My Embarrassingly-Emotional Comic Book Review: Genshiken
Shimoku Kio’s Genshiken is one of my all-time favorite comedy comics. It’s like a manga re-imagining of The Breakfast Club, only instead of high school students in Saturday detention, it’s about college kids in an extracurricular otaku club.
Genshiken‘s large cast of characters comprises pretty much every factor of nerdom, from the geek chic to the geek elite to those unapologetically un-hip nerds who take pride in their outsider status. Reading their rambling conversations about comics, cartoons, cosplay and love (lots and LOTS about love!) is often as hilarious as it is cringe-worthy. Hilarious, because most comics/cartoons fans have had similar discussions. Cringe-worthy, because…do I really sound like that?!
If I was to try and describe every ‘main character’ in Genshiken, we’d be here for days. There are simply too many. Aspiring artist using silence to cover shyness? Check. Gundam fanatic full of nerd rage and self-loathing? You betcha. Cynical geek girl into historical battles and Jump-style shōnen titles? See: Season two. Cross-dressing straight guy into Gay fan fiction? Stand up and take a bow! Suffice to say, there is a character (or mix of characters) that will speak to you directly. What’s more, you’ll see bits of your friends, family and co-workers in there, too.
While the majority of Genshiken takes place inside the confines of a cramped and crowded club room, Kio occasionally stages small side-trips for his characters. By having them attend anime conventions, go shopping in the Akihabara district, or even *gasp!* visit the beach, Kio gives readers a more empathetic understanding of the crippling social effects of obsessive fandom, as well as an intimate appreciation for the sense of belonging and self-worth that fandom can also inspire.
One of my favorite parts of Genshiken is the way which Shimoku Ki captures the strange, almost illogical insecurity that one feels around those they’re most comfortable with.
Does that make sense? Here’s a quick, personal example to try and explain it a li’l better:
My fractured family means the world to me. Hanging around them (well, someof them) is one of my favorite ways to spend a day. They know me better than anyone else. They love me more than anyone else. They’re well-acquainted with my angels and demons, and for the most part, they’re cool with both. So why is it that every time we share a dinner, watch a movie, go to a theme park, etc., there’s a moment when I’m driving home where I think, ‘Did I offend (insert family member’s name)?’ ‘Was (insert family member’s name) a li’l stand-offish tonight?’ ‘Did (insert family member’s name) know that when I said (insert stupid joke) that I was referring to myself?’
It makes no sense. I know these folks love and accept me, yet I still find myself silently analyzing our interactions, looking for the many ways I may have unintentionally pushed them away forever.
It’s ridiculous. And yet…not ridiculous at all.
I mean, I second guess sixty second Starbucks transactions, playing them over and over in my head, trying to figure out why the girl at the cash register frowned when I said, ‘Have a great day’ — and I’m a Dunkin’ Donuts guy! I all-caps LOVE my family. Why WOULDN’T I obsess over the tiniest details of my relationships with them?!
In Genshiken, Shimoku Kio turns this niggling insecurity into an emotional constant. Scenes linger, allowing the time and space for a single conversation to ebb and flow between silliness and seriousness, friendship and fan sh*t, candid confessions and pop culture critiques. At the same time these conversations are occurring, Kio is using his characters’ facial expressions, physical gestures and thought bubbles to show us a separate set of conflicting emotions, inner monologues and endless self-doubt. It’s a complicated bit of comics craftsmanship, yet it always reads effortlessly, effervescently.
Over the past few years, I’ve read every available volume of Genshiken at least a half dozen times. One of the things that keeps me coming back is that it’s written in such a way as to be read on multiple levels. On one level, Genshikenis an expertly scripted, wonderfully drawn, extremely engaging character-based comedy. On the other, it’s a ‘How To’ book on establishing and maintaining open and honest personal and professional relationships.
I don’t know about you, but I can certainly use that sh*t.
Amazon link for Genshiken vol. 1: http://amzn.to/2viyMc2