Breakthrough: Return to Genshiken – Volume 8

We’ve reached the climax of Genshiken series 1, and the moment that all Ogiue fans cheered for. How does one of the most famous otaku confessions in manga history still hold up?

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, using both English and Japanese versions! I’ll also be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the first series and the sequel, so be warned.

Volume 8 Summary

The Genshiken members are on a trip to the resort town of Karuizawa, when a drunken girls’ night in causes Ogiue to reveal her past to the other girls. It turns out that Ogiue had a boyfriend named Makita in middle school, but after she  drew a BL doujinshi starring him and his best friend, and Makita transferred to another school presumably after seeing it. This is the source of Ogiue’s hatred of herself and her fujoshi side.

Sasahara is left to take care of Ogiue during her hangover, and ends up confessing to her, only to be rejected, because Ogiue “can’t date men.” At the prompting of Kasukabe and Ohno, Sasahara goes after her, where she reveals that she’s been drawing doujinshi of him and Madarame this whole time, and is suffering from immense guilt over being unable to stop herself. Sasahara, instead of recoiling in fear and horror, shows understanding and support, which convinces Ogiue to invite him over to her place after the vacation with the goal of putting everything on the line. After having him read the doujinshi starring himself and seeing him accept it, the two finally get together and consummate their relationship.

After a cute but awkward early stage, the two are fairly comfortable together. However, Ogiue runs into a couple of other hurdles. First, she’s rejected from Comic Festival, which tanks her confidence. Second, the Manga Society she unleashed havoc on back when she was much, much angrier. Visited by some old members, namely a Kansai girl named Yabusaki who also draws, it turns out that Yabusaki’s been garnering jealous eyes in the Manga Society herself, and that Yabusaki’s friends see a friendship with Ogiue as a way to benefit both parties. The two begin to get along…sort of?

Ogiue’s Past Revealed

As Ogiue gives her drunken rant (by way of flashback), one takeaway is just how serious her trauma is over her time with Makita—it’s enough to consistently give her nightmares. I once got the chance to submit a question to Kio Shimoku as to why her eyes changed over the course of the series, and he mentioned that her character originally necessitated those eyes. I wonder if it signifies her no longer being victim to her own bad dreams.

Nakajima is a fascinating character. It’s clear to me that she was jealous of either Ogiue or Makita, but the extent of her involvement in actually bullying Ogiue remains ambiguous. I think this shows more Ogiue’s mind in turmoil than any absolute truths, that she lost trust in Nakajima, but also faith in the assumption that Ogiue herself was a good person. Based on the character’s appearances in Nidaime, it’s obvious Nakajima wants to mend bridges with Ogiue, but her own personality gets in the way. Maybe both Ogiue and Nakajima are cursed with standoffish personalities.

As for Makita himself, I find it significant that he never really shows up, not even in Nidaime, even though Nakajima makes a couple of appearances. I think this is to show that there’s a part of Ogiue’s past she’ll never be able to directly confront, and that she’s ultimately okay with this. Then again, I figured that was the case with Madarame’s unrequited love for Saki and that eventually got resolved, so maybe if Genshiken had more volumes it would’ve happened eventually. Another point about Makita is how he contrasts with Sasahara. Makita was (assumedly) so bothered by the doujin that he transferred school. Sasahara took it head-on. Again, while he doesn’t seem like he should be a seme character, one can see how Ogiue would interpret him as such.

The Confession, Part 1

I consider Sasahara’s confession to Ogiue and the subsequent fallout to be the most magical part of Genshiken, and not simply because of the fact that it’s the big romantic climax. There’s just so much in terms of the characters’ personalities, histories, and quirks intertwining over an extended period. The confession essentially comes in parts, starting with a stock “I like you, and I want to protect you” line straight out of some dating sim. Sasahara’s willingness to back off at what he takes as a rejection is a flaw of his, but also one of the qualities Ogiue admires in him. Then, when Ogiue blurts out that she been drawing a hardcore comic of him with Sasahara, she’s trying to drive him away with all her might, afraid that getting closer would hurt them both.

