A Belated Samurai Jack Season 5 Review

It’s been a long journey for fans of Samurai Jack. A cartoon that’s always been notable for its visual creativity, the original series ended abruptly, leaving viewers without any sort of resolution to the battle between Jack and his arch-nemesis Aku. 13 years later, Samurai Jack finally has a decisive conclusion to cap off Jack’s journey. This in itself makes the fifth and final season something special, but what makes this concluding chapter stand out even more is how the darker, more mature feel of these last episodes are not as effective without the more kid-oriented approach of the past providing context.

As explained in the opening each episode, 50 years have passed since Aku sent Samurai Jack into the future. During this period, Jack discovers that he does not age, possibly as a side effect of time travel. Jack at the beginning of the fifth season seems almost like a different character, worn down by the death and suffering of others and his inability to vanquish Aku and save the world.

In the old Samurai Jack, Jack only destroyed robots as a consequence of its kid-friendly rating. Stories could be mature, but they had to toe a certain line. In the final season, he is shown to confront the issue of taking mortal lives on numerous occasions. While the story of a man who tries his best not to kill being forced to do so is compelling enough, it works especially well because of that past history as a children’s show. Moreover, the 13-year gap between the previous season and the final one means that the show’s audience has also aged, and I imagine that this creates a degree of empathy towards Jack, even if it hasn’t been 50 years for us.

Originally, the plan from creator Genndy Tartakovsky Samurai Jack was to do a feature film that would finish the story. While that would’ve likely been good in its own right, and likely more in line with how the series was back then, I’m glad we got this version instead. Plenty of shows these days, from Full House to Twin Peaks, are doing this “years later sequel” thing, but I can say for sure that Samurai Jack doesn’t suffer for it. The final season is artistically and negativity ambitious, and any flaws in it are in my opinion forgivable.

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Capitalizing on a New Home: Otakon 2017

“Howatto?! Washington ni?!”

-Jack King, Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo

Introduction: To DC

Otakon has always been my favorite anime convention. With its fan-oriented approach and variety of content, it always feels surprisingly intimate despite its sheer size (it’s generally the largest anime con on the east coast). This year marked a big change, as Otakon moved from its long-time home of Baltimore to Washington DC. It might not seem like that much of a difference—it’s only one extra stop on Amtrak—but for those of us who had grown fond of the previous venue, warts and all, Otakon was synonymous with Baltimore.

However, I will likely not be the only one to tell you that the new location is one of the best things to happen to Otakon. Subjectively, I still have an attachment to Baltimore. Objectively, outside of increased cost, pretty much everything is superior. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is roughly double the size of the old Baltimore Convention Center, meaning less congestion. The adjacent hotel, the Marriott Marquis Washington DC, is bigger and more accommodating. The food choices are greater both inside and outside the convention center, and still fairly reasonably priced. For those who are especially cost-conscious, a Giant Foods supermarket within walking distance is an improvement over Baltimore’s 7-Elevens.

Thus, without even taking into account what happened at the con itself, this new setting certainly provided a more comfortable space for Otakon to put on a show. It was off to a good start right from the beginning.

Dealer’s Hall and Artist’s Alley

One of the best things about having such a large space for Otakon is that the Dealer’s Hall and the Artist’s Alley were easily navigable. Instead of having to wade through a sea of people in order to get anything done, actually going where I wanted to provided little challenge, aside from unfamiliarity with the new convention center. In terms of content, it’s pretty much what you can expect out of a large-sized con. In the Dealer’s Hall, large, official company booths acted as centerpieces with smaller booths on the sides selling figures, posters, manga, anime, and more. The Artist’s Alley had a wide variety of styles, with series such as Voltron, Yuri!!! on Ice, and Persona 5 being especially popular.

One of the hiccups in both areas was a lack of clear marking as to where you were. Booths had individual numbers, but sometimes they didn’t follow a consistent logic, and a lack of visible markings to tell you what row and column you were standing in made things worse. Fortunately, this was brought up at the Con Feedback panel at the end of Otakon, and it’s something they had intended but couldn’t get around to.

