A few months ago I took the first volume of Genshiken from my shelf, thinking the series deserved a re-read, and that I’d go through it at my leisure. As of now, I’m somewhere in the middle of the third volume. That’s leisurely enough, I think.
I picked up Genshiken for the first time back when I had only just gotten back into anime, manga, and all related accoutrements after a few years of Japanese pop-cultural drought. And it left quite an impression on me, to be sure, but my experience this time around is a bit different. Consider, for example, that, in terms of sheer hours watched, I’ve seen about twice as much anime now as I had when I finished Genshiken the first time — not to mention that the amount of manga I’ve consumed by now renders the amount I’d read at that point positively pitiful, and, in the greater scheme of things, I still haven’t read nearly as much as quite a lot of people.
While the character I admire most, for various reasons, is probably Madarame, I’m undoubtedly most like Sasahara. He’s the professional That Guy of the group, and I share his talent for leaving no impression at all on anyone without putting forth sustained effort. But, more than that, I, like Sasahara, have always been something of a multiclass nerd, with some experience in a variety of frowned-upon pursuits.
Presently my level distribution probably looks something like this:
- Level 3 gamer (favored enemies: CRPG, puzzle, strategy)
- Level 1 role-player
- Level 2 computer nerd
- Level 4 otaku (subclass: weeaboo)
- Level 6 litterateur (schools: speculomancy, canonism)
This would’ve looked different the first time I read Genshiken. I was still figuring out what it really meant to be an anime fan, and while I had been to conventions at that point (two Otakons, even), and I’d stumbled haphazardly into blogging, I was still firmly rooted in the American fandom of the mid to late 90s. I had yet to really puzzle through moe, I hadn’t seen Gundam or Macross, and things like Touhou and Vocaloid made no sense to me at all.
So I think it’s safe to say that certain of Genshiken’s self-referential moments were simply beyond me. And I rated it 10/10 on MAL (MML?) anyway. You can imagine how much fun I’m having with it this time through.
For one thing, those between-chapter bits, which usually amount to in-universe fanboying about Kujibiki Unbalance, ring truer to me now. Consider this one, from the second volume:
… Shinobu’s glasses symbolize her attempt to cut herself off from the outside world. And when she removes them her personality changes. Similarly, when Maori-san takes out her braids, it symbolizes the release of a repressed part of her personality. … [Del-Rey trans.]
Madarame laments the descent of the innocent choosing of favorite characters into “an examination of the most minute and meaningless details.” And maybe I would’ve agreed with him in early 2008 — but come on! This is important stuff, I say; we need to tease out these little details. But that opinion is probably part of why I’m still a relatively obscure blogger despite having been at it for two years, so I suppose it’s debatable.
I’m also getting more out of those chapters which are especially heavy on the fan culture. The thirteenth chapter, in which the club builds Gunpla models, is a good example. I always understood what was going on there, on some level — I mean, if you’ve been an anime fan for longer than three minutes, you don’t have to have seen Gundam to recognize the RX-78 and the Zaku II. But this time I went about it a little differently; I saw this panel…
…and thought, “Hey, it’s a GM, and a Za — no, wait, this is no Zaku, boy!” and figured that, yeah, now I’m probably much better equipped to enjoy this thing than I was before. But it isn’t just the meta-references; now I can more or less understand why the Genshiken devotes so much time to the assembly of cheap little pieces of plastic.
Consider Smithy’s adventures with his Dollfie Yoko. Upon glancing through those pictures, two things occurred to me at once:
- This is a piece of plastic lying in the grass.
- This is something more than a piece of plastic lying in the grass.
Of course the latter is more relevant. I’m still not really into figures, but they make sense to me now as means by which fans can interface with both the art they appreciate and the fandom itself. I suppose this is how I use DVD box sets; I buy them not for the “hard copy” of the show in question so much as for the physical object, the proof of my support for the artistic work the DVDs represent. Box sets can be displayed, discussed, and lent to friends; they’re foci of fan activity. And while a figure and a DVD are fundamentally different sorts of thing — there’s a case to be made for figures and models as sculpture, I’m guessing — I don’t think the analogy is wholly misguided.
At any rate, I get why Ouno reacts as she does when Kasukabe breaks the leg off of her poor high-grade Gouf, the result of a week’s worth of effort, each second of which brought her closer to other Gundam fans, and to Gundam, and to Ramba Ral — and who doesn’t want to be closer to Ramba Ral? Monetary value is one thing; value accrued through time and effort spent or through aesthetic and social use is quite another.
If put to the knife or something, I suppose I’d conclude that I appreciate Genshiken most for the sheer depth of its relevance to the lives of anime fans, something I understand now more than ever. But let’s not forget that the intertextual stuff is also pretty great.