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This month, we have our first ever Madarame and Sue-exclusive chapter. Sue tries to jettison her feelings for Madarame as only Sue can, by handcuffing him to a chair and putting funny masks on him until her perception of Madarame changes and encouraging him to date Hato. At the same time, Madarame, still reeling from his nearly physical encounter with Keiko, is trying to comprehend women’s behavior, which might as well be an ancient and inscrutable language to him. In the end, a poor of choice of words on Madarame’s part, a comment on breast size, may have resolved Sue’s problem for her.

Back in 2010, I wrote a small post on how interesting it is that Sasahara and Madarame essentially “traded preferences” when it came to their real-life vs. anime love interests. Namely, despite Madarame being into the character Renko (who is closer in personality and looks to Ogiue), he was head over heels in love with Kasukabe, who was closer to Sasahara’s favorite character Ritsuko. In Chapter 105, Madarame mentions the fact that, in a harem series, Sue’s type, a young-looking westerner with slender limbs and small proportions, is his favorite kind of character, and I think it’s quite notable that Madarame is only now realizing this himself. The explanation Madarame gives in this chapter is that Keiko and her attempted sexual advance on him has messed with his view of the world and how he approaches the subject of women, and it makes total sense, seeing as how the worlds of 2D and 3D have begun to blur in his head.

This is not to say that his confused behavior is Keiko’s “fault,” however, as Madarame himself sees it, but that the younger Sasahara putting the moves on Madarame has forced him out of the warm and comforting shell of his 2D complex. To Madarame, his former distinction between 2D and 3D is that 2D is where he can channel his desires both emotional and sexual, and 3D, the land of the mysterious creatures known as “actual women,” was so inaccessible to him that the best he could do was fawn over Kasukabe from a distance. When Angela was trying to get in his pants, Madarame likely saw that as so far outside reality that it might as well have been a dream within a dream. Keiko’s actions introduced the word “possible” to his real-world (meaning real women) vocabulary, and so in a way his protective layer of ignorance has been shattered in a manner different from Kasukabe rejecting him. Now, Madarame is conscious of the idea that women might be trying to send signals, but he’s basically a man who has been living in a cave all his life seeing sunlight for the first time. It is probably to his benefit that he becomes aware that women who like him can exist, but for now he’s merely blinded and clawing at open air.

Thus, Madarame tries to “read” Sue, given his limited context. “She’s on my bed! We’re by ourselves!” It’s very possible Madarame could have made a big mistake if not for Sue immobilizing him with those handcuffs, but it’s also understandable in that, when it comes to the opposite sex, he’s more or less a baby who has just learned to crawl, let alone walk. His comment to Sue that, well, Hato doesn’t have any breasts, is born from a brief moment of overconfidence (one might say even hubris) and a relative lack of interpersonal communication skills. Earlier in the chapter, Madarame notices that Sue is not completely flat-chested, and so in stating that Hato “doesn’t have any breasts, huh,” he tries to make a distinction between Hato and Sue. However, Sue has been shown to be sensitive to this subject, so it comes across as more of an insult. And even then, this sort of detail which otaku can elaborate upon extensively, the difference between an AA and an AAA cup or whatever, is not exactly going to win any points when talking to an actual girl.

As for Sue, I find that she’s trying to do what Hato himself had attempted before. Sue asks Madarame to date Hato, much in the same way that Hato was pushing Madarame towards being more assertive with his feelings for Kasukabe, and in both cases they were ways to distance themselves from their own feelings. “If he’s in a relationship, I can get over him!” For that matter, Madarame sort of did the same thing to himself with respect to Kasukabe, and even Yajima, who is not in this chapter, has been shown cheering for Hato x Mada as a way to keep her own attraction to Hato bottled up. With Sue specifically, however, it looks like this is her first ever crush, unlike the others who appear to have some unrequited feelings in the past, and so much like Madarame it is also Ms. Hopkins who is learning to crawl. However, Sue is arguably even more of an otaku than Madarame is, and in that way I can really see the perspective of Sue x Mada supporters. They even have that consistent interaction where Sue will pull out a reference and Madarame will instantly recognize it (this chapter it was Saitou Hajime from Rurouni Kenshin). While there are those who believe this swing and a miss on Madarame’s part is the death of this pairing, much like Keiko x Mada I find that it only opens things up more.

I don’t know if this actually a reference or not, but I find Sue’s “funny mask therapy” to be similar to one of the storylines in Space Brothers. At one point, the younger brother Hibito suffers from panic disorder due to a near-death encounter on the moon, which leaves him unable to wear a spacesuit. The treatment recommended to him is to wear various outfits, from football uniforms to animal mascot costumes, in order to gradually lighten the pressure his mind puts on him when in a spacesuit. Obviously, it doesn’t work the same way seeing as Sue is not the one wearing those ridiculous masks, but a similar effect is desired on her part.

