Nerds in the Mist: Katou Megumi and the Role of the Non-Otaku

With a series title like How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, a certain image comes to mind. Given the existence of Japanese dating sims, the success of “raising sims” such as Gainax’s famous Princess Maker series, as well as the tendency towards popular otaku tropes such as nerd protagonists in harem situations, it’s easy to assume that the series is about creating a bland, milquetoast love interest. Is this an attempt to revive the old-style dating sim heroines such as Kamigishi Akari from To Heart, that childhood friend who once stood at the top of the harem totem pole? Is Katou Megumi, the titular “boring girlfriend”—more accurately “boring heroine” in Japanese—one man’s “ideal waifu” the way Asuna from Sword Art Online is, or something else entirely?

To my surprise, Megumi’s aggressive mediocrity actually turns out to be a subversion of her seeming purpose as a no-personality love interest or another character in the yamato nadeshiko mold. While the fact that the other characters keep talking about how aggressively mediocre she is might point in those directions, her role in Boring Girlfriend is closer to that of Kasukabe Saki from Genshiken—the “normal” one who contributes by being an outsider.

In works about groups of otaku there is often a non-otaku, though their purposes can differ. In Otaku no Video, the main character Ken is the “commoner” who gradually falls in love with the otaku lifestyle, while his girlfriend, Yoshiko, becomes increasing disgusted. The dating sim Comic Party (as well as its anime adaptations) follows a similar pattern, with protagonist Kazuki becoming more involved with doujinshi as his sporty childhood friend (and canon love interest) Mizuki just can’t seem to fathom what these nerds are jabbering about.

Owing to the fact that Genshiken gradually pushes its characters from the relative safety of a college environment into the real world, Saki as the non-otaku becomes a kind of guiding force. While she begins the series antagonizing the otaku and begrudging the fact that her boyfriend is an otaku, she eventually becomes a close friend whose understanding of human social interactions (notoriously lacking in otaku) provide answers that the others could not arrive at by themselves. While she isn’t as aggressive and outspoken as Saki, Megumi in Boring Girlfriend accomplishes the same things by being more observant than the perpetually self-centered and inward-looking otaku characters she has befriended.

Because Saki begins from a place similar to Yoshiko in Otaku no Video and Mizuki in Comic Party, Megumi doesn’t quite have the same development as her. Instead of that period of conflict with the otaku, the changing dynamic comes from the gradual reveal that Megumi indeed has a mind of her own, and that her seemingly mundane nature throws a wrench in the assumptions of the others. Moreover, her “boring” status provides a sharp contrast to the other girls in the series, who fall more in line with familiar tropes: a tsundere, an adorable underclassman, a cooldere, a tomboy cousin.

While those other characters have their origins in the same era that spawned Akari from To Heart and Mizuki from Comic Party, taste in otaku consumption has changed over time such that characters with more extreme and pronounced character traits tend to be more popular. The shape of “moe” has changed, and everyone but Megumi falls into that line. However, because Megumi is present, and because the series is named after her, it’s as if Boring Girlfriend is setting up and knocking down its own pieces to say, “Subtlety has its place.”

In this sense, How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend and Megumi remind me of two other series. The first is My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected aka My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. It’s a series that also goes against what its title implies and plays around with its characters supposed archetypes to create a greater sense of depth. The other is The World God Only Knows, which features the character Kosaka Chihiro. Though she has a different personality compared to Megumi, and that series has only one real otaku character, Chihiro fulfills the role of being defiantly “normal.” Her behavior runs against everything that Katsuragi Keima believes in as someone who bases his life entirely on dating sims, and Megumi by virtue of her supposed blandness accomplishes much the same.

 

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2 thoughts on “Nerds in the Mist: Katou Megumi and the Role of the Non-Otaku

  1. Saki is similar to Katou… Good call, and “sasuga SDS” to make the link.

    I think the connection between what you’ve written and the title of the anime can be interpreted as you have, but that’s a little not-ironic-enough, don’t you think? To Tomoya, Katou, as the girl on the hill, represents the “moe” or the otaku ideal in which drives his creative vision, at least in part. I think she is probably better described as the fantasy in which (assuming a self-insert kind of frame of mind) the player can potentially project freely into. It’s not to say you’re actually saying anything in contrary of what I’m describing, but the difference is how the very mainstream versions of tropes and what have you map to Saekano’s characters’ personas. Saki was an “outsider” but Kato, to me, is “a regular person.” The motivation to her actions are the background of Saekano but they’re spelled out for us–she’s interested in the club because the people are interesting, and the games are also interesting, plus she’s invested, especially after she became friends with the members.

    It’s quite the thematic parallel if you think about it. At one level, we can think of the characters in Saekano in blunt stereotypical ways (as you’ve demonstrated), and realize Kato is an enigma, much like how real people don’t fit in convenient pigeonholes powered by an Azuma book. The second parallel is how Tomoya looks at her club members as creators versus as friends, or how he looks at his project as a pro or as just a fanboy. I think a lot of the things in Saekano are duplicit in this way, allowing you to draw a lot of common sense conclusions that maps to a reality that I find closer to someone who has been working in the industry, with a certain level of jadedness !

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  2. Pingback: Mori Summer: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2017 | OGIUE MANIAX

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