The Loneliness of Denpa-teki na Kanojo

I’m a big fan of stories about people who are in a bad place. Characters who distrust the world around them, or who have been hurt in some way that makes it impossible for them to see good in others. Stories about characters put against the wall, who struggle against difficult but understandable odds. Many of my favorite shows fall in this range, from fantastical stuff like Madoka and Evangelion to the more mundane struggles of Oregairu or Monogatari. The characters in these shows have been hurt by the world, and so they can’t trust that the world will ever extend a hand back.

Denpa-teki na Kanojo

All of those stories have something in common though, beyond the tough circumstances of their protagonists and the way those protagonists see the world as against them. All of those shows’ protagonists are also wrong. The world isn’t truly a horrific place – in fact, if you honestly engage with it, even those who have been hurt before can eventually find slivers of connection. The paranoid headspaces of Monogatari, or the way Hachiman frames everyone else’s actions as duplicitous, aren’t truly reflective of the fundamental nature of the world – that’s just how those characters imagine the world to be.

That’s the point, in those shows. The fact that we see Nadeko’s reality as impersonal and frightening, or that Shinji constantly finds himself returning to that lonely train, is true to their personal experiences, and that’s what we’re being shown. But that is not the world as the show itself sees it. It’s an intentional affectation – it reflects the writer and director’s understanding of the emotions of the characters involved. It’s an act of empathy, but the show itself is able to move beyond those viewpoints, because it understands they are limited and temporary. The show’s ability to honestly illustrate its characters’ perspectives is in fact reflective of the way it is not limited by them – it can speak to the truth of their experience because it is able to see the validity of many perspectives at one.

Shows like that are not written by Hachimans and Nadekos. Hachimans and Nadekos write shows like Denpa-teki na Kanojo.

Denpa-teki na Kanojo

The world of Denpa-teki na Kanojo is not ultimately a sympathetic place. In fact, everything about this world breathes menace, from its untrustworthy teenagers to its lying, murderous adults. “What a horrible world” mutters protagonist Juuzawa Jun, after learning that in this world, the police cannot be trusted. No authority figures can be trusted here, in fact – the only justice is the justice you create yourself.

Shows like this do not have much to tell us, unfortunately. When you’re trapped in a perspective that distrusts everyone, you’re not actually reflecting on the world as it exists. That distrust doesn’t just reflect a limitation in your own worldview, it reflects an inability to empathize with the perspectives of others. You don’t understand others, and so their actions seem menacing, unpredictable and likely unfriendly. Shows like this are like the songs of a band aimed at angry teenage boys, fulfilling their predictions of what girls or the world are like, but not truly offering meaningful insights into the world as it is.

Denpa-teki na Kanojo

Works like Denpa-teki na Kanojo demonstrate how utterly fundamental empathy is to fiction. In order to create compelling stories, full of rich characters with legitimate internal lives, you have to embrace those perspectives – you have to see who they are as valid people, and their viewpoints as understandable reflections of their beliefs and experiences. In Denpa-teki, perspectives that deviate from Juu’s don’t resolve as understandable differences of opinion – they unanimously come down to “this person is crazy” or “this person is evil” or “this person is broken.” Just like how these authors can’t see the good in the world, and thus paint everything black, their inability to engage with the multiplicity of perspective leaves all of their characters stranded in binary “good” and “bad” categories as well. Shows like this do not tell us anything about the world – but they can tell us many things about the author.

You can see Hachiman’s hand in every angry thrust of the pen, and his desires as well. People lie to Juu, except for the good people, who never lie. The good people are almost universally women, and almost universally express interest in either Juu himself or his mission. The bad people are numerous and underhanded, always ready to sabotage others for their own selfish gains. People always hide their true nature, and in fact, the first episode here is centered on a woman who wants to “reveal people’s true selves” by forcing them to confront death. This is nonsense, of course – traumatic experiences don’t lead people to greater honesty, they’re just traumatic experiences. But Hachimans have been burned by honestly engaging with the world, and so to them, their own defensive dishonesty must be reflected in the behavior of others.

