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Spotted Flower and the Role of the “What-If”

The manga Spotted Flower is more than just a story about a male otaku and his non-otaku wife. To fans of the author, Kio Shimoku, the series is also a thinly veiled alternate universe version of his most famous work, Genshiken. With nearly all of the characters in Spotted Flower having direct analogues in Genshiken, the manga is constantly nudging and winking at the audience. Recently, one of those nudges turned into more of an elbow to the solar plexus, and many assumptions about the series have gone out the window. A story seemingly about marital bliss (despite some ups and downs) has become a tale of adultery, and Genshiken fans are left reeling.

The buildup to the big moment occurs shortly after the birth of the husband and wife’s first child, who is named, appropriately, “Saki.” Visited by her ex-boyfriend, the ease with which she and her former lover banter back and forth drives the meek husband to wallow in quiet envy. In a moment of weakness, he ends up sleeping with an old mutual friend—one who’s female up top, male down below, and who still identifies as male—and cheats on his wife. Only, instead of doing the deed, he winds up on the receiving end.

Jealousy and Betrayal

It’s clear which Spotted Flower characters map to which Genshiken identities. The husband is uber nerd Madarame Harunobu, while his wife is the no-nonsense Kasukabe Saki. The ex-boyfriend is Kohsaka Makoto (who is Kasukabe’s actual boyfriend). The one night stand (?) is with Hato Kenjirou, the male BL fan who ends up falling in love with Madarame. Seeing all of these characters act so terribly to each other can feel like a betrayal, especially to fans of the popular Madarame-Kasukabe pairing. But the situation begs the question: where do the Genshiken versions end and the Spotted Flower ones begin?

Spotted Flower resembles fanfiction in the sense that, while it’s possible to enjoy it standalone, the work encourages and even to some extent assumes a certain degree of familiarity with the source material. What use is a story about Mikasa from Attack on Titan turning into a robot, if the reader doesn’t know how Mikasa is supposed to act normally? To that extent, I suspect that the controversial decision to make the husband an adulterer is part of stressing Spotted Flower as the space where all the things not possible in Genshiken become real. The very premise of the series is built on that idea—Kasukabe ultimately rejects Madarame because she loves Kohsaka.

If the husband does all the things Madarame didn’t or couldn’t do, then his poor decisions make sense. At one point in the second manga series, Genshiken Nidaime, Madarame comes close to sleeping with his friend’s little sister, Sasahara Keiko. As it turns out, Keiko is actually trying to cheat on her current boyfriend with Madarame, and her casual admission to this fact sends Madarame running for the hills. Madarame is unwilling to be an accomplice in another’s unfaithfulness, but the husband in Spotted Flower is not. Later in Nidaime, Madarame ends up alone with Hato in an awkward spot. Hearts racing, the two come close to having something happen, only for happenstance to deflate the tension. Madarame ends up rejecting Hato later, out of concern that Hato should be with someone better. The evening that goes nowhere in Genshiken certainly ends up somewhere in Spotted Flower.

What’s more, where Genshiken deals in relatively tame kinks and features mostly faithfully monogamous relationships where available (Keiko notwithstanding), Spotted Flower thrives on the unconventional. The not-Hato (hereafter referred to by his artist pen name Asaka Midori) is already in a physical relationship with his manager who’s the Spotted Flower version of Genshiken character Yajima. But rather than being upset or surprised, the manager was already well aware of Asaka’s desire for the husband. She even goes as far as to ask how it was giving anal sex to him. At another point, it’s implied that another character (a manga editor who maps to original Genshiken protagonist Sasahara) could maybe potentially be having threesomes with his girlfriend and her very touchy-feely American girl friend, but doesn’t. “Open relationships” seems to be the name of the game, which further emphasizes the Bizarro Universe-esque aspects of sexual relations in Spotted Flower relative to Genshiken.

