(dengar is the newest addition to this blog, which brings our numbers up to 3 and closes May’s recruitment drive in fine fashion. He’s based in Boston (United States) and with Celeste in Vancouver (Canada) and myself in Cambridge (England,) we’re an international bunch, which is sure to prove interesting. Anyway, it’s now time to let the dust settle on this new format, so, please enjoy dengar’s first post, and, here’s the future! Thanks for sticking with us until now!)
How would you like to be thought of as a weird, socially inept person who has an unhealthy obsession with imaginary characters? While harsh, these unfortunate stereotypes of otaku are certainly widespread. After hearing the same generalizations again and again we expect our friends and family to mischaracterize an otaku as someone obsessed with watching cartoons, playing dress-up, and reading comics. Understandably many anime fans choose to stay “in the closest,” and hide their interest.
Genshiken is about how otaku come to terms with themselves and the real world, all while forming a sense of identity. The first season primarily followed Kanji Sasahara, a freshman at Shiiou University, as he comes to grips with being an otaku. Along the way, the show satirizes popular anime and otaku culture. In a stroke of genius, it even features a faux show Kujibiki Unbalance which was popular enough to get its own spin-off.
Season two continues where the first season left off; we follow the members of genshiken as they float, and sometimes blunder, through the trials and tribulations of student life. Not surprisingly, the lives of these socially awkward characters provide easy fodder for storylines. Whereas season one largely dealt with what happens at school, season two expands beyond into the “real world” outside the academy. We see the members get into relationships, work through knockout fights, and struggle with the job hunt.
I thought Genshiken was interesting because it helped me reflect on what it means to be an otaku and I could definitely see pieces of myself in each character. For example, in season one there is a situation where Sasahara initially walks past the genshiken group table at the club fair and ignores the club’s members because he is scarred of being associated with the group. There are definitely times when I have hid (and continue to hide) my interest in anime from my “normal” friends until I get to know them fairly well. At other times the characters in Genshiken are so inept at everyday life that I had difficultly identifying with them and their problems. At times I wished I could strangle them.
It would have been easy to relay the message that we should all be comfortable enough in our own skins to publically express our love of anime. But I don’t think that was the show’s meaning. Once you get past the satire and comedic moments, I think Genshiken was really about presenting an accurate portrayal of otaku. After watching the show, the viewer can decide if he wants to change his behavior. If the goal is to push otaku to be completely comfortable with their passion, well, I admit I am still not at that point. For better or worse, I think other people are too judgmental for me to be entirely comfortable “coming out” as an anime fan. Still, Genshiken offers a balance, and it inspires me to buck the stereotype that otaku give up when they encounter problems. It’s sort of like children swearing never to stop playing video games… as I grow up, I don’t want to lose the things that were important to me as a kid. But I also want to address my shortcomings, have relationships, get a job, and (eventually) be an adult. I may not accomplish everything I want, but I won’t let the fear of failure deter me from trying in the first place.