Denpa-teki na Kanojo

Later on, in response to a series of malicious pranks, another girl tells Juu that “blaming these events on the actions of another is reading too much into it, right?” In the real world, this would likely be true – but this is Hachiman’s world, and so not only are the events they’re discussing the results of hateful people, but even that girl herself is one of the liars who must be purged. Juu himself acknowledges the malevolent nature of the reality he’s trapped in, when he admits to a serial killer that “everyone in this world is insane. It’s because they’re insane that they don’t notice how twisted this world really is.” Hachimans want the world to be this harsh, because only such a harshness can make sense of their own feelings. If the world is full of liars, if reality is composed of dishonesty interspersed with harsh moments of brutal, violent honesty, then their own unhappiness is just the way it goes.

Ultimately, it’s nearly impossible to engage with the world created by a Hachiman. It’s just too narrow of a place, too limited in the avenues of sympathy it provides. Part of this comes down to restraint, which itself is somewhat reflective of life experience. Well-adjusted adults understand that life isn’t composed of uber-tragic pasts and horrifically violent actions. In fact, when it comes to narratives, laying on the ultraviolence is one of the surest routes to undercutting any truth your story could possess – by making everything larger than life, what might be resonant trips over into the gratuitous, the grotesque and absurd.

Denpa-teki na Kanojo

The difficult work of life isn’t dealing with being the sexually abused accomplish of a serial killer, or getting revenge on the girl who prompted your brother’s suicide – that’s just loud, cacophonous noise, the dramatic devices of someone who has to turn up the speakers all the way because they’ve lost their ear for music altogether. The hard work of life is the moments in between, the small emotional moments and difficult everyday decisions that compose our constant struggle. Navigating discordant emotional needs with a friend, or making tough choices about your career plans. Eventually, you come to appreciate the difficulty and majesty of those moments, their significance, their worth. But when you’re stuck in the angry cell, all you want to do is make a violent racket, to somehow prove that’s how things really are.

In the end, works like Denpa-teki na Kanojo really just make me feel a little sad for their authors. I can stand watching a few deeply unhappy anime – in fact, watching things like this is one of the many times when my philosophy of trying to find the good in everything comes in handy. The actual narrative lessons of Denpa-teki are altogether misanthropic, but you know what? The background art was really great. The most well-textured character in this OVA was easily the city Juu occupies, a city full of dark, foreboding alleys and cheerful storefronts. This story was bad, but hey, some artists did some really good work here. I’ll celebrate that work by itself, and hope this writer finds their own happiness eventually.

Denpa-teki na Kanojo

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27 thoughts on “The Loneliness of Denpa-teki na Kanojo

  1. I had been meaning to see DenpaKanojo, but now I’m not so sure. This describes why I found Mirai Nikki so offputting, and I don’t want to deal with more. There wasn’t a shred of empathy in that world or the way it was written. As the story dragged on, it got more revolting and absurd, to the point I could no longer imagine it as a world.

    Perhaps in part because it didn’t have the same artistic and atmospheric strengths as Denpa. Its world wasn’t a convincing character. Do you reccomend the show on those grounds? Or steer clear?

    • Nah, I’d just steer clear. There are some nice backgrounds, but that’s it – the character designs and animation aren’t particularly great. It was overall a fairly unpleasant watch.

  2. Huh. Wow. You did not react at all like I would have expected to this. Now I want to rewatch it to see if I can wring out this same vision.

    Denpa-teki always struck me kind of like Batman-as-done-by-anime: everything’s deliberately hyperbolic and gruesome. But then I suppose you might have the same criticisms for Batman stories.

    Alas, but still pleasantly surprised you did watch this one and write of it!

    • Kinda funny you should mention Batman, since one of the things that’s had this kind of storytelling on my mind was The Killing Joke, as well as Moore’s ultimately regretful feelings on that story.

  3. Great post. I also believe that fiction should be about empathy.

    That’s what like about Tomino “kill’em all” and Gen “Urobutcher”. They write horrifically dark story, but that’s not what all there is in their stories. They write about people who try to find happiness in an imperfect world. Their anime contain the understanding that other people have their tales, their hope, and their dreams.

    Tomino’s Gundams encourage sympathy for the other side of the war. Most Gen Urobuchi stories involved characters trying to acknowledge other viewpoint and rise above the darkness. That’s what make those shows good for me.