Does this mean that Spotted Flower is reliant on Genshiken, or that the sense of betrayal on the part of readers would only come from Genshiken fans? Perhaps not, but the feelings are likely most intense from that established fanbase. However, I find it fascinating that, unlike fanfiction, which typically exists on a very clear line of what is “canon” and not, the fact that Spotted Flower is this very obvious Genshiken what-if with only the barest degree of plausible deniability makes that canon/non-canon distinction much blurrier. At the same time, it is fact that the Spotted Flower characters are definitely not the Genshiken ones, and not just the same characters in an alternate universe or timeline. They simply have too many different physical features that can’t be explained by the passage of time on account of the Spotted Flower characters being older. “Ogino-sensei” (Ogiue in Genshiken) has a different face structure. The blond American otaku behaves like the petite Sue but has a body like the tall, buxom Angela. In some cases, it’s not even clear who’s supposed to be who based on character design alone. Spotted Flower might be a “possible future” as both it and Genshiken like to put it, but it’s practically CLAMP’s manga, Wish—a series based on a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure doujinshi of theirs with the names and designs altered into “original” characters. Only, for Kio, he’s his own source of inspiration.

Ogiue’s Counterpart: Ogino-sensei

The question as to how much Spotted Flower should speak for Genshiken is a tricky one. The characters of the former mirror the latter. Are they the true desire of the author, or simply a chance to tell different stories? Is it precisely because the characters are alternate versions that this can happen, or does that thread of possibility mean the two are tied together? I don’t believe there to be a true answer to these questions, simply because it really depends on individual readers’ relationships with both series. But it’s also curious that some of the characters and relationships are not as different as others. Ogino-sensei is still seeing her manga editor boyfriend, and their bond seems to have remained strong. The wife’s ex-boyfriend (not-Kohsaka) looks almost the same, except his hair is black instead of blond, and his bright-eyed gaze has been replaced with some kind of seeming cynicism or darkness. Maybe there are characters who can find the same happiness on the alternative route, and those who cannot.

A new character: Endou

How much Spotted Flower will continue to be self-parody remains to be seen. Volume 3 introduces wholly original characters in Asaka Midori’s editor, Endou, as well as her publisher. I wonder if this is the signal that the manga is on the verge of becoming its own entity.

 

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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.

 

Moe + Saki = Maki: A Genshiken/Love Live! Character Comparison

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On occasion I’ve had to explain to those unfamiliar with Love Live! the appeal of Nishikino Maki. While terms like “beautiful” or “cooldere” kind of get the point across to an extent to those who already know her, I’ve found that they still don’t quite do the trick for people outside the fandom. However, I’ve recently thought up a comparison that I think works well, provided that you have some experience with Genshiken. Maki, in esssence, is like Kasukabe Saki—or more specifically, the “moe” version of Saki that Madarame once envisioned.

In the extra at the very end of Volume 9 of Genshiken (the finale of the first series), the characters are discussing why Saki isn’t “moe.” They talk about how she essentially has no weaknesses, that she’s just an extremely capable person overall. Even her boyfriend agrees that Saki isn’t moe. Then, Madarame has an idea: the only way Saki would be moe is if she was a virgin.

While this might bring to mind the issue of “purity,” it’s more that being a virgin would be a chink in the armor of Saki’s all-powerful self. She would be this smart, no-nonsense woman who just knows how to get things done, but her relationship advice would come not from personal experience. By being a virgin, she’d have that essential vulnerability that would bring her into moe territory.

When it comes to Love Live!, being a virgin isn’t any more or less special from on character to the next, as it’s implied that all of the main girls don’t have sexual experience (no matter what fans think/hope). However, the idea of an overall intelligent, talented girl with a firm head on her shoulders who is also naive in certain respects and easily flustered by embarrassing things is right in the same territory as “Moe Saki.” Within Nishikino Maki exists both the girl who keeps Nico in check, and the girl who believes in Santa.

Side Note: While Maki is basically Moe Saki, I bet Madarame’s favorite Love Live! would be Nico. 2D is different from 3D, after all.

