“Love is Difficult for Nerds” vol. 1&2 and The Question of Balance
Carla: If you like her, you can’t keep lying to her about who you are!
Janitor: Hogwash! Lie forever, it’s the natural form of communication between men and women.
-Scrubs, Season 7 Episode 6: My Number One Doctor
How much do you disclose about yourself to a potential partner? To what extent, and how soon? Sure, it’s advisable to share a good amount of your interests, but what should or should not be held back at the beginning? There’s no real right answer to this, but living in a era where such a wide range of interests and hobbies exist, some of them are going to be lost on others. Perhaps it’s easier to find someone who already has a predisposition to your interests since they already understand the ins-and-outs of your particular like. It certainly makes for great common ground.
Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii, or “Love is Difficult for Nerds” as I’m personally translating it, is a massive seller among the respective audience here in Japan. Most recently the second volume outsold some major series when it came out at the end of March. With all the hype, the interesting title, and seeing the last two copies of each volume at the bookstore, I had to check it out. And it’s not hard to understand the popularity after reading: a slice-of-life rom-com with deep anime, manga, video game references and memes, posing some questions many of the readers are probably dealing with themselves.
Meet Narumi Momose and Hirotaka Nifuji: two 26 year old nerds who work at the same unnamed office job. The sweet and passionate Narumi is a self proclaimed “Fujoshi” (for simplicity’s sake: a woman who is really into anime and manga, including but not limited to the “Boys Love” genre), while cool and calm Hirotaka surrounds himself with video games all the time. Once childhood friends, they reconnect after finding out they work together and start going out for regular drinks. With the push and pull of their other fellow coworker couple, Hanako Koyanagi (who’s a big nerd) and Taro Kabakura (who’s kinda not really), they try to come to terms with whether or not it’s better to hide their interests or be their full selves from daily life to dating. At least for now, they find comfort in not having to hide anything from each other.
And the first couple of chapters do raise some interesting points. Albeit but once, Narumi was previously dumped because her ex found out she is a big anime nerd. Whether it was because she was hiding it or her ex really hated the stuff isn’t stated, but Narumi is pretty convinced it’s the later. Hirotaka doesn’t try to hide his interests, but frankly he doesn’t try in any realm outside of games. He fully knows how his interest is perceived by other people, but he’s not the kind of guy to want to be popular anyways.
Because of the stigma and image of otaku, there’s a real sense here in Japan that it’s better to hide any indication of your nerdy interests unless you’re a kid or want to be labeled as “one of them” by your peers. Narumi frequently uses the word “Wotabare,” (ヲタバレ) a combo of the word “nerd” and the verb “to leak out secrets,” to which she in particular fears the most. In fact a more literal and brash reading of Narumi’s fandom name “Fujoshi” can translate to “rotten woman.” I have, on more than one occasion, found out coworkers and friends of mine are really into a particular series or even into the anime scene as a whole, only for them to talk about it in hushed tones or only when we’re drinking together.
One teacher I work with, who makes it no secret that she’s a Gundam fan, told me to remove the Naruto characters from one pre-made worksheet once because “only serious otaku are into that.” One art teacher, who said previously she’s not into any of the stuff, had an hour conversation with me about the recent airing of Osomatsu-san. One conversation class student of mine wouldn’t say the titles of what she read–despite saying she spent the whole weekend reading comics–during class because she didn’t want to let the other students know what she was into.
It’s here I see a serious divide between Eastern and Western fan mentality. In America, there’s so much proclamation of the “self” that being a fan of…frankly anything so easily becomes an identity. Even outside the conventions, I find a lot of American fans are not shy as to let others know what sort of property they are into.
In Japan, while there’s most likely a fan club for your favorite author or series, it appears that one saves the extravagance for the meet ups or street festivals. A key chain here or there isn’t bad, but otherwise you keep it to yourself. Unless, well, you subscribe to a particular fashion.
Sometimes people go so far as to play dumb at the slightest mention at the wrong time. This isn’t a Japan-only problem, and I’m sure there’s plenty of cases of the same in America and wherever else, but in a country that produces so much “nerd content” as Japan does, it’s certainly the place where people might struggle with the balance the most.
You’re always told as a kid to be yourself, but the world very quickly let’s you know many people frankly don’t care or may look at you poorly. In the end those people shouldn’t matter, but we humans have a funny way of trying to gain the acceptance of people who frankly wouldn’t oblige.
In all honesty, this series isn’t always addressing this conundrum. Frankly, it’s sprinkled a little bit at the beginning and end chapters of each volume if that. The rest are slice-of-life comedic bits with anime, manga, and game references and plots that are presented more for laughs than they are ideas. At times it feels like the nerd references are slapped on to a rather simple love story. The jokes worked for me because I understood a good amount of the references, but I can’t say how they will do for anyone else who doesn’t have that deeper vocabulary. Do not go into this thinking that it’s always questioning the relationship between one’s interests and the people around them or what it means to share your interests with your partner. It has yet to do so, really.
But it’s the points that are raised in the first chapter and sprinkled in others that keep me holding on. I really want to know what Fujita’s take on modern relationships and fans of nerdy media are, because lord knows it hasn’t been done well yet. It’s hard to say how long this series will actually go, and it has no clear end-goal as the comedy half of the rom-com is more emphasized. However it’s because I can see the potential in this work that makes me want to see it out. There’s no guarantee it will, and with the first and second volume release date gaps being so large it’s hard to say how long it will take, but I’m really hoping it won’t shy away from some more direct commentary.
In the Scrubs episode referenced up top, the Janitor attempts to hide his extensive hobby (taxidermy) and beyond the pale opinions (he doesn’t believe the moon is real) from his new found girlfriend in fear that even the smallest revelation will cause her to run away. After being told he can’t keep it a secret any longer, he unleashes every weird aspect about him onto her, to which Carla alerts him that it’s better to unveil bit by bit. Some people are better at taking other’s eccentricities at higher doses, but surely hiding it is not the right solution.
Some are lucky enough to meet that special someone who doesn’t start to turn away once more truth is revealed. I’m sure that’s the ideal for most, especially those with really nerdy interests. I myself am certainly not excluded from that. But in those beginning moments of meeting people, regardless if you have romantic feelings for them or not, we’re all in that anxious back-and-forth hoping the other won’t think any lower of us. We can only hope that once more of our personal books are open, people will want to continue to read-Even if our covers have a lot of really dumb anime looking stuff on the cover.