The Difference in Variety in the New Genshiken

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.

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10 thoughts on “The Difference in Variety in the New Genshiken

  1. “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.”

    Mistake? I’m pretty sure I could count all of the female otaku/fans I know that are NOT BL-hungry fujoshi on one hand and have fingers left over to spare.

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  2. Despite their purported “samey-ness”, the new Genshiken members feel more complete as actual characters with motivations and backgrounds beyond their otaku hobbies. While I enjoyed the depiction of various aspects of otaku culture in the first part, the second part has its own place, with its depiction of how different people enjoy a similar hobby that’s different from what was presented in the first part. Only a hack uses the same clichés in the same way, every time. Kio Shimoku is not a hack. :3

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  3. Great post as usual. While I do like the contrast of the different members, even if they’re all BL fans now (not sure about Risa, since there’s such thing as “straight shota”), I can’t help but wonder if there will ever be a female otaku who isn’t a fujoshi; maybe a yuri fan, or a fan of shoujo-style romance, or someone not interested in romance at all.
    Wonder how would the other members react if that happens….

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  4. Interesting post. I (female) do like BL, but I’m actually more interested in the romance aspect of it, and love het and especially Yuri too.

    By the way, Yajima is probably my favourite character. Her grumpyness is just too adorable, and I can relate a lot with her. I dunno, when I see her, I see me a little bit too… her reactions and such mirror mine. (And I kinda ship her with Hato… her reactions when around him are just too cute.)
    Also I’m just happy to see that there are finally some girls with a different kind of body type and style of clothing then just the beautiful kind that ther is in most anime (and television shows, let’s not be unfair.)

    That said, like you mentioned before, this new Genshiken manga has really introduced a variety of body-types. It feels… realistic, you know? It makes me happy.

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  5. Personally, I think Genshiken II focuses too heavily on Hato. It’s almost as if every chapter revolves heavily around him. I also feel that he’s not as “believable” as the other characters. Among his other positive traits, he’s designed to be the most physically attractive of the cast, has an appealing, considerate personality and excels at drawing and judo. As far as I can recall, he has virtually no flaws.

    I understand that Genshiken has focused on other characters like Ogiue in the past, but I think that was because the author was building up to the mystery of Ogiue’s past. I’m not sure what direction the author is going with Hato. It feels as though the author is only focusing on exploring the possibilities of the Genshiken’s reactions to Hato, without any clear direction. I also get the impression that he’s relying too heavily on the increased popularity of crossdressing.

    Anyway, just my two cents. Maybe it’s just me.

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  6. Pingback: The Incredible Kaminaga: Genshiken II, Chapter 77 « OGIUE MANIAX

  7. Having just read the English-language edition of what Kodansha’s U.S. branch is calling “Genshiken: Second Season,” volume one, I think one reason for the conspicuous focus on Hato is that, whether the mangaka is doing this entirely consciously or not, in addition to being the most eye-catching new character, Hato is also being used as a metaphor for Japanese fandom/otakudom as a whole. That whole chapter toward the end of volume one in which male Hato is essentially haunted by his “yaoi-chan” female alter ego whispering suggestive comments in his ear the entire time he’s hanging out with Madarame could be interpreted as some kind of excessive crossdressing-induced budding multiple personality disorder, or (at this point) as Hato’s subconscious urging him to make the leap from acknowledging that he enjoys BL to admitting that he himself is attracted to guys in real life. (Although Madarame’s unexpected assumption that liking BL is just some quirk of personal taste on Hato’s part, not a sign of potential gayness, may be intended to suggest that readers shouldn’t jump to this conclusion, either.) But the confusion between the “real” male Hato (who in some ways acts more like the polite “Hato-san/chan” usually seen interacting with the other Genshiken members when crossdressing at club meetings) and the hovering phantom “yaoi-chan” (who gets a lot crasser in her suggestive remarks about potential Mada x Hato/Hato x Mada scenarios than Hato usually does in real life when wearing a dress) may make the most sense if you look at Hato as the personification of the previously male-dominated fandom/otakudom of Japan, which in recent years has been increasingly colonized by female fans, especially fujoshi. (For instance, there are all those reports about fujoshi exhibitors taking up so much more space than they did previously at Comiket that some accounts claim they now actually outnumber the male-oriented circles.) In other words, the two separate personalities, male and female, that to some extent appear to genuinely exist within the physically male Hato could be taken as symbolic of the “original” male otakudom now being increasingly forced to acknowledge and deal with the very different interests of the growing female fandom. But both factions are still integral parts of Japanese fandom, just as the “yaoi-chan”–or the somewhat more refined version of her that Hato presents when dressed as “Hato-chan”–is an undeniably vital part of Hato’s own personality as a whole.

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  8. Pingback: Chop Chop Chop, Judo Flip: Genshiken II, Chapter 86 | OGIUE MANIAX

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