Season aired: Winter 2021
Number of episodes: 12
Genres: Romance, Drama, Slice of Life
Thoughts: Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki sports posters that would make any viewer believe they chose to watch a harem romance anime with lots of funny shenanigans. It features one otaku-looking protagonist with slouched shoulders and overgrown hair and four beautiful and well-dressed female leads with the redhead leading the group. I had my reservations when putting this on my watchlist, but I heard about the light novel series’ popularity, and the character design reminded me of IRODUKU: The World in Colors. While the first episode of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki made me cringe, the series only continued to get better.
Tomozaki considers himself a “bottom-tier” character in life. An avid gamer, Tomozaki thinks life is absolutely rigged. While he could continuously sharpen his skills in games, he believes people’s paths are set based on the personality traits and skills they were born with. Case in point — he has none of that. He struggles with socializing, he thinks he’s ugly, and he sees no future for himself because he has been assigned as “bottom-tier” since he was born. Enter Aoi Hinami, one of the most popular girls in his school, who challenges him to think of life as the ultimate game, and just like games, he can polish his traits and skills until he becomes a “top-tier” character.
The biggest concern I had throughout the series started in the first episode. Hinami enters the story the same way many manic pixie dream girls do. She meets Tomozaki unexpectedly, she decides to make him see himself for more than what he is, and she doesn’t stop until he succeeds in life. She exists for the sole purpose of making his life better with no depth of her own. However, that’s not what happens at all. Surprisingly, Hinami turns out to not only be the character with the most flaws, but also one of the least likable characters in the entire series. I’ve never seen a series do that before, and I give it major props for this unique decision.
Additionally, Tomozaki actually proves himself quite quickly to be a genuinely good guy rather than constantly getting told that he is one. He illustrates it by his constant acts of honesty — acts that protagonists in similar anime series rarely have. When another female character chooses to talk to him and befriends him because of a misunderstanding, rather than taking advantage of that misunderstanding, Tomozaki clears it up with her the very next day. He desires friends, and he desires a social life, but he does not desire obtaining such things through lies. He doesn’t need heroic setups to have a moment of, “See, he’s flawed but he’s not bad,” like other male protagonists do. He shows it simply by choosing to proceed in a genuine manner.
In fact, the romance in this series is understated. Hinami might come off as extremely unlikeable, and the series certainly sets up a well-written conflict between her and Tomozaki near the end, but she also makes good points that do help him. Having a girlfriend, she says, is great, but that is more of an endpoint than a beginning. Through her, Tomozaki learns how something as simple as doing his hair or straightening his posture does wonders to his own self-esteem. The theme of the series becomes increasingly clear to prove that the world is not against you — you just need to try a little harder, and when you do try harder, you will actually feel better about yourself as well.
Here, I had my reservations once more. While I loved the message and the suggestions Hinami provided, I feared that the series might accidentally promote toxic behavior through a message of self-improvement. These examples include being fake and never showing your true self around people as most of Hinami’s guidance revolves around how to properly interact with others.
My fears remained unfounded. The series had entire arcs dedicated to what I feared people might misinterpret. One such arc included the acute observation that working on yourself to become better shouldn’t come at the expense of your own mental health and physical health. One character’s pursuit to become better actually chipped away at her self-esteem, and her story focused more on learning to be content with where she was because of how hard she had worked to get there.
The dialogue in this series is superb for that reason. The conversations teenagers have with each other feel natural, and the awkward moments Tomozaki feels with his classmates actually made me feel awkward. There is also a clear progression of improved speech from Tomozaki when you compare how he uttered his first lines versus the lines he says later in the series. This comes at the great performance of his voice actor, Gen Sato. Although he only started his career in 2018, Gen Sato nails his performance as Tomozaki between his stutters and his more passionate rants. His most famous role, Chrome from Dr. Stone, acts and sounds nothing like Tomozaki, and having both roles under his belt now shows how talented of a voice actor he is.
The only downsides to this series all occurred on the technical side. With good plot and character development, the rest of the anime turned up to be quite lackluster. The stills and backgrounds don’t stand out in ways like Horimiya does. I never paid much attention to the music that accompanied the scenes aside from the cute opening theme that resembled a game opening. While I did enjoy the character designs, its mediocre animation made me admire the designs on official character posters more than ones in the anime. This could’ve actually been a stellar series and a good end to the first season if its art, music, and animation had amped up the quality.
However, with that critique, I have always valued the story and the characters more than the technical aspects. Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki might not give you the romantic or comedic moments that you expect, but it simply gives you so much more.
Plot: 8 (Multiplier 3.5)
Characters: 8 (Multiplier 3.5)
Voice acting: 7
FINAL SCORE: 75