New Years Day: it is cold and snowing outside. A ton of stuff to do to get my life in order and lots of stuff from work piled up. I have also temporarily run out of any use-able insights about the Genshiken to grind away at. Haven’t found any interesting new theory bits lately either – it’s all pretty much same old same old. There was some interesting stuff that I ran into six months ago and never worked on, but lately I have no attention span whatsoever. Fortunately, my long and varied academic career provides a solution for a total lack of inspiration or insight: quantitative research!
Let’s count things and get surprised at what we find!
Counting things feels very scientific; it is chock-full of truthiness, even if you can fudge the criteria of your count clear through to next Tuesday. The myth of objectivity and all that: see – we burn some ritual incense in front of our biases and then wade in! That feels scientific too! But counting things is boring unless you find something interesting to count…
This actually turned out pretty well.
Quant Suff !!!
In earlier posts, I have nattered on about the seemingly contradictory nature of the current Genshiken: A libidinised female-majority space, created by a male mangaka who is striving to avoid overt harem and yuri tropes, while not losing the male audience he built up during the initial run of the series. To that was added too much “why Hato”, and the uses of his character in camoflaging the weird female social that had been created. But a problem persists:
Without Hato (and to a lesser extent, cosplay and the seniors), the Genshiken would be a bunch of rotten girls fanning out over BL. Not very interesting to the original mostly male readership and full of danger that any new female fujoshi readership would dismiss the effort as clumsy and inauthentic. I have hunted the opinions of real-life trans-folk and fudanshis about Genshiken, even going as far as to solicit guest columns. (Hellllooooo! Guess real life intervenes.. Presumptuous of me, neh?) What I am missing is the testimony of real-life in-japan fujoshis as to whether the Genshiken has any ring of truthiness to it, and if it makes glaring errors: where?
Fortunately Erica-sensei’s Okazu blog comes to the rescue again: I am a fan, and not just for the review content, but for the method. The method is awe-inspiring, passionate and relentless. Erica Friedman has been nudging the yuri canon as received in the west for a decade now, and some of the hard work of this nudging appears to have paid off. Perhaps the changes would have come about in any case, and some grumblers are jealous that she occasionally sticks her brand on a few bits and pieces of the project. Hah! Let them pick up a shovel and shift coal for a few years…
All of which is slowly circling around her occasional mention(s) of the Bechdel Test [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test] and her own Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test [http://okazu.yuricon.com/glossary/ ]
Never underestimate heuristics.
The Bechdel Test is simply:
(that a narrative fiction, film, etc)
has to have at least two women in it,
who talk to each other,
about something besides a man.
See also http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/TheBechdelTest?from=Main.TheBechdelTest
The Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test:
Does the female character have agency?
Does she have society?
Does she have personality?
Is she merely a female-shaped male hero doing male hero things while being female?
Well, that sounds pretty simple doesn’t it. Hah! Once you start looking at your fave manga, comics, movies and novels through these corrective lenses, you get a big surprise – especially if you are a guy. Could it be that I am being pandered to? It’s always about
me guys! This is either reassuring or very creepy. After all we guys aren’t being fed a %99.99 guy oriented point-of-view because the patriarchy “leiks” us. It wants our money and much, much more, thank you. None dare call it conspiracy(!) mind control(!) the Military-Industrial Complex (!) the MIB(!) Just that nasty ole debbil society again – but it can change!
In Sweden, some folks have taken to adding the Bechdel test to riajuu movie rating systems.
For women, the test immediately quantifies a long-standing really, really, really annoying bit of society. Us guys should pay better attention. We might learn something.
Even She-Who-Up-With-Me-Puts will occasionally lay it on the table for me, as when I insisted on screening Ice Station Zebra for her, as ironic cultural artifact:
“This is BORING! There are no women in this movie at all!
Oh wait, there was the bar-girl at the club.
Until she mentioned it, someone dense hadn’t really noticed… Duh!
Ok.. who reading this just remembered a bit of the overdone musical theme?
