So that is officially the longest title of any manga I have ever read or any book my brain has battled in these pages. And this is also the only manga I’ve ever read only in English on these pages and possibly the only manga I’ve read only in English since I was a young monkey who had never been to Japan and actually wasn’t particularly interested in changing that. I only cared about Sailor Moon. The fact that she was Japanese was incidental and not all that interesting to me at the time. (Now, of course, I have many a thought about how connected Sailor Moon is in fact with Japanese culture and society, thoughts my brain and I may share one day!)
But if I hadn’t know that this was a Japanese comic, I would have assumed it was by an American (albeit with an unhealthy and obsessive interest in Japanese pop culture) because the English is so great! Honestly, this thing is so well written and natural sounding. Characters say things that actual native English-speaking humans would say, complete with the most effortless use of slang I’ve seen in ages. As I already mentioned, I haven’t read the Japanese, so I can’t testify to the accuracy, but this translation works as a final English text, and I would definitely recommend it to any baby translators out there looking to improve their game. The editor is not listed in the credits, as seems to be the norm for Yen Press books, but whoever you are, mystery editor, I extend my high fives for this work to you as well. As Editor Appreciation Day showed us so recently, our editors are who make our work great. Basically, everyone involved in the production of the English version of this manga, keep doing what you’re doing! (And you know, disclaimer: although I had nothing to do with this particular series, I do translate stuff for Yen Press, most recently this.)
I can rave all I want about the production of this English volume, but I know what you really want to know is: is the actual series good or no good? I come down on the side of good and fun and full of secondhand embarrassment. You know how when you are reading or watching something and a character is doing something really dumb/awkward/indicative of poor planning and thus thoroughly embarrassing, and you cringe in embarrassment on their behalf, even though the character themselves don’t realize that they are doing something that is really embarrassing? Watamote (abbreviated Japanese title and apparently the abbreviation used in English too, so let’s go with that because the title is waaaaaaay too long) is basically a string of successive secondhand-embarrassment-inducing incidents.
Tomoko Kuroki (aka Mokocchi) is just starting high school and she’s convinced that she will be the most popular person when she does, despite the fact that’s clear from the first page that she is a total nerd who has little to no concept of how to interact with actual people. She brags about having guys in middle school talk to her “six whole times”. Over the course of three years. Yeah, high school is not going to turn out like she thinks it will. And of course, it doesn’t. But she does that thing you do when you’re a teenager and turn all problem situations into the fault of someone else. So when everyone in class goes off to karaoke at the start of summer vacation and she is not invited, having not actually spoken to anyone the entire term, she sneers at them. Those grapes were probably sour anyway, said the fox.
She’s also an inveterate fujoshi, spending her days and nights playing otome games and listening to BL CDs, which doesn’t really help her social life, especially since she projects her own filthy thoughts onto the people around her. She’s also convinced that everyone loves her, so every interaction turns into the most awkward thing ever. Basically, reading this series is just one cringe after another. But it’s funny as hell and the art plays nicely with this awkward feeling and teenage life style, veering from regular everyday stuff to total over the top exaggeration of appearances and situations, so you really get the sense of seeing the world through Tomoko’s eyes.
Given that Tomoko is a hardcore fujoshi and heavily into anime and manga as well, this series is so chockfull of references that I got a headache just thinking about having to translate it myself. Each volume has a few pages of notes to let the ignorant reader know just what the hell Tomoko is talking about, so you can read this and claim you are studying modern Japanese culture if your mom asks what you’re doing. The notes would, of course, be more effective if there were actually any page numbers in the book to match up with the page numbers in the notes at the back, but that is just pretty standard with manga these days and something I am going to have to suck up. (Note: I am often thwarted by the lack of page numbers in my own translation work, so I may be extra sensitive to this issue.)
Basically, this series is will let you look at your own nerd self and laugh. And if you pick it up in English (or borrow it from your local library!), you will be supporting the publication of manga in English and helping to keep food on this translator’s table. I don’t want to play the pity card or anything here, but you know…vegetables just keep getting more expensive…and uh, rent or something…uh…Buy manga!