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As part of my Patreon rewards, I was recently asked to write about “Voca Nico Night,” a series of concerts celebrating Vocaloid music broadcasted over the Japanese streaming site Nico Nico Douga. This topic is somewhat outside of my normal purview, as I will admit to not being especially knowledgeable about Vocaloids or the scene surrounding them (I enjoy the music and recognize the characters but would not call myself a devoted Vocaloid fan), but as I watched recordings of Voca Nico Night I found that the performances seen at Voca Nico Night can be viewed as a reminder that, at the end of the day, talented human creators are an integral part of the success of Vocaloids and the music that is created using them.

The story of how virtual idol Hatsune Miku became an international sensation is the kind of tale that can cause some to proclaim the green-haired, leek-twirling, robot-voiced “singer” as the sign of a glorious future, and others to describe her as the death of music. For years the music company Yamaha had put out a voice synthesis program, but with some improvements to the software and the use of a cute girl in chic, futuristic clothing, things changed. Suddenly it was embraced by composers, musicians, music enthusiasts, artists, and writers both amateur and professional, and you can find countless examples of Vocaloid music, art, and more on sites such as Youtube, Pixiv, and Nico Nico Douga.

All of this has culminated in Vocaloid live concerts, where holographic projections of the Vocaloids sing and dance as live crowds cheer them on. This presents a fascinating contrast in the “life” of the Vocaloid. At the same time that Miku and the others become more “real”, their artificiality becomes even more pronounced. After all, even if she were to be brought into reality, Miku still has the appearance of an anime character, and that stylization and abstraction cannot be divorced from her even they’re re-drawn and individualized by various creators.

This can be viewed as a strength, as Miku’s self, constructed from the effort and desires of millions, makes no illusions about the synthesized elements of her music (as opposed to the auto-tuning that regularly occurs in popular music these days), but for those who believe that music comes from the soul, that way of thinking is certainly difficult to swallow. While I’m more of the former opinion, the latter I think is something worth keeping in mind.

This is where I think Voca Nico Night really shines, because without the expensive holograms, without the explicit desire to see Hatsune Miku or Megurine Luka or the Kagamine Twins, what’s left are the DJs, the musicians, the performers at center-stage, engaging with their audience both online and in the flesh. You can still hear the distinctly robotic tones of the Vocaloids, but their images are not taking all of the attention. Instead, the Vocaloids’ role as tools for producing music comes to the forefront, and while talking about the “functionality” of an actual musician would be crass and unfair, the origins of the Vocaloids means that they can be as “useful” or as “soulful” as one needs them to be. Voca Nico Night exists somewhat opposite the live concerts that get all of the attention, and while I hesitate to use a “yin-yang metaphor,” I do think that having both is for the better.

In many ways it reminded me of the times I’ve attended chiptunes concerts (another scene where I have interest but cannot call myself a true fan). Like the Vocaloid scene, chiptunes creators and fans embrace a type of music often associated historically with a visual component that arguably puts less emphasis on the music or the musicians (video games in the case of chiptunes), but people who love chiptunes use concerts to show their appreciation and their talents outside of what is typically expected out of a “performance.” I have to wonder if Vocaloid concerts and the like are at an intersection between the rock concert where band members are sometimes viewed as gods, the orchestra where the relative significance of the individual musicians versus the composers’ original scores can be argued, and the club where a DJ combines beats and melodies together to form something new.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

It is a somewhat common mistake to assume that Japan as a wholly foreign and alien culture despite events such as the influence of China on its development, the appearance of Commodore Perry, and various interactions with nations such as Portugal and the Netherlands. However, no matter where it comes from, Japan’s own history can be considered unique (and just about any culture or area can say the same), and there are certain implicit and assumed elements that can permeate Japanese culture.

I was asked by Johnny Trovato to address broadly the subject of how theological differences between Japan and countries with more of a Christian history affect how anime and manga are viewed. Truth be told, even though I’ve watched plenty of series which reference religion and spirituality such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Inari Kon Kon Koi Iroha, and Hermes: Winds of Love (don’t watch that last one), I’m not really an expert on the subject. I originally planned on tackling the subject from a fairly limited perspective, but fortunately I recently discovered a book called Holy Ghosts: The Christian Century in Modern Japanese Fiction by Rebecca Sutter. While it’s not quite on the subject of Japanese religions and beliefs, it did help me to realize an aspect of Japanese culture, media, and literature that I believe sheds a bit of light on how religious beliefs are used in anime and manga.

One of the more major lessons I took away from reading Holy Ghosts is that Japan has historically approached religion in a rather pragmatic way. Shintoist, Buddhist, and Confucian beliefs exist together in Japan, but only as far as they’re convenient. When Portuguese Jesuits arrived in Japan and sought to convert its people, not only did the Japanese sometimes interpret Jesus as a kind of “Buddha” that conformed to their own polytheistic views, but many of the daimyo who converted did so because the Portuguese also sold firearms. Spirituality exists, but it has existed to to serve the people, rather than having people be absolutely beholden to one or more gods. Even the idea of the Emperor as god was a response to the prominence of other religious beliefs being used as tools to control territory.

To take what is probably too big of a leap into the present day, I think we can still see this tendency at work when it comes to the utilization of religious aspects in anime. Evangelion famously features Christian imagery and mythology mainly as a way to provide something fairly exotic to Japanese viewers, while Spirited Away is just as much about encouraging young people to rediscover nature regardless of overt spirituality. This, I believe, is where a good deal of the confusion or dissonance might lie when it comes to how people in the United States and other traditionally Christian cultures interact with anime. Of course, not every person who lives in those countries is necessarily religious, and there has been plenty of media that plays fast and loose with the Bible, from Bruce Almighty to Teen Angel (I still love that show, by the way), but often there’s some kind of counter-play with the assumption that many people know at least the basics of Christianity and that there are plenty who firmly believe in its tenets.

