Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii Ep. 4: Romanticizing dysfunction

Hanako and Taro have a toxic relationship. I’m not even gonna beat around the bush about that. I hate it when people act as though couples have to fight all the time. Yes, couples fight. It’s natural to butt heads from time to time. It’s not natural, however, to fight every other day. It’s not natural to rope your boyfriend into doing something he doesn’t want to do. It’s not natural to flirt with your boyfriend’s best friend. It’s not natural to call your girlfriend an ugly hag. It’s just weird how we’ve come to normalize emotional and verbal abuse, because our minds are so easily tricked by a handful of chemicals. First up is dopamine. When you’re having a great time, what’s happening is that your brain is getting blasted with dopamine. But as with every drug, dopamine has the greatest effect when you’re not getting it on the regular. When there are highs and lows, the highs can feel so high. Naturally, the lows will leave you feeling like utter shit, but that’s the point. We become so afraid of feeling like utter shit that we go chasing after that high. We think that if we pull out of the toxic relationship now, then utter shit is all we’ll ever feel. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a friend ask for advice about their relationship, and it’ll go a little something like this:

Me: “Dude, I don’t think you and X are compatible. You guys shouldn’t be having screaming matches all the time.”

Friend: “But when things are good between us, they’re SO good.”

This, my friends, is called an addiction. A peaceful relationship doesn’t feel as exciting as a hot-and-cold one, because we’d rather get our dopamine in irregular doses. It’s like how you’ll keep gambling even though you’re in the red, because you’re so damn sure that the jackpot is coming. You can feel it! Just like how you and your toxic SO will turn the corner any day now! Before you know, you’ll be right back to those happy feels. It’ll be like the honeymoon period all over again! You don’t know when it’ll come, but that’s what makes it so exciting! This added mystery makes the toxic relationship all the more addictive. We are chasing the high, and we are obsessed with chasing the high. It’s an unending quest for that fleeting “fix” that our heart yearns for. This is what I see what I look at the relationship between Hanako and Taro. Even as an outsider, I find them exhausting. Fighting so much is a waste of energy. Why would you want to argue both at work and at a restaurant? Life’s too short to add so much stress to your life!

But aha, stress tricks us into staying. After one drink, Hanako’s insecurities get the best of her. She knows she’s not Taro’s ideal type, and it doesn’t help that the first positive thing he has to say about her is her big breasts. She’s had enough, so she tries to storm off. Narumi quickly rushes to try to calm her friend down, but oddly enough, she’s fixated on Hanako’s chest as well. Nevertheless, tears are streaming down the woman’s face. She and Taro have been sniping at each other all episode. I half-expected her to say that she was tired of all the fighting — tired of all the toxicity. But what does she say instead? She goes, “If things stay like this, he’s going to get tired of me someday.” That’s what she’s worried about? She’s worried about being dumped by him? I know it’s anime, so everyone’s attractive, but does she really believe she can’t find another guy? Nevertheless, Hanako adds, “Is he satisfied with me? What if he’s just dating me because it’s convenient?” What happened here is that oxytocin has screwed Hanako over:

“When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels increase; hence, oxytocin is often called “the love hormone.” In fact, the hormone plays a huge role in all pair bonding. The hormone is greatly stimulated during sex, birth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings.”

But wait! Doesn’t this make oxytocin sound like a good hormone? Most of the time, yes. But studies have also shown that oxytocin can play on our fears:

“Ironically, evidence of the ability of oxytocin to trigger anxiety in humans has recently emerged. Under times of social defeat or trauma, oxytocin appears to target a specific area of the brain that reinforces fear-based memories.

In July 2013, researchers at Northwestern Medicine published a study, “Fear-Enhancing Effects of Septal Oxytocin Receptors (link is external),” in Nature Neuroscience.

The study shows that oxytocin—which is typically associated with our most positive, intimite bonds and falling in love—is also responsible for some of our most long lasting psychological pain, including the memories associated with a break up.”

The chemical has become a double-edged sword. Hanako’s system is amped up with adrenaline, so she will either fight or flight. But where can she go? Our first instinct is to seek comfort in stressful situations, so she initially cries on Narumi’s shoulders. At the end of the day, however, Hanako has pair-bonded with Taro so she can’t help but go back to him even when it makes no sense from our vantage point. After all, she’s been with Taro since high school. If there’s anyone she’s attached to, it’s him. But at the same time, oxytocin is also heightening her insecurities and fears of abandonment. They’ve been together this long and they still haven’t tied the knot? In her mind, she must be wondering when the other shoe will drop. Her toxic partner becomes both a place of comfort and the very source of her insecurities and anxieties. But after fighting all night, she’s too weary to go on. At some point, we get tired, y’know? We get tired of having to stand up for ourselves constantly. We give in because it’s easier. This is exactly what happens afterwards.