The chapter ends with Hato struggling to draw manga. It might be setup for the next chapter, but what I find interesting is that Hato is having difficulty making his manga more interesting, as opposed to being unable to draw BL. Progress!

 

As Madarame licks his proverbial wounds after his “close encounter” with Keiko, Hato reveals to the Genshiken club members that he’s decided to finally try and draw manga, and non-BL stuff to boot. Frustrated over her own lack of talent compared to Hato, Yajima decides in a moment of frustration to draw her own manga as well. The next day, both of them give their comics over to Yoshitake and Ogiue to read, at which point the unexpected occurs: they love Yajima’s manga much more. While Hato’s artwork is superior as expected, his story is inscrutable. Yajima, on the other hand, although lacking talent in terms of pure draftsmanship, is actually Hato’s better when it comes to the comics format.

For this chapter, I feel that there are two major points of discussion.

The first is that Chapter 104 is all about revealing new facets of characters we should have been more than familiar with at this point, and how this potentially changes their interpersonal dynamics in the process. Yajima up to this point has felt consistently “defeated” by everything around her, from her looks compared to the other members of the current Genshiken, to her poor drawing skills, to even having the little attempts she makes to try and “catch up” backfire. Hato has served to further magnify this inferiority complex, an issue further complicated by her feelings for him. Yajima is a character who survives off of stubbornness and perseverance, but now for the first time, possibly in her entire life, she has “won.” She has displayed a skill that is not easy for most people, outdoing Hato in the process, and perhaps even Ogiue the manga professional. Yajima might finally get the confidence she’s been missing all these years, and it potentially changes her relationship with Hato as well.

There’s also an important lesson for readers in that creating comics is not simply about being able to draw well. As is mentioned in this chapter, having your ideas come across effectively is often considered to be just as if not more important, and there are plenty of manga which succeed not because they look the best, but that their style is conducive to storytelling, or is just plain entertaining even if they might look ugly as sin.

As for Hato, it’s actually quite interesting to see the degree to which Hato is fazed by his lack of success in creating his first manga compared to Yajima. Since the start of the second series, Hato has consistently been shown to be unusually talented in pretty much anything he puts his mind to, be it judo, crossdressing, or even mimicking the drawing style of the girl he looked up to. While he isn’t a perfect being, seeing as Hato has hit obstacles in the past such as his eccentric drawing style when out of girls’ clothing, it’s clear that Hato is in a way unaccustomed to failing when there are no mental blocks in his way. For the first time, he may have to realize his limits, but in the process might become more thankful of the myriad talents he does possess.

There’s a strong likelihood that this new angle leads to collaboration between Hato and Yajima. The last campus festival was all about team efforts to create manga, and seeing as the two potentially complement each other better than the Hato/Ogiue or Yajima/Yoshitake duos, it could lead to great things. Of course, the burning question in all of this is, could this collaboration be the catalyst for something more romantic? Given Madarame and his woes, it’s impossible to predict Genshiken anymore, but there is a precedent of sorts with Sasahara and Ogiue.

Speaking of Ogiue, even she shows another side of herself in this chapter as we get to see her ultimate goal for Genshiken. Having inherited the club from Ohno, she’s been not-so-secretly desiring the end of the club’s reputation as a “Cosplay Research Society,” but only now are the pieces in place to mold Genshiken in her image as a manga-creation club. Though I don’t think Ogiue is any sort of devious mastermind, I do have to wonder if the executive decisions we’ve seen out of her so far—the return of the Genshiken club magazine Mebaetame, encouraging the creation of manga for the campus festival—were all building blocks for this. Overall, I’m honestly surprised at how much this chapter feels like it changes everything, and yet is such a sensible progression of the story as the characters’ emotions are on full display.

That leads me to the second major pojnt of discussion for this chapter: THE FACES.

I’ve talked about the amazing expressions in Genshiken II before, but this chapter blows every previous one out of the water. Just look at these images of Yoshitake with a grin that would make the Joker jealous, and how Hato’s intensity is radiating off the page.

 

Of course, seeing Yoshitake practically melt into a pile of goo seen above is one thing. After all, Yoshitake has always been a powerful source of hilarious faces. So is seeing Hato’s expression of jealousy over Yajima’s heretofore unknown talent for manga, as it’s not that different from how he usually looks, even if it is kind of unexpected. What’s really remarkable though, at least from my very biased perspective, is the veritable treasure trove of Ogiue faces that this chapter has graced us with. In the past, Ogiue was mainly known for a perpetual expression of deep anger, and even in moments of joy (like the intimate moment she and Sasahara have in the final chapter of the original series) she still tended to stare daggers at people, if unintentionally. One of the big shifts in Nidaime is the fact that her expressions have softened up considerably over time, and in a way it feels as if this chapter is the culmination of that development.

I don’t have any exact statistics on this, but I do trust my memory as an Ogiue fan on the following: do you know when’s the last time we got to see Ogiue literally laugh out loud so hard she couldn’t control herself? The answer is never. I believe it is a first for the character, and it helps to hammer home the point that Yajima’s manga is legitimately funny, and legitimately interesting.