    I personally don’t think both of them are the greatest writers, not by any stretch of the imagination. But they are above simple power fantasies. In a medium fills with power fantasies and childish anger, more human stories are needed.

    • “But they are above simple power fantasies. In a medium fills with power fantasies and childish anger, more human stories are needed.”
      Huh, I’d be inclined to say that this anime actually agrees with you there.

  4. Given your preference towards seeing varied perspectives on flawed societies, you probably ought to give Texhnolyze another look. If anything it harrowingly exemplifies this very idea really well.

    Maybe this series would have been better if the camera panned out at the very end to reveal that a Hachiman character actually was writing the whole time as some thinly veiled desperate plea. Such a meta-story would at least show some understanding of “how stuff actually works”

  5. Really great essay; reminds me of your pre-Love Live / pre-Rakugo works (/s).

    ” I can stand watching a few deeply unhappy anime…”
    I hope to hear your thoughts on Oyasumi Punpun when you finish reading it – it’s not fundamentally misanthropic but its perspective is so intimate with the narrator that it often feels that way.

    • Can’t tell if you’re actually That Guy or you’re making a reference to That Guy. (Just saying, he saw Love Live way before he saw Rakugo so they don’t really fit as a coherent classification).

      But I agree that this was a great essay, on par with the Bobduh classics.

  6. A big difference Denpa and Madoka/Eva is the Denpa is adapted from a first-person-perspective novel. You are never going to be shown the world from outside the perspective of that character. It’s still possible to do using conversations with other characters but that’s really a different kind of thing.

    • I disagree with this as a concept. You will never be /told/ other perspectives outright by a narrator or something, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be written well enough that you can infer them.

      • There’s always going to be a difference between something you are explicitly being shown, and something you are told or have to infer. Especially when everything you are told or have to infer is all coming through a single character’s perspective.

        You are never going to have the same overall perspective that a show with multiple viewpoint characters has. The show is going always seem narrower, smaller and more biased as a result.

        • I’m pretty sure Oregairu was also written in first person, from Hachiman’s perspective, and Nick’s been using it as the golden standard of empathetic misanthropy. So it’s clearly possible to broaden a perspective like that in an adaptation (or imply it in the original).

          • Sure but Oregairu spends an large amount of time doing that. It’s kind of what the show is about. And there are still people who think that “Hachiman is right”.

            Denpa is only two episodes and see about something else.

    • I haven’t seen Denpa yet, but from Bobduh’s essay, it seems the problem with Denpa is that the main character is consistently rewarded by the world because of his viewpoint. As in, if the MC was directly attacked for his opinion by someone, and it was clear that the MC’s “come-back” to them was purely out of rage of their “perfect world” being shattered, and sounded pretty unreasonable, then maybe it would work a lot better. Or if something happened which the MC couldn’t explain with his ideology. Really, anything that demonstrated the author could think beyond the MC’s perspective would have probably been good enough.

      Then again, it’s possible that the MC is intentionally ignoring “inconsistencies” in his ideology so that he could keep his “unquestionable” perspective on life. That would take a lot of arrogance.

  7. Taking a detour here
    that made me think madoka’s movie last scene could have given this exact feeling about the world they are set in if the music was only more heavy

  8. Funny. A lot of what you’re saying here is basically what you wrote in your essay on Mahouka. I guess they’re both escapist fantasies in a way.

    Weirdly enough, though, I feel like the whole “Hachiman” viewpoint is a lot more frustrating than the “Mahouka” perspective. Yeah, Mahouka is sexist and a power fantasy and all, but at least its appealing to an audience that WISH they could be like Tatsuya even though they know they aren’t, and express that wish through watching Mahouka. But Denpa-teki no Kanojo is seen by people who honestly believe in Hachiman’s ideology, and the show has much more harmful effects on that audience.

  9. No. That’s not the problem. The main character doesn’t really express any kind of ideology.

    I think that Bobduh problem is that the show presents good guy and his friends are good and the rest of the world is that. The show doesn’t provide a more overarching perspective.

    That’s why I tried to point out that it’s first person novel, so showing everything from the main character perspective is perfectly normal. Personally when I watched it I kind of assumed that the rest of the world was actually normal, the main character was just unlucky and ends up running into crazy women a lot.