Taro eventually enters the lobby and continues to make his girlfriend feel even worse: “…you’re right. I’m sure I could find plenty of otaku girls who are cuter and easier to handle than you. And who have bigger boobs.” When she goes to slap him, he blocks her, and taunts, “You finally looked over here, ugly hag.” She tearfully admits defeat as she can’t extricate herself from this toxic relationship. All she can do is bemoan the fact that he rarely has anything nice to say about her. So what does the guy do? All Taro does in return is his hug his girlfriend and pat her on the head. All of a sudden, the happy theme song starts playing, and it’s like a fucking slap in our face. We’re meant to believe that these two have somehow managed to make up. Of course, if we want to be charitable to Taro — though I’m not really sure why we would — we can interpret his words like so: “Yeah, there are lots of girls who are more attractive and less annoying than you, but I stay with you because I really love you for X, Y,  and/or Z reasons.” The confession is supposed to be implied or something. But that’s fucked up. Why not say it if that’s what you really believe? Why not also prove your love to her through your actions?

Ultimately, I think their relationship is unhealthy, and it’s a bit sad that the one between Narumi and Hirotaka is actually the model one. After all, Narumi starts wondering if perhaps they’re both settling with each other. The guy confesses that he’s happy when she’s happy. In other words, he likes her for her. But we’ve known that from the start. We’ve known that Hirotaka has been in love with his childhood friend for a long time now. The only person who’s really settling is Narumi. But the word “settling” is problematic anyways. It seems to imply that our values can’t change as we age and mature. Sure, she might have been more interested in “normies,” but why can’t Narumi eventually grow to love what Hirotaka has to offer? I’m not suggesting, of course, that Hirotaka is perfect by any means. But I hate the notion that girls are settling if they stop chasing after unattainable men. And as a result, the guy ends up being all butthurt because they think that their partner should’ve come out of their mothers’ wombs ready to love them right from the start. That’s patently ridiculous. At the end of the day, all we can really say is that all four of these characters are amazingly immature despite the fact that they’re working adults. They’ve got a long way to go.

Misc. notes & observations:

We’ll keep it short here, since I’ve already written a ton up above.

— At the start of the episode, Hirotaka finds Narumi in tears over Sailor Moon, so he goes, “I mean, what’s the point of crying over anime at this age?” Bruh, can you rewatch Grave of the Fireflies and not shed a single tear? ‘Cause if you can, you’re a monster.

— In anime, all guys can magically become cute girls with a wig and some make-up. On the other hand, I’m a lot like Taro when it comes to cosplay. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that no amount of make-up and well-tailored anime costumes will ever make me look good. It’s not low self-esteem. I know what I am and I’m merely an average-looking bloke.

— What is so embarrassing about loving your girlfriend? It’s a cute picture. But this is a prime example of what I was just talking about. These “highs” make it seem as though it’s worth staying in such a contentious relationship.

— Narumi has a one-track mind.

— Hanako: “I thought you were an otaku. I can’t believe you don’t cosplay.” I’ve never cosplayed once in my life.

— These characters often say the wrong things. It’s like they’ve never heard of the word “tact.”

— Taro doesn’t actually look good here, though.

This is how Hanako roped Taro into a genderbent cosplay. I don’t know what a “Yudachi Kai-II figurine” is and I’m not gonna Google it. I’m sure if I did, I’d lose even more respect for Taro.

— But I’ve heard that PDA is generally frowned up on in Japan.

— I think this is what they call asymmetrical docking.

— Jesus, Taro likes Ranka? Talk about basic.

— I really can’t agree with guys who think bigger breasts are automatically better. Nor do I think smaller breasts are better. It’s all about falling within two standard deviations of the mean.

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3 Replies to “Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii Ep. 4: Romanticizing dysfunction”

  1. All the crappy love-relationship in this series is why I dropped the manga and didn’t pick up the anime. I liked the adult otaku theme but goddamn most of the characters are terrible people when it comes to romance.

  2. I feel like at one point these kinds of relationships were supposed to be playful bickering, where two people are comfortable enough with each other to tease without going over the line. But 99% of the time it ends up just being two people shouting hateful things at each other and then we’re supposed to buy that it’s fine and neither one is harmed by this.

    A friend of mine and their partner share an acidic sense of humour and end up teasing each other fairly harshly, but what anime never shows is the time it took for them to learn each other’s boundaries, all the conversations they had to build enough trust so that neither one feels actually insulted. I guess we’re supposed to just infer it happened? But then when we do see Hanako’s insecurities, instead of having an adult conversation about it with her boyfriend it’s just more insults and then everyone’s fine.

    1. I feel like at one point these kinds of relationships were supposed to be playful bickering,

      I don’t know what relationships the mangaka has been looking at, but teasing banter is usually accompanied by smiles, not tears. I really think a lot of people just see this sort of bickering as “normal.”

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