Incredible America: Genshiken and the Accidentally Accurate Portrayal of Americans

In Volume 1 of Genshiken, Ohno’s character profile states that her favorite game is Samurai Spirits. “Well that makes perfect sense,” you might think, seeing as how Ohno lived in America for many years, and how that very game was released in the US under the name Samurai Sho-down, but a later comment in the Genshiken Official Book reveals something interesting. It turns out that Kio Shimoku had no idea whether or not Samurai Spirits was ever released in America, and most likely picked it for Ohno due to the game having multiple old/burly types such as Earthquake.

So what we have here is what seems to be a surprisingly decently researched aspect of the American video game/anime fandom from the 90s but instead is just a lucky coincidence. Of course, Ohno and her preferences aren’t the most “American” aspect of Genshiken. That title naturally belongs to her friends Angela and Sue. And when you look at Angela and Sue across their incarnations (anime, manga, drama cd), you get the feeling that Kio Shimoku and the staff of the anime ended up portraying American fangirls with surprising accuracy, but based on the Ohno-Samurai Spirits Revelation there is the very real possibility that this too was also one huge coincidence.

Much of the portrayal of Angela and Sue can boil down to “HAHA AMERICANS ARE SO MUCH MORE DIRECT THAN JAPANESE,” but there is a grain of truth to that, and I think the result is that this “fictional” portrayal is about as realistic as the portrayals of the actual Genshiken members. Sue may possess a knowledge of anime far beyond your typical female otaku, but keep in mind that her otakudom was fostered by a Japanese fujoshi, so it might not be surprising for her to reference, say, Saint Seiya. Sue’s got a fairly abrasive personality, a general lack of manners, and you often cannot tell if she’s being awkward or devilish. Her frequent and loud reciting of anime quotes in lieu of real Japanese is definitely a trait you can find in fangirls (though she eventually becomes comfortable enough with the language to actually start speaking it fluently, albeit with an accent).

Then there’s Angela, who loudly declares to Sasahara that she may in fact be bisexual, which Sasahara despite his limited English ability seems to get the jist of. It might be somewhat stereotypical to brand Angela as very open when it comes to sex and sexual relationships, i.e. very AMERICAN, but it’s not like this is unprecedented even if you ignore anime cons and the fact that they are places where sex occurs in less than small amounts. Not that I’m saying she’s a slut or anything, merely that she is possibly about as sexually experienced as Saki, maybe more. I can also totally see Angela attending an anime club in America and being the center of attention among male members, but maybe I’m reading too much into it. As an aside, I sometimes wish there would be a Genshiken AMERICA spinoff starring Angela and Sue and seeing the interactions between characters in that respect. Maybe this could be a fanfic or a fancomic, I don’t know.

Sue is either young-looking for her age or actually young (her age is never given, only loosely implied), and we already know that the anime fans are getting younger and younger, so this makes plenty of sense. Angela meanwhile has a dynamite figure which some might say isn’t terribly realistic for a nerd girl, but I speak from experience (no not that kind of experience) when I say that this is not an impossibility. There are geek girls who look that good. You might see them cosplaying.

Though I think what stands out to me most about Sue and Angela and their American-ness is a scene in the Drama CD “Road to Ikebukuro,” where together they recite the famous line that so many female anime fans in the US have tied to their very histories: “In the name of the moon, I’ll punish you!” Granted, it’s said in Japanese, but I know that plenty of Sailor Moon fans are familiar with the Japanese catch phrases. And Sailor Moon was popular in Japan too (Love Hina creator Akamatsu Ken mentions it as the inspiration for him getting into doujinshi), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Sailor Moon is arguably one of the most significant shows in American fandom history.

And again, all of this could just be happy coincidence! Kio Shimoku could have simply said, “I have no idea what American anime fans are really like so I’ll just make them however.” Which is to say, Kio Shimoku is a frightening man.

Fan-generated Fiction as some call it

I recently listened to the Ninja Consultant podcast concerning the sexualization that occurs among fangirls, and the fact that this has become more prominent in recent times, with not only yaoi becoming a common sight at conventions but also modern works such as Dr. Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender being consciously aware of this fanbase. The topic of fanfiction comes up in the discussion, which is to be expected given that fanfiction and fangirls practically go hand in hand, but it reminded me of the fact that at the beginning of my own internet-based fandom I too was into fanfiction.

When I first began using the internet, my first fandom was a NiGHTS into dreams fanfiction site. I loved the Sega Saturn game to death (and still do), and I sought out other fans of NiGHTS. It was there that I found a site called “Nightopia on the Net” which would later change its name a few more times. It was here that I not only discovered other people with a passion for NiGHTS, but also stories that expanded upon the few plot details we were given as players of the game into a rich and vibrant (at least in my young eyes) universe. I’ve never read the Star Wars Extended Universe books, but I suspect the feeling was similar to anyone who is a fan of those, a feeling that the world given to us in these initial stories is so vast and unexplored that one can’t help but wonder what else is out there.

At some point, a few years down the line, I read fanfiction less and less. By this point I had been checking out fanfiction from various sources based on all sorts of series and would even actively seek out more unusual titles and concepts. Something in me began to sour, and I could no longer take fanfiction until I almost stopped reading it entirely. Back then, my reasoning was that I disliked the stories being produced for my fandoms, feeling that more than any sort of technical errors the problem was that the writers did not understand the characters. The characters’ actual personalities as displayed in their respective shows were nothing like the personalities displayed in fanfiction, and I asked (no one), “What’s the point of using these characters if you’re not going to actually use them?”

As mentioned in the Ninja Consultant discussion, it seems as if some works these days are simply there as fan fodder. Characters are given basic traits which appeal to the “shipping” side of fandom, and fans are free to ignore or cultivate any “evidence” as to whether or not their “One True Pair” could thrive. Setting aside any original creators’ desires to actively engage this line of thought, by all rights these are the people who are responsible for me leaving fanfiction in the first place.

But really was I, and am I, all that different?

Why do people enjoy pairing unreasonable characters together? To put it simply, it’s because they find the pairing to be hot. No big mysteries there. It’s what makes the Zutara pairing in Avatar so popular: a conflict of emotions, the fire/water dynamic, the idea that “if only they would get together, they would be great.” Of course, the conflict comes from actually getting them together.

Is there something wrong with this? Wanting to dive deeper into a world, to prove through fanfiction that there is so much more to a story, one can say that trying to find deeper subtext in the relationships presented is its own form of exploration. Hell, I can somewhat relate to making unreasonable pairings. I have a rather straight-laced friend who I would like to see date girls that would be all over him 24/7. Why? Because it would entertain me to no end.

Perhaps there is a threshold, and it is crossed when fans begin to believe that their opinions constitute the truth about a work, or even what should be true. This isn’t about creator’s vision vs spectator’s vision or anything of that sort, but rather to what extent people and groups begin to believe their own hype. Other than that, I think people are free to believe in whatever they want.

Even then, such a statement borders on the idea that there’s such a thing as a “right” fan and a “wrong” fan, and really, even if I find certain fans or their reasoning distasteful, I am just one person and I am not a judge of fanfiction. More importantly, I am not a judge of the heart.

After all, as Sasahara once said to Ogiue, no one can stop you from liking something.