It’s back to basics in Genshiken II, Chapter 85 as Sue, Yoshitake, and Yajima revive the old Genshiken tradition of spying on club members who think they’re alone. When it looks like Hato is getting unusually close to Madarame. Right when things seem to be getting to the point of no return, in comes Keiko, who quickly deduces that Madarame’s decision to quit his job comes from a desire to regress back to his old self now that he’s been rejected by Saki. When Keiko suggests that Madarame come to her Cabaret Club to “get dirty,” Sue interferes and inadvertently makes it known that they were being watched. An embarrassed Hato runs home, only to be met by Sue as the chapter ends.
The more I write these reviews, the more I worry that my constant references to the old chapters may be unfair to the new series. Perhaps if I engage the current Genshiken on its own terms, I’ll be able to do it justice. At the same time, I do actually feel that many of the ideas being explored in Genshiken II have their roots in the original manga, and that the new characters allow for a more complex elaboration.
Back when Ogiue’s own main storyline resolved, the message was one of acceptance. So what if others find your tastes weird? You’re who you are. While such a conclusion fit perfectly for Ogiue’ character, the question of whether the border between fantasy and reality is airtight or porous wasn’t answered to any great length. Not that it needed to be, but if we accept acceptance and remove moral and value judgments from the equation, how complex can that interaction be? This, I believe, is what is happening with Hato and his interactions with Madarame. Hato can go where Ogiue never could.
Hato is clearly emotionally confused in the current story, where everything he thought he knew about himself is being thrown into question. I don’t get a sense of a fear of homophobia from his situation, but that he is having trouble establishing the distinct barrier between his male self and female guise and that it means he doesn’t understand himself anymore. The breakdown hints at the power of imagination, of how we see and define ourselves, and invokes the idea that, while sexuality isn’t a learned behavior, that learning provides additional information for reflection.
Once again, if we go back to Ogiue, she once stated that the Sasahara of her yaoi fantasy is clearly different from his real self, but she also clearly enjoys and is even turned on by Sasahara when he role plays his imaginary “Strong Seme” self. For Hato, who not only includes a form of Madarame in his yaoi fantasies but is also becoming increasingly good friends with him, he almost provides a powerful thought experiment whose solution can’t be as simple as “he’s gay,” even if he turns out to be.
Something I find particularly interesting about Madarame’s portrayal in this chapter is the focus on his neck. The current Madarame looks different from when he was in college, and this is shown most overtly in his change in hairstyle, but when viewed up-close from behind, he still looks the same as he always had. Given that in this chapter he basically admits to wanting to regress, and the fact that Sue, Yoshitake, and Yajima did the old spying trick, I can’t see this callback as unintentional.
Keiko continues her role as a kind of substitute Saki in her own unique way. By that, I mean that where Saki has a natural pragmatism about her that Keiko lacks, Keiko seems to make up for it with sheer (mistake-filled) experience. I almost get the impression that her experience working at a cabaret club is actually increasing her perception skills far beyond what they already were, which even back when she was still attending college were still quite sharp (she’s the one who immediately noticed the sexual tension between Sasahara and Ogiue). I really can’t tell if Keiko is actually into Madarame or not, though the reveal that she’s been purposely mispronouncing his name as “Watanabe” the whole time says something. Even if Keiko is curious about Madarame, though, I can only see her interest being short term, even more than Angela’s.
As for the general idea of the “Madarame harem,” I think that it’s only a name. Take Sue, who both this chapter and last chapter was caught blushing in front of Madarame. The most obvious interpretation is a crush, but why did Sue stand back and watch when it looked like Hato was putting the moves on Madarame, but interfere when it looked like Keiko was about to do the same? For that matter, why did Sue interfere with Angela back when she was trying to get into Madarame’s pants? Given her appearance at Hato’s door at the end of the chapter, we’re probably going to find out more, but wish fulfillment fantasy with Madarame at the head this is not.
I am curious as to where Sue (who was super cute this chapter) is going. Is she going to get some real character development? She did start off as a kind of larger-than-life super fujoshi from another country, and to humanize her may either be an amazing decision or a terrible mistake. I have faith, though.
The last thing I want to point out is the significance of the Children’s Literature Society member we see in this chapter. In the past, that club was clearly on good terms with Genshiken given the whole spying thing, but I got the impression they were not exactly into anime and manga. The fact that this particular fujoshi chose to be part of the Children’s Literature Society in spite of the presence of not only Genshiken but also the Anime Society and the Manga Society (which has a large fujoshi contingent) has a connection with the recurring theme of the generation gap between otaku that primarily manifests in the mainstreaming of the otaku and the rise of the fujoshi. The otaku are not limited to the clubs that are meant for them, which I think says a lot.
As for Ogiue ending the spying thing, it only makes sense given that she was already the victim of it in more ways than one.