This is the last of my boring reviews of stuff you’ve probably already read or watched or seen a puppet show of 80 years ago (for now).
The story is about Naoki Kashiwada, a high school freshman closet otaku who intends to make sure no one finds out about his hobbies in his new school so he can finally get a girlfriend. Chosen as his dream candidat is Midori Hasegawa, a quiet and apparently kind classmate who he first encounters on his way to school on his first day, it’s love at first sight. Unfortunately, another of his classmates, Momo Koigasaki, an alleged “bitch” and fashionable (and noisy) girl, finds out about his hobbies and blackmails him into helping her to get into otaku culture so she can get closer to her crush, Souta Suzuki, an open (but hot) otaku. Since Naoki has zero idea how to be popular with girls and Momo has a phobia for men and zero idea what the appeal of all this 2D stuff is, they strike a deal: Naoki helps her understanding his stuff to better her chances with Souta, and Momo helps him understand what girls want (?) to become popular with Midori.
To sum up my opinion of OtaRia in one sentence: Misery with rare rays of sunlight. The premise of OtaRia is fine. It’s basically ToraDora with a different outset, one of these pseudo-NTR-themed novels that I’m not too fond of depending on the degree of NTR involved. It’s clear that in the end Naoki and Momo will end up together and I feel it’s heartbreaking to see them trying so hard to fight it, but I assume it wouldn’t amount to much of a story if they were just honest with themselves too soon.
Be that as it may, OtaRia is miserable because nothing goes swimmingly. All the otaku events fuck up for Momo, all the real life events fuck up for Naoki. Either because Souto just thinks Momo’s faking her interest and knowledge for anime (which is kind of true), or Naoki just gets put on the spot by the other “bitches” that are friends with Momo. Both of them are trying way too hard to be something they’re not and it blows up in their faces over and over again, it hurts to read. Ultimately, even if Naoki ended up dating Midori after acting like he’s totally a normie and hates the animes, he’s living in a skin that’s not his, what’s the point? Wake up, lie to yourself all day, then go back to bed? If he wants to be in a genuine relationship with Midori, then it’s probably bull to act like he doesn’t know anything about 2D. He could tone down the crazy, but if he locks it away dishonestly, he’s basically just lying to her to make her drop her pants, which makes him a dick.
Ranting aside, OtaRia is incredibly sweet and heartwarming when Naoki and Momo are actually trying to bond with each other and realizing that there might be something between them. Like Momo realizing that even though she’s phobic of men, she can talk and go out with Naoki just fine. Or Naoki realizing that he can be normal around Momo (even if she keeps telling him how disgusting his hobbies are). They do have a nice chemistry going on, but that chemistry is cockblocked by the absolute miserable experience that makes up the majority of the volume.
Long story short, dramatic and miserable stories are often perceived as “deep,” and I can totally see that some people dig reading about the main characters here struggling and failing over and over again, maybe with small victories as a result (or maybe not). However, I just cannot recommend this book to anyone looking for a “good time,” because it is miserable. If you cannot find joy in the lowkey suffering of people, then I just don’t know why you would read this. The few slivers of hope just don’t make up for the tragic rest. In the end, this is just my personal opinion. If you’re interested nonetheless, I’d recommend trying the anime adaption instead. Since anime tend to be more condensed than their source materials, there might be a better balance between heartwarming bonding and miserable failures.