Friday, September 26, 2014


Mind you, we still haven't seen the complete picture of otaku within manga.  There are plenty of female otaku, and in particular there are the fujoshi, the BL fangirls whose fondness for ho-yay is matched only by their purchasing power and enthusiasm for the subject.  The final selection for this month deals with this topic.  Does it give it some to those down with boys' love, or is it as cruel as your stereotypical seme?

MY GIRLFRIEND'S A GEEK (Fujoshi Kanojo), based on the light novel  series by Pentabu & drawn by Rize Shinba.  First published in 2007, and first published in North America in 2010.

Taiga Mutou is a college kid seeking two things in his life: a good part-time job and a hot older woman to be his girlfriend.  He manages to score the former when he gets a warehouse job with a local clothing store.  There he meets his supervisor Yuiko Ameya, and with her Taiga hopes to gain the latter.  He starts making some headway with her, and even manages to arrange for a date.  Once together, Yuiko makes a confession: she's an otaku.  More specifically, she's a fujoshi, a BL fangirl.  Taiga doesn't understand the term at first and says that he'll love her no matter what.  That statement is put to the test as Yuiko reveals to him just how deep her BL fantasies go, all while Taiga does his best to keep her happy.

I don't know if it's entirely accurate to call Yuiko a "geek," but I guess Yen Press figured that it was a simpler and more marketable term than "fujoshi."  I can't entirely blame them on that front, as not only does it not have a simple English translation, but it's a term that comes with some negative baggage.  As such, I wondered how this series was going to handle the concept.  Would it go for easy jokes about fujoshi fandom, or would it be willing to give its titular character some heart to go with her shipping preferences?  Thankfully for the reader, this series chooses the latter approach.

Like train_man, this series was originally inspired by the online chronicles of a real life romance.  It started out as one man's blog about his relationship with his slash-happy sweetheart, which in turn was popular enough to turn into a light novel series, which in turn became this very manga.  Because of those real life roots, there's a very real, down-to-earth sweetness about the relationship between Taiga and Yuiko.  The first half of the volume is just about getting these two together as a couple, and it's as adorable as any romantic comedy.  Taiga is insecure about himself and his lack of experience with girls, but the story never exaggerates these for the sake of a laugh.  Even after he learns about Yuiko's fandom, he really does try to be understanding of her fandom, even if he doesn't get the terminology she uses and doesn't quite get the appeal of BL as a genre.  He's not completely willing to play along with her every whim and fantasy, but he does find his own ways to indulge her and her fandom.  Anybody who has ever dated a geek can very likely find some parallel to this in their own past or present relationships.  It was genuinely sweet to watch Taiga try to understand and find some common ground with Yuiko, even if her tastes are not to his own, not to mention a very mature and reasonable stance to take in a relationship.

The series takes that same sweet, reasonable take towards Yuiko herself.  She doesn't look like the fujoshi stereotype - overweight, lonely, pimple-faced, and socially awkward.  Instead, Yuiko is a perfectly pretty young woman with a steady job who makes friends easily.  Unlike so many other series, she is a glowing example of someone who can balance her fandom and her social life.  Yes, sometimes she gets carried away in her enthusiasm for the subject, to the point where she confuses Taiga is a litany of BL butler terminology or starts viewing his friendship with a classmate as some sort of rose-colored bit of ho-yay.  She only gets carried away with it because like a lot of geeky people, she doesn't have a lot of real life outlets for her interest, and the fact that Taiga is willing to humor that same interest makes her genuinely happy.

My Girlfriend's a Geek ultimately works because it treats its protagonists like real people.  Their actions and faults come from real and relatable places, regardless if you're a geek or not.  It lets the reader related to the leads, which in turn lets the reader relate to their romance, which makes the whole thing a pleasant and entertaining read.

In a rather appropriate move, this series is drawn by an artist mostly known for drawing BL manga.  Knowing this makes some details make a bit more sense.  For example, Shinba devotes a lot of attention to the characters' hands, and while their fingers do tend to be ridiculously long, they are well detailed.  Beyond that, the character designs are a bit generic and flappy-mouthed, but they are expressive and cute.  Aside from Yuiko's flowery fantasies, the visuals are fairly mundane.  The backgrounds, the paneling, the layout, all of these things and more are effective and competently drawn, but lacking in any sort of flair.  While this does suit the pulled-from-real-life part of the story, it doesn't leave much to talk about in regards to the art.