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America the Moeful: Genshiken Volume 21

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Chapter 127 may have been the end of Genshiken’s serialization, but that doesn’t mean it’s all over yet! As fine patrons of the Society for Modern Visual Culture know, the volume releases always come with extras. So, I’m going to give my thoughts on some highlights.

First and foremost, it is absolutely necessary to talk about the cover, which features Sue in a somewhat bizarre cosplay of Ritsuko from Kujibiki Unbalance. It certainly doesn’t look like any prior incarnation of Ritsuko from Genshiken, and that’s because…it isn’t.

spottedflower-sexycosplay

The cosplay actually comes from the thinly veiled alternate universe Kio Shimoku manga Spotted Flower. For those unfamiliar with it. The premise basically asks, what if a person very similar to Madarame married someone just like Kasukabe? In it, the unnamed wife, pregnant and sexually frustrated, winds up seducing get husband in that very same outfit.

In other words, Sue (who has become Madarame’s girlfriend) is cosplaying a cosplay worn by a parallel universe Madarame’s wife as a way to get some nerd boott, who is in turn a reference to Kasukabe and her Ritsuko cosplay from Genshiken, which is the defining moment when Madarame fell in love with her.

Talk about peak meta. And we haven’t even opened the book!

Inside, you have the standard comic strips between chapters. I won’t go through all of them, but I do want to draw attention to my favorites. genshiken21-ninjaslayer2First is one where Yoshitake mythbusts every idea that Sue has about ninjas. In reaction, Sue makes a Ninja Slayer reference: “Kill all ninjas! Yeeart! Guwah!”

Here we have Sue, an American otaku, referencing a book series that was supposedly created by Americans who love Japanese culture, which was then translated into Japanese, buy is actually a satirical look by Japanese creators at the American obsession with ninjas. Did I say we hit peak meta before? I might have been mistaken.

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The second is after Madarame and Sue start dating. Hato gives some helpful advice, just in case: “Sue lives next to me, and the walls are thin, so keep that in mind.”

This leads to the final post-chapter content, which caps off Genshiken Nidaime. In the last series, it revolved around a discussion of whether Kasukabe is moe. This time, it has to do with how pathetic Madarame and Kuchiki are in different ways.

At his graduation after-party, Kuchiki brags that he has taken Madarame’s first kiss. Ohno exclaims that surely Sue’s more than made up for that deficit, but this is far from the truth. Not a kiss (let alone anything else) has happened, and the members of Genshiken contemplate just how much of a wimp Madarame is. Kuchiki gets upset over the fact that he never got a girlfriend in college, and has the gall to ask Ohno once again if he can touch her boob, just once. Ohno, unfortunately, is very drunk (as tends to be the case with her at parties), and she actually agrees, going so far as to comply when he asks if she can remove her bra partway underneath her sweater. However, Kuchiki makes his attempt, Yajima gut checks Kuchiki. Sadly for Yajima, all this does is awaken a new fetish in Kuchiki. Everyone is happy that he’s graduating and going away.

I kind of wish that the last moments of Genshiken didn’t have Kuchiki at the center, but it isn’t all bad. In particular, I like the notion that Madarame still hasn’t quite gotten over his awkwardness with girls. In fact, the very idea of him having a girlfriend has probably short-circuited his brain. And if anything, it makes me very aware of just how dramatically Sasahara and Ogiue’s relationship escalated once it hit the threshold. The two of them literally starting having sex with each other once they got on the same page, which is probably not the image we ever had of otaku.

The last things I want to talk about are the extras I received with Volume 21.

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I ordered from the Japanese comic store Comic Zin, and with it came a 4-page bonus illustration featuring artists associated with the Genshiken universe. It has Koume Keito (artist of the Kujibiki Unbalance manga), Yagumo Kengou (artist of the Kujibiki Unbalance light novel), as well as Kio himself. It also features a message from Tamaru Hiroshi, creator of Rabuyan, a manga about a Madarame-esque loser.