Next chapter looks to be focused on Madarame and Sue. Given the insanity of last month’s chapter I think this “break” from Madarame’s girl troubles is great, but seeing as this chapter was so downright enjoyable, a part of me hopes that it shifts back to the threads that have laid down here as soon as possible, even though I expect great things out of whatever antics Sue has in store.

Genshiken has portrayed elaborate fantasies, some nudity, and implied sex, but Chapter 103 may be the most erotic chapter the manga has ever seen.

At the end of the last chapter, Madarame was headed with Keiko to her apartment. While it was a little unclear (though heavily implied) that Keiko was using this situation to her advantage, all doubts are erased in Chapter 103 as Keiko does everything in her power to seduce Madarame. On the verge of success as she bids Madarame to feel some real skin, they are interrupted by a phone call from Keiko’s boyfriend, who plans to come over. After Keiko casually admits to having affairs pretty regularly, Madarame escapes, though Keiko expects for him to return.

When I say that this month’s chapter is especially erotic, it has a lot to do with the fact that this is the first chapter ever in Genshiken that has been primarily devoted to one person’s efforts to seduce another. Not only that, but this chapter creates an atmosphere of anticipation and sexual excitement through Keiko’s actions and gestures, going one step even further than the last chapter. Everything Keiko does, from her decision to shower to her choice of clothes, from her subtle choice of words that boost Madarame’s confidence to her serious bedroom eyes, implies advancement towards sex… not to mention that they’re in such a confined space. While I’m not typically one to analyze erotic manga (and this doesn’t quite count as eromanga in the typical sense), I would like to discuss the first panel in the image below, where Madarame’s hand is above Keiko’s open sweatshirt after she’s invited him to touch her breasts.

There’s a real sense of tension in the panel, created by its size, the lack of word balloons, and especially Keiko’s expression, which conveys excitement, anticipation, and even arousal. What’s also notable is that this eroticism is different from the fanservice scenes in the anime Genshiken 2 (not to be confused with Genshiken Second Season), which at times were virtually pornographic (the studio that made Genshiken 2 is best known for its work on Ikkitousen and Mezzo Forte, among other things). Instead, in terms of portraying sexual acts, this veers closer to what can typically be found in more adult josei manga in terms of buildup.

When looking at this chapter, I get the strong feeling that Kio Shimoku’s work on Spotted Flower is bleeding into his work on Genshiken. After all, he has a history of sorts with this, as the very first chapter of Genshiken II was made at a time when his latest work was Jigopuri, and characters looked much rounder and more in line with a moe aesthetic. One can think of Spotted Flower as essentially an alternate universe Genshiken where a man very much like Madarame is married to a woman very much like Kasukabe, and it has been an opportunity for Kio to portray adult sexual desire with far more detail than Genshiken is known for. Whether that’s through depictions of nudity, scenes about the wife trying to get the husband erect, or just the general expression of romantic lust, Spotted Flower has distinguished itself from Genshiken by being a more mature and sexually explicit series. Keiko’s interactions with Madarame venture deep into that territory, and I wonder if this will have a long-term effect on Genshiken going forward.

I think it’s useful to compare Keiko to Angela, not only because Angela once attempted to seduce Madarame herself, but that they have much in common when it comes to men. In my review of Chapter 93, I mentioned that Angela and Keiko look like they could be friends, and I think it’s no accident that Kio has portrayed them as both aiming for the boob grab as the lynchpin of their pursuits of Madarame. Both of them are quite experienced with sex, and both are aware that, for guys in general but especially a virgin like Madarame, breasts are placed on this grand pedestal. Keiko is even shown planning to moan erotically as soon as Madarame makes his move as a way to draw him in further, a bit of characterization in a sexually charged scene that indicates Keiko’s understanding of Madarame and further shows that she and Angela are of similar minds.

Now, I think a fair number of people, upon reading my description and analysis of Chapter 103, might feel that Genshiken has hit the point of no return. “Seriously? A scene where Madarame is basically about to have sex with Sasahara’s sister? What is this harem stuff? What happened to this manga?” Interestingly, the chapter features an explanation as to how Madarame finally started being viewed as attractive. At one point, Keiko says that seeing an otaku like Madarame in love with a person like Kasukabe who is (from Keiko’s perspective) completely out of his league actually makes him pretty cute in her eyes. In other words, as Keiko puts it, it’s thanks to Kasukabe that Madarame was able to exude his awkward charms. Not only that, but Keiko is sort of fond of no-good, pathetic types as well.