I remember the degree to which Ogiue took Sasa x Mada was a pretty big surprise back when I first read it. Now, it’s been so long and been such a part of Ogiue’s character as to feel natural.

To Ogiue’s surprise, Sasahara sees the good in her, and this gradually opens Ogiue’s eyes to the idea that, just maybe, she should accept and embrace herself. Ogiue’s struggle this entire time has been based on the feeling that her desires and her conscience are in direct conflict, when they need not be. She’s afraid of hurting Sasahara, but what if her actions simply don’t bother him? It’s a compatibility issue, not a fatal flaw that denies her companionship.

The Confession, Part 2

When they decide to meet at her apartment, the tension is thick with both nervousness and sexual energy. It rightly feels like they’re on the verge of something big after so long. But I think the key to it all is in Sasahara’s line: “I can feel your overwhelming love for your characters,” in reference to the BL-ized versions of himself and Madarame. Those words free Ogiue. Her drawings come from a place of passion.

Seeing Sasahara grapple with the fujoshi mindset, and Ogiue having to explain it to him, is also pretty fascinating. After reading through her doujin, he asks her if she also has feelings for Madarame, which Ogiue denies. There’s something different about the way she uses each of them for inspiration. It feels as if she takes the qualities that make her like Sasahara and exaggerates them for fiction, but for Madarame it’s that his “uke” qualities make him excellent as a character first and foremost.

That’s if we’re talking Ogiue, at least. As the sequel shows, sometimes Madarame as imagination fodder and subject of affection can come as a package. Perhaps Hato is meant to tap into that aspect of Madarame, and to show that there are simply a lot of different people in the world.

Returning to the subject of Ogiue, she tries to prompt Sasahara into being more aggressive, which Sasahara tries to live up to with awkward (yet effective?) results. It’s funny to see Sasahara from this point forward actively put on that more aggressive personality when I’m romantic situations with Ogiue, because it clearly comes from a desire to thrill and excite her. It’s very fitting for their characters.

Once their feelings are known, the two immediately go into sex, which I think is actually kind of wild. Sure, they’re horny college students who also obsess over drawn pornography, but to go from that degree of pussyfooting to just (offscreen) pants-off carnal desire makes me think of a hose previously being held back suddenly letting loose (ifykwim). From this point on, Sasahara and Ogiue are not only boyfriend and girlfriend, but this can also be seen as a major stop along the way in their respective careers as editor and artist because Sasahara essentially gave a “review meeting” about Ogiue’s Sasa x Mada doujin. It’s shown to be a pretty constant source of tension between the two, but one that’s ultimately minor in the face of their love for each other.

The Manga Society

I’m very impressed looking back at how the Manga Society girls (Yabusaki, Asada, Katou) are able to make such a strong impression after such a brief appearance. You get a sense of how they relate to each other, what the club environment was like, and the girls themselves are just plain memorable.

One thing I find funny is that, at this point, Asada Naoko didn’t have an actual name. At most she’s referred to as “Nyaako” in the Volume 9 doujinshi extra by some of the artists. Asada actually comes from the Genshiken 2 anime credits, and Naoko is from Nidaime, which retconned Nyaako into being her nickname—a play off of “Naoko.”

They also drop that tidbit about Ohno and Katou knowing each other. One thing I find interesting is this idea that true bonds can be formed through shared kinks. I don’t think that notion has gone away, but I have to wonder if making that aspect of oneself more visible to the public (“horny on main” as they say it these days) makes it so that aspect of oneself is no longer as revealing or telling of one’s true self. Basically, maybe showing one’s kinks isn’t as much of a soul-bearing activity if it’s never made private in the first place.

Final Random Thoughts

There’s a very memorable scene I had ironically almost forgotten about: on the train home from the zoo, Ogiue basically tells Sasahara that “their date isn’t over yet,” which makes Sasahara shift his bag to hide his erection. While Genshiken often deals in literal fans of drawn pornography, these moments of sensual realness stand out all the more because of it.

