Light Novel Club Chapter 31: Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 2

Welcome to our Light Novel Club discussion of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 2! We had a fun discussion of the first volume earlier, and with the anime adaptation giving this series some more attention, why not discuss the second volume? After all, this volume shakes up the story a bit and shows that there’s more to winning the game of life than just following along with a human player’s guide… Join TWWK, Jeskai Angel, and me as we challenge the next level of this light novel!

(Note: At the end of the post are the next light novels we will be discussing in the Light Novel Club. As a reminder, Light Novel Club discussions are held publicly on the Beneath the Tangles Discord, so anyone can join in on future discussions!)

1. What are your overall impressions on the novel?

TWWK: I’ve watched the series but hadn’t read any of the light novels, so I took a leap by starting with volume two. The experience was quite different from the TV series, which made it feel almost new to me, despite the adaptation having followed the volume closely. I really enjoyed reading about the characters from Tomozaki’s point of view, as he himself is developed as a character with a pretty quick mind and more intelligent than I think he gives himself credit for. So it was a fun, brisk read for me.

stardf29: This was a really nice volume, mainly because it throws a wrench in the “Hinami teaches Tomozaki something about life, and he applies it” formula that the first volume had going. The whole student council election arc was great because not only does Tomozaki have to figure things out on his own, but his opponent is the very person that’s been teaching him the whole time! Using video game terms, it’s as if the first volume is the tutorial stage, and this is the first real level where the player is expected to play the game on his own. I’m also really liking how other characters are being developed, and in particular how Tomozaki and Mimimi associate with each other throughout all this. It expands what could have been a pretty one-note story concept into something more complex, and makes me all the more interested to keep going with it.

Jeskai Angel: It’s a strong continuation of the first volume. Coming back to read it again for this discussion, I also noticed that vol. 2 foreshadows good bit more than I realized during my first read. Finally, I know this is silly, but my inner historian just loved seeing JOHN ADAMS of all people come up in a Japanese novel. Kudos to the author for that historical reference.

TWWK: To be fair, I thought that was a tough question for a Japanese student. I mean…let’s be honest. How many Americans, even students at that age who might be taking U.S. History, would have answered “Jefferson” as the second president? But Mimimi’s point is still well taken. 😆

Jeskai Angel: I mean, if we want to switch it around, maybe the equivalent question for Americans is “Who was the second shogun of the Tokugawa Period?” or something. LOL

2. What are your thoughts on the characters in this volume?

TWWK: As I mentioned earlier, the Tomozaki in this volume comes across very differently than in the anime. His voice is more humorous and sarcastic here. I once heard Jeskai say that he thinks better of him than my favorite, Hikigaya (Oregairu), because Tomozaki is trying to better himself, and I think that’s very clear from the reading, and together with the humor makes him a fun character. He does also come across as trying just as hard in the anime, but is more obviously awkward than in the book, I think—at least how I view him in my mind while reading. The gap between Tomozaki and a top-tier character feels far less surmountable in the TV series.

Likewise, I find Hinami more compelling in the book. I thought the author did a nice job of making her a character that I empathize with, even though she’s “perfect” in all ways except for her sometimes haughty attitude. That there’s some insecurity there and questioning, particularly when she asks Tomozaki if being so good at what she does is the proper approach, humanizes her.

Finally, Mimimi, who gets top girl treatment in this volume, presents a compelling case, too. It wasn’t at all enjoyable to see her struggle in this volume, particularly in the final chapter or two. It was painful, which I think speaks to an authenticity in the development of her character. It just be that, because I don’t think it’s painfully written (it’s quite well done, I think), not do I feel like I can closely relate to her, as I never worked terrifically hard to get ahead of those in front of me academically (though I was in a similar position as her). I think she’s just in a tough spot, one that can be understood, which made for interesting reading, particularly in light of her outside self.

