By Yuki Yaku and Fly. Released in Japan as “Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun” by Gagaga Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.
As I write this review, the Tomozaki anime is about to start, and I am very curious to see how it does, given how much of this series is just dialogue with very little action. It’s about two gamers, and at times reads a lot like you’re reading their gaming log, particularly when characters get together to try to decide how to fix things. On the bright side, Tomozaki has improved by leaps and bounds, and there is very little “normie” chatter here. He barely feels like Hachiman at all now. That said, he is somewhat humbled when he tries to apply the same lessons he, a shy cynical introvert, learned over months to Tama-chan, who is merely very serious and dedicated, and when she tries his helpful hints, she improves far faster than he ever did. That said, the true star here is probably Kikuchi, who starts high above everyone else and just soars ever higher. It’s a shame girls like her are never the lead.
Hinami is the lead, but… let’s save her for later, OK? A good 3/4 of this book is a lot of fun. Tomozaki t5ries to help Tama-chan by helping her change herself so that she’s more open and likeable to her classmates, which would defuse some of the tension caused by Konno’s bullying. Part of that is simply not fighting back constantly (It’s noted that Tama-chan is basically “attack, attack, attack” in terms of game metaphors), but also to try and have her fit in with banter, conversation, and self-deprecating jokes. There’s a great moment when everyone realizes that Tama-chan does not really care much about the rest of her class, and I enjoy that it’s seen as a flaw but she’s not shamed for it. He also bonds with Kikuchi, brought in as a conversation partner for Tama-chan, and I think he is beginning to realize he likes her as more than a friend.
That said, this is not helping with the basic issue, which is Konno. Except it isn’t, because in the back quarter of the book, we realize that Hinami has taken this far more to heart than Tomozaki or anyone else had expected, and she proceeds to wreak an absolutely epic r3evenge that almost destroys Konno. (It does not completely destroy her, and thank god for Tama-chan coming in at the end, or else this book would be even darker than it already is.) The book ends up being about Hinami, whose “mask”, as it turns out, is pretty obvious to most of the rest of the class, particularly Tama-chan, who feels responsible for Hinami having to go as far as she did. Notably, aside from one or two brief meetings, Hinami and Tomozaki barely interact here. I imagine readers ended up being pretty unnerved.
That said, I have to agree with Tomozaki: I desperately want to know more about the real Aoi Hinami, and she’s still my favorite reason to read this book, as I find her fascinating. (As for who Tomozaki should date, well, let’s leave that for now.) For a series that started off as “what if My Youth Romantic Comedy but milder”, it’s really started to come into its own. I can see why it got the anime.