That zoo, by the way, is based on Tama Zoo, which is a short train ride away from Chuo University (the school that visually inspired Genshiken‘s Shiiou University). I actually went there when I studied abroad in Japan!

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More Like “We-katsu!”: Aikatsu Friends!

Aikatsu Friends! is the second reboot in the popular Aikatsu! franchise, and based on early impressions, it’s trying to change the formula in a number of ways. While the basic premise is largely the same as in previous iterations—girl goes to a special idol school and aims to become a great idol through the power of friendship, effort, and merchandisable cards—I feel a strong desire from Aikatsu Friends! to differentiate itself from its predecessors.

Aikatsu Friends stars Yuuki Aine—though, perhaps more accurately, it could be said to star “Yuuki Aine’s friendship.” That’s because, as one might expect, the new series is all about bonds on a much greater level than Aikatsu! and Aikatsu Stars! Where those anime would display friendship, ultimately the idols have very strong auras of individuality even as they form idol units. With Aikatsu Friends!, the very premise of being an idol is tied to duos because the default groups are performer pairings called “Friends.” Moreover, even the Aikatsu! tradition of the main heroine standing in front of a show title card and introducing the series has changed slightly, as seen above. Now, both Aine and her idol partner Minato Mio are shown speaking together.

Aine herself reflects the “us” mentality of Aikatsu Friends! in interesting ways. What stands out to me most about her is that her goal isn’t directly idol-related. Every previous protagonist has had “being an idol” as their driving force, whether it’s just wanting to try it out or looking up to another and aspiring to be like them. Aine’s dream, however, is to make a million friends, and becoming an idol is presented as a means to that end. Provided we view fans in a non-cynical light, being an idol can be a rather efficient way to reach that high a number. And while there’s always a chance that Aine’s goal will shift as she learns to love being an idol more and more, the fact that she’s presented this way initially again puts emphasis on idols in pairs over idols as individuals.

Is it friendship, teamwork, or that much more? Ultimately, Aikatsu! is a children’s franchise, but I suspect this series is going to be very popular with yuri fans even compared to older Aikatsu! anime. It’s potentially a little too on the nose, but the explicit focus on pairings—especially girl-girl pairings—seems like it’d be catnip to that fanbase. When Kamishiro Karen and Mirai Asuka, the top “Friends” group known as “Love Me Tear,” are shown being 100% in sync with each other in terms of movement and even seemingly finishing each other’s sentences, I have to give a second look.

One last thing I noticed is that Aikatsu Friends! has done a really good job of showing the difference between a fledgling pair like Aine and Mio and Love Me Tear. From their idol fashion to just the behavior described in the previous paragraph, there’s just a stark contrast between beginners and veterans. It presents a clear point for Aine and Mio to aim for, and it has me interested in where they and their friendship will go.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Bruno Sammartino in Tiger Mask: A Brief Cameo

Wednesday, April 18, 2018 marked the passing of a legend. One of the most influential pro wrestlers of all time and longest-running WWE champion Bruno Sammartino died at age 82. Before WrestleMania, before the national expansion of the WWF, Bruno was the flagship wrestler for that company.

It just so happens that the same day as Sammartino’s passing, I was reading the original Tiger Mask manga, and who would show up in Volume 6 but the Italian Strongman himself.

The Tiger Mask manga, published beginning in the 1960s, was known for showcasing real professional wrestlers, such as Classy Freddie Blassie and Angelo Poffo, alongside fictional ones.

In the above scene, Giant Baba (a Japanese wrestling legend in his own right) is describing the best American wrestlers to another character. He ranks the top three as 1) “Human Power Plant” Bruno Sammartino 2) “Iron Claw” Fritz von Erich 3) “Great King Thunder” Gene Kiniski. (4 is the fictional Mr. Question. You may have seen him in Tiger Mask W!)

The nicknames are directly translated from the Japanese; I have no idea where “Human Power Plant” comes from. Amusingly, “Great King Thunder” seems to be a creative interpretation of Gene Kiniski’s actual nickname “Big Thunder”—the Japanese word for “great king” is daioh; literally “big king.”

