Sunday, May 11, 2014

Genshiken Nidaime: Victims, Villains, and Gender Relations among Japanese Otaku -- PART FOUR

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Madarame's Perdicament
No matter who Madarame chooses, somebody is going to lose and get hurt.  It dawns on him when he asks Hato if he can bring Sue with him next time he comes over to cook for him--an extremely feminine move that screams "I have romantic feelings for you."  Hato is visibly hurt by this and Madarame realizes that in the manga and anime, the protagonist in the harem always seems to resolve all conflicts in a way that is noncommittal and maintains the status-quo.  Nobody is hurt or rejected.  The power balance, the detente between the other harem members, is perpetual.  To an American, this is absolutely boring and why I can't watch Ranma 1/2 or any other harem anime (especially after I heard about how the ending of the manga resolves absolutely nothing).  To a Japanese person, this is reassuring because wa--harmony--is maintained and Japanese values are reaffirmed.

Oh the humanity!!!
Mada knows he's not equipped for this.  One misstep and somebody gets hurt.  The resulting chain-reaction could lead to him in an even worse social position than he is.  All of his friends could be lost.  What's worse is, Mada can't not do anything because even that could lead to a disruption of harmony.  He never knows if an off-hand, innocent comment could completely blow the whole situation apart and lead to hurt feelings, anger, and all kinds of other social eruptions.  In the latest issue, Hato gives him an escape hatch--he's perfectly happy maintaining the harem's balance-of-power.  He's willing to take the reins of control from Mada.

Here, Mada has a dilemma.  Does he take agency or surrender it to Hato?  To Mada, if he accepts control over his actions and authorship for what he says and does, it seems inevitable that someone will get hurt and harmony will be lost.  Male authorship, male agency, results in a cascade of catastrophes in the female-oriented Genshiken.  Hato's agency doesn't count as male--he's in female mode, possessed of the spirit of a woman and actively annihilating his male self (psychological self-castration, perhaps, or do I go too far?).

Poor Mada.  Just become an herbivore and tell everyone to screw off.

Or is that where Shimoku is headed?  Will Mada become another statistic and simply swear off love and become a grass-eater?  There's a sort of depressed fatalism in that.  Frankly, if Mada chooses the herbivore path, it will result in a regaining of dignity, empowerment, and agency.  It may even be a choice he can make without alienating the rest of the harem, letting it dissolve gently and easily without conflict.  However, it would simply be another wall, another defense mechanism to protect his heart, a tatemae over his honne.  He'd be back to where he started when he first was introduced in the very beginning of the original Genshiken.  His illness would be the same, it's just the symptoms that would have changed.

Unless Shimoku pulls some awesome stunts, Mada is going to either break Hato's heart and end up a bad guy or Mada is going to succumb to Hato's advances and be unmade, annihilated, nullified as a character and turned into an empty plot device.  Mada's biggest problem is that he cares.  Yoshitake is just amused by the whole thing.  No matter what happens, she wins.  It's everybody else that gets hurt.

Yajima, the Female Mada
Yoshitake is the stereotypical fujoshi.  She's not a real person but a literary device.  Like I said, she's the villain of the comic (cue the hatemail and angry comments!).  She might look like she's the female Madarame, what with her tendency to go on long diatribes, but that's all an illusion.  It isn't a defense mechanism.

Yajima, however, is the prototypical fujoshi.  She embodies the same sort of fringe mechanic Madarame does, and indeed, does it better than Ogiue did.  Yajima needs to protect herself and her feelings as much as Madarame.  Her crush on Hato puts her in a predicament as painful as Mada's crush on Saki.  Is it possible that in a Genshiken Sandaime she'll find herself surrounded by a male harem?  One can only hope.

In this regard, Yoshitake is a psychologically violent person.  Disguised as Yajima's friend, she pushes, prods and eggs Yajima on.  It remains to be seen (in my opinion) if she is actually Yajima's friend and not just Loki putting the mistletoe javelin in Hoder's hand.  (Really bad metaphor, I know.)  If Yajima gets shot down by Hato, will Yoshitake cackle and cavort and humiliate Yajima as Keiko did when Saki shot down Madarame?

Who knows.  These may become moot points and Shimoku could completely upend everything and Yoshitake actually comes out being the hero of the whole darn story.  What a bait-and-switch that would be!

