Why are there so many shows about fangirls?

Let’s be perfectly clear: I am horribly, horribly tempted to write a whole new set of lyrics set to the tune of “Rainbow Connection“, starting with the title of this post and continuing apiece, but that is dangerously close to writing filk, and once a man writes filk he may as well just resign himself to a life of shame.

That being said, there do seem to be an awful lot of shows about otaku lately.  I mean, sure, in the early 90s we had Otaku no Video, and then there was Otaku Planet a few years later – the latter of those two being something I know about only through seeing ads for the LDs in Animage; it seems to have vanished into the mists of history – but the last, oh, five years have given us Genshiken, Lucky Star, Welcome to the NHK, Densha Otoko, OreImo… and a couple of shows I’m going to talk about now.

I’ve watched an awful lot of shows recently that revolve around nice-but-relatively-personality-free young men that wind up in the center of a hurricane of cute girls.  Most of them, to be honest, involve aliens or anthropomorphic versions of Japanese myths, so it’s actually a bit refreshing to watch Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, which is just high-school-slice-of-life.

Of course, even a pure slice-of-life show needs a “hook”, which in this case takes the form of a beautiful, cultured, fabulously rich – yet still going to a public school – girl who just happens to be a massive closeted otaku.  Of course, the main male character finds out her secret but – as the Nice Guy – swears to keep it private between the two of them, and you get twelve episodes of so-when-are-they-going-to-kiss, mixed in with the usual assortment of maids, rival girls, curiously precocious younger sisters, quirky childhood friends and so on and so forth.

Oh and it’s got a Comic Market Episode that actually comes close to the Comic Market experience; that is to say waiting in long lines in hot weather to buy comic books you probably wouldn’t show your parents.

It’s very much the paint-by-numbers approach to anime production, with the only unusual thing being that the main character is even more of an enigma than you usually get in these shows.  After watching twelve episodes, I couldn’t tell you a single one of his likes or dislikes, not even a favorite food.  To carry on with the paint-by-numbers metaphor, just because I like it, he’s the white space that isn’t numbered so you don’t paint it in.

The series – or more likely, the series of light novels it’s based on – was popular enough to get a second 12-episode run, anyway, which I will probably watch at some point just because I’m morbidly curious to see if they’ll ever give the guy a personality.

Kuragehime, on the other hand, is NOT aimed at young men desperately trying to imprint themselves on an onscreen avatar, and I liked it rather a lot.  It’s about five otaku women living in a run-down Taisho-era apartment house and having their peaceful routines disrupted horribly when a fashion-obsessed Shibuya-type joins the group.

Note that “otaku”, in this case, isn’t used in its typical sense of “obsessed with manga and anime”, but rather in the sense of being really just a little too much into a hobby.  The group includes a railfan, a Three Kingdoms geek, a woman obsessed with older men, a traditional-dress-and-doll nut, and, well, the main character, whose specialty is jellyfish.

I learned SO MANY THINGS about jellyfish from watching this show, it’s not even funny.

To be honest, it does drag a bit near the end and it never even comes close to hinting at resolutions for most of the story threads that it opens, but it’s only eleven episodes and based on a currently running manga – it’s designed to introduce you to the characters, set up an initial conflict, and resolve that initial conflict while still remaining open-ended, and it does that all quite well.

Oh, and most of the characters are in their thirties or older, which is pretty unusual but quite nice, it means that the show avoids the obligatory beach-trip and culture festival episodes that a high-school based show always seems to throw in.

Nothing against culture festival episodes, of course.  One of my favorite anime movies of all time is Beautiful Dreamer, which is an entire movie revolving around a culture festival.  For some reason, however, the culture festival episodes in Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu were giving me flashbacks to the culture festival episodes in School Days, and those are not flashbacks anyone wants to have.

But I digress.



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