First editions of Volume 21 also get a version of the “Thank You Messages” compilation that came with the final chapter in Monthly Afternoon. It also features brand new color art for its cover, featuring most of the now-gigantic cast of Genshiken. I love the drawing of Ogiue on here; she honestly looks so cool.

So that’s that. I’ll see you (hopefully) in January, as I start my look back on the first Genshiken. But before that, I still have another post to make, about Kasukabe Saki. Keep an eye out!

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Ogiue 009: Ogiue Maniax 9th Anniversary

Today marks nine years of Ogiue Maniax. Normally, this would be a post reflecting back on just the blog itself, but the world is in such a crazy spot at the moment that the times of a small anime blog seem to pale in comparison. Still, while a huge part of me wants to do more to help my fellow human beings, I still plan on keeping up with all the anime and manga out there.

Nine years is not that far from eight, but somehow it feels like so much more. Maybe it’s because the big “10” is on the horizon, and that’s a pretty crazy place to be. Most anime blogs last maybe two to three years, and somehow I’ve been chugging along. I attribute it to stubbornness, perseverance, and a willingness to let half-baked and flawed ideas get posted (sometimes typos and all). A friend recently told me a famous quote: “Perfect is the enemy of good enough.” I think, when it comes to the things I’ve accomplished in my life, especially this blog, that accounts for a good deal of my success.

Perhaps the biggest topic of the entire year for Ogiue Maniax is the end of Genshiken itself. In my final chapter review, I wrote about all the good times I had with the series, and how it impacted the blog, and the takeaway from all of that is simply, Genshiken changed and so did Ogiue Maniax. What it means to be a fan or an otaku, the cultural associations with these ideas, has morphed significantly over the course of nine years. In a recent episode of Anime World Order, they discussed the increase in the number of fashion designers as guests at Anime Weekend Atlanta (and cons in general). Just thinking about how we live in a world where fashion is a big deal to nerds says to me that we’re in a very different place.

Genshiken reflected these changes well, which makes me want to go back and take another look. For that reason, I am making an announcement:

Starting next year (most likely January 2017), I will be re-reviewing the original Genshiken manga. Rather than going chapter by chapter, I am going to be looking at it one volume at a time on an approximately bi-monthly schedule. I already reviewed the series a long time ago (for my first anniversary!), but I expect to get a new perspective on an old friend, especially with knowledge of Nidaime.

Another sign that Ogiue Maniax is nine years old is that the blog itself looks like it comes from nine years ago. I’ve considered changing the design at some point, but I’m just not sure. Blogging itself in this format seems to have left the lands of trendiness long ago as well, and perhaps I’ve stubbornly refused to adapt to changing times in that regard. YouTube will never be my medium, but I wonder if it’d be worth it to really mix things up.

While not exactly a stylistic change, in light of recent events in the world I’m considering something. I might make more posts that veer towards political thought, though not in a way that takes over Ogiue Maniax or makes it any less of an anime blog. One can argue that just about any action can be political (including actively tried to avoid it), but what I’m thinking about is writing more about the goings-on of politics with respect to the US, Japan, and elsewhere, and how they potentially impact fans, production, and the on-going conversations we have about respect, anger, diversity, and so on. However, I am aware of how much the strength of my writing comes from trying to see all sides of a situation and I wish to not get so embroiled in thinking of “sides” that I don’t challenge my own viewpoint on a regular basis, so I don’t wish it to become too much a part of any “cause.” It’s a balancing act that I’m still trying to figure out as a person, and I still fully intend on maintaining my love of anime’s sheer variety.

That was a bit of a ramble, but those are my genuine thoughts and feelings. I hope you’ll hang on with me as we jump into 2017 and reach a decade of Ogiue Maniax.

The Limits of the Fujoshi Files

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In 2008, I had an idea: archive every fujoshi character I could possibly find. At the time, it seemed like an achievable task. Fujoshi characters were around but fairly rare, especially compared to the “girl otaku” that tended to share the same interests as the guys. However, a lot can change in eight years, and over this period the position of the “fujoshi character” has changed tremendously, leading me to think about all of the limitations imposed on the Fujoshi Files as they currently exist.