There are a couple of other challenges they’ll have to tackle for next year as well. First, the line to the Dealer’s Hall would occasionally get capped. This in itself isn’t unusual, but at one point a friend of mind mentioned that he couldn’t get in while I was already there. But when I looked around, the Dealer’s Hall was the opposite of congested. There was literally room to run around if I so choose. I later realized that it wasn’t the Dealer’s Hall itself that was the issue, it was the space leading to the Dealer’s Hall that was becoming a fire hazard. That’s something that should be addressed by 2018.

The Artist’s Alley also ran into an unfortunate bit of flooding due to a water main break on Saturday evening. A major factor in this was an enormous storm that hit DC. From what I saw, Otakon handled the situation fairly well, and there were no major injuries. This might just be a fluke accident for the first year, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Concert: JAM Project/TM Revolution

This year, Otakon teamed up with the Anisong World Matsuri to bring a number of musical acts to DC. Because tickets cost money (unlike most anime cons), I could only see the Friday concert featuring JAM Project and TM Revolution. As a long-time fan of the former and someone who definitely enjoys the music of the latter, I can say with the utmost confidence that they did not disappoint. Both acts are known for creating not only songs that are good in and of themselves, but for embracing the anime they create music for and elevating them through their compositions. I first saw JAM Project at their US debut back at Otakon 2008, and it was a welcome return.

Both TM Revolution and JAM Project are really adept at making live performances special. Their voices ring out clearly, they get the audience involved, and by the time they’re done you end up feeling like you were part of something greater. Even a few technical hiccups during TM Revolution’s performance couldn’t dent the audience’s fervor.

Before the concert, I had bet on JAM Project and TM Revolution doing an encore together. Most likely, it would be JAM Project’s signature song, “SKILL.” They came through, and the collaboration was everything I hoped for.

For further thoughts on the concert, check out my post on Apartment 507.

The official set list for Otakon 2017 is as follows:

JAM PROJECT

1. Crest of “Z’s”
2. Hagane no Resistance
3. Garo ~Savior in the Dark~
4. The Brave
5. THE EXCEEDER
6. Hero
7. THE HERO!! ~Ikareru Kobushini Hiwo Tsukero~
8. Victory〜Gong
9. Rocks
10. Rescue Fire

T.M.Revolution
1. Inherit the Force
2. Invoke
3. ignited
4. Meteor
5. resonance
6. High Pressure
7. White Breath
8. Hot Limit
9. Flags
10. Sword Summit
11. Heart of Sword

ENCORE
1. SKILL (JAM Project x T.M.Revolution)

Panels

Due to a busy schedule this year and some mishaps on my part, I was unable to attend as many panels as I would have liked. However, this means I can talk about ones I did see in greater detail!

(I also didn’t have any panels this year. Better luck next time?)

The first was “Romance and Abuse in Shoujo Manga,” which looked at many of the bad boys of shoujo and how their behavior can reflect an often implicit hand-waving of abusive relationships. It looked at both works that ignore its characters’ abusive behavior towards their partners, as well as those that call the characters out on it. The presenter also took time to point out the difference between enjoying something as fiction vs. understanding how it would play out in reality, so it’s not as if it was an automatic admonishment of the audience’s tastes. I thought it was a strong panel overall, but it could be taken to the next level. Perhaps it could even go into understanding why the trope of the abusive boyfriend as lovable partner is so popular and occurs in so many well-received anime and manga.

I would also like to compliment the presenter on giving her stamp of approval to how the series Kiss Him, Not Me approaches the subject of abuse, because while the series is thoughtful in a lot of ways, its initially flippant handling of weight and beauty can really turn people away—even I was put off by it. The fact that the presenter used it as an example showed that she wasn’t trying to automatically write off certain series but was actively trying to figure out what messages these shoujo series send.

Another panel I attended was “Iyashikei: Animated Healing.” It focused on the so-called healing genre of anime and manga, explaining the emotionally therapeutic aspect of such works and why they garner such loyal fans. It was a very thorough panel that showed a wide variety of series that can be considered iyashikei, including both classics and genre-bending examples. One thing the panel didn’t get into but I would have liked to see was the tendency towards an assumed male viewership for healing anime. Still, it was well-presented and informative, and I’d look forward to checking it out again.

Screenings

I had the opportunity to see two films, one of which was a world premiere. I’ve written more extensive reviews for both.

In This Corner of the World

Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1

Interviews

I also interviewed a few of the illustrious guests at Otakon! This year, it was the dynamic seiyuu duo of Furukawa Toshio and Kakinuma Shino, as well as an interview with the director of Eureka Seven, Kyouda Tomoki [stay tuned for that one!].