Jeskai Angel: Kikuchi is awesome. My biggest complaint about pretty much every volume of Tomozaki is that Kikuchi doesn’t get enough screen time. And that’s not just because Tomozaki’s descriptions of her are so hilarious. She proves herself quite insightful this time around; even though she doesn’t personally hang out with Hinami and Mimimi all that much, she makes some incisive remarks about both. I thought Kikuchi’s question, “Why does she [Hinami] work so hard to be perfect?” was profound.

Speaking of Hinami, something is seriously off with her. With the benefit of hindsight, I realized this volume reveals or expands on a lot of troubling things about her. There’s a ton of ambiguity surrounding her. Why did she suddenly change so drastically in middle school? Why does she continue to be such a perfectionist? That kind of obsession isn’t healthy at all, and should raise questions about her mental health. Plus, how can she be so two-faced, is she training to become a Batman villain, and how real / sincere is she at any given moment? Then there’s the occasional downright creepy things she says, like that remark about persuading people as the path to become a cult leader. Some of her advice to Tomozaki is legit, but it takes an increasing amount of critical thinking to sift through her words.

Hinami plays a role in my favorite Tomozaki scene of this volume. Earlier, Tomozaki told Mimimi that being number one didn’t matter so much as continuing to improve and not losing to oneself. When he reports the situation to Hinami, she responds that there’s no way he could actually believe that. “…you’re the same as me in that respect, right? You must be, if you’ve gotten that far in Atafami.” And Tomozaki comes back “…What the hell? I genuinely think that. Atafami is a battle against myself.” His advice to Mimimi was good, but it gets even better when it turns out to reflect a fundamental difference between him and Hinami. Also, it’s not like he was trying trick her, but the fact remains that Hinami was WRONG about something: she misread Tomozaki’s motivation and project her own desire to be number one onto him. It’s an important moment in establishing how Tomozaki differs from Hinami.

Mimimi was the star of this volume. She turns out to be a lot more complex than the lovable goofball we met in the first volume. And we don’t just see this through her relationship with Tomozaki, but also her relationships with various other characters, like Hinami and Tama. I mentioned it earlier, but Mimimi in particular had some moments that I didn’t pay much attention to during my first read, but with the benefit of hindsight, seem like foreshadowing.

Something that struck me while reading this volume that I hadn’t really thought about before is how the five main girls in Tomozaki’s life contrast with each other. Izumi, Mimimi, and of course Hinami are outgoing normie girls, but Hinami is duplicitous, while Mimimi and Izumi seem far more genuine. And between Mimimi and Izumi, the former is more independent while the latter is more go-along-to-get-along (though she’s trying to change that). And then Kikuchi and Hanabi are both non-normie girls who don’t quite fit in, but where Tama is bold and outspoken, Kikuchi is quiet and introverted. I knew this stuff about these characters, but didn’t realize just how much each girls serves as mirror for one or more of the others.

stardf29: Tomozaki continues to grow in this volume, not just in how he “plays the game of life” but also how he works through some things on his own, particularly with when he was helping Mimimi with the student council election. And I really like the moment when he explained how his motivation for becoming the best in Atafami is more so he doesn’t lose to himself, and then how that creates a notable difference in his approach to gaming compared to Hinami.

And yes, I like how this volume makes us question the whole mentorship Hinami has over Tomozaki, particularly with how their approaches to “gaming” are ultimately different, but also how Hinami might have her own issues to deal with, as well as how there are things she can’t handle, like the whole situation with Mimimi. It’s part of what moves this story away from just being a “self-help” book and into a more complex story with various character motivations.

Mimimi is the “star” of the volume, and rightly so. She provides an interesting “Player 3” to the story, as her natural friendliness makes it easy for her to get along with Tomozaki, while also having her own history with Hinami and her own perspective towards competition. There’s a nice line of character development for her going through this volume, and I like how it’s neither Tomozaki or Hinami who ultimately helps her with her biggest insecurities; that would be “too easy” for either of them.

