Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Girlfriend's a Geek (book, vol. 1) by Pentabu

I'm pretty sure My Girlfriend's a Geek began as a blog, with the posts collected into a two-volume light novel set. The English translation was published by Yen Press and is listed by them as being for "older teens." The story has also been adapted into a 5-volume manga series - I own, but haven't yet read, the first two volumes and hope to review them someday.

Synopsis:

A 21-year old college student writes about life with his girlfriend, a fujoshi (female fan of yaoi/BL or, more broadly, a female otaku, according to the book's glossary), in his blog, which becomes hugely popular. This book collects those blog entries.

The writer of the blog is never named, although his girlfriend often refers to him as "Sebas" or even "Uke-Sebas" (which is just...yeah...poor guy). I'll refer to him as "Pentabu" to make things easier on myself. His girlfriend is always referred to as Y-ko.

Most of the blog consists of the usual events in a dating couple's life - meeting up with friends, spending holidays together, meeting parents (Pentabu meets Y-ko's parents at one point), and just hanging out. Things are a little different for Pentabu and Y-ko, though, because of Y-ko's interests. To most people, Y-ko seems like a perfectly normal, respectable young woman. With Pentabu and her friends, however, Y-ko lets her interests have free rein, reveling in her love of anime, computer games, BL and shoujo manga, cosplay, and her favorite character pairings (she's a particular fan of Roy x Ed). Pentabu's feelings on this are often a combination of embarrassment, humor, and fascination, since she seems determined to pull him into her world.

Review:

I'll start this review off by listing a few questions you should ask yourself prior to deciding whether to read this book:
  • Do you consider yourself to be a fan of anime and manga?
  • Do you have at least some idea of what these things are, and what their appeal is? - Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, shoujo and BL manga, maid cafes, cosplay, and slash pairings
  • Are you okay with reading a book consisting of a bunch of blog entries?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, except possibly the second one, you should probably give this book a pass. A good chunk of it will go over your head if you don't have at least a basic understanding of anime and manga fandom. Although the explanations included in some of the blog posts help, and the glossary at the end is decent, those things won't do you much good if you've never seen examples of shoujo and BL manga and anime, and don't know what Gundam is. For example, while the glossary explains that Hagaren is an abbreviation of Hagane no Renkinjutsushi, the Japanese title of Fullmetal Alchemist, it does not explain that “Roy x Ed” refers to a fan-invented romantic/sexual pairing between two characters in the series. And Pentabu's embarrassment about Y-ko storing her shoujo and BL manga at his place is best understood if you've seen examples of them.

And I should mention that, if you've never seen Neon Genesis Evangelion and plan to do so at some point, you might want to save reading this book until afterward. In one blog post, Pentabu watches some of the show with Y-ko and one of her friends, who shamelessly spoil all kinds of story and character details. I've only seen a little of the show and thankfully don't plan on watching more, or I might have found the spoilers to be more upsetting. Oh, and there are also a few Fushigi Yuugi spoilers.

Now that I've gotten all the warnings out of the way, it's time for my review.

I'm not a fan of epistolary novels and usually won't even go near them unless their descriptions interest me, as was the case with My Girlfriend's a Geek. Another strike against the book was my dislike of Pentabu, which was fairly strong during the first third, came and went in flashes for most of the rest, and sorta kinda went away by the end.

Pentabu's reactions to Y-ko during the first third or so of the book often had me thinking something along the lines of “The lady doth protest too much.” He'd frequently write stuff like “my fujoshi girlfriend is dragging me into her world, the horror!” and “the only anime I've ever really watched is [fill in the blank],” and I don't think he considered himself to be an otaku. Certain details struck false notes, however. How could a guy who said “I basically don't watch anime” have a favorite Fushigi Yuugi character and know enough about the show to have cried over the death of a character? This, and other details, had me viewing Pentabu as a hypocrite, a secret otaku (and possibly secret shoujo fan?) who enjoyed making fun of his girlfriend's fujoshi interests via his public, semi-anonymous, and hugely popular blog.

In later posts, Pentabu wrote about Y-ko's cosplaying efforts. Her Christmas present to him was to dress up as a pink nurse with cat ears (Pentabu has a pink nurse fetish – seriously, is this guy really in any position to be making fun of his girlfriend?). She also spent a period of time dressed up as a maid, greeting him when he came home. Pentabu's response was annoyance that she didn't act like a proper maid (the only real change in her behavior was to add “Master” to the end of all her sentences) and that her outfit was so difficult to remove.