Final Thoughts

The move to Washington DC is the best decision Otakon has made in years. There are very few drawbacks I can think of, outside of a sentimental attachment to Baltimore (and its delicious crab cake truck), but I know that my experience is not necessarily shared with everyone else.

Second, you want to hear other random thoughts about the con, I also appeared on a post-Otakon podcast over at Ani-Gamers. We recorded it right after the con closed on Sunday!

To end this report, here are some cosplay highlights, as is Ogiue Maniax tradition.

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The Star that Shines Brightest: Thoughts on the Aikatsu! Five-Year Anniversary Crossover

“Five years of Aikatsu! sounds strange. Sometimes, the series seems like it’s been around forever. Other times, I remember it as one of the many young upstarts nipping at Precure‘s “anime for young girls” throne. However my feelings sway, the reality is that the show is long enough now to have a mega crossover event.

In episodes 69 and 70 of Aikatsu Stars!, the characters if the latest series encounter their predecessors from seasons past. While there are plenty of interactions across the cast, the main focal point is how heroine Nijino Yume meets her protagonist senpai, Oozora Akari and Hoshimiya Ichigo.

One thing is crystal clear after these episodes: out if all three main characters, Ichigo is by far the most memorable and the most meme-able.

That’s not to say that Akari and Yume are bad characters or uninteresting. However, everything about Ichigo leaves an impression. Like in so many other franchises or enduring works, being the original confers a kind of aura of greatness. Whether it’s Amuro Ray from Gundam, Superman, or Cure Black and Cure White from Precure, there’s a sense of reverence for being the first.

But it’s not just being the inaugural protagonist that elevates Ichigo; it’s that she comes across as amusingly superhuman compared to the other two. Like Cure Black and Cure White in their own crossover specials, Ichigo is portrayed as the strongest. She scales cliffs with ease. Her skill with an axe is so notable that the crossover puts special emphasis on it. I’m fact, nowhere is the animation as lovingly handled as the tree-chopping scene, as the anime plays with dynamic angles, fluid animation, and perspective. Yume and Akari recede into the background in the face of Ichigo’s might.

If you look at the S.H. Figuarts figure for Ichigo, she actually comes with an axe. It’s an identifying element for fans. What would Akari and Yume come with? It’s less obvious. One might argue that they’re more subtle as characters, and that this is a strength, but even Cure Black and Cure White don’t overshadow their Precure successors this much.

It might sound like I’m being critical of the franchise for not developing its later heroines more, or of the crossover episodes for not doing a good enough job, but I’m not. I found the crossover episodes to be a fun celebration of all things Aikatsu! I especially enjoyed seeing the previous S4 (Yume’s senpai group before she got to the top of her school) and Soleil (Ichigo’s group) perform. It was also great to see my favorite, Ichinose Kaede. My thoughts on Ichigo are more of an observation.

On a final note, I thought the character designs for Aikatsu! and Aikatsu Stars! would clash more, but they really don’t. I think they made the original Aikatsu! girls’ faces a bit rounder to make the different casts more visually cohesive. This is generally the sign that a crossover knows what it’s doing.

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.

Planetary Remix: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1

This review is part of Ogiue Maniax’s coverage for Otakon 2017.

To this day, Eureka Seven is one of my favorite anime ever. From the pacing to the characters to the messages conveyed, it is a joy to watch and to think about. Over the years, Eureka Seven has returned in many different forms, from an unusual experiment in “re-casting” its characters, to a flawed sequel. At Otakon 2017, I got the chance to see the world premiere of Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution 1, the first of a new trilogy of movies, I had to wonder just what form it would take. The result is something I certainly did not expect.

The general story of Eureka Seven is the science fictional romance of Renton Thurston, a teenage boy from a nowhere town, and the titular Eureka, a teenage girl who is actually of a mysterious other species known as “Coralians,” and one of the few to take human form. A world filled with giant robots, music, and youth culture, the original anime exuded a sense of style and sincerity that few works manage to capture.