Overall, I really like how this series has been incorporating more of its side characters. Even the guys have a good presence here. I’m definitely looking forward to what role these other characters play in the story.

3. One of the themes of this volume is “losing”, and how different people feel about not being “first place”. What are your personal thoughts on how we should approach competition, particularly when we lose?

Jeskai Angel: I think we all take some competitions more seriously than others. The novel shows this with Hinami and Mimimi’s middle school teammates. Those girls just weren’t invested in basketball in the way that Hinami and MImimi were. That doesn’t necessarily mean those girls were all lazy losers who fail at everything in life because they never put forth effort. It just means that particular kind of competition wasn’t as much of a priority to them. A big factor in how seriously we take competition is the stakes. Is there a prize we care about? Alternatively, sometimes we feel our sense of self-worth is on the line in a competition. Of course, it’s not so much the case that our value as a person is on the line, but rather than our pride is what’s at stake.

This brings us to the Bible, with all its “The last shall be first,” and “The meek shall inherit the earth” messages. A consistent theme in the scriptures is that God’s idea of “winning” is different than ours, and God will overturn human expectations about who the “winners” are. The Bible promotes humility and discourages us from seeking the glory of men. Most of the winning we can do in this life just isn’t meaningful.

Now, that said, winning is a lot more fun than losing. It’s okay to wanna be the very best, like no one ever was. But “fun” and “the meaning of my existence” are very different kinds of stakes, and I think Hinami, and Mimimi to a lesser extent, have mixed them up. Mimimi felt kind of lost in this volume; she’s not competing for fun, but neither is she an ego-driven maniac on the level of Hinami. I think Hinami’s form of competitiveness is dangerous, while Tomozaki’s is more benign. Competing because it’s fun to win is much less serious that competing because we need to affirm our pride.

TWWK: Mimimi is a good example of how sport and competition can dictate your self-worth. And not just those, but anything in which we put forth energy and show talent and excellence. Jeskai points toward scripture, which is totally unique is showing that our self-worth is in the creator and his attributes, not in our own, which when lived out most fully can both help us excel in competition while lifting us up in our failures. I think that’s such an incredible and life-giving message, because my experience with some I’ve known in athletics mirrors Mimimi’s, and my own academic studies when I was younger mirrors hers, too—when we eventually fail, for we all will (look at Hinami in gaming), do we have a foundation to help us from bottoming out? If there was is a criticism I have for this excellent volume, it’s that Mimimi recovers almost unrealistically, or at least, without us being truly privy to what it is that leads to that change in her. I don’t think it’s so easy to step back up when you have such a reaction as hers to failure.

stardf29: Given how prevalent “competition” is in the world, there’s clearly something about wanting to beat others at something that is a part of human nature. One could argue it’s not inherently a bad thing, either, as there are plenty of stories where healthy competition encourages two people to both improve. This seems to be behind Tomozaki’s approach to games; he’s mainly focused on mastering the game he plays, and losing means he has more to learn and master. His statement that he mainly doesn’t want to lose to himself is a great statement: when he loses, it’s less about losing to the opponent and more about the realization that there’s still more to be done to master the game. This pursuit of getting better is the healthy side of competition, and if God designed us to seek competition as part of our nature, it would be for this reason.

Unfortunately, competition also has its ugly sides. With Mimimi, we see something more just misguided: the belief that she won’t mean anything unless she is in first place. It’s definitely an unhealthy attitude to have, but thankfully Tama snaps her out of it by making sure she knows she means something to her no matter what. It’s the kind of attitude that can easily come about if one grows up in an environment without unconditional love, and likewise one which God’s unconditional love can help a lot with.

And then with Hinami, we don’t know yet why exactly she’s so fixated on “winning”. Maybe she just likes the feeling of having asserted dominance over other people. That’s definitely a common source of unhealthy competition. She might also feel something similar to Mimimi, where she feels like her self-worth is based on successful competition. Whatever the case, it definitely seems like she’s unhealthily obsessed with winning.