Sue is the Real Hero
Now Hearts of Furious Fancies had this to say about Sue being a hero (see here for the post):
Or something else is going on: With all the yuri teasing that Kio Shimoku has been dropping onto Sue, could she be watching, pining away as the girly-boy of her dreams dotes on an inappropriate guy? Heartbreaking! Nawwww… Sue too cool for that… But if she likes the soup, she should demand cooking lessons.If circumstances force Sue into doing something heroic we are more likely to get one smitten Mada and a full circular triangle; field strength %98 and holding.. We need a crisis, something that threatens the entire Genshiken. Saki was able to “save” the Genshiken from the stuco last time, Could a V.2 Sue do the same?Hero or not, Sue will not glomp onto Mada. Sue already has a more or less platonic hero fixation with Ogiue, and what Ogiue represents to her cannot be found (yet) in anyone else. Neither Mada or Hato can claim to have gone from shameful abject yaoi fiend to successful circle leader, dojin artist and semi-pro mangaka who won over the boy she once shipped, and who supports and protects her kouhais (- heh! Wait a second! Could Hato also be stuck in a loop of Ogiue worship ???) If Sue becomes heroic, she will do so in emulation of Ogiue and the needle of Hato’s heart will swing to her as to a lodestone. Madarame can’t do that. Then again if Hato becomes Ogiue-ish heroic, Sue would fixate on the new Hato. They would make one heck of a mutual admiration society.
And here I very much disagree.  Sue may have hero-worship for Ogiue but she's already a hero in her own right.  She just doesn't realize it.

Nobody else seems to, either.

Sue makes me proud.  She plays the stereotypical American loli fangirl but in reality, she's Angela's foil as well as Yoshitake's.  Sue is far, far more sensitive to the mood and tone surrounding her than any American would be assumed to be.  Shimoku has taken yet another trope and turned it on its ear.

Sue's actions and words are always calculated to have an effect on the group, an effect that redirects attention away from an uncomfortable situation, lightens the atmosphere, or otherwise helps to alleviate any actual, deep disruption of harmony.  Sue will play the dumb American and say something ridiculous, troubling the surface of the harmony briefly so that the deeper currents can remain untouched and preserved.  If anything, I'd argue that Sue has done far, far more to keep the Genshiken from fragmenting than most people think.

Dun, dun, DUUUUNNNNN!!!

Sue sees where Angela is going, suggesting a multi-partner sexual encounter involving herself, Mada, Sue, and Hato.  Sue fails to preemptively shut Angela down with her fist but that failure is unimportant.  What is important is that she tries.  Later, when Keiko and Angela compete at the festival to see who will "comfort" Mada while he is injured, Sue steps in, defeats them both, and preserves Mada's "virtue."  Sue disapproves of Mada's assignment as spy on Hato and his high school friends and tries to drive him out of his hiding spot.  Sue is the moral center of the group in this regard and her actions demonstrate an actual concern for Mada's feelings and the integrity of the group as a whole.

So, why is Sue and Hato now competing for Mada?  I think it is because Sue, despite her protestations to love only Ogiue, actually does care for Madarame.  I wouldn't go so far as to suggest she loves him but she does care about him and seems to realize the threat that Hato poses to both Madarame and himself.  Sue does care about Hato and his feelings and has clued in on the reality that Hato is going down a self-destructive path.  Perhaps setting herself up as competition is an attempt to save both Hato and Madarame.

Of course, it could be much more mundane.  I could be reading too much into Sue's character and behaviors.  However, Shimoku's been doing too much with her character, having her break the mold of what is expected of the waifish, loli-looking American stereotype.  Because Sue's Japanese speaking ability is limited (though improving) and she's often limited to conveying her thoughts and feelings through quotes and halting, stilted phrases.  Hence, her interactions are quite puzzling.  At first, she seemed to be trying to make Hato face his attraction to Madarame ("Mada is sou uke!").  Now, I'm not so sure.  Maybe she was trying to make Hato realize something else?  Sue's a tough nut to crack.

After all, in the Chapter 88 on 4chan an anon asked, "Why is Sue so best girl?" and another anon replied, "Because she's a fujoshi, anon.  In fact, not only is she a fujoshi, she's one that ships real people, and tries to force her ships onto them regardless of their actual sexual preferences.  If she wasn't cute and a wacky gaijin you'd hate her."

At the time that seemed plausible.  Indeed, at the time, I downright agreed with the second anon.  Now... I'm not so certain.  She's definitely jockeying for a position against Hato.  There definitely seems to be a degree of chemistry between her and Madarame as well.  And I cannot forget that innocent little kiss she gave him at Comiket to make him jump into view while he was supposed to be spying.

So... What Now?
Genshiken is, at heart, about friendship and mutual support.
Why bother? from the start, the Genshiken was not an allegory of otaku redemption, but one of accommodation and finding the strength of friendship and community. To find support from others you have to take the risk of rubbing up against others, and most of these others are not going to be completely to your taste. The situations that emerge are not all going to be within your comfort zone. In the Genshiken, the most important part of learning how to be open with others has been the breaking down of the walls that separate male and female fandoms as a microcosm of larger problems in Japanese society.  --Hearts of Furious Fancies, "Why Hato: Build Up Logically."
I won't disagree with this.  Conflict, however, keeps a story interesting and the conflicts within Genshiken Nidaime are far, far, far more complex than the ones in the original Genshiken.  Shimoku has really raised the bar for himself.  The above post is not a condemnation of what he's writing.  It is simply my attempt to analyze some of the dynamics between the characters that no one on earth has seemed to see.  The most important thing I can point to is that I do not perceive friendship and community at work except between the females.  The males are no longer overtly supportive.  Part of this is due to the obstacles of geography, employment, and other realities of the Japanese working-adult lifestyle.  Mada is not supported but objectified.

