Return to Genshiken: Volume 5 – Pride and Fujo Justice

Volume 5 holds a very special place in my heart—it was my first ever manga purchase when I studied in Japan, and my first real exposure to the character of Ogiue. As such, it’s one of the volumes of Genshiken I know best, but in re-reading it I’ve still managed to pick up on some things I hadn’t before!

What is Return to Genshiken?

Genshiken is an influential manga about otaku, as well as my favorite manga ever and the inspiration for this blog, but it’s been many years since I’ve read the series. I intend to re-read Genshiken with the benefit of hindsight and see how much, if at all, my thoughts on the manga have changed.

Note that, unlike my chapter reviews for the second series, Genshiken Nidaime, I’m going to be looking at this volume by volume. I’ll be using both English and Japanese versions of Genshiken! Also, I will be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the first series and the sequel, so be warned.

Volume 5 Summary

Ogiue’s is one of the club’s newest members. After some spirited discussions/arguments” with Saki and Ohno about yaoi, she inadvertently reveals her true fujoshi nature. Her kink: BL inspired by shounen manga.

Madarame attempts to take on his greatest foe: premium clothing shopping. Although it nearly drains him of all will, he ultimately succeeds. Ogiue, following similar advice, does not.

Sasahara’s Comic Festival application is accepted, and Genshiken must fight through a meddling pest (Haraguchi), editor and artist tensions between Sasahara and Kugayama, and a fast-encroaching deadline on the way to their first vendor experience at a doujin event. In the end, they manage to make it in time. They even sell out of their Kujibiki Unbalance-themed doujinshi onsite, thanks in part to the cosplay/crossplay powers of Ohno and Kohsaka.

Ogiue Exposed

There’s a lot we learn about Ogiue in Volume 5. She’s indeed a fujoshi, in spite of her vocal disdain for them. She comes from the Tohoku region (and, as we learn in Nidaime, Yamagata specifically) when she panics and slips into her native accent. She’s also an artist, though we’ve yet to learn the significance of art to Ogiue (and how it ties into the trauma of her past). But there’s another major development in this volume that has major implications for the rest of the series.

Before I get into that, however, I do want to point something else out. Ogiue’s initial excuse when Kuchiki mentions that he caught her at a Scram Dunk event is that it was “for her little brother.” I never got around to it in my Nidaime reviews, but it turns out that she actually does have a little brother. The reveal happens in Volume 16, in a 4-panel comic where Ogiue and Sue visit Ogiue’s family home. A simple “Sis?” followed by “He’s my brother” is all it takes to finally know that the brother, at least, was not a lie.

The True Origins of Sasa x Mada

As an Ogiue fan, one of my favorite aspects of Genshiken is naturally her gradual acceptance of her fujoshi side, and her quiet obsession with Sasahara x Madarame yaoi is a part of this. While that particular thread comes to the fore in the next volume, I realized during my re-read that the seeds were planted in Ogiue’s head in Volume 5.

In one of the doujinshi planning scenes, Haraguchi reveals that he’s already made plans for Genshiken’s book (he wants to turn it into a big seller by bringing on a ton of high-profile guest artists). Sasahara keeps trying to politely refuse Haraguchi’s “kindness,” as his tendency as a non-confrontational person. However, as Haraguchi keeps pushing and pushing, eventually Sasahara’s expression grows stern (similar to how he reacts to his own sister). He puts his proverbial foot down, saying, “I will personally call all the guest artists you brought on board (without my consent) and turn them down.”

It’s potentially easy to miss, but immediately afterwards there’s a small panel with an Ogiue closeup, and she has the ever-so-slightest blush on her face. Without later context, it can just seem like she’s surprised or shocked at Sasahara’s change of behavior, but now it’s clear to me that this was the catalyst for her perception of Sasahara as a a “seme” character, and also her eventual attraction to him. When Sasahara is later arguing with Kugayama about getting the doujinshi done, and he refuses Ogiue’s help because he doesn’t want her picking up Kugayama’s slack, this also contributes to her fantasy image of Sasahara. It might also have “helped” that he made her cry, showing his gruff, masculine side, however limited.

As for Madarame as “uke,” right after Sasahara tells Haraguchi that emphatic “no,” Haraguchi turns to Madarame to ask if it’s really okay. Madarame then mentions that Sasahara is president now and it’s up to him to make the final decisions. I think this moment of deference towards Sasahara by Madarame is what plants the seed of “bottom-ness” in Ogiue’s mind, along with Madarame’s general behavior around Kasukabe.