This is a sweet if slightly unremarkable romance distinguished mostly by the love interest's shipping preferences.  While the story and art might not be anything special, it does treat its leads with care and respect instead of going for easy jokes, which goes a long way towards making this series palatable.

This series was released by Yen Press.  This series is complete in Japan with 5 volumes.  All 5 volumes have been released, and are currently out of print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Monday, September 15, 2014


First of all, I recently did another podcast with the guys (well, one of the guys) of the Five Point Podcast, talking about a recent favorite of mine: Kill La Kill.

Five Point Podcast Episode 57: Kill La Kill... by fivepointpodcast

On a more topical note, not all the otaku manga are just about consuming otaku media.  Sometimes it's about otaku creating that media, a subject that should be near and dear to any mangaka's heart.  So why does this one feel just as soulless as most of those about consumption?

COMIC PARTY (Kommiku Pati), by Sekihiro Inui.  First published in 2001, and first published in 2004. 

Kazuki Sendoh is a kid with a talent for art.  It's this same talent that draws the bizarre yet gregarious otaku Taishi to him, so that Taishi can shanghai him into drawing dounjinshi for Party!  Even as Kazuki's childhood friend Mizuki haunts his every step, scolding him for getting involved with a bunch of weirdos, Kazuki learns that he enjoys the process of creating doujin.  As he falls deeper and deeper into the culture of Comic Party, he meets all sort of new friends whose own works and work ethic only serve to inspire Kazuki even more.

I was initially very confused by this manga.  Oh, I wasn't confused by the plot or anything like that.  I was just confused as to how a story about artistic passion could be so stilted and dull.  Then I learned that this series was based on a ero-ge, and then everything started to make sense.

As befitting the lead of a dating sim, Kazuki is hopelessly bland.  Weirdly enough, though, he seems to have no interest in the numerous girls that surround him.  Each of them is a paper-thin stereotype only strong enough to support one or two otaku-pleasing quirks, sure, but for all their dubious charms Kazuki remains as chaste as a priest.  The only passion he indulges is for creating doujin, and even he exhibits all the excitement one would have for folding the laundry.  Maybe that statement is unfair to Kazuki, because he's surrounded by people whose enthusiasm for doujin is so strong as to be comical.  The most obvious example of that is Taishi, whose enthusiasm for the subject verges upon the theatrical.  Still, he is the one who drags Kazuki into the plot, and it is his over-the-top monologues that keep Kazuki going, because this kid doesn't even have the force of personality to pursue his own modest success.  That to me is the most damning thing about Kazuki, that he requires others to keep him in the plot.

Taishi's opposite is Mizuki, and she's the closest thing to an antagonist this story has.  Like every other woman in this story, she's a walking stereotype, this time of the tsundere childhood friend.  She regards all things otaku-related as bizarre and perverted.  While this is not a completely unfair accusation, she takes things a bit too far.  It's to the point that she has a running gag where any non-Kazuki otaku that approaches her gets hit with a giant, nail-studded, bloody bat.  I suspect they were going to slapstick humor here, which would be appropriate for an over-the-top series like this.  It's just that when the end result is seeing an otaku in a bloody heap, the comedy element is lost, and it becomes shockingly cruel. 

The biggest problem with this series - bigger than the milquetoast lead, or the otaku checklist girls, or the inappropriate humor - is that the series as a whole feels disjointed.  The humor never quite clicks with the harem elements, and there are a lot of visual gags that I suspect are pop-cultural references  that are never given any sort of context.  Worse still, the translation takes it upon itself to insert "topical" jokes of its own.  Thus, we have characters talking about things like how something "reminds me of the Slipknot concert back in Japan."  That line in particular make things REALLY confusing, because it implies that this story ISN'T taking place in Japan.  Are they supposed to be in America then?  Is this just bad translation?  I DON'T KNOW.  Ok, it probably is just a bad insert joke as part of a greater problem with a bad translation.  Nonetheless, it's symptomatic of Comic Party's larger issues.  This series is confusing, half-hearted, painfully funny, and completely devoid of the passion for manga that it's supposed to espouse.