I’m going to use two examples of media, one from the US, and one from Japan. Xena: Warrior Princess was a popular show when it aired. Having begun as a spinoff of Hercules: The Legendary Journey, it at first focused mainly on ancient Greece and the presence of Greek Gods. Eventually though, they decided to branch off and include Christianity in the show. Xena meets both David and Jesus, and any historian would probably tell you that it makes no sense. It didn’t matter in the show itself to a certain degree, but it was directly up against the value of Christianity in the US, and how accurate or (intentionally inaccurate) a work it was factored into how it was perceived.

Now contrast this with Devilman, the story of a teenager who gains the power of a devil so that he can fight other demons. Its creator, Nagai Go, stated that he designed Devilman to resemble a bat, even though that’s not quite the imagery people in countries more familiar with the idea of Satan and Hell would utilize. Eventually Satan himself appears, and he turns out to be a hermaphrodite because Lucifer has been described in some texts as being as such. However, the main value of Lucifer’s dual-gender appearance is visceral shock, and Devilman as a whole didn’t have to take into account how much its readers would be going to church every Sunday. Devilman, if I recall correctly, also mixes in various spiritual beliefs including Japanese ones, and it all effectively works to (on a somewhat pragmatic level) help the story along.

The idea that religion isn’t this overwhelmingly powerful subject in Japanese culture and society isn’t necessarily shared by all who live there, of course, but I think there’s a lot in the old adage that says, in Japan, you have a Shinto birth, a Christian wedding, and a Buddhist funeral. That synthesis of beliefs and the ability to mold them into whatever you want defies the idea of religion as this overwhelming, monolithic thing that cannot ever be altered, and anime and manga are proof of that.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are considered to be one of the most significant moments in Japanese history in terms of symbolism. Having lost World War II a couple of decades prior, and having experienced military occupation by the US as a result, the Olympics were an opportunity to show the world that Japan had gotten back on its feet and climbed out of poverty. One of symbols of this transformation is the famous bullet train, which came into service in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

It’s no surprise then that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are kind of a big deal. While Japan no longer has issues with proving itself to be a first-world country even in a decades-long economic recession, the government still wants to further its integration in international economy, culture, and politics. The subject of 3.11 will also still be relevant, and if Japan has not “proven” to the world that they have managed to overcome that disaster by 2020, they will certainly assert it by then. However, one particularly large and visible target for cleanup is Japan’s otaku culture, and they’ve already begun their move.

As I’ve learned from a series of public lectures at Temple University’s Japan Campus (thanks to Veef for the link), one of their targets is anime and manga, given their focus on using Japanese pop culture as a form of “soft power” over the past decade. As the Tokyo Olympics get closer, just the fact that the image of Japan as a haven for illegal pornography still persists to some degree means that the Japanese government, or perhaps groups trying to influence the government, will be pushing for lasting change on what can and cannot be depicted in anime and manga. This has a very likely chance of affecting otaku culture in Japan, though the degree to which these changes will last depends on how much creators and supporters of anime and manga can push back.

Any government will naturally want to present itself and what it represents in the best light possible, though keep in mind this does not automatically mean censorship; it is possible for such behavior to only affect media that comes from the government itself. However, because Cool Japan is government-backed, this can create a contradictions. Namely, what has attracted people to anime and manga culture in the first place has been its willingness to be subversive, degenerative, and controversial, both in the context of other cultures and in Japan. Concerns over anime being not just pornography but child pornography in the US and Canada are nothing new at this point, and more recently in Japan has passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths.

I think one possible scenario is that the worlds of doujinshi and industry works will separate a bit more, maybe regress back to how it was a few decades ago. These days Comic Market is a big deal for both amateurs and professionals, with fan parodies being sold right next to videos displaying promos for the latest upcoming anime. A lot of names working professionally, including Satou Shouji (Highschool of the Dead, Triage X) and Naruco Hanaharu (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Kamichu!) are artists who not only work in the (relatively) mainstream industry but also still produce both professional erotic manga and erotic doujinshi. While I don’t think many creators will go away, they might very well have to pick what side of the die they fall on.

Censorship levels tend to ebb and flow, and are even a bit hard to control even as laws exist in the books. While artist Suwa Yuuji got in serious trouble in the early 2000s for publishing Misshitsu, an erotic manga that was deemed insufficiently censored, Frederik Schodt, in his classic book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, explains how Japanese artists in the 1970s and 80s got around the censorship of genitalia through the use of creative visual metaphors through very “trains going through tunnels”-type affairs. Even the use of mosaics in Japanese pornography has changed over the years to be less prominent. Artists find ways. As somewhat of an aside I do think it’s interesting that the series Denkigai no Honya-san features a government censor as a character who is also a fujoshi.

However, although I believe that manga creators are imaginative enough to find loopholes, I think what we’ll see is a serious effort to keep things from reaching this level on the part of the industry itself and otaku as well. In many ways, this situation goes well beyond the subjects of anime, manga, games, and otaku because Japan has a very real history with censorship.

Leading up to and during World War II, dissenters could get arrested or even killed for publishing material that was seen as unfavorable to the Japanese government. This has of course changed, but just as the memory of the war continues to be an influence on the 2020 Olympics due to the connection to the 1964 Olympics and the role it had in showing how Japan had “moved on,” so too does has the danger of censorship remained in the culture of Japan.

While this might seem to contradict the fact that Japanese pornography is indeed censored, that sort of thing is often just lip-service that some take more seriously than others. After all, unlike other countries where pornography is banned, this is an adjustment to the work itself and assumes that making things less visible also draws less attention to them. There’s a strange relationship between forbidding ideas and forbidding images, because at some point one transforms into the other, and with anime and manga we’re seeing one arena in which this ambiguity comes to the forefront. This is why people from manga creators Takemiya Keiko (Toward the Terra) and Akamatsu Ken (UQ Holder) to the maids at the maid cafe Schatzkiste have discussed the subject of censorship and what it can mean.

