Thus far in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, our protagonist Fumiya Tomozaki has been on quite the journey. He struck up a relationship with the school idol Aoi Hinami, who believes she can help him learn to master the “game of life”. He became the “Brain” of Minami Nanami, aka “Mimimi”, as she attempted to find her own way to compete against Hinami. He helped bring Yuzu Izumi and Shinji Nakamura, two people he had always felt were out of his league, together. He helped tame the class’ notorious queen bee, Erika Konno. And he helped resolve a major bullying problem that resulted from aforementioned taming.
In short, over the course of five volumes, he’s actually accomplished some pretty incredible things for a character who has, up until this point, never really had any faith in either himself or his ability to fit in with others. And yet when you see everything laid out like that — and take into account that he successfully sought the assistance of others around him when he needed it — it’s abundantly clear quite how far he’s come.
He has trouble seeing it himself, however, and that’s one of the major themes of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki’s sixth volume. Although he understands and recognises that other people noting how far he’s come is irrefutable evidence that something has happened to him — something positive, more to the point — he still has difficulty feeling entirely comfortable in his own skin. Or, rather, he still feels uncomfortable with the idea that “his own skin” might actually be something different to the way he’d always believed himself to be.
At the heart of this, as always, is Aoi Hinami, who, despite some rocky moments in her relationship with Tomozaki over the course of the last few volumes, is still continuing to tutor him in the “game of life”. There has been a noticeable shift in how they interact with one another, however; while Tomozaki is still utterly helpless against Hinami when she decides to really turn on the charm and get extra-manipulative, he does at least recognise that a lot of what she does is not in the slightest bit genuine — and believes that his own outlook on life is actually a healthier one than what Hinami is offering.
Of particular note is the pair’s clashing between doing what you “should” be doing and what you “want” to be doing. Hinami is firmly in favour of following specific unspoken societal rules in order to secure yourself an optimal position on the game of life’s board. But Tomozaki believes that leads to you abandoning parts of yourself that make you “you” — or, more accurately, being forced to hide those parts behind a mask, much as Hinami does almost constantly.
Tomozaki, by contrast, believes that any attempts to change or improve oneself should come from a place of genuinely wanting to do something, rather than simply feeling obliged to. And this is part of the reason he finds himself struggling with one of the long-term objectives Hinami has set him over the course of the series as a whole: to get himself a girlfriend by the time he enters his third and final year at school.
It’s exceedingly clear that Tomozaki is attracted to numerous female characters, though as we’ve talked about previously, the series has at no point felt like it’s at any risk of becoming a “harem” romance. Rather, Tomozaki finds the different characters attractive for different reasons — and, notably, he seems to be familiar with the idea that feeling a sense of attraction to someone is by no means the same as actually liking them or wanting to be involved with them in a more intimate, personal way.
The most obvious example of Tomozaki’s feelings throughout the entirety of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki can be seen any time he encounters Fuka Kikuchi, a timid young girl who enjoys reading and who found herself more able to open up to Tomozaki than anyone else she has ever known. While Kikuchi clearly doesn’t believe herself to be a “loser” like Tomozaki always has done, she’s also someone who has never really made an effort to surround herself with people — and as such, she’s always sort of just drifted along in her own little world.
Tomozaki finds a quiet beauty in how Kikuchi occupies the world without bothering anyone; his descriptions of her are inevitably flowery and poetic, with him likening her to a timid woodland creature or perhaps a mystical, spiritual figure. In some ways, we can read this as an attempt for him to distance himself from her — he doesn’t believe he should profane her “holiness” with his presence — but when the pair do interact with one another, it’s clear that they get along well. Their personalities mesh well with one another, and they have both faced similar struggles in their lives — though there’s a definite “male/female” divide in terms of how those struggles are perceived by both themselves and others.
By contrast, Tomozaki feels greatly at ease around Mimimi simply because her personality is textbook “normie”, as he would put it. Rather than putting up an obvious mask to the world as Hinami does, Mimimi appears to find behaving like a relatively normal human being absolutely effortless and natural. She simply is who she is, and while she has her own little idiosyncrasies — most notably in being quite physical in her affections with all her friends — she has absolutely no shame in who she is, and it’s this potent example of self-acceptance that Tomozaki finds so compelling.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s physically attractive also, but Tomozaki actually doesn’t bring this up as often as he does with some other characters over the course of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki in its entirety; whenever he describes Mimimi in his narration, it’s always from the perspective of her personality first and foremost, and then on occasions where he does find himself in close, vaguely intimate physical proximity to her, remembering that she’s also quite the hottie always seems to come as quite a surprise to him.
As part of the narrative in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki’s sixth volume, Hinami asks Tomozaki to determine two girls that he would be interested in pursuing with mind to an eventual romantic relationship. It’s exceedingly clear that Kikuchi and Mimimi are the obvious choices here, even though Tomozaki doesn’t actually give a definitive answer to Hinami by the end of the book. But it is also worth acknowledging the other characters that he finds attractive, too — and the reasons why they don’t make his list.
Firstly, there’s Yuzu Izumi. In contrast to his feelings towards Mimimi, when Tomozaki contemplates Izumi, one of the first things he inevitably thinks of is how physically attractive she is — and specifically, in many cases, how noticeably sizeable her breasts are. It’s far from the only thing he thinks about her, mind; she’s another character who sets him at ease with her gentle, kind personality, and as one of the first characters other than Hinami that he struck up a conversation with in the entire Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki series, she’s always going to be “special” to him in a certain way.