When thinking about the other characters, Sue, Hato, and Angela, they’ve all been shown to have also come from similar angles, either implicitly or explicitly. Sue’s wild denial that she has feelings for Madarame is the direct result of Saki seeing her kiss him. Angela already had a thing for sou-uke characters in anime and manga, and she began making her move upon learning that Madarame was feeling heart-broken. Hato, why, much of the series at this point is about his growing affections for Madarame’s character flaws, and it was even prompted by him learning about his unrequited love for Kasukabe. Of course, with Keiko it’s not as if she only has eyes for Madarame; he’s but one of many that she wouldn’t mind sleeping with. The fact that not everyone interested in Madarame has the same view of sex and relationships (which is often the case with actual harem anime and manga) is part of what makes this story arc intriguing. I do have to wonder if Keiko’s boyfriend is of a similar personality in spite of his greater financial success (he’s a subordinate of the president of an IT company).

Next chapter will be about Hato, but the question on my mind is, how will Sasahara react when he finds out about this?! I’ve read comments where people think it’s all over for Keiko x Mada, but I get the feeling that she’s not quite yet done.

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.

Can you believe it’s finally Chapter 100? Genshiken has come a long way, and you’d expect a manga to make a pretty big deal out of something like this, but this month is actually fairly low-key in spite of it being about Valentine’s Day. Perhaps that casual approach is the most appropriate way to celebrate Genshiken.

I get the feeling most people reading this will be familiar with the distinction between giri (platonic) and honmei (romantic) chocolates in Japanese Valentine’s Day, but I’m pointing out the distinction here just in case.

The women of Genshiken are buying chocolates for Valentine’s Day, though in the spirit of cooperation and camaraderie they’ve decided to buy their chocolates together, and for everyone to buy each other chocolates. Or rather, that is the plan on the surface, as it’s really an opportunity for everyone to buy chocolates for their respective crushes and make it look like an egalitarian affair. Yajima appears to chicken out at the last second and just buys a box of chocolates for everyone to share, but this too is revealed to be a ruse. Kuchiki comes in and is (somewhat justifiably) angry that no one remembered to give him chocolate, and Yajima gives the chocolates meant for Hato to Hato but only so that he can offer them to Kuchiki to quell his nerd rage. In the end, Hato (with Sue) goes over to give him some honmei chocolate, which causes Madarame to blush profusely.

The title of this chapter—”Is it the birthday of the Van Allen Radiation Belt?—is a reference to Kyuukyoku Choujin R. It’s also been the source of a lot of Sue’s quotes, and reminds me of Tamagomago’s post on the difference between Genshiken and R. As mentioned there, Genshiken used to be compared a lot to R, but their approaches to the generation gap between club members is different. I’ve pointed out the contrast between the old and new era of Genshiken, though at 45 chapters into Nidaime it’s at the point where the Ogiue-led Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture has been its own thing for almost 4 years now. Even though the connections pop up still, I’ve gotten the feeling that the manga has been trying to move away from that disparity between “young” and “old,” and more towards this incarnation of the club having its own rhythm. That sense that the “fujoshi-laden Genshiken” is unique has always been there, but in this chapter it really comes through.

Genshiken has never really done Valentine’s Day, and while at first that seems kind of unusual given how long the manga is, it makes sense that it would happen only after 1) the club went from being mostly guys to mostly girls (Valentine’s Day is a holiday in Japan where girls give chocolates) and 2) after romantic feelings are front and center in the story. The chapter purposely makes note of the fact that the way the Genshiken members go about celebrating Valentine’s Day doesn’t quite match up to the way things go in anime, but at the same time it still kind of falls into the same parameters. All of the twists and turns in the plot summary above are basically attempts by the girls to Trojan Horse honmei chocolates as giri chocolates, making for something as complex as the political machinations of some royal nobility. I do find it funny that Ohno, having spent some time in the US, gives the “I wish it were more like anime!” vibe like you’d expect out of her fellow Americans.

Always lurking in the proverbial background (and let’s face it, also the foreground) is the fact that this collection of fujoshi (+ fudanshi) for the most part have rather limited and awkward experiences with romance. Even a “veteran” such as Ogiue is still relatively new to the whole girlfriend thing; as the title page mentions, this is only her second time ever celebrating Valentine’s Day with Sasahara. Sue still uses the “Ogiue is me wife” defense mechanism and both  Yajima and Hato are smack dab in the middle of a love dodecahedron. Even though Yoshitake is not directly involved, I generally get the feeling, based on her willingness to dispense advice on even a subject as unfamiliar to her as love, that she would probably handle romance worse than Yajima. It’d be the perfect culmination of all those times Yoshitake has gotten Yajima to do embarrassing things. Of course, even better than a punchline is  Yoshitake and Yajima actually punching each other, in this casebecause of the former’s “schemes” and the latter’s “cowardice.”

A while ago, I read a review on Anime News Network for Genshiken that was mostly positive but criticized the manga for an overwhelming use of word balloons that supposedly detracted from the visuals. I disagree, not because I think there aren’t a lot of word balloons or that I believe them insignificant, but rather because they add to the experience of looking at manga, guiding the eyes from one significant element to the next while also giving the sense that the characters are chitchatting pretty constantly. Genshiken is sort of an atmospheric manga, but that aspect is minimized most of the time only to let the moments of total “silence” have that much more impact.

