Interview: Genshiken creator Shimoku Kioby Lauren Orsini,
Shimoku Kio is the creator of the beloved otaku comedy Genshiken and its sequel, Genshiken: Second Generation, which have seen incredible success in both Japan and America. The series follows a college anime club in Japan, and has been adapted into two popular anime, the second of which releases today on Bluray from NISA. We had the opportunity to ask him about the series, and have included some questions submitted by his fans.
ANN: How much of your own life is reflected in the characters of Genshiken?
SHIMOKU KIO: I think there is a lot of influence from my past experiences and personality. Although it wasn't exactly the same, I used to be part of a similar club back in college. I think the troubled emotions and feelings of inferiority that the characters show come from my own feelings. Some characters in the show aren't like that, and I have a hard time incorporating those characters into the story. For example, Makoto Kosaka and I have almost nothing in common, so I have no idea what he's thinking.
Genshiken began as a series with a nearly all-male cast. Genshiken Nidaime follows a nearly all-female cast. What have been the challenges of switching from writing from the perspectives of men to the perspectives of women?
This was difficult because I couldn't imagine what kind of conversations female college students normally have. Some of the questions I had were, “Would they only talk about otaku stuff?” and “What else would they talk about?” After all, I ended up having them talk about BL (Boys’ Love) all the time. I don't know a lot about BL, but at least it's something I kind of get.
Has the writing process become easier with your growing success, or do you feel increased pressure to turn out more great content?
I think I've begun to get the hang of the process: forming an idea, structuring the story, making a draft, and finalizing the script. I'm definitely starting to understand what I have to do, and how to establish each of those processes. However, I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good thing.
There hasn't been a time lately when I've had to try really hard to come up with a crazy idea. It might also mean that I'm getting used to the pressure...but again, I'm not sure if that's a good thing.
Madarame has especially grown as a character over the years, going from awkward 2D fanboy to a man about town with his own harem! Is this a reflection of Madarame's unexpected popularity among female fans, or something else?
The character's popularity was never the reason. It just happened naturally as I wrote the story. There were already some characters who were interested in Madarame to begin with, so being dumped by Saki must have triggered everything.
The American characters, Sue and Angela, are very proud otaku. Meanwhile the Japanese characters seem much more embarrassed about their love for anime. Does this reflect your experience with the reception of the otaku lifestyle in both countries?
I've not experienced it first hand, but I've read and heard about it, and the rest is just based on how I imagine things to be considering the cultural aspects.
How is your fame different in the west than in the east? Did you expect your western fans to pick up your more obscure anime references?
I'm not completely aware of the response from the fans in the west, but I'm surprised to hear that they picked up on the anime references. I wonder how much anime and manga they watch and read. I'm not the type of person who wants to know the readers’ reactions. I'm worried that by knowing, my writing style will become biased to suit those people's preferences.
Ohno cosplays some very modern anime and game characters. What do you think about the current state of anime today? In your opinion, is the industry improving?
I'm not in the animation industry, so my opinion will be as one viewer, but I think that video technology has definitely made progress.
High quality animations make me feel really good just by watching them roll on the screen.
On the other hand, though, the state of production with its lack of scheduling and resources hasn't changed much. I feel like there are only a handful of animation studios that are able to complete a TV series from its first to last season while maintaining the same level of quality throughout.
It's fairly common for only the first and last episode to be of high quality...
From the fans:
What is the relation between your other manga "Spotted Flower" and Genshiken?
Hm? There isn't one.
...And that is my official statement.
The title name was just a playful idea that I came up with after creating the concept of the couple and noticing them feeling very familiar to me. I'm honestly not sure what to do with the big reaction that it ended up getting from the fans afterwards.
Even from the planning stage, there was no intention of making the two titles related in any way. The idea never even came up during discussion with my editor either.
When it comes to Ogiue, one of the more notable visual changes is how her eyes are drawn. As this quality is unique to Ogiue in Genshiken, why did you decide to express her mental and emotional growth in this manner? Additionally, is it something you planned to do from the start, or was it something you developed as you worked on the manga?