Doujinshi Creation: From Passive to Active

Sasahara’s decision to participate in Comic Festival in the first place is a major pivot for Genshiken. Up to this point, they were an extremely passive club, where things sort of happened to them. Now, they’ve stepped into the field of creators; they’re making an active contribution to otaku culture, so to speak. This experience is also clearly what eventually leads Sasahara to becoming a manga editor. All of the back-and-forth with Haraguchi, having to know when too far is too far, and basically managing disparate elements of production to create a single complete product in a limited time span is portrayed as a tiring yet invigorating experience for Sasahara—and one that he’s pretty good at too. His personality is somehow a good fit for editorial work, especially in the manga sense of also having to manage artists.

Speaking of passivity, the argument between Kugayama and Sasahara is too real. Sasahara basically accuses Kugayama of discounting his own ability to become a professional manga artist to protect his “flimsy pride.” In other words, Sasahara is saying that Kugayama is choosing to give up because it would feel even worse to try his hardest and fail. While the opposite mentality is encouraged in life and in movies, fearing failure is something that virtually anyone can relate to.

Saki in Transition

Saki, as much as she’s spending time with the Genshiken crew, is still in a period of transition between being absolutely new to the world of otaku and being fully accustomed to it, as she is in Nidaime. While she’s always the “normie” outsider in the series, there are a number of choice moments in Volume 5 that speak to her status being in flux.

When Saki is talking with Ogiue next to the gigantic pile of homoerotic doujinshi, she looks at one of them, gets suspicious, and then opens it up and has her supicions confirmed. If she were an otaku, or at least much more familiar with the stuff, she probably would’ve realized it immediately. Still, the fact that she noticed something was “off” speaks to the time she’s been in Genshiken.

At Comic Festival, Saki sees Kousaka in drag and is clearly taken aback. Back when I first read it, it seemed like she was about to say something sad, but knowing Saki better now, I get the impression that she was going to respond with something kinder, albeit still embarrassing. In Nidaime, she reveals that she has plenty of gay friends and friends who crossdress, which makes me wonder if Saki’s response was actually going to be more “If you’re into that sort of thing, I guess I can accept that,” before she’s interrupted by Kuchiki.

But she’s also learning, whether she likes it or not. In one of the post-ComiFes 4-panel comics, Saki mentions that having the Kujibiki Unbalance vice-president (Ohno’s cosplayed character) selling pornographic doujinshi of the president must be pretty strange. Ohno gets a look of surprise on her face that Saki has shown a small example of otaku-esque perception.

However, just as we think she’s adjusting, the otaku world smacks her right in the face. At the very end of the volume, she’s shown reading the doujinshi Genshiken put out and reacting with awkward disgust. It’s clear why: the doujinshi is lolicon (and the volume has a heavily censored version of it), featuring a young Chihiro and Ritsuko from Kujibiki Unbalance having an early sexual encounter. Ultimately, while the rest of the club is treating it like nothing big (and it’s likely powered by Sasahara’s general obsession with Ritsuko, as opposed to any specific age range), Kasukabe’s reaction is all too expected, and is likely the sort of thing that keeps her from ever fully embracing otaku subculture.

She never really interacts with Nidaime‘s resident shotacon, Yoshitake Risa, either. I wonder how that conversation might go…

Mebaetame

This time around, Genshiken’s small club doujinshi looks at the Kujibiki Unbalance anime, which, in case you didn’t know or forgot, was actually made. A lot of the screenshots are actually taken directly from the anime, but a few of them are actually drawn by Kio Shimoku to resemble a TV anime screenshot. I find that kinda funny.

Final Random Thoughts

Madarame and Ogiue’s fashion trips might have seemed like one-off adventures originally, but looking back it’s clear that their voyages made an impact. Madarame starts to dress at least a little better, especially after he starts to work professionally, but it still sticks even when he quits his job in Nidaime. As for Ogiue, she starts to wear better-fitting clothing, and after she starts dating Sasahara she becomes even more fashionable. By the time Nidaime rolls around, Yajima is actually kind of intimidated by how good-looking Ogiue is. That’s quite some progress for a girl who used to actively shun fashion.

