The 2nd Dimension

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reading Journal: Genshiken (complete)

Manga Overview
Book Info

Overall= A+
Story = A+
Art = A-

College freshman and ACG lover Kanji Sasahara settled down his extracurricular activity in Genshiken (The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture) in order to become a true and thorough otaku. Meanwhile, Saki Kasukabe, the girlfriend of another freshman Genshiken member (also a bishounen) Makoto Kohsaka, was dragged into Genshiken's otaku-ish activities reluctantly, yet her resentful attitude towards otakus is changing without her notice. (Source: ANN)

When I first started reading Genshiken it was a shock to my system, because I didn't expect to be able to relate so much to so many of the characters and in so many different ways.

And Genshiken really is all about the characters. There's no overarching plot; it's just a group of otaku hanging out together talking about anime and manga and doing things that otaku like to do, from building models to going to conventions to commenting on their favorite shows. It does an especially great job of highlighting and explaining different types of otaku quirks, habits, and mannerisms in the context of a comedy with realistic characters. So in that way, it's kind of like the otaku's version of Seinfeld, where Jerry's apartment is replaced by the Genshiken clubroom.

The thing that distinguishes this from other similar otaku-focused stories like Otaku no Video, is that the comedy doesn't come so much from parody or satire; instead the comedy a natural result of the characters' personalities and how they all interact with one another. It's neither mocking nor endorsing anime/manga fandom, it just showing anime fans and how they are. So you don't laugh at them because they are otaku, you laugh because -- otaku or not -- the situations they end up in and their reactions to them are funny. And a lot of it is the "yeah, I've been there before" kind of humor that almost anyone could relate to. For instance, there is one chapter where Madarame and Kasukabe are in the clubroom when Madarame notices that Kasukabe seems to have a nose hair sticking out. He spends the rest of the chapter trying to figure out whether it is actually a hair or a piece of lint, and whether or not he should tell her.

But even more than the comedy, it's how much I could relate to the characters that really hit home. In fact, I think that except for maybe Madarame and Kasukabe, I could find something to relate to in just about every character, and not just their general personality but specific thoughts they had or specific situations they've been in or reactions they've had. That makes the manga incredibly cathartic because those characters were expressing ideas I've always had but never actually verbalized.

And that catharsis is intensified all the more because of the manga's theme of "acceptance". Kasukabe, as a non-fan, has to learn to accept the Genshiken because she is in love with one of the members. Sasahara finds acceptance for from the club for his love of anime, manga, and video games even though he has always been embarrassed about said fandom. Oguie has to accept otaku because, despite the fact that she hates them, she is in fact one of them. This theme makes for a kind of wish fulfillment for otaku readers because, let's face it, justified or not, Japan or US, the interests of otaku are often regarded by most people as odd -- if not freakish. And for an anime/manga fan to find a group of people, like Sasahara did, that not only accept but also encourage those interests is like a gold mine. And reading about such characters feels a lot like hanging out with any group of good friends.

As for the art, it fits the manga perfectly. The details put into everything from the setting to the characters and their clothes make the manga fun to read but without forcing you to linger so long on a page as to ruin the pace of the story. The character designs are relatively realistic, which is good because it makes it easy to distinguish the characters from the anime that they watch.

So overall, I'd say that this really is a manga that any true anime/manga fan would love. For me, I'd definitely say that this is one of the best manga I have ever read and I am really going to miss it. Non-fans probably won't be able to empathize quite as much, but they may find it useful to help understand how a lot of otaku think.

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