In the end I can’t predict what will become of otaku culture, but I think that we’ll see that it’s not as passive as is often assumed. People will fight for their right to consume and create the anime and manga that they want, and it will certainly not be a sad joke.

Fighting games at this point are decades-old. While it’s debatable what can be considered the very first fighting game, what is indisputable is which game is responsible for popularizing the genre: Street Fighter II. That game, as well as all of its upgrades, are the standard by which all other fighters are judged, and it’s had a profound effect on how people discuss fighting games in terms of gameplay and strategy. However, if Street Fighter II is the archetype, there are a number of deviations from it, and one that’s become increasingly popular in recent years has been the Super Smash Bros. series.

Whereas in the past these two communities, traditional fighters and Smash, remained fairly separate (and one even unfairly mocked the other for not being a “real” fighting game), over the past year with the release of the latest Smash Bros. games, this has begun to change. One curious outcome of this has been that, when it comes to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, a number of notable traditional fighting game community (FGC) members have taken to it, such as EVO Champion Infiltration and commentators Ultra David and James Chen, but it has also received negative attention from many players of the Super Smash Bros. Melee, what is widely considered the most technical and mechanically difficult game in the franchise. The reason I believe this disparity exists is not only because of a difference in terms of the games themselves, but also a difference in how these respective communities have argued for what makes their games great.

The arguments made by many Melee supporters as to why it’s the superior game tend to revolve around the slew of difficult techniques that expand the range of possible moves available, as well as a heavier emphasis on free-form combos. The idea is that, while Melee is simple on the surface, being a game that was intentionally designed to be more accessible than the traditional fighting game, it in fact hides layers and layers of complexity. What might appear to be a game that is competitively limited due to its simplicity is in fact only the first step into a demanding realm of technical depth and discovery. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U lacks many “advanced techniques” and is slower-paced, and is therefore seen as an inferior game.

Perhaps this reasoning is a product of the way in which the FGC would dismiss Smash Bros. as a whole as “kiddie games,” but, whatever the case, this is the rhetoric that has been built up from Melee, that simplicity makes way for complexity, and that complexity equals depth. In the documentary The Smash BrothersMelee commentator Prog likens the difficulty of Melee to Starcraft, a game that is also known for its mechanical difficulty that leads to a wider range of options for a player, with the idea that this leads to a kind of expressive freedom (though it should also be noted that the documentary’s director, Samox, chose to include that in the first place).

EG|PPMD—recent champion of Apex 2015, the largest Melee tournament ever—shares this sentiment:

EG|PPMD: Melee allows me to express myself on a very profound level. I am not just playing the character, I am my character. I am not just playing against my opponent, I am communicating with that person deeply and getting to know them on a very personal level and conversing on that level with the game as a medium.

Said differently, the depth and speed of the game allow me to really bring myself out. Competition is also incredibly fun! I would be really surprised if another game gave me this feeling, but that would be awesome if it did happen.

In contrast, the most prominent arguments as to why traditional fighting games are great take the opposite angle. Traditional fighting games are known for being difficult to learn on the surface, due to specialized inputs (quarter-circle forward + punch makes Ryu throw a hadouken, while just hitting the “special move” button for Mario makes him throw a fireball) and complex combos, but the prevailing philosophies are of the mind that the ideal core of fighting games, what makes them really worthwhile and competitive, is a foundation of simplicity and elegance, and that this is what leads to depth.

While the above video is super corny, it reflects the lessons taught by great players such as Tomo Ohira, who is featured in that video and is often argued to be the first king of Street Fighter II its earliest days. For another example, take the fighting game player turned game designer David Sirlin, who argues that what makes fighting games games truly interesting is the level of mental interactions that come from “yomi,” or reading the mind of the opponent. Others such as Ultra David have argued that yomi isn’t as important as developing and executing a strategy, but the emphasis is still on the idea that technical complexity should ideally make way for something more basic and fundamental. This is what drives Divekick, a stripped-down fighting game that attempts to get to the core of fighters by limiting players to two buttons and emphasizing spacing and reads.

Although what I’ve shown above are not universally held beliefs by either community, I wanted more to show that they exist and are prominent parts of each community’s identity when it comes to their games. I also don’t want to give the impression that the communities believe that complexity vs. simplicity and their relationship with depth is black and white in either direction, nor that the games necessarily reflect the philosophies described above 100%. Rather, it’s more about how people visualize depth, and why the idea of depth becomes so subjective.

As for why all of this matters, there are two points to consider as to why traditional FGC members might praise Super Smash Bros. for Wii U whereas Melee enthusiasts might look down upon it. First, much like Divekick, the Super Smash Bros. games with their simplified commands have already removed a surface layer of complexity, and to many experienced fighting game players this is seen as a positive. Complexity hides an elegance of simplicity and what makes fighting games truly beautiful. These players want to introduce this beauty to as many people as possible, and Smash Bros. allows this.

Second, while previous games in the Super Smash Bros. franchise were devetrloped by its director Sakurai Masahiro with a team that was more experienced in other genres, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was developed with the help of Namco, which is known for fighting games such as Tekken and Soul Calibur. Although there haven’t been any specific statements made on this matter, I believe that the development team, rather than viewing Melee as their template, looked more to conventional fighting games for ways to add competitive depth to Super Smash Bros. and that the mechanics of the new game reflect this. In discussions with Dave Cabrera, a friend and someone much more knowledgeable about fighting games than I am, he had a similar impression. Ultra David and James Chen also state how they find Melee to be a more momentum-based game similar to the also-unconventional Marvel vs. Capcom series while Smash Wii U is more positional, similar to Street Fighter games.