Are you male? Female? Just wunnering…
So when Erica-sensei mentioned these tests when recommending Bodacious Space Pirates, small wooden gears again started trying to turn. (see also: http://www.tanianavarroswain.com.br/labrys/labrys23/culturepop/erica.htm ) Then in her year-end open form Q/A post, where a few folks tried to steer the discussion into yaoi territory (compare/ contrast with yuri) – a place that Erica Friedman takes great pains neither to dismiss or to visit – the gears finally started moving.
I’d do the “Audry Lemon” quote here again, about a genre of women’s erotic narrative that contains no women, but it is getting stale. Okazu’s proprietor knows the question well: her reply is in many ways the most ambitious of all.
Make no small plans for they will not stir…
Back to Genshiken II as women’s space, How’s that working out?
n=41 chapters, (54 through 94).
ch54 almost; but then shifts to attracting guy members. Perhaps Yabu/ Ogiue on the phone?
ch56 fail: all Hato, changing etc..
ch57 fail: That’s a crime Hato meeting
ch58 almost: The leaflet discussion.. Hato-as-male not an issue, but then Hato’s smooth legs… Phht!
ch59 almost: Keiko, then Ogiue and Ohno on Ogiue’s debut (but then she gets a call from her editor and calls Sas)
ch61 almost: Yabu is not yet in on Hato-ness, but nope for the rest of the chapter..
ch62 almost: Angela and Ohno, the rest fails due to Hato stubble, then perhaps when they all cosplay and Yabu shows up.
ch63 PASS, Multiple groups
ch64 almost: Nakajima’s boy trouble “and tried to kill herself like last time…”
ch66 fail: Nuthin but sou-uke!
ch67 almost: Hato is in chan mode, but shipping Mada takes over
ch69 fail: Could have during the first bits, but then her Coach and then its all Hato and smooth!
ch70 PASS: for the Ronin discussing comiket. Yajima + Rika have a panel. Ogiue discussing comiket in the club room always refers to Hato as kun, but he is not the subject of the discussion.
ch71 almost: Hato-chan’s drawing skills for the pamphlet.
ch73 fail: past romance not
ch74 almost: if you pass Hato present, but not the subject, but then the stuco romeo boys intrude.
ch77 fail: all about Hato crossdressing
ch82 fail: Kind of sad as Hato-chan desperately wanted an “us girl’s” moment.
ch83 almost: A few moments when Ohno is not discussing Tanaka as her future.
ch86 fail: Even if we take Hato-chan as female persona the subject is Mada.
ch87 almost; Hato is there as -kun, but the female majority discuss drawing, but then whether he can…
ch88 PASS! Ogiue and crew busy at the comiket booth..
ch92 fail: Lots of girl talk, but it is mock competition over Madarame
PASS chapters= 3/41 (%7.3)
“Almost” chapters = 11/41 (%26.8). Almost not because of Hato being present as -chan or -kun, or BL being the subject, but because the conversation drags out long enough for male-as-subject to sneak in. If one weighs the “almost” chapters at 1/3 pass, add another %8.9 to the total, for a grand total of %16.2
Well that was a fun excuse to re-read the last 41 chapters!
If the scoring sounds a bit persnicketty, remember that the Bechdel test sets the bar insanely low, even if many mainstream pop narratives still fail it. Genshiken as a manga about a fujoshi social still only has female-centric dialog approximately 1/6th of the time, if one passes “pure” BL subject matter as female-centric conversation; Tiger x Bunny is a pass, Hato x Madarame is a fail.
Hold the presses! Per correspondence with the proprietor of the Ogiue Maniax site (see comments) the conversation between Rika and Risa that mentions Risa’s coach at the beginning of chapter 69 is a PASS, as the original Japanese does not specify the gender of her coach. That makes it a full Bechdel conversation, so the revised stats are: PASS 4/41 = %9.76, “almost chapters remain at 11/41 (%26.8), weighted at 1/3 = %8.93 for a combined score of %18.69 or almost 1/5th solid female-centric dialogue.