As for Madarame’s blushing, I’m not going to say that Hato x Mada is impossible (unlikely, yes), but I think it’d be wise not to read too much into Madarame’s reaction. Once again, we’re talking about a character who is the quintessential super otaku. Even if he finds himself surprisingly popular at the moment, and not so long ago was told that maaaaybe he might have had a chance with the girl of his dreams if circumstances had been different, this is the first romantic Valentine’s Day chocolate he’s ever received from anyone, guy or girl. It can be a lot for a guy. Then again, Nidaime relative to Madarame has partly been about how that classic otaku type is not static, but is rather subject to change due to the influences around him.

If there is anything marking this chapter as a milestone, it might be Ogiue’s behavior. Ogiue was originally a very intense and blunt person with a lot of personal emotional pain inside of her. Here in Chapter 100, Ogiue is rather sharp-tongued, but in a way that really contrasts with her old self. Whether it’s telling Ohno that she can’t play the “recently returned to Japan from abroad” card, or pointing out that Ohno took another year to graduate, there’s a strange kind of serenity to Ogiue’s verbal jabs. Ogiue’s always been a character with a lot of interesting and complicated facets, but subtlety in her words was never really one of them. Maybe it comes from becoming a professional manga creator, or maybe it’s just part of her growth in general. The fact that she’s the spotlight for the title page in spite of not being the focus of the chapter shows her overall importance to Genshiken. Though she’s no longer really in the spotlight, Ogiue continues to be the best character.

By the way, Genshiken Volume 16 is on sale June 23rd. I hope they don’t mess with me again and have a special edition and exclusive editions at Japanese stores!

After being absent for many chapters, Yoshitake Risa makes her return. Having given up a potentially successful career in basketball to take the entrance exam for Shiiou University, she and her older sister Rika have a heart to heart talk the night before, which quickly turns extremely otaku. At the same time, Yajima, Hato, and Sue have their own conversation about the younger Yoshitake, based around the fact that part of her inspiration for trying to get into their university is Hato and his crossdressing. Despite waking up late, a freak snowstorm delays the test, and Risa manages to make it there on time and pass the test.

The title of this chapter, “Little Sister Entrance Exam II,” is a reference to when Sasahara’s sister Keiko tried to get into Shiiou University herself. She failed, though Risa appears to be a good deal sharper academically, which changes the result.

This month’s Genshiken, despite having a clear general focus on Risa and her test, is still surprisingly complex to the extent that I’m not sure if I can cover everything, though to be honest I rarely every do despite my attempts. There are three areas which I think are especially interesting, though, so I’ll focus on those. The first would be Risa’s relationship with Hato, or more specifically her image of him. An unabashed shotacon, Hato’s naked body is what made Risa realize that her interests could be fulfilled in the adult world. However, the fact that she sees Hato as a kind of real life version of her ideal male fantasy (she asks him to wear legs-exposing short pants if she passes, which over the course of the chapter degenerates into some kind of reverse-gender take on zettai ryouiki), clashes in an intriguing way with the developments we’ve seen Hato go through all this time. He’s gone through a period where he refused to wear women’s clothing, and then come back around as he’s accepted his own feelings for Madarame, and here Risa is projecting her own interests onto him. What was already a complicated situation continues to grow, and that’s not even mentioning Risa’s own gender-bending actions.

The second area would be the start of Hato’s “harem.” Recently, the focus of Genshiken has been the number of people interested in Madarame, which the series has been using to explore the idea of the harem manga by way of the otaku sensibilities of the Genshiken characters. In this chapter, we not only see once again that Yajima has feelings for Hato, but that there might also be something with Sue, and Risa expresses her own interests in Hato (even if they’re mixed up with her otaku fantasies). Then there’s also Konno the googly-eyed goddess, who doesn’t appear in this chapter. Suddenly the series isn’t about one man’s “harem” (even though the term is kind of bad for describing when two or more people like you), but two intersecting ones. Granted, Yajima’s fear of Sue seems fairly unfounded, and I think it’s meant to show more her concern over potentially being outclassed, as well as her realization that it’s getting harder for her to deny her own feelings for Hato when she references her and Risa as “rivals.” I also find it notable that Risa is the only one to state some sort of interest in Hato to him, instead of only confessing to friends.

The third area is of course the subject of the entrance exam itself. Rika’s advice to her little sister is this mix of big sister attitude and fellow understanding as an otaku. In particular, Risa struggles with whether it was okay to walk away from basketball on a whim, to which Rika essentially responds that being an otaku means living by your passions even if it means making seeming unreasonable choices. The idea is that otaku aren’t as able to stifle their interests in the hopes of integrating with the rest of the world, and Risa already has done a relatively bang-up job what with her successful high school life. Something about this really strikes a chord with me, probably because I know others who’d probably give the same advice, and it’s something I’d encourage as well. On the other hand, this advice can also be abused such that one might refuse to better oneself, but that’s the kind of risk that exists with this sort of philosophy.