The result is a clash of perspectives. On the one hand, the Melee community, which has developed its conception for what makes a good competitive game based on Melee and the idea of hidden complexity, sees Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as lacking many of the elements that made Melee great, and that it is therefore a lesser experience. On the other hand, the fighting game community, which bases its standards for fighting games on Street Fighter II and the idea of hidden simplicity, has in this new Super Smash Bros. something that exemplifies that concept while also catering more to their tastes. Whatever the reasoning, it’s clear that there are two different philosophies at work driving discussion. As for how these two ways of thinking can meet, I recommend you watch the video below of Bruce Lee, replace “martial arts” with fighting games, and consider how each side could potentially use his words to support their respective arguments.

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NOTE: This is a translation of a post by noted Japanese blogger Tamagomago, concerning the subject of “otaku” in current society and its portrayal in Genshiken. You can follow him on Twitter @tamagomago and check out his, Tamagomago Gohan.

I’ve also translated some of his older posts on Genshiken before. You can find them here, here, and here.

All of the image links use Tamagomago’s original Amazon referrals.

As a final note, Tamagomago has a particular writing style that involves separating sentences by line, and separating general ideas by larger spaces. In the past I’ve consolidated these things into paragraphs both for readability and because WordPress used to have a hard time with multiple line breaks. This time around, I’ve tried to leave his general style intact.

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Genshiken is a manga that I love.

I love it, and that’s precisely why it’s…

 

Painful.

 

The current Madarame Harem arc is really quite interesting.

Personally speaking, I read Volume 17 and I’m on the side that thinks, “It has to be Sasahara’s sister, right?”

That’s the sort of fun I’m having with it.

 

However…

It isn’t about “otaku” anymore.

It’s interesting as a “romantic story about a pathetic guy.”

 

This isn’t a problem with the storytelling in Genshiken.

It’s because times have changed.

The existence we call “otaku” has ceased to be.

That’s all there is to it.

———————————————————————-

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Genshiken Volume 1 came out in 2002.

That’s the same year as King Gainer, Ojamajo Doremi Dokkaan!, Sister Princess RePure, Haibane Renmei, She, the Ultimate Weapon, Mahoromatic, Tokyo Mew Mew, Asagiri no Miko, Abenobashi Shopping Arcade, Azumanga Daioh, and RahXephon.

I think that it’s easy to understand the atmosphere at this time.

 

It was the dawning of a new Internet era. It was a time when 2chan had barely come into prominence.

There was no Nico Nico Douga.

 

We were just beginning to find freedom from the Eva Shock. We were already free from Miyazaki Tsutomu.

We felt guilty using the word otaku, and it was kind of embarrassing to like anime.

Anime such as Haruhi were yet to debut, and while we could make friends with people who also like anime and manga, we weren’t that open about it.

Those were the times.

 

Sasahara found in the Society for Modern Visual Culture a place where he could lay bare his otaku self. That was the first step.

Ogiue’s story was about fighting the trauma towards manga she harbored within her heart. That was the second step.

 

In both cases, the on-looker, the non-otaku, was symbolized by Saki.

———————————————————————-

Now, things have changed completely.

In fact, Genshiken Nidaime has been different from the very beginning.

In the first part of Nidaime, the series depicts the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture as a space for a group of BL-loving girls to work together.

Also, it’s the story of Hato, a crossdressing boy troubled by his worries.

Characters like Ogiue and Hato already have their pasts resolved by this part of the story.

 

In this first part of Nidaime, the state of “otaku” reaches a turning point just as the first chapter in Madarame’s story concludes.

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In this volume, we see the demise of the image of the ’00s “otaku.”

 

“Otaku” as a status, “otaku” as a community we depend on, the fun of trying to co-exist as both a member of society and as an “otaku.”

This is where it all ends.

 

When I say it’s over, I don’t mean, “there are no longer any otaku.”

Rather, the very word “otaku” has become hybridized.

 

That’s why Madarame, as an old-type otaku, has lost his place.

———————————————————————-

Madarame is actually a ’90s-type otaku.

Sasahara is a ’00s-type.

What’s different, you ask? It’s that the period between ’95 and ’96 is the dividing line before more and more people could be considered anime viewers and not otaku.

Sasahara gives the impression that “Otaku are out there, huh…”

Madarame is among the group of otaku who had to seek out others like themselves.

In an era without online networks, fans used analog means to get together and have fun.

It wasn’t a match over a network, but rather two people getting together to play.

———————————————————————-

For Madarame, he no longer needs to identify himself as “otaku.”

He certainly doesn’t look quite so sour anymore.

 

To put it boldly, everyone has become Kousaka.

Kousaka, unlike the other members of Genshiken, does not look like an otaku at first glance.

This is not something to be depressed or troubled over. Quite the opposite, it’s become totally okay to express your otaku hobbies.

———————————————————————-

I think this is a good thing.

There’s no longer that feeling of suffering and turmoil, like what Ogiue experienced.

There’s no longer that feeling that you can only ever belong to this specific group of people, like Kuga-pii.

Actually, Kugapii is in a nice place, working as a company employee.

 

There also isn’t anyone in Saki’s position.

In fact, I think that, even if Saki were perhaps in the club now, she wouldn’t have to pull everyone along like she used to.

After all, there’s no one left like Madarame, who would hem and haw. Everyone would just say, “Okay, okay,” in response to Saki and that would be the end of it.

You can think of that final kick Saki-chan gives Madarame as the demise of the “’90s otaku.”

 

Let’s talk about Sasahara’s little sister, who has dived straight into the thick of things.

The cabaret club story was interesting, wasn’t it?

That’s the feeling I’m talking about.

51JocGkSxsLTheory on the Adaptive Hybridization of Otaku subculture and Yankii Fast Food/Scenery

This book also came out recently. It’s really interesting so you should check it out.

I think the combination of otaku and subculture is easy to understand.

But they’ve also put yankii in there.