Hi-Evoluton 1 actually starts off as a prequel to the events of the TV series, portraying the “Summer of Love,” the mysterious event where Adroc Thurston—Renton’s father—saved the world and became a hero. The second is a Throughout the original television series, it’s hinted that the events of the Summer of Love didn’t quite go as officially reported, so it gives insight as to just what caused the conflict. For this first half hour of the film, all of the animation is new, and we get to see a number of characters who would come to play pivotal roles in the main series, including Eureka herself.

The second part of the film is where things get unusual.

It’s common for movie series based on popular franchises to front load its films with existing footage and familiar scenes, such that the first film is a time saver, a money saver, and a way to catch unfamiliar viewers up with what a work is all about. Mobile Suit Gundam did this, Space Battleship Yamato did this, and most recently it’s been the hallmark of the Rebuild of Evangelion movies. Most of the time, these Part 1’s tend to be straightforward, acting as quick compilations/retreads that change little from the original material but set up the possibility for future deviations.

Not so with Hi-Evolution 1. While it certainly would have been possible to just cut and splice the TV series into a large recap movie, the film instead decides to focus on a particular crucial arc of Eureka Seven. When Renton leaves the Gekko (the ship of anti-government rebels of which Eureka is a part), he ends up living with a couple named Ray and Charles Beams, and in doing so matures tremendously within a short span. In the original TV series, this doesn’t happen until about 13 episodes in, so the fact that the movie cuts out such a large chunk of the early episodes is unorthodox in itself.

Combined with this, however, is the fact that the film then decides to play with time. Instead of presenting its events chronologically, Hi-Evoluton 1 sees fits to go back and forth in time constantly, marked by black and white transitions of “Play Back” and “Play Forward.” It can be jarring, and much of the audience’s audible reactions showed a desire for the film to just dispense with the jumping around. For me, I kept wondering why the director, Kyoda Tomoki, decided to do things this way when a standard compilation approach would have theoretically been much easier.

I have three thoughts. First, focusing on Renton’s time with Ray and Charles over the beginnings of his relationship with Eureka juxtaposes him with Adroc’s portrayal from the beginning of the film. Second, the order in which the scenes play out is not chronological but rather an “emotional order.” Third, the creators of Eureka Seven seem to see their works not as ways to return to the world of their creation, but as a way to “remix” them.

Renton is shown to be quite similar to his father in the sense that both have strong convictions do what they feel is right even if it means everyone’s against them. The crucial difference, which gradually narrows over the course of the film, is maturity. Adroc risks himself to save Eureka, but it comes from a kind of wisened, fatherly position, as well as that of someone who understands the consequences of going against the world. Renton, impetuous youth that he is, initially doesn’t quite fully comprehend the tough decisions. By manipulating the progress of time, Hi-Evolution 1 seems to want to first juxtapose the turbulent emotions of teenage Renton and then gradually draw them closer to Adroc’s convictions. I find it notable that Adroc is voiced by Furuya Tohru, famously the voice of main hero Amuro Ray in the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Not only is there a kind of parity in terms of movie compilation trilogies, but it makes thematic sense that Renton is the “descendant” of Amuro.

Music is a major part of Eureka Seven. Characters’ names, robots, ships, supernatural phenomenon, almost everything is a reference to music (the most obvious one is probably “Ray” and “Charles”). There’s a lot about rhythm and musicality in the series, and it gives me the impression that the creators treat it as a kind of “song.” The full English title is Psalm of Planets, Eureka Seven, after all. The previous film, Pocketful of Rainbows, was an experiment in seeing how different a story they could tell by using existing footage. In it, Renton and Eureka’s circumstances are far different, and even their personalities don’t quite match up with what fans were familiar with. In other words, it felt like a heavy remix of a familiar song, one in which the original tune is almost unrecognizable.

Hi-Evolution 1 feels like a remix that tries to retain more of the source than Pocketful of Rainbows, but still desires to be its own thing. It has the same characters and general story as the TV series, but with a few touches that emphasize different elements more. In particular, the relative lack of Eureka in the film is rather conspicuous, as is the complete absence of Eureka’s “rival,” Anemone. At the very least, we know the answer to the latter, The film concludes with a “next movie preview” showing her that is rather surprising to say, the least. I’m going to leave this exact spoiler ambiguous, but I will say that it looks like Hi-Evolution 2 is going to be deviating more heavily from the TV series, just like Evangelion 2.0.

