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After attending Kurosaki Kaoru’s Otakon panel on her husband, Rurouni Kenshin author Watsuki Nobuhiro, I felt compelled to read more of his stuff, though perhaps unexpectedly I gravitated towards Busou Renkin, a manga that I had no idea about beyond having some girl with a scar on her face. Now, after having read all of Busou Renkin, I find it to be a rather interesting work in that its strengths and weaknesses like distinctly along the lines between what is “conventional” in shounen fighting manga and what is not.
In the end-of-volume notes in Busou Renkin, Watsuki writes about how this title is his attempt to make a straightforward shounen fighting manga along the veins of Dragonball and its ilk, but even if he had never said anything this would have been completely obvious. Busou Renkin has a typical high school guy protagonist Kazuki who encounters a mysterious power which gives him a cool weapon to fight villainous creatures and evil organizations with the help of a girl who is more experienced than he is but has less overall potential. It’s about as established a structure for a manga as it gets, but what’s especially fascinating is that Watsuki pretty much fails to execute that basic premise well, and we’re left with a kind of hodge podge of shounen-esque elements which either do not have enough oomph to wow aesthetically (like in the weapons for instance), straightforward payoffs which aren’t really satisfying, and just a lack of connective tissue to hold it all together. I think it’s often easy to characterize the shounen fighting manga as simpler or even easier and therefore less worthy of merit, something that should be child’s play for the creator of Rurouni Kenshin, but Watsuki’s mixed success with Busou Renkin reminds me of something said in Bakuman, which is that because it’s the most reliably successful formula, it also gets the most scrutiny.
Just as the series doesn’t quite deliver within the established structure it purposely stepped into, however, it also impresses when it comes to elements of itself which are not conventional shounen. A lot of it is in the small gags, but the main example is the female character referred to above, Tokiko. Her relationship with Kazuki is the absolute highlight of the series, and seeing them grow closer while giving each other strength makes the whole thing just so much more enjoyable than if it were solely about the fight against increasingly powerful enemies. It’s not even that Tokiko is a strong female character (which she is, and which I’ll get to in a bit), but that there’s an active interaction between equals when you see her and Kazuki together. It’s kind of telling that the final chapter (albeit a final chapter which technically followed the intended final chapter which then followed the original end of the manga which got canceled, it’s confusing I know) is about advancing the romance between Kazuki and Tokiko, and about Tokiko’s past and personality.
When I look at Tokiko, particularly in regards to that last chapter, she gives me the impression of being a kind of proto-Mikasa from Attack on Titan. They share a similar kind of intensity and desire to proect, and neither are slouches when it comes to being able to fight. Both are less squeamish than their male counterparts about a number of things, and both are willing to resort to extreme violence to get the job done. Tokiko can be so vicious that she’s eviscerated someone from inside out, and her catch phrase is actually, “I’ll splatter your guts!” like she’s somehow distantly related to the guy from the Doom comic. It’s maybe no surprise that she ended up being the most iconic and memorable part of Busou Renkin, not just for myself but seemingly everyone else.
As a shounen fight manga, you’re probably better off reading Akamatsu Ken’s UQ Holder, which seems to be doing most of what Busou Renkin tried to do but better and more consistently. However, judged on its less upfront merits, Busou Renkin is really strong, and if you’re a fan of Mikasa from Attack on Titan I think the character of Tokiko will hold immense appeal.
I’ve been watching two shounen anime adaptations as of late, Yowamushi Pedal and Kuroko’s Basketball. The former runs in Weekly Shounen Champion, the latter in Weekly Shounen Jump. When you look the contents of each series, it’s almost obvious, as if they embody the general direction each magazine has taken, but not in a way which denies either their contemporary nature or their shounen-ness.
In this age where the definition of shounen manga has been in flux, Shounen Champion is the most primary source of classic, old-fashioned shounen manga where a boy does his best to fight and improve. It fits the basic goal of that magazine quite well, which is to be a boys’ magazine for boys, though Yowamushi Pedal isn’t without its modern flairs, including having a more handsome rival for the main character.
Shounen Jump on the other hand is arguably the mainstream boys’ magazine which has embraced its female audience the most, outside of Jump variations which specifically target that audience. Kuroko’s Basketball, like Prince of Tennis before it, is filled with good-looking guys handsomely showing their best. Even if they’re not fujoshi, there’s a clear appeal to girls in it, though overall the series still has in common with Yowamushi Pedal the thrill of sports and competition.