These yankii treat being a yankii nonchalantly, and even if they come into contact with otaku or subculture, it doesn’t bother them.

Here, I think you have the basis for the back and forth between the younger Sasahara and Madarame.

———————————————————————-

At this point, it’s unnecessary to identity oneself as “otaku,” nor is there a need to move and hide in secrecy. The fence between men and women has come loose.

 

Is it still necessary to depict “otaku?”

 

Works about otaku have been increasing.

However, everyone essentially looks cheerful, don’t they? They certainly don’t appear to be all that gloomy.

I think that Kirino in Oreimo has times when she looks gloomy, downright sour even (“Erotic games aren’t just popular shlock anymore, they’re deep!!)

Comparing her appearance and actions, however, she possesses the spirit of a retro otaku.

How is the “maid café” genre doing in manga? They don’t really touch Akihabara culture anymore, so there’s no way to tell.

Characters who go to Comic Market have become a part of normal manga.

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I totally love this manga.

There’s a lack of refinement in all directions. That said, there’s a cute underclassman (I won’t allow this! Take a good look!!).

There’s a lack of refinement, but take a look at their fashion. They’re plenty cheerful.

 

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This comes across more as fantasy, but Denki-Gai no Honya-san also has pure, proper otaku.

However, rather than being about otaku, I think that this work is actually more a story of “positive self-affirmation.”

It’s okay to read erotic manga! It’s okay to enjoy BL!

Along those lines, it even says, “It’s okay for you to fall in love!”

———————————————————————-

Genshiken is also similar to these manga. It’s a 2010s otaku… wait, the word otaku no longer exists. It’s changed direction to become a communication manga about a group of people who share a hobby.

The girls who appear in the story are, to put it differently, “reality.”

In terms of their fantastic elements, they would probably be ranked as:

 

Hato > Sue > Angela > Sasahara’s sister

 

The more to the right you go, the closer you get to reality.

In a way, Hato is a boy who acts out the role of the “ideal girl” (it’s not a gender identity disorder), so naturally I’m comfortable including him in this.

Angela is a little more likely to exist in Japan, even though she can be described as the girl who wants to date “OTAKU.” [Translator’s note: “OTAKU” here was originally written in English]

———————————————————————-

This Genshiken is a romance manga that’s cheerful and filled with happiness.

It’s fun.

 

It’s fun, but reading it is painful.

 

My own sense is that of Madarame’s generation, the ‘90s otaku.

 

It’s come to the point that I’ve said my farewells to that era, and I’m giving my regards to the younger generations.

 

I no longer build myself up into a kind of character.

———————————————————————-

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I have more empathy for this work.

It’s because he’s an adult otaku. More than that, I have a lot of friends who are just like this.

I understand this type, someone who’s no longer doing the otaku thing at full force, but still trudges along that path.

———————————————————————-

Perhaps Genshiken has at least made me into an “old boy,” who goes about saying, “Ah, youth!”

But that’s not quite right, is it?

There’s no gloom. There’s no anguish.

If it had become a completely different, unrelated world, I could say, “Wow! Look how this manga shines! How wonderful!” but that would only be a halfhearted, depressed reaction.

To grow up along with Genshiken wouldn’t in itself make me feel so awful.

“All of you, please move on.”

“You don’t belong here anymore.”

If you look at it that way, it’s painful.

———————————————————————-

However… it’s interesting so I keep reading.

It doesn’t matter that this is Genshiken. Manga is manga.

Yajima, Sue, Hato, all of them are cute. In particular, Yajima has gotten increasingly cute.

Ah, youngins!

 

Actually, on a personal level I find this girl to be the most amazing one of all.

“This alone makes Genshiken Volume 17 worth it.”

-Gogo Tamagomago of the Dead

 

Yoshitake is the character I like best in all of Nidaime.

It’s just, here’s a character that really positive, acting as the axis that influences both the suffering Hato and Yajima, all while Yoshitake herself doesn’t move one bit.

This face is the first time we get to see what’s underneath.

Ah.

She’s always cheerful, but doesn’t it seem like there’s something underneath the surface?

No matter what, I can’t take my eyes off of Yoshitake.

 

Speaking of which, someone (a woman) once said, “Yoshitake’s fashion is really female otaku-esque.”

Somehow, I can understand that at least a little.

Though, it’s more like, Yoshitake is the very image of the female otaku during the time when Nidaime first began.

———————————————————————-

I took a long time to write this.

 

Right now, I’m not an “otaku” nor am I part of a “subculture.”

I realize I’m now an adult who doesn’t “belong” to anything like that.

I think it’s a joyful thing. I can like what I like and then write about it.

 

And yet, why is it so painful?

Why do I feel such sadness when I read Genshiken?

 

It’s probably because the first part of Genshiken is a story of youth coming from the idea of “deviation,” but between Hato’s change of heart and Madarame’s situation being reset, there’s no need to be deviant.

It’s a sentiment I don’t understand, and it’s just not something I have in common with them.

Please give me the courage to continue along in this deviant subculture – Tamagomago Gohan

Even as I become an adult, I don’t feel like one – Tamagomago Gohan

Even re-reading the above articles, I really don’t understand after all.

Even though I understand that I’ve become an adult and moved on.

 

The depression that comes from Genshiken continues to grow.

It’s simply that I’ve reached a bothersome age.

 

Is it just that I’m still trying to find myself?

———————————————————————-

51uvEtLeceL

Actually, I feel like this title can give me a hint.

It’s a manga I absolutely cannot ignore.

That’s because, when I read it I feel relieved.

I feel like there’s a hint here.

———————————————————————-

Ah, could it be? Is it because they don’t really talk about their favorite things in Genshiken Volume 17?

They do for a little bit, but their words feel somehow unnatural.

However, I understand that these are “otaku.” They’re otaku who don’t depend on being anything.

———————————————————————-

And yet, I love Genshiken.

 

The End.