Notable too is that in clear PASS chapters, the females of the Genshiken are busy doing productive fan-work within their interests. The most clear-cut times being when they are selling dojins at Comiket. One would think the level would be higher. From the point of simple plot mechanics, it is hard for a male mangaka to screw up the authenticity of female conversation at a busy comiket sales table.
When you think really, really hard about it, lots of V1/ exploitative hawt secks style yuri – which should avoid dropping males into any discussion lest the PWP spell be broken – has the females dropping “boyfriend/ guy” stuff into the conversation as a tease and a sop to the male reader. We won’t even go into the strongly implied male gaze of the overdone tangled secks scenes. From the point of view of getting a different point of view, does one have to go to v2 story A- or- beyond yuri, to “listen in” on a purported female-centric conversation in a manga narrative? Or is it time for a re-appraisal of K-on or Josiraku? (…even as these and their like are heavily contrived artifacts, and pure loli-bait).
There is a shortage of girl talk in the girl talk.
The Bechdel test and variants serve as effective, albeit blunt instruments to highlight this. I really should check out Bodacious Space Pirates. I need a faster internet connection for Crunchyroll!
The Russo test
Lest someone complain that Hato as trans- and fudanshi character skews the sample (which is my main argument – he is there to serve as a way to avoid female in-group conversation that can be written wrong), there is also the Russo test:
“In 2013, the American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media organization GLAAD introduced the “Vito Russo Test”, intended to analyze the representation of LGBT characters in films. Inspired by the Bechdel test and named after film historian Vito Russo, it encompasses three criteria:
The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
The character must [not] be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect.”
The Genshiken pretty well fails that one too. More work on Hato’s passion for drawing would fix that, but for now his otome-yaku schtick and his wandering desires are serving as the numero uno source of plot fuel. He is in effect two liminal (or poorly constructed – you chose) LGBTQ characters in one, both uncomfortable with their leanings. He needs to be more something. Contrast to Sue’s “hidden powers”. If Hato wasn’t so “liminal” the Bechdel test scores would be higher as well – he keeps dropping in and out of male subject-hood.
At least Genshiken II has a pass rate. It is not Ice Station Zebra, or even Fujimura-kun Meitsu or Boku Wa Tomodachi (et al.)
The Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test and The Lucy Test:
“What’s the point of passing the Bechdel Test if you fail the Lucy Test?* (*Your female characters have the acumen of Lucy Ricardo.)
The Friedman Addendum is less of a blunt instrument than the Lucy test:
Does the female character have agency?
No guy is telling them what to do, and they are making a better go of club activities than the boys did. When Mada starts hanging out again, he gets warned that the fujoshi talk will not stop. Kuchiki is kept in line. Spying sessions from the window across the courtyard are initiated in continuation of a longstanding tradition. They are a bit weak-kneed before the stuco boys – but that’s more of a Hato issue and they are doing their part to protect his privacy. I would be hard-pressed to find a current Genshiken female character, even a peripheral one, that does not have agency. The whole plot of the new Genshiken insists that they must.
Does she have society?
This is a manga about a University club: but now that the women have taken it over their social is far more productive and at least as supportive as the previous male version and is written so as to make a point of being far superior to a number of non-supportive and non-productive socials that various members had previously experienced. (Ogiue and Hato’s high school social circles, the University Manken) It is worth noting that some of these earlier non-supportive and non-producing socials were female-centered as well, so an essentialized generalization is not being advanced. The Genshiken members hang out, fan out, do social things and get things done. The alumni -both male and female also drop by and occasionally participate, which gives the club substance and a strong sense of continuity.
Does she have personality?
The Genshiken women are not cookie-cutter rotten girls; each has their own approach to their enthusiasms, as well as their own personalities and these have been given a chance to unfold in the course of the narrative.
…But no weirder than anyone in the previous male version.