It was accidental and naturally developed.
To put emphasis on her unfriendly look and distant nature, I designed her eyes without the highlight. After her mental transition, those characteristics changed and the initial design for her eyes simply didn't work anymore.
Of all the characters introduced in Genshiken: Second Generation, Hato was my favorite. As someone who experimented a lot with gender identity in college, it was very surreal seeing real-life confrontations play out during the anime. Watching Hato brought back a lot of nostalgic memories, and I've been very curious as to how exactly his character came to be created, given that most of the other anime/manga series I've seen in the past have not usually felt as personal & genuine when portraying characters similar to him.
When I was coming up with the new characters, considering the image that Ogiue was using to invite new members, I figured females with a specific interest would come to join. Though, I thought an all-female cast would feel out of balance as a manga, but around that same time, a genre called “otokonoko*” (男の娘: Men that cross dress and live life as women) was being introduced as a theme for anime otakus.
"I can use this," I thought, and that was the start of it all.
However, Genshiken portrays a world that's relatively realistic, and I didn't know how I could incorporate a character like that in such a title. I had to really think about going in this direction. I even created a version of the storyboard in which a completely different male character appears instead, but I decided to at least give this concept a shot, and started working on the storyboard. Surprisingly, despite my concern, everything actually came together really well. Even as the author, I didn't expect how accepting The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture could be.
The character's capability to switch between male and female voices was a big plus as well. I got to hear a real person with that kind of ability, and they really sounded like two different people.
“This will work.” I felt confirmed.
I think part of the problem was convincing myself. I needed to be convinced by the "otokonoko" character, and naturally, that created a more believable character.
At the same time, I didn't want the character to be too realistic. The topic of sexual identity can be too heavy for a comedic manga. So, it might have been an obvious thing to have done in a way, but I added another element, “fudanshi” (men who like BL), to the character. I think he is the first and so far the last character that is a combination of "otokonoko" and "fudanshi." This combination is very unlikely in real life, and it helps to maintain the fictional feel found in manga.
To conclude, Hato was born because his character was a necessity in creating this manga. That being said, his sexual identity has transformed since the beginning...and things are becoming a bit complicated now... I knew that incorporating a character like Hato would make things tricky, and I kept saying that to the people around me too, but... things are definitely very tricky in the current part of the series.
The end of the Genshiken: Second Generation anime deviated from the manga. How much say did you have in the last episode's story?
During the anime production, my role was to check the world setting, answer questions during casting auditions, participate in scenario discussions, sit in on the voice recording sessions, and check the next-episode previews. I actually ended up writing up most of the next-episode previews from scratch during the process. It was kind of like creating those bonus comic strips some comic books have at the very end, and I really enjoyed making them. I hope you'll all get to enjoy them.
I attended almost all the scenario discussions and recording sessions. I helped give insight on understanding the original story. Scenario creation and voice recordings are kind of like the beginning and ending of the story production process, so as long as I was there for those, I figured any major inconsistency could be avoided. Mr. Tsutomu Mizushima, the director, and Ms. Michiko Yokote, the screenwriter, were involved with production from the very first anime adaptation for the series, and I trusted them fully.
Everyone pitched in their idea for the final episode, but Ms. Yokote wrote the story alone for the most part. The only part I contributed was one of the conversations at the hot springs, where Yoshitake asks Ono and Ogiue about their boobs.
How do you think the international spotlight of the Olympics will affect Akihabara and otaku culture in Japan? How many more Sues and Angelas do you think will come over?
I'm from a generation that was brought up to be embarrassed about being an otaku...so my honest opinion would be that I hope they don't draw too much attention. In fact, eroge (Japanese pornographic games) and some dojinshi (self-published otaku content) are not something we can proudly recommend to everyone. Those things should be kept as personal hobbies and exchanged only among the people who are interested in them.
We don't want to show it off to the entire world.
If you are interested, then we will welcome you no matter your nationality.
...Is a view like this too traditional?
I think the otaku culture has become very generalized and popular in Japan, too. It has become difficult to say “this is what otaku is,” and give a specific definition to it.
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