After the film, Kyoda did a moderated Q&A. In it, he revealed the staff’s code names for the first two films. Hi-Evolution 1 is “Renton 7.” Hi-Evolution 2 is “Anemone 7.” If we think of these films as highlighting and drawing out different essences present in the TV series and creating new melodies from them, the general direction of this trilogy starts to make more sense.

A Tale of Daily Loss: In This Corner of the World

This review is part of Ogiue Maniax’s coverage for Otakon 2017

Of the many Japanese creators who tackle the subject of Japan in World War II, manga artist Kouno Fumiyo has stood out perhaps more than any other over the past decade. Avoiding overt criticism of the war, she tells stories from intimate civilian perspectives instead of focusing directly on the horrors of war or the battles themselves. Her first notable work, Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, is about how Hiroshima coped with the aftermath of the atomic bomb from the ground-level. Her second major title, In This Corner of the World, has now been made into a feature film, and the transition from page to screen captures the pain, nostalgia, and conflicted emotions of the wartime period in subtle yet profound ways.

Directed by Katabuchi Sunao (Mai Mai Miracle), ITCotW follows a young girl named Suzu, an airhead with a talent for art who grows up in 1930s-1940s Hiroshima City. As she reaches adulthood and moves to nearby Kure, her everyday life slowly changes, chipped away by the surrounding reality and the ever-encroaching war. She and her family make the best of their situation, able to smile and laugh even in the most dire situations, but the war takes its toll and truly tests Suzu’s ability to go on living.

Avoiding clear-cut criticism of Japan’s actions during WWII carries an enormous risk. Suzu, who lacks of education and tends to just go along with whatever happens to her, can be seen as a lack of critical examination of the war, as well as an overly idyllic portrayal of Japan at the time. However, the film uses both the surrounding environment and Suzu’s portrayal to show how, underneath the facade of imperial prosperity, lies the gradual degradation of what it means for the world to be “normal.” A trip to a school includes young girls singing propaganda, unaware of how it is indoctrinating them. When Suzu witnesses an aerial battle, she is shown imagining it as splashes of paint, the aesthetic beauty of it peering out before the harsh image of destruction returns her to reality.

ITCotW risks being interpreted as celebrating Japan’s glorious past, or at the very least portraying Japan and its citizens as mere victims of war instead of being a major player. The film does not address the atrocities Japan committed, nor does it ever show anything but the fight on Japanese soil. Yet I do not find the decision to avoid confronting such topics head-on to be a crime by omission. I think that, within Suzu and the other characters’ lack of extensive examination is an exploration of how even those who tried to live ignoring or being unaware of Japan’s position are ultimately thrust into it, whether they liked it or not. Not everyone has the strength to risk themselves challenging the establishment, but even those who try to go with the flow can find themselves challenging the tides in small ways.

Another aspect of the film is that it does not utilize the typical images of World War II. When the atomic bomb hits Hiroshima, it does not show the infamous mushroom cloud we all know. Moments later, they look towards Hiroshima, and at the cloud that has begun to lose its shape. The fact that most of the movie takes place outside of Hiroshima is also a clear intent to examine life in wartime outside of the expected locales.

As the film progresses, it moves from beautiful to hauntingly so, a reflection of how the characters, their world, and their sense of normality wear away. A major tragedy in the middle of the film brings about in Suzu a struggle to hold onto the things that have allowed her to take everything in relative stride. How she emerges from that challenge becomes itself indicative of a nuanced message about the perils of patriotism.

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Return to Genshiken: Volume 4 – Ogiue Descends


It’s finally here—the advent of Our Lady of Surly Shipping, the Angriest of Fujoshi, Ogiue Chika. To call this a major event in the series would be an understatement, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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. Starting with this volume, I’ll be using both English and Japanese versions of Genshiken! Also, I will be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the first series and the sequel, so be warned.

Volume 4 Summary

Due to the fire accidentally started by Kasukabe, the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture has been temporarily suspended, with club room privileges revoked and its members assigned mandatory community service. Feeling incredibly guilty over causing all of this trouble, Kasukabe reluctantly volunteers to go to Comic Festival to buy doujinshi for the others and even participate in a cosplay contest. There, she not only punches out a guy trying to get some upskirt shots, but her striking appearance causes the embers in Madarame’s heart to ignite into a flame.