If anything they are almost all obsessively level-headed about the concerns surrounding their enthusiasms. Ohno occasionally comes off a tad ditzy, but her heart- of- gold- people- skills more than make up for her moments of self-doubt and cosplay fangirling. When it comes to cosplay, she is an undisputed enthusiast, logistics expert and organizer par excellence, as well as the past president of the club. Ogiue gets downright grim when one mentions “responsibilities” and will work herself close to karoshi to fulfill them, but she went through all manner of personal turmoil before she came to terms with herself, her talent and her enthusiasms. This is the most likely reason why Sue has such a severe case of hero-worship for her – Ogiue as written as an exemplary fujoshi and aspiring mangaka character. Yajima tries to maintain a dour level-headedness – she has known too much disappointment and her fan interests are her safe space. Her apparent initial trans-phobia is a setup for her awakening feelings towards Hato-kun; her shock comes from the uncomfortable realization that she is experiencing something she long thought out of her league – 3D desire. She also went all red-faced over Risa as-kun for a few moments as well. The levels go deeper than just “want boy”. Rika sometimes appears irresponsible; she is not uncomfortable around males, but prefers the fujoshi social, and enjoys prodding it for entertainment and to move things along.
Sue started off as a comic relief secondary character and has undergone significant “promotion” as her language skills have improved. The mangaka has also given her hidden martial arts interests, friendship with the other characters and people outside the Genshiken social, concern for them, a recent bout of shyness and the aformentioned hero worship. The habit of the mangaka of playing out that hero worship as a wink-wink-nudge-nudge unrequited girl-crush on Ogiue is a bit cheesy, but Ogiue has called her on it. No one seems to be catching her running trope reversal gag of the rather flat-chested gaijin girl squeezing well-endowed Japanese women’s breasts at hot springs, etc. That’s about as much fanservice as one can find in the Genshiken.
The only “thin” semi-regular character is Angela, the carnivorous, athletic, busty gaijin girl set on an adventure with Madarame. At first glance she is the sexually active blond foreign woman – an annoying manga/ anime trope (especially to real-life blond western women in Japan!) But Kio Shimoko has given her character a bit of depth in that she thinks through her “campaign”, and that it appears to be part of a larger habit of her treating he pilgrimages to Japan as extended convention forays in toto. I suspect she is a lift from Dramacon, which saw a translated release as a cell-phone manga in Japan. And she really seemed to enjoy the friendly women’s competition after the shenanigans at comiket wrapped up. It wold be hard to characterize that as a “cat-fight”, even if its main purpose was to give Keiko some character development time and let Sue showcase her hidden super powers (and repeatedly disavow any interest in Mada). I don’t think for an instant that Angela was going to follow through on her threat that Madarame should surrender to a polymorphous-ly perverse tangle with Sue, Hato and herself. She has a nasty sense of humour, and knows how to play to (and scare) her audience.
In terms of simple character design alone, other bloggers have noted that the female characters have a range of body types that go beyond stock fanservice-y manga cliches. One was quite impressed by Rika’s younger sister Risa’s athletic appearance. Yajima is a sympathetically drawn heavyset young woman. Only some of the most peripheral characters are generically drawn. The fujoshi females are not drawn as repulsive stereotypes. Kio Shimoku’s chara design is well folded in with the personalities of the characters, while avoiding too many obvious tropes. At minimum the effort makes the large cast easy to tell apart, Note also that the most classic manga beauty of the bunch is a cross-dressing male (and an analogue to the fearsome Kaminaga).
Is she merely a female-shaped male hero doing male hero things while being female?
Finally, as fujoshi they are not direct transpositions from male otaku-dom. The Genshiken females come to their rotten girl enthusiasms by way of a variety of sub-genre interests. Ok, that’s a kuragehime trick as well, but it still works. The bonus occasionally alluded to by Kio Shimoku is how these directly reference the larger influence that Japanese female fandom, especially fujoshi and proto-fujoshi fendom have had upon the whole of Japanese visual culture, its fandoms, and its numerous sub-groupings.
