I’ve made it a bit of a hobby within a hobby to pursue Otaku-themed anime, manga, and games. There’s the naive fantasy (Comic Party), the painfully cynical (Welcome to the NHK!), the awkwardly humorous (Otaku no Musume) and of course the cautiously optimistic (Genshiken), among others. But now there comes another player, Ressentiment, a story so drenched in ugliness and negativity that it is by far the most pessimistic of all the Otaku-themed works that I’ve seen.
…or is it?
Ressentiment takes place in the not-so-distant future. Takuro, a sad, pathetic, ugly 30 year old man living with his mom and working a dead-end job discovers the h-game. Except in this age of man, the h-game has reached unprecedented levels of realism, to the point that the girls in the games believe they actually exist within the context of their worlds.
Takuro purchases an artifical girl, Tsukiko, and expects what we all expect from these sorts of games: gratification be it instant or otherwise. Tsukiko, however, is an anomaly among virtual heroine-sex objects in that she already has someone she loves and spurns the advances of Takuro. An even bigger surprise is that when Tsukiko bites Takuro’s hand, the pain and effect transfer over to reality. This is Not Normal.
Takuro must deal with the fact that he has now been rejected by women not just in real life but also in what should have been a fantasy world. The truth of Tsukiko’s highly irregular programming is also slowly revealed.
The thing that keeps me from saying that Ressentiment is totally sad and depressing and a completely negative outlook on the otaku is that while much of the focus is on otaku trying to escape from their own sad lives, it’s not just otaku whose lives are ugly. Practically every character, even the attractive ones, have their own crippling issues to deal with. The characters have horrible personalities, horrible habits, and even horrible hygiene, but they all to varying degrees have to butt heads with reality in their own ways. While the otaku’s fantasy world is very plain to see, the other characters have their own ways of escaping their lives. In a sense, it’s easy to say that the otaku are pathetic, but everyone else is equally pathetic. And to be pathetic on some level is to be human. Those who try to deny this fact are given the harshest wake-up call of all.
To steal a quote from Kino’s Journey, “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.”
It remains to be seen if the characters themselves ever realize this.