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[APT507] School Idols vs. Pro Idols: The Hints of Sobering Reality in Love Live!

Something that’s stuck with me for a long time is the distinction that Love Live! makes between idols and school idols. I find that it hints at the harshness of the idol industry, though in a very, very indirect way. I wrote a short article on it over at Apartment 507, if you’re curious.

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A Belated Samurai Jack Season 5 Review

It’s been a long journey for fans of Samurai Jack. A cartoon that’s always been notable for its visual creativity, the original series ended abruptly, leaving viewers without any sort of resolution to the battle between Jack and his arch-nemesis Aku. 13 years later, Samurai Jack finally has a decisive conclusion to cap off Jack’s journey. This in itself makes the fifth and final season something special, but what makes this concluding chapter stand out even more is how the darker, more mature feel of these last episodes are not as effective without the more kid-oriented approach of the past providing context.

As explained in the opening each episode, 50 years have passed since Aku sent Samurai Jack into the future. During this period, Jack discovers that he does not age, possibly as a side effect of time travel. Jack at the beginning of the fifth season seems almost like a different character, worn down by the death and suffering of others and his inability to vanquish Aku and save the world.

In the old Samurai Jack, Jack only destroyed robots as a consequence of its kid-friendly rating. Stories could be mature, but they had to toe a certain line. In the final season, he is shown to confront the issue of taking mortal lives on numerous occasions. While the story of a man who tries his best not to kill being forced to do so is compelling enough, it works especially well because of that past history as a children’s show. Moreover, the 13-year gap between the previous season and the final one means that the show’s audience has also aged, and I imagine that this creates a degree of empathy towards Jack, even if it hasn’t been 50 years for us.

Originally, the plan from creator Genndy Tartakovsky Samurai Jack was to do a feature film that would finish the story. While that would’ve likely been good in its own right, and likely more in line with how the series was back then, I’m glad we got this version instead. Plenty of shows these days, from Full House to Twin Peaks, are doing this “years later sequel” thing, but I can say for sure that Samurai Jack doesn’t suffer for it. The final season is artistically and negativity ambitious, and any flaws in it are in my opinion forgivable.

Tomino Yoshiyuki’s “Big Picture”: Why the Gundam Creator Can Be So Hit or Miss

Director Tomino Yoshiyuki is a perplexing figure in the anime industry. He’s the creator of Gundam, which makes him a legend to a certain type and generation of anime fan. He’s been described as passionate and even frightening by those who’ve worked with the man. Also, because his anime range from legendary to seemingly non-sequitur nonsense, Tomino has a George Lucas-esque reputation, where people can’t tell if he’s a genius, a fool, or a one-hit wonder. While this might mark Tomino as an inconsistent director, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that a major factor in the effectiveness of his anime is length. Tomino is a creator who’s better with longer-format series than shorter works.

I think one of the roots of all this is the way he approaches setting up an anime. In a recent episode of the Anime World Order podcast on the Tomino-helmed mid-2000s animation Wings of Rean, the hosts referenced an interview included with the DVD release. When asked  about his approach to film by using a classic ramen analogy (do you start with the ramen itself or with the steam that suggests its presence?), Tomino says that he prefers to start right at the point the noodles reach the lips—and if the lips are sexy, all the better. This seems like a very roundabout answer that might not make sense at first glance, but it’s actually a very good description of how Tomino constructs narratives.

Take Reideen the Brave, Tomino’s first ever directorial work on a giant robot anime. Instead of calmly introducing the main characters, the villains, the stakes, and finally the wondrous robot (as was typical of even the best robot shows of the time), Reideen the Brave‘s first episode comes a mile a minute. The main character, Hibiki Akira, is playing soccer with his friends! Suddenly, DEATH AND DESTRUCTION AROUND THE WORLD AS LANDMARKS CRUMBLE. A voice calls for a hero to awaken. It speaks directly to Akira and tells him the AGE OF DEMONS has come about, and that he needs something called “Reideen!” A LIGHTNING BOLT HITS AKIRA.

Keep in mind that, including the opening, less than five minutes have passed.

