The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture

Looking back on my last few months in Amsterdam, I really wish I had written more. I have a full portrait of my first months at Boom, but very little to look at when I want to deconstruct my exit. Anyway, enough of that. It's on to げんしけん!

My most recent completed anime series was Genshiken, or The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture. It's an anime show about anime fans, and it tore me up. As I never get to hang out with other otaku, it was bittersweet and satisfying to suddenly have an Anime Club of my own, even if it was just on TV. Waking up and hanging out with the nerds of Ge-n-shi-ke-n was a little like having a charming set of friends to eat breakfast with. They talked about anime specifics and debated the merits of such-and-such-a-show or the expenses of buying this-and-that model kit. I laughed when they laughed. I felt lame when I laughed. They felt lame, too.

Most series leave me wanting to have an adventure, or become a ninja, or go into the military. Genshiken made me want to call someone.

Problem is, I don't have any Anime Friends to hang out with. So I decided to remedy it.

I searched online for a Chicago Area Anime Club. I figured I could probably catch at least one meeting before I went back to Los Angeles, and though my nerves were shattered at the idea of thrusting myself into a room of tight-knit strangers, I gathered my courage and got ready. I was in luck! The "Anim8trix" club was meeting this Saturday, at the Dupage College. It was an all-ages club, and the forum some members from 1995 on, so I figured it was perfect.

I drove an hour and a half out to the middle of no-where, and parked my car in the sad expanse of a Midwestern college parking lot. The low, flat campus was ugly and uninviting, and there were too few cars to hint at any sizeable club attendance. Brown buildings surrounded a dead football field, and I found the one marked "M." Entering was like walking into a cigarette carton; it smelled like paper and old leaves. The windows were fogged over with condensation, and the lights flickered and buzzed. It was a community college, with carpet in the hallways, and no posters on the walls. Finally, I found the room ... and peeked in.

Ten or eleven people sat in folding chairs, staring at a dim projection screen showing "Tide-Line Blue." Not a show that I was interested in, but here I was, in the company of other people watching anime! They were doing it before I got there! Without me! They must be real fans. I pulled up a folding chair and joined the group, taking a moment to look at my comrades. None of them weighed less than two-hundred pounds, but that was to be expected. In the otaku world, I'm the fashionable outcast. (In Genshiken, one of the members is a blond-haired "non-otaku." The other members look down on him for wearing nice button-ups instead of T-shirts, and being in good shape. It's not "cool" to be healthy and socially fit in the otaku world). There was one other girl, who wore a purple shirt and light-blue jeans that were pulled up to the underwire of her bra. Several of the men looked about 40, and wore the smug, judgmental grin of true fanboys on their faces. They laughed at bad jokes in the show, and snorted during the fanservice (read: titty-shots).

The room smelled like old fried chicken.

A couple people noticed I had come in, but no one made any move to say hello or welcome me to the group.

We watched two episodes of Tide-Line and then the lights came up.

With the room lit, I got stoked. This was my chance! I could get into a discussion about the merits of the latter seasons of Naruto! I could debate the qualities of Elfen Lied, or trade construction stories about Perfect Grade Bandai Kits! Language that is lost on my peers was about to flow out of me in a rush into the open arms of the members Anim8trix. I beamed.

And they ignored me.


I sat in a room with eleven people who all knew each other and not a single word was said to me. I waved and was ignored. I smiled and was ignored. Slowly, my spirits sunk. Maybe I was being hazed, I thought, but soon my apprehensions were snuffed out as one member pulled out an unmarked video tape and dropped it into the VCR. "What fansub could this be," I wondered. On the edge of my seat, I watched a trailer begin to play ...

And it was the Harry Potter trailer. What? What the hell was this? A room full of nerds and they were treating the Harry Potter trailer like it was the Holy Grail. Some of them had never even seen it before. The trailer had been on the internet for months and these "otaku" hadn't seen it yet?! The screen went blank and another trailer followed. I shook of the live-action and prepared for what was next -- maybe the Advent Children commercial from Japan? Maybe a preview for the fall season of anime ... NO! It was the DOOM trailer. The same trailer that shows before regular movies in Holland! The damn doom trailer has been out forever. We were supposed to be discussing these things with the snide confidence of fanboys and fangirls, not introducing them to each other. Scratch that, we weren't even supposed to be watching trailers! This was an ANIME club.

Maybe it was a joke? Perhaps they were monitoring my reaction to other nerd footage? No, it seemed like they were genuinely happy about the trailers. What's more, with only two trailers, it was the end of the tape; the owner retrieved it and the others stared at him reverently. I had now been in the room for an hour and a half, and no one had even said, "Hello," or "I'm sorry, are you in the wrong room?"

Finally, the leader (?) stood up in the front of the room and pulled out a cam-corder. My last bit of optimism crept up into my shoulders. Maybe it was a camcorder copy of Fullmetal Alchemist (The Movie), or some other bootlegged film from Japan. Leader pulled out wires and connected to the projector. He pressed play and introduced ... his home movies of Comic Con.

I sunk into my seat in horror. Comic Con is infamous for its low manga representation. Comics fans are notoriously stubborn when it comes to anime culture. It's gotten so obvious that this months' Comics Journal (269) has an issue devoted to the problem. Comic Con wasn't going to have anime. It was going to have more old news for this seemingly un-wired group of Normal Nerds.

My .925 Silver Fullmetal Alchemist Pocket Watch (from Akihabara) read 5 o'clock. I had been there for two hours (and the meeting was scheduled to go until 8). As the footage dragged on without edits, and the Normal Nerds asked questions like, "Who is Kevin Smith" and "Which films did Terry Gilliam direct," I decided I had to leave. This wasn't Genshiken. This was a group of pedestrian geeks, who didn't even know their own stuff as much as I did. Fanboys are supposed to have "conversations" that are loaded with bragging rights about who-saw-what and when. I couldn't even do that with them, because of the standard explanations it would require. I wanted to be one-upped. Instead I was let down.

I got back in my car and put on the soundtrack to .hack//sign (it's perfect disappointed anime music). I had a party to get to, full of improvisers. Thankfully, I have a lot great friends, and some of them are really class-act nerds ... but I'll have to wait till LA to find another set of otaku to chill with.