More revelations and events follow. Tanaka and Ohno have started dating. Madarame passes on the mantle of club president to Sasahara, who declares his intent for Genshiken to create a doujinshi to sell at ComiFes. The club even gains two new members: Kuchiki, a familiar face who was rejected from the Anime Society, and Ogiue, a standoffish otaku-hating girl who literally jumped out a second-story window to spite the other Manga Society girls. So Genshiken grows with two problematic additions.

Saki’s Remorse

The way Saki’s guilt slowly eats at her, culminating in that single tear rolling down her cheek, is quite subtle. Her stoic expression as they move from one member’s apartment to the next in lieu of a club room is easy to miss. Even more significant is why she feels so bad about the situation.

It’s not simply a matter of being responsible for the fire, it’s that she sees how lifeless the others have become. It’s as if her actions have robbed them of the very space where they can open up and just enjoy being who they really are. This is where I think Saki truly becomes one of them—even if she’ll never be an otaku, she at the very least can empathize with their energy.

Later in Nidaime, when Madarame finally confesses to Saki, his thoughts go back to this moment: “I always knew that Kasukabe-san cries easily.” It was her first true moment of vulnerability in the series, and may be what planted the seeds of “Kasukabe is moe” in his head.

The Ritsuko Kubel Kettengrad cosplay she does in this volume is, in some ways, merely the icing on the cake. But what an icing it is!

The Cosplay Heard ‘Round the World

Saki’s cosplay is the catalyst for many future threads in Genshiken. It’s the moment Madarame confirms his own feelings for her. It’s what prompts him to get those photos of her, which eventually are found by Hato. It’s what leads to Saki pressuring Ogiue to cosplay as Renko from Kujibiki Unbalance.

Speaking of those Saki photos, I’ve always been fascinated by how they’re made to look more…lustrous…than the actual characters themselves, including Saki. It gives those pictures a kind of aura, almost like this is how Madarame sees her. Comparing the photos to the actual depiction of Saki, the difference is that the photos use screentone shading for her outfit, and that she looks comfortable and poised in them (as opposed to nervously sweating like in the image earlier).

There’s actually another moment related to this cosplay that I think marks the beginning of something special, which is a clear sign that Kio Shimoku is paying more and more attention to page composition.

In the above scene, we see from Kasukabe’s point of view as she tries out her Ritsuko cosplay for Ohno. For each panel, Ohno is in a similar position on the page, creating a clear vertical column that unites the page from top to bottom. At the same time, the fact that Ohno’s size varies relative to each panel gives it some variety and keeps it from feeling repetitive. It’s simple yet highly effective, and captures well the concept of “flow” in manga.

Tanaka: Best Friend and Boyfriend

Model kit and cosplay-loving Tanaka ultimately gets fewer dedicated chapters than many of the other characters in Genshiken. It’s sort of a shame, as the brief spotlights he gets here (though shared), point towards an interesting fellow. Not only do we get the sense that he and Ohno have been developing their feelings not-so-under the surface all along, but let’s not forget that he was the first of the “total dork” otaku to get a girl. As the characters themselves mention, it only makes sense. It’s not just that their hobbies overlap, but that their respective passions for their hobbies run equally strong.

The anime Genshiken 2 actually saw it fit to devote an episode to exploring the sexual side of Tanaka and Ohno’s relationship. In the manga, we only get Ohno’s lament that he still hasn’t made a move, and then towards the end of Nidaime we find out that he gets to see Ohno “only” once a week. Talk about progress!

Tanaka’s connection with Ohno is not the only highlight here. When most of the club finds out about them dating, it turns out Kugayama knew already because Tanaka told him. Here, you get the idea that they’re really close friends, arguably closer than any other two characters in a platonic relationship in the entire manga. By being a little more in the background, I get the sense that they’re having these private conversations on the regular, and we the readers are only privy to the crumbs.

Sasahara’s Ambition

The reason behind Madarame giving Sasahara the presidency is the interesting one. Essentially, he says that Sasahara is the one most true to being an otaku. From the perspective of 2017, this brings to mind the notion of “real geeks” vs. “fake geeks,” but it’s worth noting that Sasahara is the most inexperienced otaku out of all potential prospects (and Saki doesn’t count by not having a single otaku bone in her body). Ohno is well-known cosplayer with years of experience, and Kousaka is basically Madarame-level, but the big difference is that both Ohno and Kousaka are able to fully function in the world of non-otaku. Part of it is simply due to looks, but there’s a sense that what lies at the core of Genshiken as a club is personal and social dysfunction. If you’re able to function and thrive that easily among “normal folks,” can you be true to the spirit of the classic otaku?

