Tomoko Kuroki is a 15-year-old girl who is ready to blossom into a popular social butterfly at her new high school. An otaku with a furious passion for video games and anime, she expects that the hours she’s spent playing otome games—romance video games for women—have prepared her for the rigors of friendship, popularity, and romance. However, reality has a harsh lesson for Tomoko, who has remained friendless during her first year of school. Though she gives many excuses for her failure, the real cause is her crippling social anxiety.
No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! is clearly meant to be a slice-of-life high school comedy like Azumanga Daioh. Featuring the trials and tribulations of a painfully shy girl, it is intended to play her failures for laughs while simultaneously applauding her tenacity and perseverance. The problem is that Tomoko has the makings of a seriously troubled teenager who is desperately in need of help. She harbors a distorted view of the world and her classmates, suffers from serious self-image problems, and dramatic internal outbursts suggest a possible bipolar condition. We’re supposed to be entertained by her failed attempts to reach out to others, as her plans repeatedly blow up in her face through a generous amount of self-sabotage. Not even her epic failures are enough for her to endear herself to others, making No Matter How I Look At It an unintentionally depressing read.
Each volume is a catalog of Tomoko’s schemes to make friends, which consistently fail or take an unplanned direction, often leaving her in a worse position than where she started. For instance, while she is messing around with ants, the insects crawl up Tomoko’s pants, making her very twitchy and agitated throughout the day. When two classmates remove a stray ant from her body, Tomoko takes this as a sign of attention and possible affection, but she doesn’t have the power to follow through with the interaction because she is so shy. Tomoko’s younger cousin Ki comes to spend a week with her during the summer, but Ki’s adoration for the older girl turns to pity when she realizes that everything the high schooler mentioned about boyfriends and late night rendezvouses was a lie.
Clearly Tomoko is a girl who is not comfortable in her own skin. She tries to comport herself to an ideal, but she grows angry and spiteful when no one notices her, believing all boys and girls to be “bitches” and “perverts.” This doesn’t stop her from trying to put herself in lascivious positions, however, as she seems to equate sexual attention with the popularity she craves. In one episode, she purposefully boards a crowded train with the intention of being groped. To prepare for her cousin’s arrival, she uses a vacuum cleaner to create fake hickeys; when her mother catches her, Tomoko mouths off and gets slapped in the face, passing off the handprint to her cousin as a mark of her boyfriend’s sexual promiscuity.
Tomoko also delights in listening to albums that feature men degrading women through verbal abuse, which is discomfiting given her impressionable age. When she has the opportunity to meet a voice actor from one of her games and get a personalized recording, her plan to record him saying “I love you, Tomoko” is subverted by another woman, who asks the man to say something dirty. As a result, Tomoko records the actor saying something really degrading, but that doesn’t stop her from listening to it over and over.
Each volume, each chapter, each page has me worried for Tomoko’s mental health. In normal social situations, Tomoko can’t handle the interaction and is prone to throwing up or contemplating suicide; it is unclear whether or not she is joking. In her home life, she doesn’t fare much better. Her mother doesn’t seem overly concerned with her daughter’s behavior and her father is mostly a no-show. The only person to whom Tomoko can open up is her older brother, but he doesn’t seem all that interested in her personal crises. What is so frustrating about No Matter How I Look At It is the fact that Tomoko seems to believe her life is serviceable without any real connection to anyone else; she’ll just stay home, go online, and play video games.
It is difficult to find humor in this manga. Tomoko is a troubled girl who needs help. I was hoping that each volume would put her closer to breaking through her anxiety, but for every step forward she plans, she ends up taking three backwards. Unless she gets helps soon, I worry that Tomoko is a likely candidate for teen suicide. Looking past these dire concerns, No Matter How I Look At It is not especially humorous because its schtick gets old fast. In traditional high school comedies, things eventually work out for the best—and yet, Tomoko meets with failure after failure. In three volumes, things never change or get better for her. If the manga were billed as an honest look into the lives of those who suffer from anxiety, there might be some value herein. Unfortunately, all I see is a girl whose devastating personality disorder is treated as a joke.
No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!, vols. 1-3
by Nico Tanigawa
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780316243162
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780316322041
Vol. 3 ISBN: 9780316322058
Yen Press, 2013-2014
Publisher Age Rating: OT