This is the core issue I perceive in Genshiken Nidaime.  Can males survive in a female-oriented space?  Are we human beings damned to forever live in clubhouses with painted signs saying, "No girls allowed" and "No boys allowed"?

I think Shimoku is building up to something in which this issue is resolved and not perpetuated.  I don't think Shimoku is saying that males must be objectified by and exiled from the female space.  I do think he is tackling gender-dynamics head-on.  I'm not sure where he is going with those dynamics but my analysis should reveal a lot of deeper, gender-driven conflicts and how these conflicts effect a number of these characters on a more psychological level.  At least, I hope.  I am, after all, not Japanese, I am American and I could have totally gotten the entire thing wrong.

And hey, I could totally, absolutely, 100% be mischaracterizing Yoshitake.  Except for seeing her as Loki.  She's definitely the trickster god.


Armando Ezequil Gonzales said...

I dont know what it is but when i try to "Save Page As" and try to download the complete webpage the browser shits in itself and fails to download it. Meaning that i can only download it as "HTML Only" instead but without the images from the article and other things.

Oh yeah, i kinda do that to everything i read. Blame Sierra games and my Kleptomania. After all, you will NEVER know when this article is going to come in handy!

Dave Cesarano said...

Awesome. I'm glad you liked it that much. I doubt I'll ever publish it for money--that's why I posted it here in public. Besides, I do it because I enjoy it.

Mudakun said...

Wow! Your serious critical dialogue with my stuff is a real honour, and a treat to read. We obviously see different things in the Genshiken, but I feel lucky to be able to see a bit of what you see, and a bit of what I missed. I jotted a few notes while going through the post, but on second thought, it sounds silly for me to bombard you with points. Instead, gotta ask, completely OT: have you seen Murasaki-iro Qualia? I have been trying to get a post together on it for a while.. the scanlators have some good background on their
site. It is a treat and a feast of western sf homages.

As for Genshiken, I do heartily recommend Matt Thorn's blog on Shojou manga, including recent personal posts and my oft-hobby-horsed Akiko Mizoguchi's doctoral thesis on yaoi/BL. They really are interesting as heck for the bigger issue of gender dysphoria in current Jp pop lit. Along with Saito Tamaki's BFG... That's why the Lacan is sneaking in, I prefer Baudrillard, but the post-Lacan stuff is inevitable as Dr. Tamaki even praised Genshiken P1 in his book. Tamaki is very big on Lacan. I would be interested in what connections you would make, if any of this stuff is interesting to you.

Once again, regards and thanks for the good read!

Dave Cesarano said...


Wow, I never expected you to stumble across my blog but it is awesome you did.

Wow! Your serious critical dialogue with my stuff is a real honour, and a treat to read.

Likewise. And thanks for the compliments!

I jotted a few notes while going through the post, but on second thought, it sounds silly for me to bombard you with points.

It is totally not silly. This is a place where I kind of hammer out my ideas, thoughts, and feelings. If you want to hit me with a few points, go right ahead. This series of posts is seriously not a graduate thesis or anything of the sort and is bound to be far, far from flawless.

Instead, gotta ask, completely OT: have you seen Murasaki-iro Qualia?

Nope. Just looked it up. It looks interesting. There appears to be some real thinking going on about what it means to be human and the concept of free will.

It is a treat and a feast of western sf homages.

Sounds awesome.

As for Genshiken, I do heartily recommend Matt Thorn's blog on Shojou manga...

Is it linked on your site?

...including recent personal posts and my oft-hobby-horsed Akiko Mizoguchi's doctoral thesis on yaoi/BL.

I've looked Mizoguchi up and seen you reference her quite a bit.

They really are interesting as heck for the bigger issue of gender dysphoria in current Jp pop lit.

I've got a lot of thoughts about gender relations in Japanese society as a whole but what I've got in my mind is still a work in progress of sorts.

Along with Saito Tamaki's BFG...

If I ever get the chance to teach a college lit course or history course on modern Japan, I've thought very seriously about having Beautiful Fighting Girl in the syllabus.

That's why the Lacan is sneaking in, I prefer Baudrillard, but the post-Lacan stuff is inevitable as Dr. Tamaki even praised Genshiken P1 in his book. Tamaki is very big on Lacan.

Truthfully, I put a lot of that stuff in there as a joke, a kind of way to get revenge for the emphasis on Lacan. I had to read a lot of mid-to-late 20th century European philosophy for my European Historiography seminar in grad school and, being a classicist, often found it frustrating and obtuse. I still do, with some exceptions (notably Michel Foucault). Althusser, Derrida, and Saussure, in particular, drove me to drink and were particularly infuriating.

But my criticisms of these thinkers are for another occasion and I will admit, it is fun to apply their theories and models to a text.

Thanks again for the positive feedback. Like I said, I'm kinda surprised you found me. If I hadn't stumbled across your blog first, I'd have never thought about Genshiken the way in which you're writings prompted me. Though we might not see eye-to-eye on many issues, I still owe you a debt of gratitude for spurring me to consider these things with regards to that particular manga.