Rest in peace, Bruno Sammartino. You’ve been immortalized in more ways than one.

Being “True to Oneself” and the Necessity of Criticism

Ever since my teenage years, I’ve believed it important for nerds and geeks, otaku and gamers, to be proud of who they are. Back then, from seeing my own experience as well as that of others both online and off, it hurt me to witness people continuously talk about how they have to hide their hobbies. You’d find posts on forums of people talking about how they had to abandon their nerdy interests in order to make friends and get a significant other. And while I’m sure there are more than a few who found greater happiness this way, I could also see plenty who basically lived as frail shadows. As frivolous something like a love of RPGs or an attraction to anime girls could be, I saw it doing subtle psychological damage to those who forced themselves to abandon their passions, and I didn’t want to see people like me be hurt.

A lot of things have changed in the years since. Gaming is undoubtedly mainstream. Shows like The Big Bang Theory have, for better or worse, made the lives of nerds “hip” to watch. People needlessly worry about “fake geek girls.” One of the consequences of the prominence of geek culture is that, where once the main issue for many nerds was trying to get their voices out there, now the latent misogyny of gamer culture has become a real problem. Given this current environment, is it okay to just say, “Be confident and declare to the world that you’re proud to be who you are!” if it means that people are incentivized to harass others?

I understand that there are some generalizations I’m putting forward that are inevitably full of exceptions. Geek culture and fandoms are many-armed and camaraderie across different interests can be fractured. One does not even need to be a “social outcast” anymore to be considered an avid player of video games. Perhaps most importantly, it’s not like asking people to have confidence automatically leads to influencing people to attack others. Nevertheless, I think there is a potential path from self confidence and pride to anger towards and mistreatment of others, one that is dimly lit yet still visible upon closer observation.

To some extent, I think this wraps into the idea of variety of expression as a strength, be it in fiction or in, say, speech and dialogue. Much like freedom of speech, the difficult thing about supporting and celebrating it is that you have to accept that you can’t agree with every opinion or belief, even if you swear that it’s wrong with every fiber of your being. It is the constant potential for change that gives both art and speech strength, and for every poorly conceived anime that might exist there can also exist a work of endless wonder, broadly speaking.

That being said, criticism is necessary, and dissent towards ideas believed to be harmful should not be silenced just for the sake of variety. And I think this is where I find myself when it comes to people found in fandoms who continue to espouse racist, misogynistic ideas. I disagree vehemently with those ideas, but they are beliefs legitimately held by people, and to silence them is to build resentment. At the same time, giving them license to run their mouths and spread hate and harassment isn’t the right thing to do either. Ideally, conversations on matters such as the portrayal of male and female characters in games should happen in the open, rather than as rocks volleyed from across a chasm, but that might be wishful thinking.

I’ve increasingly thought about how wanting to make the world a better place and embracing all the beauty and ugliness of the world requires living a contradiction. However, I don’t believe that this is inherently a problem. Perhaps we try too hard to make every aspect of our life consistent, or to expect our thoughts and beliefs to line up perfectly with each other. If that’s the case, then I can continue to cheer for those who are able to express themselves, while putting more effort to guide those who I believe need it.

Real Robot Sincerity: Pacific Rim Uprising

I enjoyed the hell out of the first Pacific Rim. Being able to see a big-budget film directly inspired by the giant robot anime I love was all I could ask for. At the time, the film under-performed at the US box office, which made the prospect of a sequel fairly unlikely, but against the odds (OSCAR AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR) Guillermo Del Toro managed to produce an update in Pacific Rim Uprising.

Taking place ten years after the original film, Pacific Rim Uprising focuses on Jake Pentecost, son of the deceased hero Stacker Pentecost from the first movie. A prodigal son, Jake appears to be a scoundrel in every way his father was a shining example of humanity, but a chance encounter with a mechanically gifted young girl named Amara Namani leads Jake on the path to redemption. Originally kicked out of the military despite his skill for piloting the titanic Jaegers that helped defend humanity from the vicious Kaiju all those years ago, he reluctantly returns to fight and train a new generation of fighters.