A small digression:
A deep study of Japanese otaku practice since the mid-1970’s would leave any honest researcher with the strong impression that many of the “pillars” of current male otaku practice derive from, or at least have developed with the substantial help of female fan practice. Start with early dojin production and those cranky mimeograph screens (must finish that long-promised essay) add Comiket, the development of elaborate chara typologies, and finally consider the practice of “goggled/ parodic/ ironic reading” which leads to genre slip, active re-reading, secondary production and a widening of the absolute range of available genres. And while we are at it, but peripheral to the Genshiken and its characters, there is no way that the cell-phone novel can be considered a male otaku innovation.
The acumen of Lucy Ricardo
“Lucy in the chocolate factory, her cheeks stuffed wide… Shaka when the walls fell…” -Oscar Wilde
It seems that most of the slapstick in the Genshiken is left for the males. (note the Lucy rule should not be taken as a disparagement of the woman who created her, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucille_Ball) Kuchiki is stuck in this role, Madarame, as goat gets buffeted about a bit, and even Hato, -chan or otherwise lacks agency beyond his desire to be part of the fujoshi circle at any cost. Madarame eschews agency; though he can deploy a high level of understanding and acceptance and even some degree of sempai-authority when the situation calls for it. However both Hato and Madarame will go into self-sabotaging fugue states when flustered in social situations. Only Tanaka and Kousaka are at ease with themselves and their lives and of course they are both in stable relationships with able and independent women.
To the extent that any of the Genshiken characters, male or female are inept, such faults manifest mostly in the field of real-life relationships – which is another main point of the Genshiken. All characters who are not paired up suffer from some degree of virgin-angst (there must be a good german term for this condition!). The try- to- figure- out- the- relationship-y stuff is ritually balanced with slice-of-life activities that celebrate the strength of the Genshiken social. Lately it has been getting a bit unbalanced. If the characters were all drawn prettier and with bigger eyes the Genshiken would become an oddball form of shoujo manga. (Must drop a query over at Rachel Matt Thorn’s blog!). It hasn’t quite, yet…
Would it bust Kio Shimoku’s nuts to give us just one full-on chara page with a floral background? In full tongue-in-cheek mode? I mean, star-bursty eyes are all fine and good, but some fans are craving more!
Later: Ok, there was 1/4 page wayyyyyyy back when… The incomparable Katou in ch49… -squeeeee!!!-
Back to Erica Friedman: While she goes out of her way to avoid any fujoshi/ slash fen vs. yuri fen/ fans conflicts in her blog, she occasionally offers insights on the relative popularity of the two genres. Some of her observations are fascinating:
“Josh wants to know: Do you find Yaoi being more popular than Yuri a hindrance to creating a stable Yuri market in the states?
E: What an interesting question! On the face of it, it seems like there ought to be a correlation between these two genres, but really…there isn’t.
When manga was first brought over to the west, one of the reasons it became so almost instantly successful was that it tapped into a previously under-served market – female comic readers. And of those readers, while some of them might like romance and/or sex between women, more prefer romance/sex between straight couples or between guys. (If this seems confusing to you, ask a few of your straight male friends which they like best – straight porn, lesbian porn or gay male porn. Chances are a lot of straight guys are going to feel uncomfortable with the idea of watch[ing] gay guy porn – especially if those guys you’re asking are sexually immature. It’s the same for some women.)