One thing that both series share is the female manager archetype, who more broadly fits into the “knowledgeable supporter” role as well. The idea is that, while they’re not participants in the main activity of each series, they bring an enthusiasm and a set of knowledge that helps the reader understand the sport better while also acting as a cheerleader for the main character and maybe providing a bit of eye candy, though I don’t think either Miki from Yowamushi Pedal or Riko from Kuroko’s Basketball are quite the characters you’d go to for cheesecake. At the same time, I think there’s a certain substantial difference between Miki and Riko, which is that Miki is clearly a love interest for the main character, whereas Riko if she has any romantic involvement at all is with a side character in the series.
I think the fact that Riko is not a love interest, and arguably that Kuroko’s Basketball has no main female love interest for its main character at all (Momo is ostensibly one but her connection to Aomine seems stronger) speaks a lot to the difference in their magazines. I don’t think this just has to do with Kuroko’s Basketball having a fujoshi fanbase which prefers pairing the guys together, either. If anything, I get an almost shoujo manga-esque impression of Riko’s relationship with Hyuuga and Teppei due to their interactions, not in the sense of hearts and sparkles in the background, but from its use of Riko as a character in her own right.
Volume 15 of the Genshiken II manga came out in Japan recently, and with it a limited edition featuring an OVA (or OAD as they call it) where they animate a couple of chapters from the original Genshiken. Covering Sue’s stay over at Ogiue’s apartment and the group’s new year’s shrine visit, it’s a part of the story that should be completely familiar territory to Genshiken fans, and watching it has made me want to both consider its role or purpose as the first Nidaime OAD and think a little about the story itself.
When you think about it, this OAD didn’t have to be the new year’s shrine visit, but it is in many ways the most appropriate given Nidaime. Ogiue’s trauma and the trip to Karuizawa would have been too long and arguably too heavy for this. The graduation in the last chapter of the original Genshiken would have been nice but is of course more of a finale than anything else. The no-dialogue chapter would have been an interesting part to adapt, but that would negate the entire new set of voice actors they’ve brought in. With the new year’s shrine visit, however, you get various threads which lead directly into Nidaime, particularly what’s been covered by the anime. Ogiue shows her softer side, which plays into her role in the second series. Sue expresses her desire to study in Japan, thus setting the stage for her increased prominence. The forlorn romance of Madarame is in full swing here, expressed almost painfully in its silence. Though Genshiken is in a sense full of turning points, this is a pretty major one in hindsight.
In terms of adaptation from manga to anime, I find it interesting that the characters were made to look like in the original series. It seems like a no-brainer but they had to do things like switch to older hairstyles and even styles of dress in order to capture the visual sense of how different the club was back then. In fact the entire mellowness of the OAD really stands out, and I imagine for anyone who watches it after having only experienced Nidaime, they would notice first and foremost the relative lack of bombastic energy. Even the references are from a different period of otakudom (“Sit, Nekoyasha!”).
One minor but noticeable change has to do with the fact that Ogiue has her default Series 1 hairstyle in the OAD, which is subtly different from the hair she wore to the shrine in the manga. There, instead of having the horizontal “antennae” on the sides of her head, Ogiue has more pronounced tufts of hair over her ears, and most likely creating another set of character design sheet just for this one-off Ogiue hair would have been too difficult or time-consuming. What’s important is that this specific hairstyle was not a fluke or a shift in judgment in the manga, as Kio Shimoku specifically drew Ogiue with that hair on the the limited edition cover of Genshiken Volume 15. Given her dress-up for Sasahara’s graduation a few chapters later, I feel like the purpose of this hairstyle was to show Ogiue trying to pretty herself up a bit (which in turn extends from a longer trend of her getting more fashionable after talking to Kasukabe).
If there’s one thing I really took away from watching this, however, it would be a case of self-reflection, so I hope you’ll forgive me as I indulge in some introspection.
When Ogiue is drying Sue’s hair, she talks about how she’d like to be more like Sue, who isn’t afraid to be an otaku and to just be herself, which Ogiue has been trying to learn. This process Ogiue undergoes in the series is part of why she’s my favorite character, and it’s something I’ve tried to live by as well, to my benefite even, but as I get older I increasingly feel this pressure to not display my otaku-ness so openly. It’s not something I try to hide, but I realize that it’s important to know that sometimes other people won’t quite understand, and explaining who you are and why you love the things you do requires a certain sociability and deftness with words which often escape me. On some level, I worry that the essential advice of “be yourself” is something I’ve begun to creep away from even though it’s been so important to me.