I have not seen the first film since I originally watched it in theaters, so my memories of it going into the sequel are faint. That being said, the general impression I got from Uprising is that it’s simply a superior film in most respects, and especially in terms of being a piece of giant-robot fiction. The action is snappier and more stylish, with plenty of robot fighting to satisfy genre fans. The acting is much more fluid and natural, thanks in large part to John Boyega’s performance as Jake Pentecost being amazing compared to the wooden performance of Charlie Hunnam as Part 1’s protagonist Raleigh Becket. The characters are developed just enough to get a sense of their characters and their personal development without slowing down the pace of the film or its emphasis on combat (see Girls und Panzer der Film for a similar example). In a way, the film feels a little more “cartoonish,” like it’s really trying to bring more Mazinger Z into its world, but the sincerity of the performances also makes it feel more serious as well.

A lot of the film takes place on a Chinese military base, and both mainland Chinese and Taiwanese characters have a much greater presence in Pacific Rim Uprising compared to its predecessor. I believe this has to do with the great success China had in bolstering the first film’s box office success. The US might not have been so keen on super robots, but it looks like Asia took to them like young boys to combination sequences.

Pacific Rim Uprising is worth watching for any mecha fan, and it doesn’t even require seeing the first film to really get it. As excellent as I think the film is, however, I feel a bit hesitant recommending it to skeptics. What makes the film work is how it embraces the tropes and the feel of giant robot shows and movies, because sincere fondness for that type of storytelling is what holds the film up and provides the structure by which viewers can delve deep into the fast-paced and emotional world it presents. On the flip-side, an open mind can do wonders, and Pacific Rim: Uprising will likely be rewarding to those willing to extend their hand first.

Girls Going Somewhere: A Place Further Than the Universe

2018 isn’t even half over, but I think A Place Further Than the Universe might just be the best anime of the year.

The series centers on Japanese high school girl Kobuchizawa Shirase and her quest to travel to Antarctica to fulfill a life-long wish. Mocked at school for her absurd dream, she’s more than willing to say, “screw the haters,” but a few other girls are drawn to Shirase’s ambitious spirit, and join her to see if they can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

One of the more enduring anime and manga recipes is “girls doing X.” Girls in a band. Girls going camping. Girls in art school. Girls driving tanks for sport in an alternate-history Earth. The activities can be mundane or out-of-this-world, but the combination of cute female characters and some kind of fun or quirky activity is a reliable formula. Where the genre (if you can call it that) begins to differ is the degree to which there is any forward momentum. Those that are more slice-of-life tend to revel in a kind of cathartic stasis of the everyday, such as Aria. In contrast, many sports or competition series, such as Sound! Euphonium make forward progression toward a goal. A Place Further Than the Universe takes the best of both worlds, while grounding itself in a refreshingly realistic depiction of friendship, human interaction, and emotional complexity.

The fact that the goal is Antarctica makes it seem as if the series might just remain about wistfully hoping that they can get there “someday.” But thenm Shirase and the other girls are shown working towards it, step by step, enjoying themselves along the way. As they accomplish each task ahead of them, no matter how big or small, the impossible gradually feels more and more within arm’s reach. Yet A Place Further than the Universe isn’t just about heading towards a goal, and it’s not even just about “the journey being more important than the destination,” as the cliche goes. The genuine sense of friendship and camaraderie that’s built up between them feels like it could sustain an entire series by itself. It’s as if zooming in on an individual episode feels like a small, self-sustaining universe of daily life. But when you zoom out, the full picture comes into focus and it’s just so immensely satisfying.

A Place Further than the Universe charges ahead but also takes time to enjoy the view. A simple and direct story full of complex characters and other moving parts, the detours and the “main quest” are all filled with life. It’s fun, moving, inspiring, and relaxing all at the same time—as complete an experience as one can hope.