The assumption that otaku will always be society’s rejects is also very telling in hindsight. After all, the whole Densha Otoko boom was about a year or two away at this point in Japan, and eventually Ohno does become president after Sasahara. The image of otaku begins to transform from those whose passions prevent them from being able to succeed to those whose passions help them succeed. It’s why Yajima in Nidaime is so self-conscious about her role in Genshiken—everyone else is attractive and/or successful, and Yajima is, in her own mind, fat and ugly and untalented.

But perhaps Sasahara is himself emblematic of this change. As soon as he becomes president, he declares his desire to create a doujinshi for Comic Festival, something that the club has basically avoided because none of them have the drive or the active desire to put in the hard work. After all, they did reuse their club presentation materials so much that the paper has started to brown. They’re slowly going from a do-nothing club to a do-something club, and a certain paintbrush-haired fujoshi eventually becomes central to that.

Ogiue Time

I had almost forgotten that, when we first meet Ogiue, we don’t quite know that she’s a closet fujoshi yet. We know she’s an otaku who hates other otaku for whatever reason, but it’s not until the next chapter that we see her get tempted by the Genshiken honeypot pile. She just comes across as an incredibly troublesome character with very brief glimpses of vulnerability, especially when Saki comforts her after Kuchiki puts a hand on Ogiue.

Because Ogiue is introduced alongside Kuchiki’s re-introduction, they’re presented as contrasts. Ogiue, coming from the Manga Society, is reticent, grumpy, and unwilling to open up to others. Kuchiki, coming from the Anime Society, is loud, spastic, and a little too lacking in a filter. Perhaps I’m biased, but I can see why Ogiue got more of the spotlight as the series goes on.

I think there’s a bit lost in Ogiue’s introduction in English versus the original Japanese. “My name is Ogiue, and I hate otaku” is a perfectly good translation, and it’s how I’d translate it as well. It sounds good in English, and it’s how English speakers typically introduce themselves: I’m [name] and I [do/like/am something]. But in Japanese, she says, “Otaku ga kirai na Ogiue desu“—”I am the otaku-hating Ogiue.” The very first thing she blurts out is her dislike of otaku and, as we later learn, her self-loathing. Maybe something like “I hate otaku. Hi, I’m Ogiue” would work better?

It’s also notable that Ogiue’s design is somewhat different at this point. Her side hair antennae are a little more angled, and her face is sharper. The character designs as a whole get a bit rounder over the course of the manga in general, but this specific version of Ogiue really gives off a “dangerous, do not touch” vibe.

Another thing to point out is how, while Ogiue’s eyes change permanently after she starts to date Sasahara, you see glimmers of it in Saki’s interactions with Ogiue right from the beginning. Saki’s quite good at breaking down walls, after all.

Final Random Thoughts

I need to make a correction to something I said back in Volume 2, which is that the original president never shows up again. But he does, right here in Volume 4! He dispenses some advice for Saki, that flits off to wherever wizened old otaku leaders go.

Last thing: One of the club discussions that crops up in this volume is comparing the Kujibiki Unbalance manga to the anime, where the former is inevitably considered better than the latter by its members. The anime is noted as having many more jokes, and overall being a crazier experience. What’s funny to me about this comparison is that it’s clear the Kujibiki Unbalance OVAs we got with the first Genshiken anime are trying to be the anime spoken of in this volume. It’s a bit of meta-humor for Genshiken fans, and it won’t even be the last time this sort of referencing occurs.

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Ogiue Maniax Chats About Zambot 3 on The Cockpit Podcast

I was recently invited on The Cockpit, a mecha-themed podcast, to discuss one of my favorite anime ever: Muteki Choujin Zambot 3. We get into what makes the show interesting and pioneering, and why it still holds up today for the most part.

If you want to read my old review of Zambot 3, you can check it out here.

And if you want to hear my previous Cockpit appearances, I’ve also been on to talk about Brave Police J-Decker, King of Braves Gaogaigarand Pacific Rim.