One last note: Sue’s snow shenanigans at Madarame’s place make me think of her as a kindred spirit to Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. Now that’s some crossover fanart I’d be interested in.

Sue’s moved in next to Hato and the awkwardness is palpable. The rest of the Genshiken girls pick their horses in the Madarame race: Yoshitake believes in Keiko x Mada, Yajima is for Hato x Mada, Ogiue supports Sue x Mada, and Ohno picks Angela x Mada. Meanwhile, Sue and Hato visit Madarame to take care of him while he’s still recovering from his illness. There, the harem-like scenario prompts Hato to make his intentions clear and obvious.

I find the discussion between the girls about who they think would work best with Madarame fascinating for a couple of reasons. First, you can tell that each girl’s pick has different degrees of idealism and pragmatism. Yajima and Ohno are kind of longshots because of gender and distance respectively, while Ogiue for example thinks Sue and Madarame are a good match and Yoshitake’s preference for Keiko, as she’s explained before, has to do with trying to keep all her friends. Second, I find that it calls back to one of the basic questions of Nidaime, which is what would this club be like if it were mostly girls? Here, we can see how the act of pairing common to female otaku extends beyond simply the realm of BL and into the possibility of heterosexual relationships as well. It’s also interesting seeing them blur that fantasy/reality line, especially with Yajima who digs Hato but is a sucker for the Hato x Mada pairing.

The main topic of the chapter, however, is the rivalry between Hato and Sue. Hato’s begun to make some serious moves, like learning how to cook better so that he doesn’t disappoint Madarame, dropping as many lines as he possibly can to make his feelings all but crystal clear (“I’d like to cook for you again, Madarame, but without Sue around”), and outright mentioning the “harem” atmosphere. Yet, Hato finds that he doesn’t mind being a part of this harem, something which I can only attribute to the very staticness that is at the core of harem manga as a genre. In this state, Hato gets to express his feelings without there being any commitment one way or another, allowing him to participate without the consequences of having “winners and losers.” In other words, Hato probably thinks this is the closest he’ll ever get to really being with Madarame.

If there’s one thing about this chapter that really stands out visually, it’s the intensity of the blushing. Sue, Hato, and Madarame seem to have this reciprocal relationship where when one person’s face turns red, the other’s goes one step further, like they’re having an arms race using their cheeks. The blushing possesses an almost three-dimensional quality, like it fills the very room I’m sitting in, and I can’t tell whether or not I should be blushing as well. I think the key to this is how Kio successfully communicates the escalating sense of embarrassment that the characters, especially Hato, experience in this chapter.

Seeing Sue go wide-eyed over Hato’s soup, for a brief moment, I thought Sue might actually start to fall in love with him instead. Of course, that’s not what happens,  and instead you get this sort of grudging respect from Sue for Hato. As stated in the chapter, Sue mainly only eats convenience store bentou (I think the reference she makes in this episode is actually to Ben-To!), and while those things tend to be quite tasty (seriously, they’re really good), it doesn’t match up to the level of a proper home-cooked meal. As Sue becomes increasingly prominent in the manga, I wonder if she’ll begin to express self-doubts similar to Yajima’s to go with her perpetual shyness around Madarame.

Probably the most interesting topic in this chapter for me is the way Madarame feels that he simply cannot rely on harem anime and manga to navigate this situation. His reason is not simply that it’s unrealistic, but that the tendency for harems in shows to keep everyone at arms’ length so that everybody can be happy and the protagonist can have fun without any real repercussions doesn’t work when it comes to real people. Even indecisiveness has its consequences, and as we’ve seen already, it’s a topic where Madarame is surprisingly thoughtful.

Next chapter is the return of Yoshitake’s basketball-playing little sister of questionable tastes, Risa. I’m actually pretty excited, as I’ve been hoping for Kio to do more with her, especially because she had a few plot threads left from last time. There’s no telling if any of them will get resolved, but I’m just curious how she might factor into this whole complex relationship web, given that she also may or may not be interested in Hato.

One last thing: I can’t believe how good Ogiue looks in this chapter. I feel like Kio over the course of Nidaime has been working with somewhat unfamiliar territory when it comes to Ogiue’s character design. It’s substantially different from her old look, and I feel like he’s been gradually getting more comfortable with expressing Ogiue’s character as she currentlyexists in a way which properly captures where she’s been in the past and how she’s overcome all of that. In a way, she almost gives off a Kasukabe vibe, but in a way which is unmistakably Ogiue. The hoodie/dress shirt combination doesn’t hurt, either.

Chapter 97 of Genshiken II has quite a few significant developments, but they appear almost when you least expect them.

Yoshitake and Yajima decide to check out Hato’s new apartment, which is closer to the university. As they relax together, Yoshitake persists in trying to get Yajima to make a move on Hato or at least do something. The conversation goes to the topic of Madarame (who’s been looking for a new job), who then turns out to have a cold, prompting a visit.