Also, because I’ve managed to become more social and more comfortable over the years, I think what I basically am afraid of is becoming the very person I swore I never would, that person who passes judgment on others for being weird or socially awkward, not because I want to but because I might have lost touch with that feeling. That said, if I’m actively concerned about this, then that’s maybe for the best because it means I haven’t forgotten that idealism even if it doesn’t work out, well, ideally.
As Yoshitake and Yajima discuss the Madarame “harem,” Hato shows that he is more accepting of all the complex facets which make up who he is. Given the issue of romance in the air, however, Yoshitake worries that it could end up breaking Genshiken apart.
One of the manga volume extras has Tanaka and Kugayama discussing the idea that romantic feelings can often destroy otaku groups, and to see that “aside” brought to the forefront in the main manga is interesting, to say the least. It’s an aspect of “nerd friendship” that has been left unexplored in Genshiken so far, for better or worse. Madarame had his thing with Saki, of course, but that was defined more by Madarame’s silence, and now that their particular subplot finished with everything out in the open, the potential drama of the current situation acts as perhaps an extension of that. It’s like every time I look at Genshiken another new arc or period is starting.
Of course, the fact that when Tanaka and Kugayama talked about otaku groups falling apart they had in mind the lone girl whom all of the male otaku fawn after, which is completely flipped with Madarame here. I think I wouldn’t be a fan of too big a swing into “club drama” in the venomous sense, as I think it might get way too far from the core of Genshiken (I’d hate to see friendships fall apart), but given where the series has been and my sense of how Kio Shimoku has advanced the story of the new generation so far, I strongly doubt that’s where it’s headed. Even if it does, I think the man has enough skill to execute it well and make it an opportunity for contemplation nevertheless.
This chapter shows once and for all that the projections have been manifestations of various conflicts in Hato. With the other Hato it’s about how he has tried to maintain this dual mental identity such that his “male” self and his “female” self are two separate entities when in fact they are, as the other Hato put it, the same person. When it comes to the Kaminaga stand, however, given what we know now it’s clear that she represents Hato’s repressed feelings for Madarame. As I’ve stated many times before, I find it interesting that these are two separate aspects. Seeing Hato accept and “absorb” them is probably the highlight of the chapter, as it show perhaps more than any other scene with Hato in the entire of the manga a kind of resolution, or should I say resolve? There’s something powerful about seeing those semi-subconscious facets of Hato disappear from the page, almost like the last time we see Madoka in the original Madoka Magica TV series. I find it also significant that Hato now wants to find an apartment closer to the school so that he doesn’t have to change at Madarame’s place. The idea is obviously that Hato’s own feelings for him make that scenario incredibly uncomfortable for Hato.
A first for Genshiken is that we get to see Sue by herself this chapter. Usually she’s with Ohno, or Ogiue, or Angela, but here Genshiken presents the lone Susanna Hopkins, and though there’s nothing surprising about her lifestyle (or the fact that her dorm is a mess!), there’s an almost melancholy feel to seeing Sue without others to bounce off of, for her actions to collide with the sensibilities of others. If it weren’t for the stuff with Hato mentioned above, I would say Sue in her dorm room would have been the most powerful image in this chapter. Also, though it’s hard to tell I think Sue lives in an on-campus dorm specifically devoted to foreign students. My clues are the bits of unreadable English (or other roman alphabet text) on a couple of plaques and the fact that the two other dorm residents portrayed are speaking something unintelligible for Sue.
I also feel the need to talk a bit about Yoshitake, if only because, as much as the old Genshiken characters were into some pretty hardcore stuff, they never spoke so openly and candidly about topics like sex. Of course, Yoshitake’s exclamations come from a place of otaku fantasy and not personal experience, so it’s not that different, but she’s a far cry from everyone else outside of maybe Angela who’s more forward and is more sexually active than Yoshitake is. I think Yoshitake’s decision to title the whiteboard list of Madarame’s faults as “Rame-senpai no koko ga ramee,” which makes it sound like a line from a porn manga, says it all. As an aside, Yoshitake makes a reference to Kamijou Touma (I’ll break that illusion apart”), which I’m sure will please at least a few.