———————————————————————-

Notes:

I had a realization that this is like what happened to rock music.

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Note: As is evidenced by some of my recent posts, I’ve been quite into the new Super Smash Bros. as of late, and have been participating in online discussions more because of it. Rather than keeping those posts in forums or on other sites, however, I’ve decided to also include them here as “supplemental” blog posts.

Taken from Smashboards:

I’m not competitive on the level of anyone in this discussion thread, but I wanted to post in here just because the direction of this conversation is one that I’ve seen fought a million times over in multiple competitive gaming communities. I’m not a game designer so I can’t say firsthand what works and what doesn’t, but what I mainly want to say is that it’s very easy to take a firm position on how competitive games “should be” but it risks inadvertently accusing others of making or even playing games “incorrectly.”

Sirlin usually comes up in these arguments because of his emphasis on yomi and how polarizing it can be. To simplify Sirlin for a bit, he believes that execution barriers are the devil and if we could all play with purely our thoughts and intentions games would be much better. Essentially, Sirlin wants games to answer the question, who is the superior thinker? It makes sense, but mainly if you see games as “brains over brawn.”A number of years back Sirlin took a class on Starcraft Brood War that was being given at a university, and from his perspective one of the issues with Brood War is how tedious the game is in terms of things you have to click to even play the game at a remotely decent level. I can’t remember the exact words, but he basically suggested something like a maximum cap to APM so that who presses buttons faster wouldn’t be a measure of skill. Instead, it would be about using your actions wisely instead of simply some people getting more opportunities than others. Naturally, the Brood War community disagreed. It loved the idea of APM as an execution barrier, or more specifically the combination of speed and precision needed to use it effectively. It separated chumps from champs, and when a great player is able to build his army so perfectly because he never misses a beat in his production cycles, it’s viewed as a thing of beauty.

We’ve heard it over and over again that fun is subjective. It’s the rebuttal that competitive Smash players use against the argument that they’re playing the game wrong because they don’t embrace the free for all chaos that Smash advertises itself as. It applies here too: different people get satisfaction out of games differently, and this includes competitive gaming as well. In other words, while Sirlin views games as a domain of the mind, some people like the idea of being able to defeat brains with brawn even in games. They like the idea that they can train up their “muscles”, and that, by being bigger, faster, and stronger too, even the most brilliant tactical mind in the world wouldn’t be able to keep up.

For some, mastering a frame-perfect 50-hit combo in an anime fighter sounds like the most tedious thing ever. You sit around, committing things to muscle memory, hardly a showing of your mental skill. However, for others, improving your ability to read the player and to think more critically in a match is too abstract a reward. Others still might believe that the true test of skill comes from managing luck and taking advantage of uncertainty, as in games like mahjong or Texas Hold ’em. Depending on where you fall between those two extremes, different games appeal to different people because of what they believe “competition” means. Bobby Fischer famously promoted a version of chess where starting positions were randomized because he believed that chess was becoming too reliant on memorizing openings, but it didn’t stick because, most likely, people on some level liked being able to improve by having superior memorization compared to their opponents (inertia from years and years of tradition was probably a factor as well).

I think the implicit disagreement as to how games should be competitive is what creates such tension within Smash Bros. itself. You have this massive clash of philosophies within a single franchise, and even within a single game. Putting aside the fact that Melee is more mechanically difficult than Smash 4 (as far as we know), and that this has created some dissatisfaction for players who believe the Melee way is the best, even Smash 4 itself has different philosophies behind its characters which can cater to different people’s idea of “competitive fun.” We’ve seen the argument that Sonic’s gameplay is degenerative because it forces the opponent to have to guess where he’s going to be and throw out moves in the hopes of catching Sonic, but there are people who love the idea of games as gambles, of having to shoot into the darkness because there’s a thrill in being able to more effectively navigate uncertainty. This isn’t to deny the frustration fighting Sonic can create, nor is it an argument that Sonic or any other character is balanced or imbalanced. Rather, it’s about the fact that different characters in Smash end up embodying different concepts of competitive play, and when they clash there’s always the chance that arguments of a character being bad for gameplay for being too simple or complex or whatever. It’s important to think beyond our own conception of competitive fun and to be able to see from the perspective of others.

I’ve been playing quite a bit of the new Super Smash Bros., first for Nintendo 3DS and soon for Wii U. In both cases I waited in line along with millions of other folks with the intention of playing the game until the cows come home. In celebration of the true beginning of the 4th generation of Smash Bros., I’d like to talk about the idea of using “inferior” characters.

Whenever I see a comment that X or Y character is garbage, something compels me to try that character out. I don’t consider myself an exceptionally talented player, nor am I going to win any tournaments any time soon. Even if i were, I also definitely don’t think I will be responsible for revolutionizing any character’s style or for defying tier lists in a major way, like Taj did for Mewtwo or aMSa has done for Yoshi in Melee. Instead, I think what prompts me to start delving into seemingly weaker characters is that when I see others so strongly deny a character’s ability to compete, it makes me genuinely curious.

Is this character really as bad as they say? Is there perhaps some aspect to the character that may have been overlooked? While in the end they might very well be right and a certain character could end up being the bottom of the barrel, often times I feel as if there is some incompatibility between a player’s preferred style and a character’s attributes that could lead to a bit of wasted potential (even if that potential might not be particularly high). For example, I often see “this character has no combos!” on a character not built for combos, or using a very aggressively oriented character defensively or vice versa.

It’s like there’s something peculiar at work in the minds of players, at times unspoken philosophies which dictate how an individual approaches their game. Case in point, when players/commentators Scar and Toph discuss why Melee player Hax is not a Captain Falcon at heart due to his preference for perfect, impenetrable technical skill over relying on reading the opponent. I want to try and adapt myself to different frames of mind for different characters.