While Hato uses his spare key to check up on Madarame and returns it, Yoshitake finally gets Yajima to admit that she has some feelings for Hato. As they discuss the fact that there’s actually an open apartment in Madarame’s building, Sue pulls up in a moving truck revealing that she will be living next to Hato (edit: not Madarame like I previously thought) from now on.

I find this chapter fairly difficult to process because it progresses so deceptively. What appears to start out as a Hato-centric chapter slowly reveals itself to be actually more of a Yajima and Yoshitake story, while the idle chit chat of the beginning eventually transforms into probably the most serious conversation about sexual orientation seen thus far in Genshiken. This unusual pacing makes it so that when Yajima finally quietly and grudgingly admits that she has some feelings for Hato (“…I don’t not like him”), it’s so subtle yet upfront that at least for me personally it feels like there’s a delayed response, like I’ve been hit by Kenshiro and am just waiting for my head to explode once it fully processes all of the implications.

Yajima’s moment plays out in the page below, and just the juxtaposition between her face and Yoshitake’s delightfully beaming face over getting her friend to finally come out with what Yoshitake herself has known all along is probably the highlight of the chapter. I know that manga sometimes gets ragged on for focusing too much on faces and not trying to draw more anatomically realistic characters or backgrounds, and then that the common response is to whip out something with really nice rendered art like Berserk. However, I think it’s important to appreciate skillfull use of faces in terms of creating a strong sense of flow and composition, even when it’s just two panels.

There’s also this sense of a narrative passing of the baton as while Hato has come to accept his feelings for Madarame, now it’s Yajima’s turn for conflict and confusion. In Yajima’s case it has nothing to do with her own sexual orientation. Instead, as far as I can interpret things, it has a lot to do with her own poor self-image mixed with some guilt over how she’s treated Hato and the realization that Hato feels something for Madarame. More than her appearance or her fondness for Shounen Jump analogues, it’s moments like these, where Yajima diminishes the value of her own romantic affections in favor of what’s already where, that makes Yajima feel really and truly like an awkward otaku.

As an aside, as much as I like Kinnikuman myself, I’m always a little surprised to see it referenced so readily in anime and manga, a reminder of how popular and beloved it really is. In this case, it’s Yajima using the Hell’s Guillotine, a signature move of the villain Akuma Shogun when she retaliates against Yoshitake’s antics.

When Yoshitake discusses sexuality, she mentions the idea that the fujoshi fantasy world of BL pairings is far different from the reality of a homosexual relationship and that there are (social) challenges awaiting anyone who accepts being part of a sexual minority. Not only is this rather poignant and serious, but together with the fact that she considers the likely reality that someone is going to get hurt in this no matter what, this chapter really highlights the fact that Yoshitake really thinks a lot of her friends. That said, she also kind of brushes aside her high school friends in a comment to Yajima and Hato, thought I take that as her having different types of friendships with different people. Even her friendships with Yajima and Hato individually aren’t quite the same.

As for Sue, the comedy potential for her living next to Hato  is obvious, but it casts an interesting context in retrospect on Sue’s appearance in Chapter 95. While Sue being surrounded by mountains of merchandise epitomizes her as a mighty otaku, it also gives off this stark image of loneliness and isolation, which might explain in part the decision to move.

The last thing I want to do is go back to the faces, because this chapter has some of the best I’ve ever seen in Genshiken. You can already see in the Yajima-Yoshitake image above. The series has always been pretty good with the expressions, especially with the old Ogiue’s intense glares and Yoshitake’s general aloofness, but I feel like they’re on a whole other level here.

Seeing this Ogiue face below fills me with a strange kind of glee. In it, she’s basically refusing to get anywhere near a beauty salon. It’s interesting but also completely in character for her to be especially uncomfortable going to that sort of place even though she’s become much more fashionable over time.

Ohno and Yoshitake are thinking about going to a beauty salon, and try to rope Yajima along. Yajima, being the consummate otaku she is, resists to the best of her abilities but eventually concedes. (Un)fortunately, the latest fujoshi-targeted anime hit comes out and all of their plans go out the window as Ohno and Yoshitake spend all of their money on buying the blurays. Yajima gloats.

I enjoy every chapter of Genshiken that comes out, but this month in particular I found myself literally laughing out loud multiple times while reading. Even though most of it is just Yoshitake, Yajima, and Ohno sitting around and talking about whether or not they should go pretty themselves up, the combination of Yoshitake teasing Yajima and the way their conversation always re-emphasizes their identities as otaku makes the whole thing feel delightfully endearing. At one point Yoshitake suggest bringing along Kasukabe and going to a particularly expensive salon, only to be reminded by Ohno that they just all went to ComiFes and are mutually low on funds.