Sadly we did not get to see Ogiue in her hometown, which I was really hoping for. That said, though this may just be my own wishful thinking, I believe that Ogiue could play an important role in all of this because she understands the emotional and relationship damage that can happen when people refuse to communicate with each other, which I think is the biggest “threat” when it comes to a club like Genshiken falling apart.
Name: Yamada, Moe (山田もえ)
Alias: Moemoe (モエモエ)
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Princess Ringo’s Adventures in “Wota” Land
Yamada Moe is an office worker who is aware of her coworker Himenogi Rin’s fujoshi identity. The two have known each other since their middle school years, though Moe has since been much more upfront and open about being a fujoshi. Eager to help Rin be truer to herself, Moe sets up semi-elaborate schemes at work in order to remind Rin of her fujoshi side.
Like Rin, Moe is into the anime Prince Salaryman, particularly the Red x Black pairing. Moe also forms a bond with a male coworker and fellow otaku named Watanabe over their mutual love of Rin’s cosplay alter ego “Hime Ringo.” While Rin sees her cosplay from her overweight days as a mark of shame, Moe remembers Rin’s cosplay much more fondly.
Rin is an unabashed fujoshi willing to even show her merchandise at the office, and always eager to talk about her favorite shows and pairings, which can get quite complicated and specific.
Between the Negima creator’s J-Comi, Viz and Kodansha, the defunct JManga, or the recent Crunchyroll Manga, the quality of official digital manga readers has varied tremendously, but they all lack one feature I keep wishing for. I want to simply be able to magnify or shrink the page quickly and conveniently on a regular computer without having to use magnifying glass icons which either make everything super big or not at all. Most preferably I would like to be able to set my mouse’s scroll wheel to shrink and enlarge the page for when I want to get a closer look at a particular panel or set of panels.
I know that it’s easier on tablets, and when I do read manga on a tablet it’s just a pinch or a finger drag away, and that digital readers are made more for tablet users, but I just think having this option would go a long way in making the reading of manga on a desktop or laptop so much more natural and convenient.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the Coppelion anime feels like the Coppelion manga with its edges filed down. I don’t mean just that they’ve removed all references to nuclear radiation, or that if you add up all of the elements of each version that one is more “serious” than the other, but that there’s a distinct difference in presentation.
Though the manga is more overt with its criticisms of nuclear energy, at least at first, it’s also wackier in a lot of ways. Amidst the tragedy, characters make wild and contorted faces almost like they’re One Piece characters, and there’s even more fanservice to boot. Aoi, who comes across as more cutesy in the anime, has a greater degree of comic relief in her in the manga, and I think it just has to do with that sense of exaggeration.
Here’s Aoi in the anime:
And here she is in the manga:
Also note the difference in Ibara’s facial expressions.
I think in some ways, this difference in feel does more to change the contents of Coppelion than even the censoring, like the wackiness adds a certain element of permeating ugliness to the story which helps to foreground the social and environmental issues a bit more. That might just be my personal preference though, and I find as the show gets into the second arc it starts to adapt the original material better.
Hato is back home in order to try and sort out his feelings. Kaminaga and Hato’s brother Yuuichirou are there too, and though Kaminaga (who now insists of being called “sister”) does her best to give advice to Hato about Madarame, her fujoshi brain interferes with her words and intent quite a bit. Eventually, thanks to a meeting with Konno and Fuji, Hato realizes that his feelings for Madarame mean he doesn’t want to leave Genshiken, and resolves to head back to Tokyo.
Chapter 94 is the first time in Genshiken that we’ve actually seen a character’s hometown life elaborated upon to this extent. Sure, there have been flashbacks, like Ogiue in junior high or Madarame discovering doujinshi for the first time, but ask yourself this: how many of the characters’ parents have we seen? The answer is just Hato’s.
Hato’s thought process shows that part of his turmoil is his desire to try and justify his own feelings, to try and compartmentalize everything internal into a consistent emotional map. It doesn’t appear to be a matter of latent homophobia, and if I had to venture a guess it might have more to do with trying to defy his past reputation when gossip spread about him reading yaoi and his classmates constantly made reference to how gay he is. It reminds me of a documentary I watched recently where a girl raised by two gay men talked about how she spent most of her life strongly insisting she was 100% heterosexual as a way of fighting back against the people who assumed that gay men would inevitably raise gay children, but eventually realized she was bisexual. Of course, I don’t know if Hato’s situation is quite the same, but I sense similarities. Kaminaga’s advice to essentially not sweat the small stuff, albeit filtered through her fujoshi self, is perhaps the moral of this chapter.
