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 Jennifer Ward.
The Tomozaki novels have always felt a bit like a college thesis. It’s the sort of series that Chitose Is in the Ramune Bottle made fun of, detailing ways to improve your life and become a normie. As such, it’s not too much of a surprise that this book is very analytical of its three main characters. In fact, arguably that’s the plot of this volume. And what it shows us is scary. Hinami, Tomozaki and Kikuchi are all characters we like and root for (well, OK, maybe not Hinami), but at the same time they can be truly terrifying. In this book we see Tomozaki realizing that the path Hinami has been leading him down is the wrong one, but the self-discoveries that he comes to are also very dangerous, and he almost chooses a totally different but equally wrong path. God bless Mimimi, who may constantly be the romantic loser but I think sees the real Tomozaki better than any of the others. She knows WHY they all fell for him.
You will be relieved to hear that Tomozaki and Kikuchi do not break up after the events of the previous book, though I admit I am a lot less optimistic about their future by the END of this book. Tomozaki confronts Hinami about the advice she gave him regarding his new relationship, and finds she was trying to get them to have their first fight – which causes him to break off their sessions. He apologizes to Kikuchi and tries to work things out with her, but we discover that the aspects of dating that everyone else seems to take for granted elude him. This is shown best in a game of Atafami with his offline group, where she shows that he’s started to use a completely different character, something that almost makes Hinami have an emotion. Meanwhile, Kikuchi is writing a new online novel… one that, once again, seems eerily familiar.
Which sounds scarier, seeing the world only as a gamer or seeing the world only as a writer? Tomozaki’s reaction to Kikuchi’s new novel almost feels like it’s out of a horror story, where you find that she’s secretly behind him as he reads it. Meanwhile, Hinami simply IS a horror story. Her statement that she never does anything without a reason, and her bafflement that others find this creepy, forces Tomozaki to wonder why she’s been tutoring him on life this whole time. What is her real reason? If it’s just “I was annoyed by Tomozaki’s lameness”, that’s a sad reason. But no, it’s actually a way to validate herself that doesn’t damage herself – only him. I think we may be totally done with the life lessons, at least on her end. Just as it turns out Tomozaki was strong and cool all along, Hinami is still dealing with past trauma, and any lessons learned in the future are probably going to be hers.
There’s a new translator for this volume, as Jennifer Ward has been freed from Oregairu and moved on to a series inspired by it. Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki may not need a glossary at the end, but its volumes are filled with emotion, trauma, and psychoanalysis. I really enjoy this series.