by Shimoku Kio; adapted by Stephen Paul
published by Kodansha Comics; $10.99 US
As I predicted when I reviewed the first book, I liked this series more on the second try. With the odd fan personalities, it takes a while to get comfortable with them, but more time spent makes them more acceptable, just like having a weird friend. You take them as they are, quirks and all.
I should have mentioned, writing about Book 1, that the internal volume and chapter numbering continues from Book 9 of the previous series, so it’s intended to continue onwards from where that left off.
Book 2 opens with the Visual Culture club madly getting ready for ComicFest at the same time the freshmen are helping Ogiue prepare her first published manga work. They’re working as her assistants, filling in backgrounds and screen tones and such. Hato, in particular, demonstrates skill as an artist, although he’s distracted by how the long hours are affecting his cross-dressing. He comes to the club in girls’ clothes and makeup, but he’s spent so much time helping with the art that he’s starting to show stubble, and the contradiction is freaking him out. The eventual solution is logical only to the most dedicated fans, but it shows how accurately the fan mind is portrayed in this series.
At ComicFest, some shop, some cosplay, and some sell the manga zines they’ve made. It’s a fun portrait of convention culture, even if many of the references sail right over my head. There are translation notes in the back, but they don’t seem to cover everything I have questions about, or things that seem like they must be referring to something else. I’d feel better reading “The Annotated Genshiken”, like people used to do for Alan Moore’s works, but I don’t think such a thing exists. On the other hand, in the rare case when I do recognize a reference, usually with the lightly disguised manga titles, I feel very proud of myself. I do like the way that the translation notes are accompanied by images of the referenced panels. Since there aren’t any page numbers, it’s the only way to keep up with what’s being explained.
One thing I do find myself looking up online while reading are character names. I don’t always match up the names to the cast members, since I remember them by traits (yaoi fangirl, manga creator) instead of nomenclature. When someone refers to a third person, I can be slow in realizing which character they’re thinking of. However, it’s often clear by context who’s meant, which is a nice example of writing skill, particularly with such a sprawling cast.
For example, in this book, the previous Genshiken members return for a ComicFest visit, plus Angela (an American) visits for the event. The way she speaks English (she’s translated for by one of the club members) is nicely indicated through a different font, one with lower and upper case (in contrast to the standard all-caps lettering). Strangely, she’s got a crush on the alum Madarame, the classic nerdy otaku. Her feelings are resented by several of the younger club members, because they seem to be unable to maintain strict boundaries between their yaoi fantasies and real people’s lives. The end result is an extraordinarily manga art sequence featuring one member trying to kiss another and being stopped. The art takes on a super-charged feel, saturated with layers of meaning, probably because I’m reading about manga fans who have trouble drawing lines between their hobbies and their friends, which enhances the sequence.
In Book 3, we’re once again playing with appearances, as Yoshitake brings her sibling to visit the club. That’s a good thing, as Hato needs all the help he can get. His lovely female appearance has attracted unwanted attention, and since “she’s” not registered as a student, there might be problems for the club. The characters are often treated in accordance with how they’re perceived, making appearance highly important — and of course, since this is a manga, that’s doubly true, since we keep the characters straight by viewing them.
Then it’s a campus festival, for which the club wants to create a zine. Hato once again complicates things, as he’s able to draw very well, but only explicit boys’ love images and only when dressed as a girl. Meanwhile, Yoshitake and Yajima try to team up to create a manga, but Yajima’s plot ideas are ridiculously hard to draw.
Most of this book is debate over art, whether to make it, whom to work with, and what the subject should be. (I’m guessing that the author might be drawing from life in this subject matter.) I presume that we finally find out what happens with the zine in the next volume, due out next March. (The publisher provided review copies.)