Because of the double standards around porn – and the double standards around women’s interests in general – it was easier for women to talk about an interest in BL than it is for men to discuss an interest in Yuri…” – http://okazu.yuricon.com/2013/08/25/now-this-is-only-my-opinion-2013-edition/
There is more in the rest of the thread. I am trying to avoid massive block-quoting (after I went overboard a few posts back, over-analyzing one of her reviews), so please visit and enjoy the source. Of note in later questions would be the hint of a perceived difference between (some) Western slash-fen and Japanese fujoshi assurance and agency. More field research is indicated…
The crew at the Genshiken are sexually immature, but the maturity scripts for Japanese girls (and guys) are a bit strained of late. The thing about escapism is that sometimes you really need to escape. I still think there is a vast and telling difference between the Japanese women’s BL/ yaoi communities and western slash practices but perhaps I have read too much shoddy social research (and my residual, socially learned discomfort keeps me from primary reasearch). At least current trends toward genre expansion, fusion and “slip” are positive. A bit of social responsibility is reportedly creeping in as well. After all, there is no intrinsic reason why cheesy story A yuri narratives, contemporary lesbian narratives, gay narratives, trans narratives, straight- women- imagined BL creature narratives, even furry or alien populated narratives and narratives with cartoon magical ponies (do I venture too far?) cannot speak to all of humanity about friendship, desire, romance and the varieties of warm fuzzies available to the human condition. Any limitations lie in the past history of the conventions of these narratives, and in our societal structures, and between our ears. I am nowhere near this enlightened state, but the ideal is worth the declaration.
And now I fear I am getting all R.A. Heinlein -ish
Hmmmm… How much of the R.A.Heinlein catalog can pass a Bechdel test? There must be something in Podkayne…
Further query: Are there any longstanding Japanese canon-nudging review blogs for the yuri genre and/or the yaoi/BL genre in Japan? Can any shift in either genre track with their avowed direction? We have academic writing on both genres, but its effect pales before sustained fan interaction. Or do the traditional patterns of in-the-pocket-of-the-producers review coverage and strict copyright rules in Japan mitigate against such an approach? See http://www.hellodamage.com/top/2010/03/01/interview-with-an-ex-visual-kei-record-executive/ for how a fan-verse that incorporates female “slash” desire is stoked by an efficient, exploitative and corrupt system. Some of Nele Noppe‘s recent work touches on this – but that was six months ago and I got distracted…
This all sounds very social-science-y, so normally I could go for a wrap here, but I will drag it out a bit more, because teasing useful bits out of this stuff is why I even bother with this blog.
Genshiken II, for all its limitations tries to present an empowered female social, and one where the male(s) must confront and accommodate female-centric enthusiasms. Even if it is written by a guy, with plenty of plot tricks to reduce the shock for guys (and riajuu girls), sneak past authenticity traps and maintain interest from its earlier, mostly male readers, it does not hide or dismiss the social fact of real 3D fujoshi enthusiasms within contemporary Japanese culture. It treats them no better or worse than male otaku interests. Fujoshi stuff exists! Don’t freak out, its a hobby…
The popularity of the Genshiken for western fans (the Nidaime anime may have squandered a bit of this capital) also rests on a light Cook’s Tour of these slash-like enthusiasms, continuing from the previous tour of otaku enthusiasms. No male fan who has read the Genshiken will be surprised at the odd Kirk/ Spock/ Uhura moments in Star Trek – Into Darkness. We might roll their eyes, but we now know why it is there, and who is getting their fanservice. As women have been putting up with guys’ fanservice for an eternity this new thing is more than “turnabout is fair play”. The rotten girls (and all the other previously muted or silenced voices who can now write their desires and their lives) do it slightly differently and as such expand the range and sophistication of expression for all of us.
…And so advance the project of civilization.
Happy 2014 and many thanks for dropping by and reading!
This blog will soon be on hiatus until March, as Kamakura still has a few more kiridoshi that I have yet to hike with the one I love. And then there is the little coffee shop a few blocks over from the main Enoden station in Enoshima, beaches that aren’t really too cold for January walks, plenty of healthy, yummy food!, Uniqlo / Muji raids, and temple fairs/ recycle shops. I must not buy 90lbs of used kimonos, obsolete cell phones, maneki-neko figurines and antique ceramic sake jugs this time! No Genshiken plastic action figures either! (that one almost won me free accommodation in a cardboard box under an overpass – can you say “enemy of all woman-kind”?) Time to ease off on the otaku stuff: reality is reality, and with a bit of dumb luck, it is wonderful!