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Sakuga is to Anime as Workrate is to Pro Wrestling

Listen to anime fans discuss the quality of a given title, and there’s a chance the term “sakuga” will pop up. Used to roughly describe the quality and difficulty of artistically creating the illusion of motion in animation, sakuga has gradually gained prominence among hardcore anime fans around the world, in no small part due to resources like Sakugabooru and just increasingly convenient access to anime. It can also be a contentious subject among anime fans, namely because its idolization can come sometimes across as either excessively niche or obnoxiously elitist. As many elements of art tend to be, sakuga is prone to passionate discussions about a very subjective thing.

I find it useful to frame surrounding fan discourses by comparing them to other areas of art and entertainment. With sakuga, the question of its “true” value is actually quite reminiscent of an ongoing debate in another area of entertainment: pro wrestling. There, the buzzword is “workrate”–defined roughly as “the quality and difficulty of creating the illusion of a wrestling match.” Sound familiar?

While there are many styles and schools of wrestling, the origin of the workrate debate stems from the difference in style between the larger and historically more widely viewed promotions, most notably WWE, and the smaller indie promotions. Because many of the indies are filled younger wrestlers inspired by veterans touted for their often spectacle-heavy styles, indie wrestling has a reputation for being filled with athletes who want to showcase their skill as many difficult-to-execute or dangerous/dangerous-looking actions as possible, e.g. a Shooting Star Press off of a ladder, to entertain a hardcore wrestling audience. In contrast, the more traditional wrestling organizations tend to value storytelling over technical execution, in part due to the desire to avoid or mitigate injuries, but also because simpler moves surrounded by a narrative can be understood by a wider audience.

Whether in anime or in pro wrestling, an attack can have more significance when it carries meaning through context. The anime Digimon Tamers features a scene where a demonic Digimon named Beelzemon performs a move called “Fist of the Beast King.” On its own, it just looks like a cool but generic technique. However, it’s also a move used by a Digimon named Leomon Beelzemon had previously cruelly slain, and Beelzemon’s own usage of it is a product of his remorse over the pain he created in Leomon’s partner.

Similarly, when wrestler Kenny Omega performed a Golden Star Powerbomb, a Bloody Sunday, a Styles Clash, and a One-Winged Angel on his opponent to win the G-1 Climax tournament, he’s recalling his history as a wrestler the history of the Bullet Club faction he led at the time. Both it and the Beelzemon scene are examples of visual storytelling. However, when the topic becomes “what’s more important, the technical performance or the story being told,” and one ends up choosing a side, the tension between the two becomes more evident.

The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion is somewhat infamous for using severe animation shortcuts in certain scenes, notably long elevator sequences that involve a single frame of animation left onscreen with some ambient noise. In a way, it almost can’t be called animation, but it’s surprisingly effective for conveying a sense of interpersonal tension or awkwardness among the characters involved. For storytelling purposes it works, but to a sakuga fan, this is simply what they’re not looking for. They take pleasure in the difficulty involved in visual storytelling. They’ll often watch an anime they weren’t invested in, simply because of the quality of the animation.

In wrestling, Hulk Hogan is one of the biggest names in history. For most of his career, he’s utilized a very simple style consisting of basic striking moves and holds, but his ability to capture the audience through those simple gestures is arguably second to none. To workrate fans, however, they’d choose a technical masterpiece with little buildup or context over a Hogan match, because wrestling to them is about seeing what is possible.

There’s a certain purity to wanting to see art or performance for the sake of it, without needing an underlying narrative, and often involves a much deeper dive into a subject—the domain of the dedicated fan. There’s also a sort of “insider” appeal derived from using industry terms like sakuga and workrate. The ability to appreciate these technical and creative aspects of their respective fields is something to be valued. And yet, the fact that this appreciation is ultimately about valuing the human skill involved is precisely what makes prioritizing such things over storytelling a potential issue. The people working meticulously animating and doing the craziest wrestling moves are often doing so at the risk of their health, and finding an ideal balance between the two is better for longevity. That balance is not necessarily the fault of the people involved, as workplace conditions and salary go a long way, but the question of whether it’s better to be a sprinter or marathon runner in life arises nevertheless.