    Well, he has other problems as well but I’m not trying to debate them. I, as you can probably guess, really like this anime. I am not trying to convince him that it is good since it’s not something we are ever going to agree on.

    • There’s no such thing as not expressing an ideology. That’s the point here, really: the author thinks this stuff is so obvious and straightforward that it doesn’t even need to be questioned, but all that does is reveal the author’s inability to take other perspectives into account.

      If “good” people like the main character will naturally get along with each other, and everyone else is either crazy or evil (or both), then that itself is an ideology. It doesn’t allow for the existence of “good” people who don’t get along with you, or for “evil” people to have motivations that make sense and aren’t just stupidly selfish. Therefore people who go against what is “good” aren’t really people at all, they’re just monsters who can’t be reasoned with. Which is quite frankly a terrifying way to view the world.

      • That’s Bobduh’s opinion too. I couldn’t really explain it properly so thanks for that.

        Anyway, you haven’t see this anime so I’ll just explain who the bad guys are here.


        A serial killer who kills people because “he’s a secret agent fighting against aliens”
        Another person helping him murdering people. Also, ends up breaking one the main character’s arms and legs (it’s not really a power-fantasy)
        Another person who tried to burn a building full of people alive because she wanted to “steal their happiness” so she could resurrect her dead mother
        Another person with the same ideas who tried to push the main character into a car because she needed more happiness


        This isn’t an anime where the bad guys are self-serving assholes or something. This is an anime about actual psychopaths. It’s a murder/mystery by the way.

        • …Yes? That was my point. It’s a story where evil is incomprehensible, and those who go against what is “good” are simply monsters (or psychopaths, which is the same thing in modern parlance). According to Nick, no one who is “good” does not sympathize with the hero, while everyone who goes against him is an irredeemable monster.

          That’s a worldview. A very narrow worldview, but a worldview all the same. The story expresses that worldview through its existence.

          • I thought it might be helpful if you had more context. I mean, it’s a story about a dealing with psychopaths, who certainly exist.

            Well, whatever. Your opinion is your opinion.

  10. While I like this review, I don’t agree with your perspective on dark works. Mainly because there’s a creator out there who exemplifies extreme coldness and cruelty and yet has some of the greatest works of art out there.

    I’m talking about Stanley Kubrick of course – and especially A Clockwork Orange. Then again, A Clockwork Orange succeeds because it weaponizes empathy in order to deal its final powerful commentary on political control and individual violence. Barry Lyndon is also unflinching in its portrayal of decadence and immorality among the aristocracy of the past.

    Woody Allen also has quite a number of films that can play this – such as Crimes & Misdemeanors. Sometimes he’ll use comedy and beautiful cinematography to fool the audience into empathizing with a certain party (like the protagonists of Annie Hall and Manhattan) despite the fact that these characters are also complicit in their own downfall.

    One of the greatest portrayals of the dark noirish worldview that Denpi Teki wishes it pull off is Cassavetes’ The Killing of the Chinese Bookie. Essentially it does create a dark and horrible world where everything has to be taken into your own hands, and losers die a losers death while clinging on to whatever smallness that they’ve accumulated – yet it does so with such hyperrealism due to Cassavetes’ film technique of getting actors to improvise the delivery of their lines – that it’s genuinely chilling.

    The fault, as usual, is less optimism and pessimism – but more optimistic and pessimistic heavy-handedness – which is a sign of bad statistics and delusion. Great artists sneak through the back-door, so that it doesn’t really matter what stance they take because they explore that part of humanity so fully that it still sticks deeply within you.

    @Clarste – great works of art exceed ideology by being larger than them. Ideology, at it’s core, after all, is merely a tactic of probability that people apply to deal with their portion of life and explicate it onto other parts in hopes that they’ll apply there to. As always life itself can go beyond that – and so no one is ever completely pinpoint on their message. A great work of art, on the other hand, can showcase that internal logic – but will also point outwards towards something greater.

    One of these examples is A Clockwork Orange again. By the end you’ll be totally unclear which side to root for. Alex is probably a complete psychopath, but the government are also heinous in their tactics. It makes a good case for both ensuring freedom as well as the need for control. It accepts that the matter is complicated and ends on its brilliantly and cynically ambiguous ending.

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