But Izumi, as we’ve spent several volumes establishing, is into the class’ “popular boy” Nakamura — and indeed, by this point in the series, the pair are formally together with one another to such a degree that Nakamura is carrying around a tissue holder that Izumi knitted for him. With that in mind, Tomozaki considers Izumi firmly off-limits — though Hinami does make an effort to point out to Tomozaki that the fact she is currently in a relationship shouldn’t necessarily be a reason for him to discount her altogether.
“There’s no rule that says you’re not allowed to go after a girl with a boyfriend,” she tells him. “It’s entirely acceptable. They’re not married, and even if you did steal her from him, it would just mean you won at the game of love fair and square by being the better guy. No-one would hate you for it. You could even say it was a good thing in the long term, if it means you and your rival ended up as better people.”
On the one hand, she has a point — and Tomozaki admits he is particularly weak to the gaming metaphor she uses. But on the other hand, this sequence definitely highlights the differences between him and Hinami. One gets the impression that if Hinami had any intention of actually going after anyone (which, at this point in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, it doesn’t appear that she does) she would have no qualms whatsoever about doing her level best to “steal” someone she was interested in if it became “necessary” in her eyes. Tomozaki, meanwhile, quietly recognises that Nakamura and Izumi are, in his words, “perfect” together, and thus he simply doesn’t have the motivation to break them up.
Secondly, there’s Hanabi Natsubayashi, better known as Tama-chan to most characters in the series. There’s an undeniable connection between Tomozaki and Tama-chan and has been from relatively early on, even though the pair of them seem to have such fiercely contrasting personalities. Tomozaki is unsure of himself and overthinks everything; Tama-chan, meanwhile, is stubborn and prone to speaking her mind to a fault. But they are both fundamentally honest people, and they respect one another; any time they’re together, they are undoubtedly addressing one another on equal terms, and they each respect one another’s opinions.
There’s definitely an attraction here in terms of personality, but in contrast to most of the other girls in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Tomozaki himself expresses very little interest in Tama-chan from a physical perspective. We’re led to believe that she’s not at all unattractive, but it seems that a physical attraction to her is something that simply hasn’t crossed Tomozaki’s mind. Whether this is down to the nature of their relationship or simply their own respective tastes is perhaps a matter of interpretation; either way, it means Tama-chan is seemingly off the table for consideration when it comes to Tomozaki’s assignment.
Finally, of course, there’s Hinami herself. She’s the perfect school idol; of course Tomozaki finds her attractive, and of course she knows exactly how to use her feminine wiles to get what she wants. On more than one occasion across multiple Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki volumes, our hero finds himself extremely distracted by Hinami deliberately emphasising her more physically and sexually desirable characteristics, so it’s clear that he feels something for her.
But the main blocking factor here is that he doesn’t really know what to make of Hinami. He knows that the “real” Hinami is not the one who appears every day at school, being the centre of attention and liked by nearly everyone. But he also knows that the “real” Hinami is not quite the same as the one who is giving him lessons, either, even though he’s in a uniquely privileged position compared to many of his peers at school.
He specifically says in a previous volume of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki that he is interested in knowing “the real her” — but whether or not he would like “the real her” is another matter altogether. As the series progresses, Hinami becomes less and less appealing as a character — deliberately so — as Tomozaki starts to recognise more and more of her carefully cultivated personality as being a complete fabrication. And one suspects that his final challenge will be acknowledging once and for all that she’s not necessarily a desirable sort of figure to aspire to, and feeling comfortable and confident enough to break away from her and establish his own path.
But that’s all something to find out in subsequent volumes. For now, Tomozaki has a choice to make — and he is hesitant to do so, ostensibly because he needs time to work out his feelings towards each of them. But in reality, there’s something more significant and fundamental at play, and this is revealed towards the end of the volume.
“I don’t feel like I have the right to choose another person,” he admits to Kikuchi, after she had asked his opinion in resolving a relationship between three characters in a story she had been writing — and which Tomozaki had been rather taken with.
“I didn’t want to be insincere and pick someone without knowing my own emotions,” Tomozaki muses to himself, “but there was a bigger reason. It was the seventeen years I’d spent convinced I deserved to be at the bottom. I wasn’t worthy of being chosen, let alone choosing someone else. I could never choose someone else, much less take responsibility for involving myself in someone else’s life. In fact, I shouldn’t. I could only handle the responsibilities of my own life — that belief was a solid conviction, founded on my own weakness.
“When Hinami had asked me to imagine girls saying they liked me,” he continues, “I was embarrassed by the vivid picture of such a scenario, but the most powerful force on my heart was the inexpressible guilt of imposing myself on other people. The imaginary voice jeering at me for having the audacity to choose another person when I was so pathetic. The underlying sense of incompetence that controlled all my thoughts about the game of life I was playing. And it had nested deep in my heart.”
Tomozaki recognises and understands that he still has a long way to go, and reaching this realisation towards the end of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki’s sixth volume is a significant moment. Particularly as not long after this epiphany, Tomozaki is confronted by something he never thought would happen in his wildest dreams — and which has great potential to complicate matters enormously going forward.
Exactly what it all means remains to be seen, but let’s just say that Tomozaki’s training in the game of life is about to enter a whole new phase — and it’s going to be fascinating to watch, I’m sure.
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