The Reverse Thieves made a post today about perceptions of realism in fiction and how pessimism tends to overwhelm optimism in public opinion of what is “realistic” or not, at the expense of being able to tell more happy and uplifting stories. It’s a really good read and it got me thinking, particularly because of the primary example they use, my beloved Genshiken.
There are a standard list of complaints people have with Genshiken. The first being the prevalence of female characters in the club and those female characters being too attractive to be in such. The second complaint is that too many of the club members wind up in relationships by the end of the series. Tacked on to this is the belief that the characters lives turn out too cheery overall. Too many of them get jobs they like and come to accept who they are through the club. Essentially, Genshiken is not harsh enough. Real otaku are sadder and more pathetic. Real otaku life is darker and drearier. To generalize the complaint, Genshiken white-washes the life of an otaku and makes it seems happier than it is. Genshiken is accused of having just enough realism to get you to ignore the lies and placates with what you want to hear but does not give you the true story.
I’ve talked about Genshiken on this blog numerous times, and it comes as a surprise to no one that I love the series. I’ve heard these complaints too, that Genshiken is too unrealistic in that its members all achieve some degree of happiness and success, whether it be in relationships, careers, or other areas entirely. However, I want to point out that having the majority of the cast descend into a pit of despair and bland mediocrity would be more unrealistic. It is very possible for geeks and introverts to remain immature and unsocial creatures who remain uncomfortably nervous when interacting with others, but it becomes much more difficult when these otaku are faced with the situations that Genshiken finds itself in.
There is one character in particular responsible for bringing the otaku of Genshiken out of their shells, and she arguably has the most influence on the entirety of the manga.
Did you guess Ogiue? You know me well, but this time you’re mistaken. The girl I’m talking about is Kasukabe Saki.
Saki is initially brought into the club by her boyfriend Kohsaka. Saki is not an otaku and has no interest in becoming one nor the subconscious will to do so. As Narutaki points out, and as I’ve seen numerous times, it is not so unusual for an otaku or a geek or a gamer to bring his non-dork girlfriend into his club. And it’s also not so unusual to have at least one otaku who is charismatic or handsome. Saki initially dislikes Genshiken and finds opportunities to insult its members or to devise ways to separate Kohsaka from the club, but what she inadvertently does is expose them to forces outside of Genshiken, outside of their comfort zone. It is their encounter with the “real world,” so to speak, and as anyone who was once debilitatingly shy or awkward will tell you about what was responsible for their change, increased interaction with others is central to that success.
Further still, you would find that having to confront someone with opinions different from your own when you have no way of escaping will affect you and make you grow as a person. This is the case with Genshiken, as the club itself is regarded as inferior to the Manga and Anime Societies of Shiiou University, making it a club dedicated to outcasts among outcasts and thus the end of the line with no points of escape other than to abandon clubs entirely, and to lose that opportunity to be around others. This is clearly something that none of the members want, and the result is growth and change.
As a fellow new member, Sasahara finds himself positioned opposite Saki through his status as a burgeoning otaku. Becoming chairman of Genshiken simply because he seemed the best fit for carrying on the lackadaisical spirit of Genshiken, his assumed role at the top of the chain and the responsibilities given to him result in his confidence and maturity growing accordingly. He is able to win Ogiue over because he represents someone who is comfortable with himself, something he learned from being with Genshiken for so long. Keep in mind that he applies for the position of manga editor out of desperation, but then realizes that it’s a position he’s already had similar experience in, and is able to use his sincere love of manga and status as an otaku to convince the interviewer of his qualifications. And it all came from having to be Genshiken chairman every day for an entire year. Do something every day and love what you’re doing, and it’s almost impossible not to improve. This is reality.
Similarly, Tanaka goes on to a fashion college after graduating. Tanaka was already interested in making costumes, but the arrival of Ohno gives him the opportunity to constantly improve his craft with a willing partner and to devote his personal time and energy to it. We the readers are not entirely sure when Tanaka began to actually have feelings for Ohno beyond simple physical attraction, but we can be certain that they interacted with each other often and became very good friends who were able to share and understand each other’s ideas and feelings. While you might say it’s unrealistic that a hot babe like Ohno would go for a scruffy tubby guy like Tanaka, would you say the same thing if you knew a guy and a girl in real life who hung around each other practically every day and were united by common interests, and the girl was given the opportunity to see that the guy was not only pretty decent but had creativity and ambition, albeit in cosplay form?
Saki herself meanwhile undergoes significant changes too. Just like how the members of Genshiken were forced to confront opinions different from their own, Saki became exposed to the world of otaku and understood that people are defined by more than their hobbies and interests. While success and confidence were hers from the start, they were incomplete, as Saki was initially embarrassed to reveal to others that her boyfriend is an otaku. However, by being with Genshiken she not only accepts the idea of a boyfriend who will never stop being an otaku, but is able to proudly show that it’s not something she simply tolerates but is another aspect of the man she loves.
In the end, the X-Factor of Genshiken is Genshiken itself. Gather a group of people with different personalities and outlooks on life, and have them interact with each other every day for years on end, and people will change. It’s inevitable. Genshiken just happens to be fortunate enough to be comprised primarily of people who, while socially awkward, are interested in friendship and being able to share moments with others. While it’s impossible for me to be a part of Genshiken, I can personally say that my own experiences as a geek and as an otaku do not fall far from this example given in fiction. Even those who find themselves subject to the pit of despair would be hard-pressed to resist personal transformation in such an environment.