My current project is Meta Knight. He’s had something of a fall from grace since Brawl where he was the undisputed best character, but there are all these little aspects of the character that make me feel as if those who regard Meta Knight as terrible are perhaps missing something vital to the character. Of course, now there’s a patch and Meta Knight has gained some extra tools, but even before that I felt that while I wasn’t going to wow the world with my Meta Knight, as I practiced and saw more of his ins and outs, I honestly felt that it was possible to put all the pieces together and create a formidable opponent, or at least one who would put up a decent fight against all opponents. Now that he’s been augmented in certain areas (notably killing power), things will probably be easier.

This is less a point of pride for me and more a learning process. If you read this blog and are familiar with my anime and manga content, I think you might see this approach applied there as well. Of course, unlike anime and manga in Smash Bros. there’s really only one criteria for how strong something is (how often it wins), but I think that difference is sort of inevitable.

I’ll see you online!

mahjong-4dan

In December of 2010 I wrote a post about how I had finally achieved 3-Dan on the mahjong website Tenhou. Finally, after three and a half years, I have hit the next level and rose into 4-dan. The fact that it’s taken me this amount of time to get to 4-dan is either great or embarrassing depending on your own mahjong skills, but I realized that part of the reason I was finally able to break that barrier was that I had stepped away from the game for a while (unless you count posts about Saki or Akagi, I haven’t really posted much about mahjong lately), and that this has in some ways contributed to me being able to play better.

A few months ago someone asked me, “How do you not get angry when playing on Tenhou?” My answer was simple: I do get angry, all the time. Mahjong is a game that takes a lot of mental energy and so long sessions end up being quite taxing on the brain. Since about September of last year I’ve had to really focus on my work, so that risk that mental and emotional exhaustion that comes from playing mahjong wasn’t really worth it to me. During this time, I made occasional trips back to the table (virtual or otherwise) that reminded me of how rusty I become from playing less often, but also actually helped me to distance myself from mahjong and to improve my mental game immensely.

As with many things, one of the dangerous things about going on tilt in mahjong is that your “vision” in terms of what is possible or what is supposed to happen starts to narrow. When you’re not winning hands despite being in great positions, or when you feel like it’s totally “unfair” that you got screwed over in some way, it can cloud your judgment and cause you to make mistakes you may not have made otherwise. One sign I’ve learned to watch out for is when I get too desperate for pinfu. It may be the simplest hand in the game to achieve, but when I’m so obsessed with trying to win “anything at all” I realize I’m not actually playing mahjong. Stepping away from the game has helped me to realize this.

Another thing stepping away allows for, at least far as my relatively low level is concerned, is that it has helped me develop more versatility. Tenhou breeds a certain kind of mahjong player: someone who’s conservative in play, calculates risk extensively, and has a decent head for numbers. It’s the “proper” way to play mahjong, and so when on the Tenhou ladder you tend to learn to play against people like that. However, if thrown in a situation where others are playing “improperly,” doing the things that are suboptimal yet somehow winning anyway, I’ve noticed that a lot of better players have trouble dealing with this, including myself. What I realized eventually was that it was just as much my problem for not having the adaptability to deal with different types of players regardless of whether they pay no attention to theory and probability. It’s kind of like complaining about button mashers in fighting games or not being prepared for a Shedinja in Pokemon. “Nobody does that! You’ll lose more than you’ll win with that!” And yet, at the end of the day, you’re the one who couldn’t deal with it.

Speaking of fighting games, I recommend this video from fighting game community veteran James Chen on “reading your opponent.” I’ve skipped to the part where he talks about why “advanced” players tend to be kind of double-edged swords because they play too close to the theoretical optimal.

Perhaps the most significant if seemingly contradictory thing is that because I’ve distanced myself from mahjong, I’ve actually developed a better sense of my own style, how I want to play. Thus, when I managed to finally find not just some free time, but a week or two to where I could redirect my mental energy to other tasks again, I decided to get back on Tenhou and finally aim for 4-dan. There were of course many highs and lows, but I think that, as I explained to an extent above, trying to “make up for what you’ve lost” from one game to the next is the wrong way to look at it. The more you think, “I got 4th this one game, so I need to get 1st in the next two games!” the more likely you’re going to fall further down the hole. It happened to me quite a bit, as I hadn’t merely stayed in 3-dan the whole time, but actually moved between 1-dan and 3-dan as my own frustration got the better of me. Of course luck is a factor in this game, but not letting it get the better of you emotionally is also important.

mahjong-chihou

In the end, if I can get hit by a chihou of all things (SERIOUSLY A CHIHOU) and still rebound, then I feel pretty good about my future prospects. That said, I still haven’t fully memorized the score chart. Oops.

The depiction of race and culture in Pokemon over its nearly 20-year history has been a work in progress. Much of this has to do with the very Japanese origins of the game and their exportation to the rest of the world. A mostly assumed Japanese cast of characters suddenly wasn’t, like when the character Sakaki was renamed Giovanni to evoke the image of an Italian mob boss. At the same time, Pokemon with seemingly innocuous elements within Japan such as Jynx became a legitimate concern against the increased awareness in the United States of the history of discriminatory visual depictions of black people. Since then, thanks in all likelihood to its international success, Pokemon has taken considerable steps to try and be more culturally sensitive and inclusive, mainly through the depiction of characters with different skin tones and features. In some cases, the characters have more definite racial features, and in others they’re left vague, and the question of whether or not an “ambiguous brown” is for the better becomes an especially difficult question that is nevertheless worth exploring.

124Jynx_OS_animeJynx

The change to include characters who are neither vaguely white or Asian in appearance began with Pokemon Black and White, a series which I would argue not-so-coincidentally takes place in Pokemon universe equivalent of New York City, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the entire world. Unlike the regions of Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh (all based on areas of Japan), the Unova region (Isshu in Japan) would not reflect the NYC influence properly if everyone was of the same skin color (what sometimes gets referred to as Friends syndrome).

