The first three volumes of Yuki Yaku’s light novel series Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki provide an intriguing introduction to a small-scale and relatively unremarkable but nonetheless compelling narrative world. In the first volume, we meet our hero Tomozaki and learn of his desire to learn how to play the game of life better. In the second, we see Tomozaki applying some of his lessons, at least partly in an attempt to strike back at his mentor and rival. And in the third, we see him coming to question some of the things he has learned — particularly when he learns that the idea of putting up a front to others to conceal one’s real self is not altogether rare.
So far, each volume of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki has felt like it has escalated nicely. Tomozaki has been learning things as a character, and has been growing and changing as a result; rather than being the sort of protagonist who just sort of stagnates and is happy to exist the way he is, flaws and all, he has been making a genuine effort to learn more about who he is, and how he can fit into the world a little better.
At the same time, though, the life advice he has been following is certainly not a magic bullet that suddenly solves all his problems; on the contrary, it’s admirable that in the third volume particularly, we see him questioning the methods he’s been exploring. The fact that he’s not only been learning lessons from the school’s idol Aoi Hinami but also developing his own unique outlook on the world means that he’s in a position to ponder such things — and this is something that continues to escalate as the series continues.
In Volume 4 of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Hinami presents our hero with his toughest challenge to date. With the school sports festival coming up soon, his task is to get the class queen bitch Erika Konno to give a shit. This is obviously an incredibly daunting objective, and the Tomozaki we meet at the start of Volume 1 would have likely just given up almost immediately. But we’re into the fourth volume now, and by this point Tomozaki is starting to recognise the value of the game of life — and how various strategies can be applied in order to play it more effectively.
Erika Konno is a character who has been teased briefly in previous volumes of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki. Most notably, she showed up during a confrontation between Tomozaki and secondary character Nakamura over their shared love of — and rivalry in — the popular video game Attack Families, aka Atafami.
During this encounter, Konno displayed open disdain for both Tomozaki and Nakamura actually putting effort into something that they enjoyed — and this provoked a somewhat rare explosion of emotion from Tomozaki, who had the advantage of being someone relatively blind to the “mood” at the time. In other words, no-one else would dare stand up to Konno because of the prevailing mood that surrounded her — but this was a rare instance where Tomozaki’s relative innocence in the ways of the world stood him in good stead and allowed him to confront her directly when no-one else would.
This, of course, puts him on somewhat shaky ground when it comes to his overall objective for Volume 4, as by this point he has learned that understanding the mood — and, at times, manipulating it subtly — is key to ensuring things unfold as you want them to. In other words, he’s not going to have any success convincing Konno to care about the school sports festival simply by going and yelling at her again; he is, instead, going to have to come up with more elaborate plans.
Specifically, it means cooperating with others in a variety of ways. It means understanding how different people’s relationships to one another can provide different perspectives on a situation. And it means recognising that when presented with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, one doesn’t have to rely purely on one’s own abilities — like a good RPG, it’s about forming the right party and using everyone’s skills to overcome the challenge ahead of you.
Unfortunately, the “boss” that Tomozaki is facing is a master of all of these things, so it takes time to come up with a suitable counter-strategy, the details of which I’ll leave for you to discover for yourselves by reading Volume 4.
The conflict with Konno isn’t the only interesting occurrence in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki Volume 4, though — it also marks a notable development in the relationship between Tomozaki and the aforementioned Nakamura, who up until this point have enjoyed a somewhat antagonistic relationship. Nakamura has, until now, been positioned as one of the mean, cool kids — though the fact that his friends included the admirably kind, smart and eminently likeable Mizusawa as well as the cheerful but dim Takei always suggested that he might not have been as bad as he seemed.
In fact, there are some interesting parallels with Konno here; while Konno is set up to be a thoroughly objectionable character for the most part — and this is particularly brought to a head in Volume 5 — she does count Yuzu Izumi among her closest friends, and Izumi is one of the most consistently nice characters in the entire series. And, again, her interest in Nakamura from a romantic perspective, as explored somewhat in Volume 3, helps to humanise Nakamura considerably.
The Nakamura-related plotline in Volume 4 concerns Nakamura’s sudden unwillingness to attend school, seemingly without explanation. A little investigation by Tomozaki and friends determines that the reason is likely related to his mother Yoshiko — and thus everyone attempts to come up with a means through which the situation might be resolved effectively.
This part of the story is rather interesting, because it’s one of many instances where the growing rift between Tomozaki and Hinami’s viewpoint on life is explored. By this point, Tomozaki has started to come to the conclusion that simply doing what is “best” with regard to the unwritten rules of the game of life isn’t necessarily the best approach to things, and that sometimes doing what you want is actually better. Hinami, meanwhile, takes a more strict approach, focusing on optimisation — and, indeed, appears to have been doing just fine up until this point.
Since they’re both gamers, their outlook on this mirrors different approaches to various video games — particularly online multiplayer titles. Hinami is the hardcore raider, always looking for the most efficient way to clear content and the means through which she can achieve her objectives in the most straightforward manner; Tomozaki, meanwhile, is content to enjoy the game and experiment with different approaches to see what happens — even if those different approaches might take longer to achieve the same goal, or perhaps even fail.
This is an interesting contrast, because Hinami’s outlook on life has seemingly put her in a “top-tier” position in the game of life as the unassailable heroine, so far as Tomozaki is concerned, but Tomozaki’s approach has put him in a top-tier position when it comes to actual video games. Which approach is “correct”? Is either approach “correct”?
The answer, of course, isn’t terribly simple — because although Hinami’s approach clearly gets results, it’s actually someone other than either of them taking the “do what they really want to do” approach that ends up resolving the situation quicker than either of them could have imagined. And it’s not just down to that person’s approach — it’s also down to that person’s context and position in relation to the situation in question; another variable which neither Tomozaki nor Hinami appear to have quite taken into account here.
Interestingly, while both major plotlines in Volume 4 of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki resolve quite nicely before the volume concludes, it actually introduces a brand new thread in its final chapter — one which becomes the focal point of Volume 5. This isn’t the first time that Yaku has done this in the series — notably, Volume 3 concluded with something of a turning point in the relationship between Tomozaki and Hinami — but it is the first time something has been left so noticeably hanging with the intention of the subsequent volume effectively being a “part two” to the unfolding narrative.
This is by no means a bad thing, of course, and it demonstrates that by this point in the Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki series, Yaku had enough faith in their work that there would be a subsequent volume. It helps lend a sense of coherence to the series as a whole — though had you read Volume 4 back when it originally released, I suspect that having to wait for Volume 5 after the cliffhanger would be fairly excruciating!
Thankfully, at the time of writing, this isn’t a problem, and you can jump right into Volume 5 immediately. So that’s what we’ll be doing very soon!
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