I guess it goes to figure that a half-hearted story like this one should have equally half-hearted artwork.  The character designs are pointy, flat, and hopelessly generic.  I swear the only thing that distinguishes half of these girls are their different hair styles.  The only character design that comes closest to eye-catching is Taishi, and I suspect most of that is because he seems to be borrowing Vash the Stampede's spiffy looking sunglasses. Otherwise, everything on the page is notable only in how unremarkable the art is.  It's ironic that a series that's meant to be about how making manga is hard work and driven by passion, because there is no effort or passion to be found in this art.

I just do not get this series.  It's boring, confusing, and a giant visual mess.  This isn't a Comic Party - this is a Comic Disaster.

This series was published by Tokyopop.  The series is complete in 5 volumes.  All 5 volumes were released, and all are currently out of print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

Thursday, September 11, 2014


I feel like I might have made a mistake leading things off with the best series about otaku consuming otaku culture.  For every Genshiken out there, there are a handful of others that make being an otaku both obnoxious and painfully unfunny.  You can probably guess which side this series falls into.

I, OTAKU, STRUGGLE IN AKIHABARA (Sota-kun no Akihabara Funtoki), by Jiro Suzuki.  First published in 2003, and first published in North America in 2007.

Sota is your ordinary, normal sort of high school kid for all appearances.  He has a wide group of friends, a loving girlfriend, and is generally perceived to be a good-natured, popular person.  The truth is that Sota is an otaku obsessed with a puppy-themed moe character called Papico.  His secret search for the latest Papico figure leads him to a hole-in-the-wall shop called Otakudo Headquarters, which is run by the frantic Mano Takado.  Mano makes it his mission to make Sato openly embrace his otakudom, whether Sota wants to or not.  He harasses Sota's girlfriend, he ropes in Sota's friend Kenji into fandom, and even uses the two of them as part of a plot against another nearby manga store.  In the middle of all this insanity is Sota, who finds himself struggling to find the balance between his fandom and his normal, everyday life.

The back cover of this series proclaims "Move over Comic Party!  There's a new fandom comedy in town!"  Well, that must be a backhanded insult towards Comic Party, because I'd hate to think there were two manga series about otaku that had an irritatingly manic and mad-cap sort of personality to make up for the fact that it's ultimately not funny at all.

That same personality cannot be applied to the lead.  Sota is a purposefully blank character, meant solely to serve as the buttmonkey to all the events around him.  His girlfriend is the only character who gets worse treatment from the story.  At least Sota got a name; she never receives so much as that.  She's also used and abused for a couple of quick jokes.  The first is that every date she has with Sota inevitably turns into something Papico related.  The other is that her moods are entirely dependent on Sota's ability to focus entirely on her.  In fact, it seems wrong to call Sota the lead character because pretty much everyone in the story is there to react against the true driving force of this series: Mano.

Mano preaches the benefits of otakudom in the same manner an evangelist preaches the New Testatment.  To him, otakudom is the One True Way, and anyone who compromises that belief for the sake of a social life or to hang out with a 3-dimensional girl is unworthy of his shop and his approval.  Thus, it is Mano's efforts to get the latest, greatest merchandize or to make Sota jump through endless hoops to earn it that drives both the plot and the humor.  It's a shame then that Mano is such a thoroughly unlikeable person.  He's so obsessed with making others discover the otaku within that he actively ruins the relationships of anyone he targets.  His standards as to what defines a 'true' otaku are as fanatical as they are arbitrary.  He lords over his customers by dangling the latest DVD or figure in front of them, in much the same manner a person would dangle a Milkbone over a dog.  It seems that Suzuka forgot that to create the sort of character one loves to hate, one has to give the character some sense of charm or humor.  Mano possesses neither, and as such much of the humor in the plots he creates falls flat from the very beginning.

