When I was first introduced to Genshiken, I was told that the series was really good, but that the content might not be for me. It was a good way to prep me for the series, which follows a group of otaku in the Genshiken club, a college organization in which the members revel in their otakuness. The original series is heavy on discussion of eroge, hentai, and yaoi (and in the more recent series, Nidaime, an even further focus on being a fujoshi), with a number of episodes dedicated toward those topics. But the series is also a real genuine, funny, and often touching look at what it means to be an outsider and how submitting to yourself can help you grow.
While all the members get substantial storylines, there are four main characters in the first go-round of the series (two seasons and three OVA episodes), including two female characters: Kasukabe, the beautiful and ill-tempered non-otaku who starts attending the club because she’s dating a member and Ogiue, a self-loathing otaku who joins a couple years after the start of the series. Despite how different these two characters are (Madarame, the super otaku of the group, in fact likes to point out that it’s like Kasukabe is from an entirely different world from them), they both learn the idea of submission and finding your place – and they both learn it, partially, through cosplay.
Kasukabe is a difficult character to like at first. She’s so anti-otaku that she chases away new members and makes it her mission to destroy Genshiken. Also, the feelings of some club members is that she’s only dating Kousaka for his looks – what other reason could there be? As the first season progresses, however, we see that she values her boyfriend for more than his pretty face (and he shows himself to be a better boyfriend than the audience sees in initial episodes) and that Kasukabe’s disgust at otakudom is because otaku culture is first in Kousaka’s life; she is often second (though I’ll add that it’s more complex than that), and it hurts her.
Eventually, as Kasukabe learns more of what being an otaku means, she becomes less worried about her relationship and more understanding. She also comes to love the club members, especially when another woman, Ohno, joins. Little sprouts of growth are seen here, leading to the finale of the first cour, when Kasukabe cosplays as penance for a critical mistake she’s made. But cosplaying, which she’s continually said no to until now, is not done just out of guilt. The other club members still don’t understand at this point (as seen by when Madarame makes her cry shortly afterward), but Kasukabe really has come to become a willing part of their club family. The cosplay is a baptism of sorts, showing that while she’ll never be an otaku, she is one of them. Despite everything inside of her screaming not to cosplay, Kasukabe does, surrendering to what she knows she should do, and she later remarks when trying to get Ogiue to do the same that cosplaying changes you, making you more “well-rounded” and bringing you closer to the heart of the club.
Ogiue is just as apprehensive as Kasukabe when it comes to cosplaying. She’s hostile toward it (and toward otaku and otaku culture in general, an irony that is explored as we get to know her better), so it takes Kasukabe’s strong sales tactics to get her to try on a costume at an event. More than hostility, it’s fear that keeps Ogiue from trying on the cosplay – fear of embarrassment and more so, fear of accepting who she is.
I understand Ogiue well – I think a lot of Christians do. She’s being asked to embrace something scary and just be who she is, and we’re asked to do the same in the Christian life. Though for years I sang praise songs about surrendering to Christ and declared my own devotion to him, even while watching so many young people do the same at retreats and through testimonies, I saw little submission in my life or in others. Why? Because it’s so hard to do let go of what I believe is true, the way I live my life, and to lose the control I think I have. Instead of doing what Jesus requires of me – spending my life devoting myself to loving others, making choices to cut out sin, letting God dictate all choices in my life whether big or small – I continue to turn to try to do things both my way and God’s, ignoring the fact that there’s no such thing as partial surrender.
What there is, though, is coming to terms with surrender. For Kasukabe and Oguie, cosplaying was an important step in embracing change within themselves, but I’m not sure it was the defining moment for either of them. It was instead more symbolic of each surrendering to who they really are. Kasukabe is rather far along in the process when she cosplays, though she grows more and more afterward, even becoming a strong leader in the club, supporting Sasahara as he gets his feet wet in the chairmanship. Ogiue has even further to grow, with developing the doujinshi being the next step in her growth as she less subtly transforms. Oguie is accepting that she is an otaku; now she takes the steps to become what she knows she is, which extend even into Nidaime as she works toward making her obsession into a profession.
For Christians, we unfortunately sometimes just get stuck at the cosplay. We do certain things that show our dedication to God, but we don’t continue to move forward. If I can keep control of my life and include God, that’s the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, that thinking and lifestyle is entirely out of whack with what God demands. Instead, when our hearts declare a surrender of ourselves and allegiance to God, we need to move forward, not just in doing things here and there (go to church, attend a small group, give tithe, etc.), but in surrendering everything, including our decisions, our passions, our heart. It’s a process, and it is always on-going, but it can’t start unless we start the work instead of fighting against it by keeping control, which is maybe the most unfaithful thing of all.