Black_White_IrisBlack_White_MarshalBlack_White_Lenora_2

Iris, Marshal, Lenora

Major characters of color were introduced during these games, such as the Gym Leaders Lenora (Aloe) and Iris, as well as the Elite Four’s Marshal (Renbu), all of whom are bosses one must face before eventually challenging the final opponent, the Pokemon League Champion. All three of these characters are shown to be strong trainers, and Iris even featured prominently in the Pokemon anime. At the same time, all three possess varying degrees of ethnic identifiers. Iris is difficult to pinpoint, Marshal has features which indicate black, and Lenora is undeniably black to a possibly stereotypical fault. Originally wearing an apron in her official design, the proximity of this depiction to the Aunt Jemima-esque mammy stereotypes of the United States (in a game based on a US city!) prompted a revision which portrays Lenora simply slinging the apron over her shoulder (though she still wears it in the in-game sprite). This is far from a Jynx scenario, as Lenora is both a clever gym leader and the curator of her own museum, and her design is still fairly restrained, but it is rather telling that the approach taken with the next generation of games, Pokemon XY, lean closer to Iris’s style.

XY_Grant                XY_Olympia

Grant, Olympia

Pokemon XY, which takes place in the France-inspired Kalos region, features not only Gym Leaders Grant (Zakuro) and Olympia (Gojika) but also individual trainers throughout the game such as the male Pokemon Ranger and Rising Star. As is evident from their designs, a greater amount of care is put into them as well. The location of not-France is also perhaps an influence here, as taking into account the centuries-old Arabic influence in Europe, colonialism, and even just recent immigration from other continents creates a complex milieu of cultures that differs in significant ways from that of the United States. The vagueness of these character designs may be a reflection of that aspect.

However, the biggest change is undoubtedly the fact that Pokemon XY actually allows you to choose the skin color (and eventually hair color) for your player character. Now, in addition to choosing gender (a feature available since the second-generation Pokemon Crystal), it is possible to get closer to having your avatar appear the way you do (or don’t, as the case may be). The ethnic vagueness idea comes to the forefront here, as only three skin tones are available, which leads to the question of whether or not this is the right direction to take, if it’s perhaps a washing out of cultural identity.

malecharactercustomizationchoices

femalecharactercustomizationchoices

I’m of two minds about this. With some characters such as the Gym Leader Marlon (Shizui), it’s actually difficult to tell if he’s supposed to be a darker skin color or just someone with a nice tan. The lack of concrete information, as well as the fact that many of the characters have very Japanese-sounding names in Japanese regardless of appearance, makes it easy to accuse them of just taking “white/Asian” designs and swapping the hues. On the other hand, it’s erroneous to assume that certain features are meant to evoke one race rather than another. After all, it’s a classic mistake to assume that anime characters “look white” because of their large eyes. When the racial features are relatively nondescript, perhaps it gives them a versatility that prevents those features from being abused as stereotyped caricature. That’s not to say that future games couldn’t benefit from adding more skin tones, for example, but there’s something to be said about allowing players to make their own interpretations.

Whether or not the racial ambiguity of character designs in Pokemon helps or hinders (or both), one positive that is hard to deny is the benefit of just having so many depictions of characters of color being happy and successful. They talk to dragons, climb mountains, run museums, practice martial arts, and go on adventures. They’re intelligent, dedicated, compassionate, funny, people you can look up to and want to know better. They’re role models with limitless potential. It’s especially notable that, in the follow-up games of Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, Iris would go from being a Gym Leader to being the Pokemon League Champion herself. The Pokemon games have always done a good job of portraying female characters, with three of the most recent games featuring female Champions, and to have a woman of color be the strongest and most celebrated individual in the land is nothing to scoff at.

Black_2_White_2_Iris

In the end, what I see as the greatest contributing  factor in the depiction of diversity in Pokemon is that the series has not gotten complacent. With every passing generation of games they continue to make improvements, and it’s a likely sign that this will continue as long as Pokemon stays alive.

In response to recent shows such as Kill la Kill and even Dokidoki! Precure I’ve been seeing a particular criticism thrown around lately:

“These characters are bad because they have no character development.”

In a way, it’s pretty much the go-to question for a lot of things, because when we traditionally think of a character-driven narrative, a character starts off in one place and ends up in another. Sometimes it’s a physical displacement, sometimes it’s an emotional one, and often times the two go hand in hand. When it comes to basic storytelling, it’s about as reliable a structure as it gets.

Reliable, yes. The formula by which all characters should be judged, no.

I understand that character development can be a powerful thing, and seeing a character grow can be a tremendously satisfying experience, but when “character development” is bandied about as doctrine it comes across as a Beginner’s Guide to Criticism. People end up being so eager to establish the “right way” to construct a story that they effectively throw out the baby with the bath water. “Static” characters, or even static elements of characters, have their own place, and are capable of being part of great stories. However, the narrative arc need not be about them in particular.

There are many ways to portray characters, and not all of them need to have the hero go through the typical kind of character progression. Does anyone watch Akagi asking, “Where’s Akagi’s character development?” Is Kenshiro an issue because he doesn’t have “character progression” beyond getting angrier and sadder as the series goes along? Raoh’s “development” is more a retcon which turned him from just an Evil Guy to someone who wanted to bring order to chaos. Yet all their characters work for what they are and what they need to be. That’s not to say that character development shouldn’t ever matter at all (and both Kill la Kill and Dokidoki! Precure have more character development than either Akagi or Fist of the North Star), but it shouldn’t be held up as holy doctrine that a story can only succeed if its character progression is sufficient.

I think this is why people are so often eager to point out that some character is a “Mary Sue.” This character who is on some level larger than life or a product of wish fulfillment is assaulted by the big book of how narrative tropes are “supposed” to work, and the attackers don’t care about anything but the idea that stories should adhere to it.

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