A story set in the near future, about a middle-aged loser whose only refuge is a virtual bishoujo game.
Takurou, the main character, is a stereotyped, low self esteem, adult male in a dead end job. Because he feels he has nothing to live for, he let himself go, becoming fat, miserable, and lonely. The only shining thing he lives for is the occasional visit to a brothel where his savings will allow him to at least not be completely sexless. This is when, through a real life friend of his, he is introduced to the virtual reality world of "The Unreal." Where, after spending $6000+ on equipment, you can purchase a virtual girlfriend who only thinks of you. Only the girl, Tsukiko, that Takurou purchases, seems to have come with a few defects.
1. any cautious, defeatist, or cynical attitude based on the belief that the individual and human institutions exist in a hostile or indifferent universe or society.
2. an oppressive awareness of the futility of trying to improve one's status in life or in society."
That was a definition I ripped off straight from dictionary.com. I usually wouldn't start anything with a textbook definition of a word – because 1) its cheesy as hell and 2) most titles are arbitrary – but I felt the need to bend the rules just this once to emphasize how important the title is to this manga. Defining its literal meaning though
is only half the battle – “ressentiment” is also a philosophical term. If we take Wikipedia to be accurate, ressentiment also refers to the hostility directed at the perceived cause of one’s frustrations. More importantly, out of a sense of inferiority one creates a morality to oppose the “cause” of our frustrations, which effectively separates the “cause” from the self, thus denying one of any culpability. The important take-away points here are that ressentiment involves a sense of inferiority, the creation of a specific morality and the rejection of blame. With that unwieldy definition of “ressentiment” out of the way, I can get to why it’s so important to this manga. “Ressentiment”, in both its literal and philosophical meaning, encapsulates the characters and the story so perfectly that just knowing what the word means will tell you everything you need to know about “Ressentiment”, the manga. At its core, this is a dark, misanthropic story that is a scathing critique of both otaku fandom and human greed and vanity. However, it is also incredibly funny, nuanced and – at times – even humanistic in its portrayal of despicable men. It is this tension between these two seeming dichotomies that make “Ressentiment” both so fascinating and tragic.
I believe a review should answer the question: Should I (as the reader) watch/read this? In this case, the answer is a resounding "yes". Though it has its flaws -- much of which I've neglected in this review -- "Ressentiment" is an intriguing manga that features an atypical lead and a lot more depth than you'd initially assume. Overall, a hidden gem that isn't for everyone.
Overall, there’s themes running through this that have been done many times before, from Welcome to the NHK, with its take on otaku and erogames; Chobits, with its ‘which-is-better’ theme; and the herd of slightly deranged magical-girlfriend stories that are out there.
Hanazawa manages to combine all three elements, however, in a tightly-knit tale using humour, pathos, drama and wrapping it all in a slightly stinging rebuke of otaku-dom and their retreat from reality into the world of moe dating sims.
Watching Takuro and Tsukiko’s clumsy courtship is sweet, but entirely fake - she’s nothing more than a program, whilst he is an attractive and unreal facsimile
of himself. Hanazawa reminds us of this, dragging us back into reality with some effectively used cut-scenes. In the best example of this, we are shown Takuro hugging a sobbing Tsukiko, as she wails about how alone she was before he came. “Don’t worry,” he says, “you’re not alone.” Immediately, we cut back to his bedroom and are confronted with fat, slovenly Takuro hugging thin air.
In stark contrast to their VR personas, all of the characters in this tale are generally crude, vulgar, shallow and generally unlikable. This is reflected in the character design, which really highlights everybody’s worst features. I’d go as far as to say that even Tsukiko, the love interest, barely passes for cute, compared to standard manga and anime definitions of moe. Despite all this, Hanazawa weaves a tight, complex, not-quite-subtle story, which will leave you with the feeling that no matter how much of a loser you think Takuro is, you really do want him to get the girl in the end.
Overall, it’s a refreshing, funny, albeit somewhat scathing, take on familiar themes and worth tracking down.