Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face – Dale Carnegie

In 1936, Dale Carnegie published a book titled How to Win Friends and Influence Other People. Many consider this as one of the earliest modern self-help books. Years later, self-help products become a trend. Whether it’s about helping others to communicate, to be motivated, to have a healthy body, or to get a romantic partner; those products have found their audiences. According to Forbes, Americans already spent 11 billion dollars to buy self-improvement product in 2008 alone, which indicate how people resonate with those products.

That idea of self-improvement, however, never once arisen in Fumiya Tomozaki‘s mind. He is a high school student who is also a huge fan of a game called Attack Families. Thanks to his gaming skill, he’s ranked as the number one player of that game. Tomozaki praises Attack Families as the most balanced game ever, where everyone has an equal chance of winning. Unfortunately, his attachment to the game makes him dissociate himself from the real world. For him, the real world a horribly balanced game where there is no rule and nothing makes sense.

It all changes when he meets another top player of Attack Families with the avatar name “NONAME”, who turns out to be his classmate Aoi Hinami. Hinami, who is a popular girl in school, is offended by the fact the Attack Families‘ number one player is a loser in real life. She challenges Tomozaki to treat real life seriously. In Hinami’s mind, real life could also be called a game, and just like other games, a “walkthrough” to win in real life exists. From there, Hinami starts teaching Tomozaki the tips and tricks to become successful in real life.

Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki
Tomozaki with Hinami © Yuuki Yaku / Shogakukan / “Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki” production committee

A lot of Hinami’s advice is enmeshed in gaming lexicon and expressions, but at their core, a lot of her idea makes sense. What she has done is creating an abstraction of what people need from social interaction and gamify it so that it feels like a “quest” in a game. Most of them are something that we can find in “how to communicate” books, like smiling at other people, actively listening, or knowing the preferences of the other party. Hinami just wraps them in gaming terms so Tomozaki can understand them and feels motivated to do them.

Admittedly, Hinami’s explanations could feel confusing outside certain groups because of the gaming terminologies. But for Tomozaki, it works; he can understand them because Hinami uses expressions that are close to him. Moreover, Hinami’s ideas work really well for him because, as previously stated, it is something basic and comes from our common sense. It is something that Hachiman from Oregairu preaches in his monologues about human interaction: how people are expected to behave in a social situation. But rather than using that understanding to criticize others, Hinami and Tomozaki use it to learn how to interact with other people.

Because of that, it is also tempting to use Hinami’s advice in our real world. Unfortunately, whether it is work or not in our real world is probably debatable. Some simpler advice like smiling behind a face mask, how to dress, or fixing your posture are easy to replicate. But other advice like using recording or making a flashcard to memorize each people preference seems too complicated to be used in real life. Nevertheless, Hinami’s advice could be the starting point when we want to discuss human communication. This is actually one of a few anime that better watched together with friends because discussing the content of the anime is one part of its charm.

Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki
Tomozaki with Mimimi © Yuuki Yaku / Shogakukan / “Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki” production committee

Moreover, the advices are not the only part that could incite discussion. After a few episodes, the anime throws some obvious problems to Hinami’s advice. From here, our view of self-improvement tips started to be challenged. More and more issues are brought up to show flaws in Hinami’s advice. All of these lead to an important question to ask: is it okay to treat life as a game with fixed goals and various rules? Why should we try so hard to win the game of life? If you treat those self-improvement pieces of advice as gospel, can you communicate sincerely with other people?

At first, those ideas seem to be introduced unintentionally, because the early episodes of the anime really makes it appear to sell itself as a “guide” for otaku on how to make friends and improve yourself as a human being. However, more and more evidence shows that the “guide” is flawed. Those flaws don’t mean the advice is not working. The fact that the advice works despite its flaw is what makes Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki interesting. The anime encourages people to think about why the advice work and the implication behind it.

What started as a promotion of self-improvement for otaku audience suddenly becomes an important criticism about how we perceive self-improvement advice that develops around us. With an ongoing pandemic, the number of self-improvement products have been noted to be increasing. Yet, there are a lot of people who just consume the products as what they are, without thinking that maybe the industry has its problems. Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki just shows us something that a lot of people missed when it comes to self-improvement. Of course, it doesn’t just outright reject those ideas. But the anime reminds us that to approach the subject, critical thinking is necessary.

Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki
“Sometimes, I feel that you are a different person” © Yuuki Yaku / Shogakukan / “Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki” production committee

Unfortunately, while what it is trying to say is important, it is also a type of anime that will be hard to get into, because the interesting part of the story comes in the later episodes. The execution is also not that special. With the amount of dialogue and character interaction in the anime, it is unfortunate that the character animation is not really well-produced. Some episodes actually have good storyboard and scene direction. But most of the time, the animation feel static and fall flat. The conversation scene just lost all subtlety that can be conveyed through body language.

But after watching all of the episodes, I think the animation doesn’t bother me that much. The story itself is genuinely great. It started slow but becomes interesting when the viewers realize what the anime is actually trying to say. For an anime labelled by many as “an anime about how to become a riajuu“, this anime is not just a tutorial. Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki is also a critical piece that encourages us to think about our motivation and value when we approach the idea of self-improvement. It is sad that many fans dismiss this anime as an “anime for simp” because I found Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki to be one of the most relevant anime from the winter 2021 season.

Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki
Tomozaki finally talks to Kikuchi without a mask © Yuuki Yaku / Shogakukan / “Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki” production committee

In the book How to Win Friends and Influence Other People in the Digital Age, which adapted Carnegie’s idea for the current era, writer Brent Cole wrote this in the preface:

“The irony is that Carnegie would not endorse all of today’s self-help advice. He extolled action that sprang from genuine interest in others.”

Which make me wonder, why do we read those self-help advices? Is it because we genuinely want to connect with others? Or is it because we are just a victim of our own values?

What many dismissed as the “anime for simp” turns out to be an important criticism self-help culture © Yuuki Yaku / Shogakukan / “Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki” production committee

Facts and Figures

Alternate title Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun
Source material Light novel by Yuuki Yaku
Casts Ai Kayano as Fūka Kikuchi
Gen Sato as Fumiya Tomozaki
Hisako Kanemoto as Aoi Hinami
Ikumi Hasegawa as Manami Nanami
Nene Hieda as Yuzu Izumi
Nobuhiko Okamoto as Nakamura
Nobunaga Shimazaki as Takahiro Mizusawa
Ryōko Maekawa as Hanabi Natsubayashi
Shuntarō Mizuno as Takei
Director Shinsuke Yanagi (And you thought there is never a girl online?)
Scenario Fumihiko Shimo (New Game!, Amagi Brilliant Park)
Character design Akane Yano (And you thought there is never a girl online?)
Opening song “Jinsei Easy?” by DIALOGUE+
Ending song “Ayafuwa Asterisk” by DIALOGUE+
Studio Project No.9
Official site
Twitter @tomozakikoshiki
Broadcast date 8 January 2021 (1200 GMT/1900 WIT, 2100 JST)

The Indonesian Anime Times | Review by Dany Muhammad | Image source: Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki official twitter account

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