4. Were there any particular bits of advice on life that you liked from this volume?

TWWK: The bit of advice that Aoi had given Mimimi when she wanted to help Tama become integrated in their class was simple but I think helpful in many real-life situations, too—it basically was to talk to her a little each day. I’ve been in Tama’s shoes before, and thanks to friendly and extroverted classmates, have been integrated better into classes and developed good friendships, something that was far from guaranteed due to my shy nature and the frequency with which I transferred between schools as a military brat. I’ve always been grateful for the Mimimi’s in my life, though thankfully, none have been so, uh, intimate with me.

5. If you watched the anime, what do you think about how the anime adapted this volume?

Jeskai Angel: I don’t recall any glaring oddities with the anime. As with many other anime adaptations of first-person-narrated light novels, the biggest difference is the lack of the protagonist’s inner monologue. This a journey-before-destination story. What Tomozaki ultimately says or does is less important that the thought process he uses to get there, and the anime just can’t convey that with the kind of depth we get in the book. More specifically, I think Tomozaki’s comments on the other characters are especially noteworthy. His impressions can reveal things (about himself, and about the other characters) that are much less obvious without that first-person narration.

TWWK: I mentioned it earlier, but what’s most obvious to me is the difference in Tomozakis. No, they’re not really developed differently, but the anime is heavily focused on “what we see,” the outsider’s view of Tomozaki, which is appropriately awkward and especially voiced as such. The light novel is almost the opposite, as we mostly experience his inner voice which is witty, humorous, and just as engaging (and usually more so) than that of the people he’s trying to emulate. It’s a nice contrast, actually—I enjoyed this source material more than the anime episodes, but appreciate the anime a bit more now as well, now that I can see a fuller picture of this character.

Christina Kelly, who voices Mimimi in the English dub, chatted with us about the character among others she’s voice.

stardf29: I like the point about the anime allowing us to see Tomozaki more from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve heard others make comments about how “cringe” Tomozaki sounds when they actually got to hear him with proper voice acting, and usage of somewhat-overused buzzwords aside, I think it’s a good reflection of how the anime makes it clear how socially awkward Tomozaki really is, which helps me appreciate his growth more. I do still prefer all the internal monologue we get with Tomozaki in the light novels, but I do like this part of the anime, at least.

Also, while not technically part of this volume, I should say, the anime really went out of its way with the portrayal of Atafami, with a whole bunch of characters designed for the anime that don’t even appear in the story. I like it when animators go just that extra little bit further for these adaptations.

If you read through our discussion, I hope you liked it! As a reminder, our next Light Novel Club discussion is on The Faraway Paladin, Vol. 1! The discussion starts on June 25th, and will run through much of July, so there’s still plenty of time to read it and join our discussion!

The following light novel is none other than Tearmoon Empire, Vol. 4! Tearmoon Empire is basically the flagship light novel of the Light Novel Club at this point, and there’s a pretty good chance we will be discussing every volume of this series, so if you haven’t yet, why not start catching up with this series so you can join our discussion? You have a little bit of extra time, too, as our discussion will start on August 1st. Also, starting from this point, all Light Novel Club discussions will start on the 1st of the month, which should make it easy to know when these discussions start.

And why not reveal yet another light novel we will be discussing? After all, on September 1st, we will be discussing one of the most iconic and popular light novel series as we finally discuss Sword Art Online! …or rather, we will be discussing Sword Art Online: Progressive, Vol. 1! This is a re-take on the story starting from the Aincrad arc, going into more detail and overall considered an improved version of the story, so this is definitely going to be a great discussion for SAO fans.

If you are interested in discussing any of these series with us, join the Beneath the Tangles Discord and look for the Light Novel Club section. Happy reading!


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