share its characters' obsessions and prove completely impenetrable to most others. it's biggest problem, however, is that as a study of devotion it doesn't have much voice of its own. The pop culture references drown out the plot and the assorted sappy love songs and dance numbers are so perfectly on form that they have nothing to contribute beyond pastiche. Doubtless some fans will coo over the cosplay but seeing such things recreated in film cannot capture the excitement of encountering them in real life, so convention scenes and similar fall a bit flat.

At its core, this is a film about learning to make things work when they fall short of perfection. That may sometimes make sense in the context of romance but it's not so appealing to be expected to make allowances for a film. There are plenty more fish in the sea.

Reviewed on: 04 Sep 2020
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Wotakoi: Love Is Hard For Otaku packshot
When two childhood friends find themselves working in the same office, romance is on the cards, but it's complicated by their various forms of geekery.

Director: Yûichi Fukuda

Writer: Yûichi Fukuda

Starring: Mitsuki Takahata, Kento Yamazaki, Nanao, Takumi Saitoh, Kento Kaku, Maaya Uchida

Year: 2020

Runtime: 114 minutes

Country: Japan


Fantasia 2020

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