As suggested in the last chapter, Madarame and Kugayama visit Keiko’s cabaret (i.e. hostess) club. Though Keiko at first turns up the charm typically expected of a hostess, she quickly reverts to her familiar, sharp-tongued self upon finding about Madarame’s recent inner conflict over receiving Valentine’s chocolate from Hato. When it comes time for Keiko to switch out with another girl, however, Madarame asks if Keiko can stay because in spite of being a girl Madarame feels like he can talk comfortably with her. Many hours later, Madarame wakes up from a drunk stupor only to find out that it’s 3am in the morning. Madarame goes to find a 24-hour internet cafe to crash at, but Keiko suggests he come over to her place.

The Almost-Romantic Misadventures of Madarame (If They Ever Begin At All) is such a strange place to be at when you think about how Genshiken began and Madarame’s original role as alpha otaku. Obviously the awkwardness around women was there from the start and has persisted to even this most recent chapter, but now Genshiken is actively presenting Madarame pairings for people to ship and feeding solid arguments for each. In the case of Keiko, we see Madarame able to actively argue and interact with Keiko in a way that looks natural. Not only that, the fact that Keiko herself quickly reverts to her true self instead of continuing her performance as a hostess means that this attitude is reciprocal. Perhaps if this were a different manga, Keiko would say something like, “I can’t help but be myself around you!”

I bring this up not to board the Keiko x Mada train, but in order to preface something I’ve felt about the past two chapters. I find that, perhaps more than ever, the manga gives the impression of a sense of “progress.” In other words,  while obviously many characters have changed in major ways throughout the series (Ogiue most of all), the smaller developments in Madarame feel potent because of how relatively small they are. To some extent, this has to do with the fact that these chapters have concerned characters from the older generation like Madarame and Kugayama, but what’s even more significant is that, even though these conversations feel comfortable, there’s a new context around them in the form of Madarame’s girl troubles that also tinges it with just a bit of exciting unfamiliarity.

Having never been to a host or hostess club, anything I know about them comes from media (anime, written articles, etc.), so I was a bit surprised to find out about all of the little things they do to get your money. While I’ve heard that people spend lots of money on their hostesses, what I didn’t know was that they actively switch every 15 minutes or so and that the only way to keep talking to your preferred girl is to spend money on them in the form of drinks. It reminds me a lot of how contemporary free-to-play games work, giving the customer a small taste and using the allure of continued immersive entertainment to lighten their wallets.

In that sense, the cabaret club is not that different from cute girl-oriented games such as Love Live! School Idol Festival or Kantai Collection, especially when it comes to all of the tricks the girls use to keep a guy enticed. School Idol Festival presents little “stories” where the girls talk about their favorite things, and there’s always the implication of an ambiguous romantic attraction to you the player (“Maybe next time, I can wear other outfits for you!”). Similarly, in this chapter, Keiko demonstrates a number of tricks of the trade. Showing a bit of cleavage is an obvious one, as is presenting a cutesy and demure persona through her attitude and posture, but it didn’t even occur to me until she dropped the act and crossed her legs that her original way of sitting with legs pressed together is clearly suggestive. This doesn’t mean that bare, uncrossed legs are always about sending signals, but in the context of a cabaret club and its employee it’s pretty clear what the true motive is.

I believe that Keiko’s familiarity with the use of a persona to attract men, perhaps not only due to her current profession but possibly also due to the circles she’s run with in the past, is what makes her so skeptical of Hato. Seeing Hato act so girly while knowing that he’s really a man (and sees himself as a man), most likely Keiko thinks that Hato must have some kind of ulterior motive or is not presenting his true self. After all, she fakes her personality for work every day, and knows what will get a guy to pay more attention (and money).

Of course, as established previously, Keiko does have some degree of attraction towards Madarame, and so this changes the dynamic of their hostess-customer relationship in this chapter. However, I find that her approach to getting Madarame, while comparable to her hostess strategies, is still significantly different and perhaps even closer to Angela’s approach. When originally trying to get with Madarame, Angela told Ohno (in the between-chapter extras) that she had intentionally emphasized her dynamite body around him so that her image would linger in his mind (Angela specifically says that he wanted Madarame to masturbate to his memory of her). Although Keiko doesn’t utilize the same sledgehammer method as Angela, it’s also clear that Keiko knows exactly what her words imply when she invites Madarame over to her place at 3am in the morning, and that this has instantly planted a seed into Madarame’s imagination. Keiko the hostess nudges and winks, Keiko the person presses the issue.

Even though he doesn’t have much of a presence in this chapter (or well, ever), there are these little things the chapter presents about Kugayama that I find interesting. After Madarame wakes up, Keiko informs him that Kugayama paid for everything, and that it looks like he makes more than a decent wage. While we’ve seen Kugayama employed for a long time now, this gives me the impression that he’s become a true otaku salaryman, in the sense that while he may not have much time anymore he’s able to devote his earnings to continuing his fandom. Additionally, while Kugayama is secretly praying that Madarame won’t buy an expensive drink for Keiko with the expectation that he’ll be treating Madarame to it, Madarame himself doesn’t even consider the notion that he’s doing this on Kugayama’s own dime (or 10-yen coin ha ha ha ha please don’t kill me). There’s just something there that makes me really feel their friendship even though we don’t see it too often anymore.

The last thing I want to mention is that the next chapter preview reference this time is actually from Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, the bizarre anime where Captain America and friends are kind of like Pokemon. Kio frequently makes both obscure and recent references, but this one actually caught me by surprise more than any other.

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