DRAWN & QUARTERED
2 series jab at anime and manga fandom
Today's "Drawn & Quartered" topic, just as it was about a year ago, is you.
Reading this column means that you must have some degree of interest in anime and manga, whether you read and watch it yourself or know of someone who does. (Either that, or you're one of this paper's copy editors proofreading this column ... in which case, great job, keep up the good work.)
As hundreds of like-minded fans converge next weekend on the Ala Moana Hotel for the second Kawaii Kon anime convention, it's time to pause once again to ponder the question, What is this fraternity of anime and manga fandom, or "otaku," that we are a part of, anyway?
To answer that question, we turn to the best source of anything regarding anime and manga, which is, of course, anime and manga. Last year, I looked at Gainax's 1991 direct-to-video anime "Otaku no Video"; this year, two series of more recent vintage, "Genshiken" and "Comic Party," will act as mirrors of our beloved hobby.
The slice-of-life vignettes presented in the manga chapters and anime episodes of "Genshiken" will definitely ring true for anyone who has ever been part of an anime or manga club.
"Genshiken" is the story of the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture at Suioh University, a group even more out of the mainstream than the school's anime or manga clubs but filled with members who are just as passionate, if not more so, than people in those groups.
It is in this environment that the audience first meets Sasahara, a freshman looking for a club to join. He finds the society in a listing of clubs -- labeled only with a room number, a drawing of an anime character and the words "Here we are" -- and checks it out for himself.
It takes a little while for him to settle in -- meeting anyone for the first time can be nerve-wracking, after all -- but after an incident involving Sasahara being alone in the club room with a cabinet full of erotic "doujinshi," or fan-drawn comics, the group adopts him as one of their own.
As the audience soon learns, each of the society's members has his or her own special field of expertise. Fellow freshman Kousaka, with his unassuming look and ever-present smile, is an expert at fighting games, while Tanaka is skilled at designing costumes and building models. Kugayama, with his slight stutter, is the group's resident artist. Madarame, the hardest of the hard-core otaku, is the de facto leader. Ohno, who joins the group a little way into the series, is the resident cosplayer -- that is, she dresses up as various anime and manga characters.
The only one not having any part of it is Kousaka's girlfriend, Saki. At least she says she wants no part of it, anyway, even though she regularly shows up at the club room and is even seen reading some manga every now and then.
The focus of "Genshiken" is not on an overarching story line, but instead on the characters and their gatherings from day to day. Whether the group is sitting around talking about anime, heading out to buy doujinshi in Akihabara or attending a convention, it's evident that this series is partly a gentle rib on otaku culture and partly a tribute to it.
Four volumes of the Kio Shimoku-written manga are available stateside from Del Rey Manga, with a fifth scheduled for release on April 25. The three-DVD, 12-episode anime is available from Media Blasters' Anime Works imprint; each volume also includes an episode of the group's favorite anime, "Kujibiki Unbalance." The anime covers the story through most of the fourth manga volume; a second season covering more of the story is currently in production in Japan.
While "Genshiken" looks at fandom as a whole, "Comic Party" focuses on a smaller but equally diverse group of fans: those who would produce their own doujinshi, whether based on another series or an original idea. These fan-created works draw gatherings of thousands of people in Japan who regularly fill convention halls. It is from this scene that "Comic Party" draws its inspiration.
The main character, Kazuki, is dragged into this world by his bombastic friend, Taishi, who begins most of his sentences with proclamations of "MY BROTHER!" or "MY SISTER!" Taishi's goal is nothing short of world conquest by way of doujinshi, and he wants Kazuki, an artist with some skill, to join him.
This is much to the chagrin of Kazuki's girlfriend, Mizuki. Like Saki in "Genshiken," she can't understand why anyone would want to associate with the legions of unwashed masses of fans, much less making a living in such an environment.
The "Comic Party" franchise sprung from a successful Japanese dating simulation game, which would certainly explain why there are only four male characters (two of which are the epitome of the "creepy obsessed fan" stereotype) and a truckload of female characters.
While the characters remain constant through the anime and two manga incarnations that have seen U.S. releases, the situations they get into differ enough to make getting all three versions worthwhile.
The first "Comic Party" anime, released in America by Right Stuf on four DVDs, plays out like a documentary on how to create and sell doujinshi. The focus in this series is more on Kazuki and his struggles, first in learning what makes a successful doujinshi, then with balancing his artistic life with his social life with Mizuki and his school work, and finally with assorted setbacks.
Playing out closer to the franchise's dating-sim roots is Sekihiko Inui's manga series, released domestically by Tokyopop in five volumes. Inui gets Kazuki adjusted to doujinshi much quicker than the anime version, leaving more time in the various story arcs to help one or more of the female characters work through problems they have with their work.
The wild card in this equation is the three-volume CPM Manga series, in which various Japanese doujinshi artists take a crack at stand-alone situations involving the characters. The artistic styles and tones of the stories can range from crude and wildly funny to elaborate and meditative.
The benefit to this approach is that if one story doesn't appeal to a certain reader, it's possible that another story will suit his or her tastes much more. The stories do rely on a general knowledge of the characters and their personalities, though, so exposure to the other two series is recommended first.