He's not entirely to blame for the lack of humor, though.  This series fails in much the same way that Oreimo did.  It's the same stupid joke about the seeming impossibility of being an otaku AND having something of a social life.  As before, I get that Japanese culture sees a lot of popular media being childish and something to be set aside for adulthood, and that I'm coming at this from an American perspective where adults can enjoy the geekier side of media more openly.  That being said, the jokes remain the same: they are still backhanded insults towards their target audience.  It's making a mockery of otakudom, knowing full well that this series would only appeal to them.  It's not asking them to laugh at the silly extremes of the fandom, but at those who would indulge them - i.e, their audience.  Like Oreimo before it, I Otaku is laughing at its audience, not with them.

Oh, there's also an incredibly bizarre side story where the girlfriend tries to make some Valentine's Day chocolate for Sota with the help of two very random magical-girl fairies.  These events come from pretty much nowhere and end only in confusion.

I don't think any manga series, much less Comic Party, has anything to worry about from I Otaku.  Its wacky attempts at comedy ring false because the only character that isn't an empty shell is an irredeemable asshole, compounded by the fact that the story mocks the very people who would read it.

Suzuki's art is weird, angular, but full of energy.  The character designs look almost slapdash, consisting of gangly points and huge, goofy expressions.  The slightest hurdle or revelation is met with an over-the-top reaction that falls only slightly short of a Tex Avery cartoon.  Those reactions come at the expense of...well, pretty much everything else, visually.  The characters float about mostly blank white limbos, all while the panels take on some new crazy high or low angle meant to heighten the sincerity of the characters (and thus the jokes made at their expense).  There is a palpable energy and wackiness to the art, and it might have worked better had the story not been so much of a dud in the first place. 

I, Reviewer, struggled to get to the end of this volume, and was all too happy when I got there.  There's plenty of energy in the art, but the jokes are one-note, lame and insulting, and all that wackiness becomes as grating as Mano is himself.

This series is published by Seven Seas.  This series is complete in 4 volume.  All 4 volumes are currently out of print.

You can purchase manga like this and much more through!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


This month, we're going to look at some manga that in turn look inward towards its own audience.  This month is all about the dweebs, geeks, and NEETs of the manga world, and we might as well kick off with one of the best-known and best-loved titles of that sort

GENSHIKEN, by Kio Shimura.  First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2005.

It's Kanji Sashihara's freshman year of college, which means it's time for him to pick a school club to join.  He has loads to choose from, but finds himself weirdly drawn to The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture (or Genshiken, for short).  Upon joining the club, he discovers it to be composed of a weirdly loveable group of otaku and in turn he starts to open up to them about his own interests, along with enjoying new experiences like shopping for doujinshi in Akibahara or attending Comiket "Comic Fest."  He also makes friends with another new member, Makoto, who might be the most hardcore fan of the lot.  Too bad for him that his girlfriend, Saki, disapproves of his hobbies.  Still, even she finds herself eased bit-by-bit into the circle of friends within Genshiken.

I feel like I'm at something of a disadvantage when trying to review this series.  I got into anime and manga well into my 20s, long after I had left college.  As such, I never considered joining any anime clubs or similar social groups.  As such, I can't really speak as to how accurate or inaccurate Genshiken is at portraying them.  On the other hand, Genshiken is less about a formal club so much as it is about a group of friends finding acceptance and enjoyment in what they love most, and that is by far the series' greatest strength.

Kanji isn't a terribly memorable protagonist, but then he really doesn't have to be for terribly long.  He's simply the hook to bring the reader into the world of Genshiken, where the real characters are.  Honestly, it's kind of surprising that a kid like Kanji hadn't already dived into the otaku scene.  After all, if his inner monologue is anything to go by, he's already fairly familiar with a lot of the material these guys talk about (along with all the porn).  He wins the group over by quoting Mobile Suit Gundam, for God's sake.  It's not like this series is too old to account for the internet - as noted above, this series came out in 2002, when any geek could have thrown a few terms into a search engine and found plenty of fansites, forums, and fanfic for just about any fandom you could wish.

