Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki vol. 3 and the rocky road of relationships

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The more I continue reading Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, the more I enjoy it. As noted in our exploration of the second volume, the premise is a sound one — and each new volume demonstrates that author Yuki Yaku is willing and able to try notably different things with each new episode.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki vol. 3 immediately contrasts with its two predecessors by being set during the summer break rather than using everyday school life as the backdrop to its action. This allows the eponymous protagonist an opportunity to test out his newly acquired skills in an entirely new situation: the more freeform, less structured world of interactions outside school.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki vol. 3

Of course, this isn’t literally the first time that Tomozaki has interacted with the other characters in the series in a non-school environment — indeed, his first meeting with main heroine Aoi Hinami was an Internet meetup in the “real world” — but previous instances of these extracurricular activities were usually immediately followed by him getting back to the comforting predictability of school life. In Bottom-Tier Tomozaki vol. 3, meanwhile, things are inherently less predictable.

There are two main things going on in Bottom-Tier Tomozaki vol. 3, and they both revolve around interpersonal relationships. Firstly, Hinami suggests that Tomozaki should pursue a relationship with Fuka Kikuchi, a quiet, book-loving girl that it’s abundantly clear our hero has been quite taken with for some time.

Except it’s not quite that simple. Although just being in the vague vicinity of Kikuchi causes Tomozaki to lapse into elaborately poetic internal monologues about her angelic appearance — to an amusingly ridiculous, exaggerated but nonetheless rather heartwarming degree — he remains unsure about whether or not pursuing her is the “right” thing to do.

His hesitation does not stem from an uncertainty over whether or not he actually likes her — it’s abundantly clear that he does, very much so, particularly once the pair of them start opening up to one another and talking quite frankly about their own respective instances of personal growth — but rather whether or not he’s pursuing her for the right reasons. In other words, if he was to make a push for a relationship with Kikuchi at Hinami’s behest, would this be a relationship based on honesty — or something he had simply done for selfish reasons, in an attempt to “better” himself?

This internal conflict becomes increasingly important as Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki progresses, and it actually culminates with a fiery confrontation towards the conclusion of volume 3. It adds some interesting tension to the mix and encourages the reader to question the “advice” that the story has given them (and Tomozaki) since the outset rather than simply accepting it unquestioningly. I’ll leave the details of said confrontation for you to discover for yourself — but suffice to say that it shows how Tomozaki is very much growing as a person, and how Hinami may not be quite as infallible as she initially seemed.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki

The other, arguably more major part of the story in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki vol. 3 doesn’t concern Tomozaki himself directly — instead, it centres around the potential relationship between Yuzu Izumi, one of the first characters Tomozaki felt comfortable speaking with after he began taking Hinami’s life advice, and Shinji Nakamura, a character initially positioned in something of an antagonistic role.

This is quite an interesting aspect of the narrative, because it’s quite unusual for stories in Japanese popular media to sidestep the protagonist’s relationships with the characters around him in favour of attempting to establish a relationship between two secondary characters. In other words, it would have been easy for Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki to be established as a “harem” piece, where his self-improvement allows our hero to become the centre of attention for the rest of the cast, the majority of whom are female — but Yaku neatly avoids falling into this cliché.

On top of this, the whole situation is especially intriguing because of what has been, up until this point, a rather troubled relationship between Nakamura and Tomozaki. That said, a rather climactic encounter over their shared love of the video game Atafami enabled them to call a sort of unspoken “truce” with one another — and this slightly awkward relationship continues to be explored over the course of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki vol. 3, as well as becoming relevant for what comes next in vol. 4.

The focal point of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki vol. 3 is a camping trip, attended by Tomozaki, Hinami, Nakamura and Izumi, as well as newly introduced characters Takei, who is an endearing idiot, and Mizusawa, an individual that Tomozaki has not only been getting along with, he has also been modelling himself on somewhat. The intention behind the camping trip is for all the others (except Takei, whom none of them trust to keep his mouth shut) to get Nakamura and Izumi together through a series of convoluted circumstances — and the machinations that are put in place in order to help make this happen demonstrate some of the series’ finest “social engineering” in action.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki

This all ties in with Tomozaki’s increasing discomfort at how Hinami does things, though. While he can’t deny that over the course of the three volumes up until this point, he has seen a considerable improvement in himself, is he really “being himself” when he’s following these rules to play the game of life? It’s an important question — and one that he inadvertently stumbles across a couple of other characters struggling with during one of the climactic points of the novel. Again, though, I’ll leave the specific details of that for you to discover for yourself; needless to say, it puts an intriguing new spin on things.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki vol. 3 presents a nice change of pace from the first two volumes with its switch in setting and shift in focus. There’s the definite sense that Tomozaki has progressed enough in his own efforts to be able to participate in more substantial stories unfolding around him at this point — and that’s satisfying to see. It gives a real sense that the overarching narrative of the series as a whole is unfolding in its own little world rather than becoming too bogged down in the “aspirational” aspects; the fact that it encourages both readers and Tomozaki himself to question many of the things they have learned up until this point is especially worthy of note and praise.

To put it another way, by this point the cast of Bottom-Tier Tomozaki feels less like a collection of tropes each designed to fulfil a particular “role” in the story, and more like an endearingly eclectic group of friends, each with their own recognisable and distinctive traits — as well as some believable flaws. They’re a pleasure to hang out with, and that makes me excited to enjoy subsequent volumes.

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Pete Davison
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