I love this first episode because it really puts the viewers into the thick of things and leaves us to try and piece together everything going on. As I’ve watched more and more of Tomino’s works, this is clearly a trend, evident in shows from all across his history with anime, such as Space Runaway Ideon, Overman King Gainer, and Gundam: Reconguista in G. It’s the directorial equivalent of shoving someone into the deep end of the pool and asking them to make it to the surface, and when there’s enough intrigue laid out, it can become a fine motivator to stick with a series. However, this can be a double-edged sword, and the other side of that blade produces his more maligned works, like Garzey’s Wing and Wings of Rean. If that rush of information isn’t compelling enough, or doesn’t leave enough meat to sink one’s teeth into, it becomes a poor framework to build on.

My belief is that Tomino is a “big picture, big philosophy” creator who tries to show fragments of a world to give it a sense of scope and significance. By doing this, he tries to actively challenge viewers to think about the real world. The issue is that the “little picture” often escapes him. This is perhaps why creating convincing romances is one of his weaknesses—the development of relationships is a very intimate and local thing. He does fine with established romances, and he’s great at placing a romance within the greater context of a world in motion, but the actual motions of love burgeoning between two people seems to escape him. Instead, he goes for instant love: newtype psychic explosions and the like.

When Tomino has enough room to really lay something out, like in Ideon or Mobile Suit Gundam (even though those two series originally had their runs cut short), the blanks he establishes in the beginning can be slowly fleshed out and given dimension by him or whatever staff he has. Turn A Gundam is probably the best example. It was allowed to run its full length without being cut down at the knees like those other earlier anime, and the result is just a sprawling story where emotions and human actions ripple through outer space.

However, it always seems as if Tomino tries to make “big picture” anime even when time is much more limited, and this is why the shorter works end up feeling so inscrutable. Longer works can breathe, but there’s literally not enough time to fully expand on the forces that Tomino is trying to convey in his works. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the five-minute Ring of Gundam is so incredibly obtuse, even compared to the infamy of Garzey’s Wing. Something like Reconguista in G falls in the middle. There’s a lot of rushing from one moment to the next, but also plenty of indicators of how the world has changed since the era of the old Gundam anime, and the unceremonious death of one of the series’ main antagonists works satisfyingly well given the groundwork laid out by those episodes. It’s just that individual character actions often go unexplained.

Tomino Yoshiyuki will continue to be a divisive creator because certain elements considered to be fundamental to good storytelling are things he either can’t do or doesn’t care for. However, his desire to convey big ideas,  challenge viewers politically, and make them put in work while watching his anime is something to admire. This approach is poorly served in shorter works, because Tomino doesn’t try to compromise, but if given enough room he produces some of anime’s greatest.

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The Fujoshi Files 172: Fujo Wife

Name: N/A
Alias: N/A
Relationship Status: Married
Origin: Happy Fujoshi: Oku-sama wa Fujo

Information:
The wife of a manga artist, she frequently watches children’s shows along with her daughter—only with a very different, BL-sensitive approach.

Fujoshi Level:
She freaks out at moments when the heroes of a tokusatsu show talk about “using their guns together,” thinking of it as fodder for doujinshi.

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Anno, Evangelion, and the Fleeting Intersection of Creators and Trends

The story of Neon Genesis Evangelion is partly one of a creator who tapped into the zeitgeist of his viewers, who then began to travel along a path divergent from the very people that called themselves his fans. Anno Hideaki is not an isolated incident. Any time a creator makes a sequel and it’s considered to do more harm to the series than good by some (J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Tomino Yoshiyuki and Gundam), there’s a sense that ideas and sensibilities did not align as well as they could have.

Of course, fans are individuals too. What one might call the general fan reaction to something is akin to an aggregate or a median of all of the different values that exist, and one might even argue that there’s no such thing as a singular “audience” or “fandom.” However, I think that’s a significant contributing factor to why it’s so hard for so many characters to achieve great success more than once, why there are so many flashes in the pan. Even when they’re attempting to chase their audience and please them, it doesn’t necessarily work out as they might hope. How likely is it for one person to tap into the collective feelings of a group, and do so consistently over a period of years?

Love ’em or hate ’em, this I think this situation is why production by committee/audience testing exists. If you want lightning to strike twice, why not try to find out as much information as possible? Why not try to approach the group mindset with a smaller group of your own? It’s safer and arguably more reliable.