Anyway, within a chapter or two, the story shifts focus to the more colorful characters of the club.  There's militant otaku Madarame, the shy, stuttering manga artist Mitsunori, the mellow, loveable cosplayer Tanaka, and spacey Makoto, another new member to the club.   Makoto is rather interesting in that he is by far the most conventionally good-looking and social member of the club, but he is also the most committed of the group when it comes to merchandise, as his tiny apartment is packed wall-to-wall with every sort of geeky delight.  By the end, they even add a female member to the club, the soft-spoken cosplayer Kanako.  While some of the members (*coughMadaramecough*) do fit the general otaku stereotype, it's good to see a wide variety of people and body types in the club, and that they all do generally get along and support everyone's unique interests.  They truly are less of a formal club than a gang of friends who get together once in a while to shoot the shit or buy some doujinshi.

We even get to experience the group through the perspective of an outsider thanks to Saki.  In less talented hands, she would come off as an intolerable bitch, but I have to give a lot of credit to Shimura for making her so weirdly likeable.  She mostly comes around because of her interest in Makoto, and the club even helps her out by clueing Makoto in on Saki's desire to date him.  She's very resistant to the club until Kanoko joins, as their shared mastery of English and mutual interest in fashion (albeit for different reasons) gives them some common ground.  I'm genuinely curious to see how their burgeoning friendship will play out, and how this in turn will affect Saki's attitude towards Genshiken.

This series is very much a slice-of-life story.  There's no real overarching story, so instead we just follow these kids around town as they teach Kanji how to be a proper otaku and slowly expand the club.  The closest we come to a climax is having the club visit "Comic Fest."  Actually, that reminds me of an interesting point about the translation.  The text and character profiles bring up a lot of copyrighted franchises, so clearly someone at Del Ray had a lot of fun changing the names of all them.  It must have been a challenge to come up with changes that do enough to avoid royalties while keeping the names recognizable enough that the reader could get the joke.  I think they went a little too far, though, because they also felt the need to translate or change some of the otaku terminology.  As such, the club goes shopping for "fanzines" instead of doujinshi, and go to "Comic Fest" instead of Comiket.  The only things they didn't have to change were the names for the made-up anime series Kujibiki Unbalance, a show that the club is obsessed with.  Based on the glimpses we see of it, it seems to be composed entirely of anime and moe stereotypes and would be the sort of show to get middling reviews in your average anime season.

While I can't specifically relate to a lot of the story here, I can understand why people like this series so much.  There's a casual, almost lived-in quality to the story that's oddly appealing, and the characters in turn are fleshed out enough that even the most repellant of the lot is still entertaining in their own way.  Of all the "let's form a club to make friends!" manga out there, Genshiken is the only one that makes their characters actually feel like real friends and knows how to make something as ordinary as geeky friendship interesting.

Shimoku's artstyle reminds me a lot of Moyashimon, another series about quirky college kids bonding over obscure subjects.  It's a little bit cute, a little bit realistic, and a little bit cartoony all at once.  It's a tough style to describe, but an easy one on the eyes.  Shimoku really excels at the gonk faces, be it Kanji's swirly-eyed delirium at the prospect of porn or Saki's incredulous reaction to whatever the Genshiken guys are talking about that day.  One thing that I think adds a lot of the appeal of the series is the homeliness of its setting.  Shimoku puts a lot of detail into Genshiken's cramped, dingy little club room, and he does the same with everything from Makoto's packed apartment to the shops of Akibahara  to the crush of people at Comic Fest.  These places feel real and lived-in, and while they may not necessarily be pretty, they are appealing and welcoming.  They don't feel too far removed from our own world, and that's a comforting thing for a lot of readers, and it only adds to the atmosphere of the story as a whole.

I will happily take a series like Genshiken over a million other manga about cute girls learning about friendship in a club.  Genshiken doesn't glamorize its characters' nerdiness, but still manages to make it comforting and relatable even to those who never joined an anime club.

This series is published by Kodansha, formerly Del Ray.  The series is complete in 9 volumes.  The single volume release from Del Ray is currently out of print.  The 3-in-1 omnibus release from Kodansha is currently in-print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!