Thoughts on re-reading Genshiken and taking a few levels in otaku

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.

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    When I read Genshiken I was already deep into the mecha genre and pretty familiar with the Gundam references. But should I re-read it now I’d probably even laugh out loud more.

    I suppose if there was an area of ‘growth’ in class level, it’d be with regards to moe-moe related things, and specifically ero-games. However, I have no strong interest in those kind of games ATM, as I’ve been playing very few games if at all. (Does Plants vs. Zombies even count?)

    So here’s my Player Character Sheet:

    Level 1 Gamer: Used to be much, much higher, but I got old.
    Level 1 Role-player: Used to be epic level, but I got old.
    Level 7 NBA nerd: subscribed to ^9000 blogs, including very very technical x’ and o’ shit, and follow management news and fap to the collective bargaining agreement design and content
    Level 2 Tennis nerd: plays a lot and fags about technique
    Level 5 weaboo (subclass: otaku): would be higher if I could read moon, and play VNs
    Level 2 Literrateur: used to be much higher (<40 units of grad school level), but I haven't kept up with reading

    • Pontifus

       /  14 May 2010

      Haha, I figured your tennis power level would surpass basketball. You should do a basketball “theory” + anime post. Not that I’d understand most of the basketball stuff.

      Casual games are still games, I say. But some casual gamers may be inclined to deny that for the same reason that some fans of The Road deny that it’s science fiction.

      My class progression was kind of opposite yours; I had a foundation in harem and VN adaptations, and I discovered mecha along the way. Strangely, it was slice of life that gave me the most trouble, though. But I suppose I don’t need to reiterate that slice of life and I get along rather well now.

  2. YESYESYES you wrote the post I forgot to write when I read all of Genshiken a month or so ago. I watched Genshiken (only read 2 vols) in mid-2007 when I was really getting into anime and it taught me a LOT. It convinced me that I wanted to be an otaku. I finally went and read the entire manga in 2010, a bit less than 3 years later, and now I went in as a full-fledged and particularly fucking hardcore otaku, and it was just all the more incredible. Definitely one of my favorite series of all time.

    I don’t think I need to tell you that I identify with Madarame lol but the best part is, I even identify with him at the end of the story – after he’s supposedly ‘moved on’ and found a job, he’s still hanging out with his old friends and bumming about as an otaku – a lot like me who, after graduating high school, still mostly hangs out with high school kids via my younger brother who inherited all the younger friends I had lol.

    I am definitely a level 9 otaku. That said, there is a fjord between 9 and 10. The only reason I am not a 10 is that I don’t have the experience. I don’t even need levels for anything else – I am just an otaku. Well, okay, I guess I’m a level 8 music nerd as well. And I guess a level 1 or 2 gamer since I keep failing my attempts to get back into video games lol.

    Dude, are you planning to go to Otakon this year? I definitely would love to meet you there. It sucks that most of the bloggers I know who went to Otakon in the last 2 years, I didn’t know at the time (you, lolikitsune, etc.)

    • Oh, and one more thing, your blog colors make me dizzy when I try to read your posts @_@

    • Pontifus

       /  14 May 2010

      There’s one line somewhere in Genshiken that kind of describes my fandom entry process, and seems to describe yours, too. It’s something to the effect of “if I can’t be rid of this stuff, I may as well meet it head-on.”

      I think Madarame’s continual presence in the club room is perfectly healthy; lately I’ve been inclined to think that a fan is simply something you are, and I couldn’t quit fandom any easier than I could quit being white or American. It’s an inevitable reality of my socially-constructed existence, or something like that.

      Hmm, I didn’t think about music nerddom. But I fail so hard as a music fan that I really don’t deserve the dignity of a level in that class.

      Whether or not Otouto and I will be at Otakon depends in part upon whether any of our panels are accepted, and thus whether we can get free admission. I know that most of the expense will come from the dealer’s room travel and food, but…we’ll see. Speaking of conventions, though, we’re always at NekoCon; do you usually make it out there?

      Re: the blog layout: hmm, I thought I had avoided that. Is there a particularly nasty contrast somewhere that’s reaming your retinas?

      • No fucking way you guys do Nekocon?! Were you there in November? I ran a panel there!!! If we’d met you guys it would have been so much less boring!

      • Pontifus

         /  15 May 2010

        Ooh, what panel? I know we wouldn’t have seen it, as we didn’t do much in the way of panels last year. But we may have passed each other in the hall or something. And if you’re interested in collaborating on a panel this year, I’d be willing.

      • I ran the panel ‘Released and Relinquished’ about shows which came out stateside but went totally under the radar. I ran it with @PatzPrime who is also going to do the panel at this year’s AMA, though I don’t intend to participate.

        I wasn’t planning to go to Nekocon this year either since I found it mostly boring as hell last year, though it might be different if I have people to hang out with lol

  3. For some reason, I feel a little bit of misconception here regarding the so-called “power levels” thing (and I’m not blaming ghostlightning for that, heh). Maybe it’s just me, but are we really going to settle with this? Otakuism isn’t about leveling oneself in order to gain recognition from other fellow hobbyists. Rather, it’s just something that merely states our current status, limiting our possible potentials, making is complacent with what we have already achieved, to the point where we shun others who may have surpassed us in more ways than one. The hobby isn’t about gauging ourselves, it’s about breaking the gauge, and pushing ourselves to the limit, one threshold after another.

    Of course, this only means there is no such thing as an otaku power level of OVER NINE THOUSAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND!!!

    • Pontifus

       /  14 May 2010

      I agree with you, for sure. I have this tendency to abuse RPG terminology, and it seemed like a convenient way to describe my relevant interests relative to one another. I’m not suggesting that we all need to draw up character sheets and engage in a min/max contest (at any rate I would lose).

      Fandom is far too complex a thing to represent in hard statistics. In fact, I write all this during a time when my notion of the complexity of fandom, and of what it means to be a fan, is expanding. If you asked me what fandom was about right this second, I don’t think I could provide an answer that would satisfy me.

      In short, I just think stats are fun :3

  4. Interesting points there and yes, anime figures, DVD’s, Dollfie bjd’s… they’re all just objects which though they have a certain monetary value, they hold little intrinsic worth. They however can become very valuable items to people and possess definite extrinsic worth due not only through our own bond with them but everything else that accompanies it, such as contact with kindred minds, such social as well as other aspects.
    Appreciated as well that “Genshiken” did elaborate on that, by showing why the characters like anime and some of the other aspects surrounding it.

    As for classification or levels, I’ve never bothered with such ideas, my only goal is to enjoy this hobby among others and have a fun time watching anime, reading manga, figures and Dollfies and their related aspects such as photography… with the added social aspect of interacting with other fans.

    • Pontifus

       /  14 May 2010

      I tend not to bother measuring my e-peen against that of other fans, but I do enjoy trying to take stock of how my interests work relative to each other. It’d be impossible to sum things up in an otaku “level” anyway, given how different one fan activity can be from another. If I’ve seen a few dozen more hours of anime than the person with a room full of figures, how might that person and I find some middle ground by which to compare ourselves? I doubt there’d be any point in trying. Like you, I’d rather not worry about such things, as it’s not exactly conducive to cordial interaction. My fandom class levels are just based on my own relative interests in things, and not how I think I’d measure up in the greater scheme of things.


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