In the past, I’ve written a number of posts in response to some of the backlash that the new Genshiken receives, particularly in regards to the new cast of characters. Whether it’s pointing out how Genshiken changes throughout its run (for the better), or that the general perception of otaku has changed just enough that some are happily willing to be labeled as such, my goal has been to show that the series has never stopped being “real,” and that it most certainly still reflects otaku life. There’s nothing wrong with or invalid about liking Genshiken while disliking Genshiken II (the comic does feel somewhat different, after all), but I just find the criticism that the characters are somehow less developed to be one I can’t agree with.
So when I see the criticism that the new characters in Genshiken lack variety, I was surprised. Upon seeing the reasons, I was confused.
The argument is that the new characters are all into BL, whereas once you had a guy who was into model kits and cosplay (Tanaka), a guy who was ostensibly into drawing (Kugayama), a guy who fought hard for Otaku Life (Madarame). This supposed lack of variety potentially even labels all female otaku as BL-hungry fujoshi, a mistake that many make both in and out of the world of fiction. At first, I considered arguing from the fact that the Genshiken old guard all had fairly similar tastes in erotica and doujinshi, some more extreme than others. I realized, however, that taking such a stance wasn’t really answering the question of variety, and that it’s true that the older characters seemed to have a wider array of otaku hobbies. Among the current members, most of them are indeed into yaoi, many of them like to draw, and their conversations often lead to discussions of pairings and such. That said, there is an important difference between the old and new Genshiken in that the approach to diversity has changed.
It is true that Sasahara and the rest all have different interests as otaku, and together they show a variety of colorful personalities in part due to those interests, but at the same time they’re all different types of Awkward Nerd, Kohsaka with his good looks and upbeat personality being the only real exception. Kasukabe and Sasahara’s sister Keiko of course aren’t even otaku at all, and instead provide a very clear point of comparison, the normals as opposed to the nerds. With the current iteration of the club however, while just about all of them are into similar things like BL, they actually have widely varying degrees of awkwardness. While Hato’s crossdressing can create awkwardness, he himself does not necessarily exude it, and Yoshitake is almost impossible to label as such. Whereas once Kohsaka was the major exception, his approach to being an otaku, while not quite yet the rule, resembling this current generation more than the one before it. Moreover, between Hato’s judo training and the younger Yoshitake sister’s years of basketball you even have now, of all things, athletic individuals devoid of the physical awkwardness that is prevalent in so many portrayals of otaku.
As is explored in Chapter 58 (the drunken party chapter), part of Yajima’s character is that she feels caught in the middle of this transition. In her mind, otaku are supposed to be weird, inept people who look and possibly smell less than ideal (I’m paraphrasing), but all of the girls (and at least one guy) around her in Genshiken seem to be smart, beautiful, talented, and confident. In this regard, she is somewhat alone, her type and level of awkwardness greater than the rest, but with her ability to comfortably interact with all of them even she is a sign of the ever-changing times and identity of “otaku.”
While the new Genshiken may indeed be populated by yaoi fans (and we’re not even sure if Risa’s thing for shota is necessarily also a BL thing), it has a level of variety in characters and personalities that was previously only achieved on a much more extreme scale, one that had to even include non-otaku. Their hobbies may not be as varied, but they themselves are comprise a diverse cast of fully formed otaku-as-characters in a world where awkwardness, social or physical, is not a prerequisite.