Kaminaga has grown on me more with this chapter. Her new hairstyle (did she dye it or un-dye it?) gives her a real “classical Japanese beauty” look reinforced by panels like the one above, which then clashes heavily with her ever-”rotten” personality. It’s an interesting contrast, and when I think more about it, the fact that Kaminaga is the way she is but has married (or is about to marry? it’s not entirely clear) a super normal guy in Yuuichirou speaks to something a bit different from the other relationships in Genshiken, even Kohsaka and Kasukabe’s. I think it’s because Yuuichirou and Kasukabe are different kinds of “normal.” One is a straight and narrow type, the other is socially successful, and it speaks to how “normal” is a kind of spectrum in itself.
Being Konno is suffering. Her own feelings for Hato turn this into a kind of love triangle, but Hato doesn’t even realize she likes him, and the fact that her advice of “if it’s causing you so much suffering, why not leave the club?” actually helps Hato realize that, yes, he does like Madarame after all. Not too long ago I wrote that a common form of moe we see is a normal life filled with a series of tiny tragedies, and I think that describes Konno’s situation quite well. I can only imagine how Konno would slide further into despair if she knew the person Hato likes is a guy. After all, when Konno originally learned about Hato’s crossdressing, she assumed that her responsibility as the root of all the gossip that had spread about Hato in high school had actually turned him gay, in turn sabotaging her own chances at romance. Of course, this isn’t resolved yet and Hato x Konno might actually become a thing in the end.
The best moment of the chapter in my opinion comes at the very end. We find Kaminaga drunkenly watching Yuuichirou and his old judo club buddies grapple each other under the influence of alcohol, clearly enjoying the fantasies inspired by reality. It’s unclear to what extent the redness of her face is due to alcohol versus perversion. Juxtaposed on the page next to a reference to a Whisper of the Heart reference (for Hato) and a Samurai Troopers reference (for Kaminaga’s own entertainment), it encapsulates her character pretty much perfectly, the manga panel equivalent of a bumper sticker saying “801 Fujoshi 4 Life.”
For any enterprising business folk, that one’s for free.
Speaking of business, Kio’s comments this month are about how Sue is a DLC skin for Akihabara’s Trip, a game where you search through Akiba and find witches by stripping them. Questionable qualities of the game aside, Sue is somehow incredibly appropriate for this, and would probably make the proper Those Who Hunt Elves and Doki Doki Majo Shinpan! references to boot.
Name: Mihara, Touko (三原塔子)
Alias: Mihara Touko (三原とうこ）
Relationship Status: N/A
Mihara Touko is a doujinshi artist turned published manga author hailing from Yamagata prefecture in the Tohoku area of Japan. A long-time fujoshi, she regularly attends doujin events, and as a result has met a variety of like-minded individuals, including the fujoshi of Ryouhoku High, Megumi, Yuki, and Eri. In addition, she is high school friends with Ishioka Yuri, to whom she introduced BL. As a native of Yamagata, Touko speaks in a thick Tohoku dialect.
Wise to the point of slyness, Touko was able to offer advice to Satou Megumi when she was in doubt over how seriously she should take her own hobby. Notably, she pointed out the major difference between making comics for oneself and revising one’s own work for the sake of fostering serialization. Her own work, Hana to Kaminari (“Flowers and Thunder”), debuted in the magazine Sylph, known for titles such as Fujoshissu!
The specifics of Touko’s fujocity are unclear other than the fact that she has devoted much of her time and energy to fujoshi-minded work both amateur and professional. A better indicator however may be the way she has tried to foster a fujoshi mindset in not only her friend Yuri but other girls as well. In this sense, Touko’s abilities as a fujoshi may be greatest in her ability to sense potential.
Name: Sawada, Yumi (沢田ゆみ)
Relationship Status: Single
Sawada Yumi joined the Ryouhoku High School manga club when her friend Komura Mai brought her along. Unlike Mai, Yumi is shy and more quiet. She also likes to dress up in gothic-lolita fashion even on hot days, but ducks into buildings frequently to keep cool. She will sometimes even go so far as to wear a goth-loli outfit to Comic Market.
Though not terribly vocal about her fujoshi thoughts (let alone anything else), she still exhibits a mind for BL, easily gelling with the existing fujoshi of the manga club, particularly when it comes to pairing the two new male members, Yonekawa Akito and Nakamura Shingo.