The issue with this approach is that it’s more likely to discourage risk and experimentation. This doesn’t mean it can’t ever result in strong works, but the Mr. Plinkett review of the current state of the Star Wars franchise explains it well. Disney knows exactly what the fans love about their beloved far, far away galaxy, and will keep tapping that well for as long as they find if feasible. These can be favorite characters, changing trends in how people perceive media (gender and racial diversity), or something else, but rarely would a work like this try to challenge or anger its audience.

This, I believe, is the danger zone that Anno saw all those years ago as fan response to Evangelion became one that encouraged an objectification and consumption of its characters. That conversation is more complex than this post is going to get into (and keep in mind that I’m not necessarily against either side), but it keeps me thinking about the divergence of creators and fans.

Fighting Evil By Moonlight – Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel

Heartcatch Precure! is, to date, the strongest entry in the Precure magical girl franchise. It’s a series that works incredibly well in an episode-by-episode basis but also in terms of long-term narrative. This success comes from successfully building upon itself, and one of the anime’s high points in this regard is the story of Tsukikage Yuri, aka Cure Moonlight, a veteran Precure whose defeat triggers the start of Heartcatch Precure! A recurring character, Yuri’s arc of forgiveness and redemption is one of the most satisfying and inspiring moments of the series.

Yuri is more of a strong supporting character than a main protagonist in the anime, which leaves a lot of questions to be answered. For example, how did she become a Precure? Fortunately, Yuri is actually the star of the Heartcatch Precure! novel spinoff, which retells the story of the TV series from her perspective. Simply titled Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel, this book adaptation takes a somewhat more mature alternative view of the story already familiar to fans.

The novel is divided into four large chapters: how Yuri first became Cure Moonlight and how she lost her powers, the arrival of Tsubomi and Erika (the heroines of the anime), Yuri’s return, and the finale. By far the most “new” content is in the first. Here, we get to see a younger Yuri in junior high, her friendship with Erika’s sister Momoka, how she meets her fairy Cologne, and her interactions with Tsubomi’s grandmother Kaoruko, the former Cure Flower who ends up training Yuri. One of the main focuses of Yuri’s path to becoming a Precure is the way in which Kaoruko tries to drill into Yuri that she needs to be at the top of her game. There’s also a great amount of attention spent on Dark Precure and her thoughts and feelings. As Yuri’s “shadow,” it’s only appropriate that the novel delve into her story as well.

The other three chapters don’t hold up quite as well. While they still do a fine job of telling the story of Heartcatch Precure!, they have this problem of rushing to the Yuri-centric scenes so as to refocus the narrative back on her. The consequence of this pace is that huge swathes of the novel feel like recaps, such as quickly introducing Cure Sunshine without much fanfare. At other points, however, because the core narrative is still about Tsubomi, the retelling of the anime’s events still draw much more attention to her than Yuri. The actual material is still quite satisfying, and the major moments resonate emotionally, but at many points it starts to feel less like a true Cure Moonlight novel. The points at which the novel does emphasize Yuri usually come from her conversations with Kaoruko, as well as any moment where she’s trying to use her experiences to teach or warn the new Precures.

It’s unclear if this novel is meant to be read by people who have already seen the anime, but there is a recurring trend where it quickly and nonchalantly drops information that was gradually revealed in the TV series, such as the true identities of certain characters. This isn’t even about “retelling” parts of the anime; one of the late spoilers in the series (the identity of a Tuxedo Mask-esque figure) is revealed in the first chapter, before Tsubomi ever shows up.

The story also occasionally deviates from the anime’s events in small ways, making it uncertain whether or not the novel is canon. For example, in the final battle against the main villain, Dune, he explains his origins and why he carries such hatred in his heart. This didn’t happen in the anime at all, and the lack of development for Dune is one of the anime’s few weak points. The climactic punch is replaced by an embrace because the running gag throughout the series, where Tsubomi uses a hip attack and calls it a “butt punch,” never occurs in the novel. It also expands on the epilogue of the anime, refocusing back on Yuri at the very end.

Given its length (over 300 pages in Japanese), the lack of furigana to help younger readers, and the complete absence of images aside from the cover, Heartcatch Precure!: The Novel skews older than the target young elementary school audience of the anime. While it’s an open secret that teenagers and adults watch Precure too, this book appears to be a specific targeting of that more mature audience. While the novel might feel a bit much like supplementary material, it’s still an enjoyable read that carries all of the strengths of Heartcatch Precure!, particularly its thoughtfulness in characterization and character development.