Which leads me to one of the things about this book that made me a little uncomfortable – the references to Pentabu and Y-ko's sex life, which, if Pentabu was to be believed, was fairly active. Pentabu never mentioned having told Y-ko about his blog (although the final few pages of the book indicate that he probably told her at some point, if not from the very beginning), so it wasn't clear if he had her permission to refer, even in a fade-to-black way, to moments in their life that lead to sex and/or making out. If he didn't get her permission, and if I were Y-ko, I'd have been mad. There were quite a few indications that Y-ko was too embarrassed to be very “out” about her interests, so I'd imagine that even semi-anonymous references to fujoshi-fied aspects of her sex life would be hugely embarrassing. Fade-to-black sex/making out while wearing a dress shirt she bought Pentabu (Y-ko has a suit fetish), while wearing Pentabu's high school uniform (Y-ko also has a gakuran fetish), and during Y-ko's maid cosplay period, etc. You get the idea.

The book had its good points, though. Although the depth of Pentabu's embarrassment over Y-ko's interests sometimes annoyed me, other times I laughed and felt more sympathy for him. I liked the entry about a sick Y-ko asking Pentabu to read her new BL doujinshi to her - “Put all your emotion into it and play both roles” (73). Oh, poor guy. And I laughed when he realized all of Y-ko's friends knew him as Uke-Sebas.

There were cute relationship moments too, and those are what eventually won me over and convinced  me that (assuming those sex life details weren't posted without Y-ko's permission) maybe Pentabu was  a decent guy after all. I loved reading about Pentabu meeting Y-ko's family for the first time (Y-ko's mom was fabulous), and the entry on Y-ko's Christmas present was good, too. The final entry (in this volume, anyway) was incredibly sweet and could be summed up like so: “I know I gripe a lot about Y-ko's fujoshi interests, but, in reality, none of it really bothers me, because I love her and enjoy having her by my side.” Everybody, say it with me now: Awww.

I probably would have enjoyed this book more if the sentiments Pentabu expressed in that last blog post had been clearer from the beginning. Actually, there's a lot that Pentabu made clear in his final few posts in this volume that I would have liked to have known sooner: how he and Y-ko met and became a couple, and that, at some point, he must have let Y-ko know about the blog (the final post mentions Y-ko sitting behind him, giggling over BL manga, and an epilogue features Pentabu and Y-ko answering questions asked by Pentabu's readers). The occasional blog post written by Y-ko would also have been nice.

All in all, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. I spent much of it annoyed at Pentabu and a little uncomfortable about some of the things he wrote, even as he occasionally charmed me and made me laugh. I have a feeling I'd probably get along well with Y-ko – we'd at least make great shopping buddies. The final few pages were very sweet and managed to improve my overall opinion of both Pentabu and the book – my romance-loving heart melted over Y-ko and Pentabu's comments about Pentabu using bookmarks. I don't know if I'll hunt down and read the second volume, but I also don't resent the time spent reading this volume. I'll have to see if I like the manga adaptation of Pentabu and Y-ko's story more.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Train Man (book) by Hitori Nakano - If you loved the possibly-a-real-life-romance aspect of My Girlfriend's a Geek, you might want to give this a try. Train Man is another real-life romance from Japan, with several adaptations that have also been translated into English. This book collects some of the 2channel posts detailing the development of a romantic relationship between a shy, socially stunted geek and the woman he helped defend against a drunken salaryman on a train. I have written about the book and the live action movie adaptation.
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (book) by Nagaru Tanigawa, illustrations by Noizi Ito - I haven't read this light novel series, although I've seen some of the anime based on it. This might appeal to those who'd like another romance(ish) featuring a guy who finds himself dragged into the orbit of an intense and over-the-top girl. The anime has some fantasy/sci-fi aspects to it, so I'm assuming the light novels do too. I have written about the first season of the anime.
  • My Girlfriend's a Geek (manga) originally created by Pentabu, art by Rize Shinba - Okay, so it's cheating to add this to my read-alikes list, but I was having problems thinking of things to add. This is the manga adaptation of Pentabu and Y-ko's story.
  • Oreimo (manga) by Tsukasa Fushimi, art by Sakura Ikeda; Oreimo (anime TV series) - I haven't seen or read this yet, mostly because I'm worried about its "ick" factor. The main characters are Kyousuke and his sister, Kirino. Kirino is smart, popular, and pretty, and Kyousuke lives in her shadow until he discovers her secret - that she has an obsessive love for anime and "little sister"-themed eroge (adult computer games). Those who'd like something else featuring a geeky, somewhat perverted female main character might want to give this a try.

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