First, while the 2007-2009 period featured a kind of “fujoshi boom” as the term came into prominence, if you look at the fujoshi character today she’s basically been kneaded into anime and manga as a whole. The archetype doesn’t exist in its own universe, and she’ll appear in works more disconnected from the realm of hardcore fandoms. I mean, a yuri school detective comedy? A weird political satire light novel?

Where once the Izumi Konata-style female otaku was taken as the standard, now the de facto girl fan in anime and manga is the fujoshi. They’re basically everywhere, and it can be hard to keep up with all of them, which is why I’ve slowed down the pace a bit. Perhaps this means I should be doing more for the Fujoshi Files than ever before (and believe me, I’m still on the look-out), but I also want to make sure that the blog remains diverse thematically, as I think that’s one of its strengths. In other words, I don’t have the time to tackle every single work with fujoshi characters, but I wish I did.

Of course, if you find any fujoshi not currently on the list, by all means please leave a comment.

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Second, the number of fudanshi (rotten boy) characters steadily increases. Back when Genshiken Nidaime first came out, I was faced with a decision: do I include Hato in the Fujoshi Files? Ultimately, my decision was to not give him an entry because he identifies as male, and the list is for female characters. Then I found out about the series Fudanshism. A brand new series, Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsufeatured prominently in the summer season. Now the fudanshi is in the position the fujoshi once was, and to ignore them seems something of an issue.

Third, these Fujoshi File profiles I’ve written are very basic, and tend to be in-universe, but there are are often interesting aspects to these characters, like how they’re utilized in terms of narrative, elements of their designs, etc. Not including these factors leaves the Fujoshi Files without any real analytical teeth, though I’m not sure if that should change.

So I’m left with a few questions.

Should the Fujoshi Files branch off into a “Fudanshi Files?”

Should the Fujoshi Files go from being a series of small blog posts here to an entire Wikia?

Has the Fujoshi Files served its purpose already, in that it’s already over 150 characters strong?

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Farewell Genshiken: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for September 2016

September is the start of a new, post-Genshiken world.

Though the loss is great, I know I have my patrons to back me up. Thanks to all of you who continue to support me on Patreon:

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Sasahara Keiko fans:

Kristopher Hostead

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

In terms of blog content from this past month, first and foremost is my final chapter review of Genshiken Nidaime. I hope it’s been a great ride for you.

According to last month’s poll, a lot of you would like me to go back and take a look at the original Genshiken as well. I’m eager to oblige, but I probably won’t start for a little while, at least a month or two. In the meantime, I guess I can get my Kio fix with some Spotted Flower.

Other post highlights include an Otakon 2016 convention report, as well as interviews with artist LeSean Thomas and anime studio P.A. Works. The LeSean Thomas interview has been doing extremely well for the blog, and it makes me very aware of how niche the anime audience in comparison to even other nerd subcultures in the US. The last time that happened was when I reported on the Nostalgia Critic and Angry Video Game Nerd appearing in an anime, which got me the most hits in a single day ever.

I also wrote about Yukitheater, sort of. Sadly I couldn’t get the program to work, but if you want a kind of trip back to early 2000s anime fandom but in a modern lens, this virtual theater program might be worth something to you.

The last post I want to mention is one that had been ruminating in my mind for a long time, which is about how characters are rendered attractive or charismatic. Basically, I think that, through visual design and personality and a bunch of other small factors, there are two primary ways by which people become drawn to characters: a magnetic “pull” and a forceful “push.” Am I on the right track? Tell me what you think.

Following up on another point from the previous status update, I’ve begun watching Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross in order to finally update Gattai Girls. Are there any other series you’d like to see me tackle?

Until next time! The second Kizumonogatari movie is showing in October, which is also the month of New York Comic Con. Exciting times.

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