In a way, I find the beginning of the chapter to be kind of a fake-out even ignoring the way Ohno and Yoshitake backpedal, because the fact that it begins with Ohno talking about finally cutting her hair short brings to mind an older conversation where she mentions that the long hair can be an interview while job-hunting, and so we’re led to believe that she’s referring to finally getting serious and moving out into the adult world. It even ties a bit into Tanaka’s implicit proposal back in Chapter 83. Then we find out it’s just so that she can cosplay more character and that goes out the window. Ohno’s refusal to enter the “real world” is an interesting character flaw, to say the least.

(Also notable is the appearance of Kantai Collection references. It had to happen!)

The real focus of the chapter though is Yajima, who once again is feeling the pressure of fashion and appearance, though notably this time Hato is in no way involved outside of a mention by Yoshitake. It’s interesting seeing this topic again after so many other other developments have occurred, like the resolution of Mada/Saki and Hato’s realization about his own feelings, as I think it makes it easier to connect to Yajima who appears to feel almost lost in the madness. Yajima scoffs at the idea of going to a beauty salon initially, stating how she prefers getting 1000-yen haircuts to whatever madness other girls prefer, and it’s entirely understandable. Hell, when it comes to conversations like this, I am mostly on the side of Yajima, and I even recall recoiling in horror at seeing the price of haircuts when I lived in Japan myself.

Of course, as a guy I don’t have to deal with the same societal forces which tell me that appearance is important, and when you look Genshiken it’s clear that even though all of the guys have become more fashionable over time, it’s not nearly the same as what girls have to go through. Like the most significant pieces of fashion advice I’ve received are to not wear clothes that are too large for me, and to never wear yellow (it doesn’t match me apparently), and that’s pretty small potatoes compared to going to a beauty salon. That said, I’m reminded me of what Yoshitake had to say about fashion, which is that she dresses up not to attract men but to intimidate women. Fashion becomes a tool, rather than an identity, though that’s probably still too much for Yajima (or myself for that matter).

Out of all of the funny moments this chapter, the biggest one has to be the reveal of the fujoshi-bait show of the fictional in-universe Winter 2014 season of anime. Suikyuu! is an anime about water polo of all things, a kind of mix between the team competition of sports series (like volleyball manga Haikyuu!!, namely) and the lithe, well-defined fanservice of Free! It even has the exclamation point! From Yoshitake’s reactions to seeing a team of elderly men join in (and thus set up the obvious reveal that Ohno watched it too), I think this is the first time that Nidaime has its own Kujibiki Unbalance, something which is grounded in the tropes and trends of the time that can be a consistent source of discussion for the Genshiken members. At least, that’s the potential, as we’ve of course yet to see more of it.

As Yoshitake and Yajima discuss the Madarame “harem,” Hato shows that he is more accepting of all the complex facets which make up who he is. Given the issue of romance in the air, however, Yoshitake worries that it could end up breaking Genshiken apart.

One of the manga volume extras has Tanaka and Kugayama discussing the idea that romantic feelings can often destroy otaku groups, and to see that “aside” brought to the forefront in the main manga is interesting, to say the least. It’s an aspect of “nerd friendship” that has been left unexplored in Genshiken so far, for better or worse. Madarame had his thing with Saki, of course, but that was defined more by Madarame’s silence, and now that their particular subplot finished with everything out in the open, the potential drama of the current situation acts as perhaps an extension of that. It’s like every time I look at Genshiken another new arc or period is starting.

Of course, the fact that when Tanaka and Kugayama talked about otaku groups falling apart they had in mind the lone girl whom all of the male otaku fawn after, which is completely flipped with Madarame here. I think I wouldn’t be a fan of too big a swing into “club drama” in the venomous sense, as I think it might get way too far from the core of Genshiken (I’d hate to see friendships fall apart), but given where the series has been and my sense of how Kio Shimoku has advanced the story of the new generation so far, I strongly doubt that’s where it’s headed. Even if it does, I think the man has enough skill to execute it well and make it an opportunity for contemplation nevertheless.

This chapter shows once and for all that the projections have been manifestations of various conflicts in Hato. With the other Hato it’s about how he has tried to maintain this dual mental identity such that his “male” self and his “female” self are two separate entities when in fact they are, as the other Hato put it, the same person. When it comes to the Kaminaga stand, however, given what we know now it’s clear that she represents Hato’s repressed feelings for Madarame. As I’ve stated many times before, I find it interesting that these are two separate aspects. Seeing Hato accept and “absorb” them is probably the highlight of the chapter, as it show perhaps more than any other scene with Hato in the entire of the manga a kind of resolution, or should I say resolve? There’s something powerful about seeing those semi-subconscious facets of Hato disappear from the page, almost like the last time we see Madoka in the original Madoka Magica TV series. I find it also significant that Hato now wants to find an apartment closer to the school so that he doesn’t have to change at Madarame’s place. The idea is obviously that Hato’s own feelings for him make that scenario incredibly uncomfortable for Hato.

A first for Genshiken is that we get to see Sue by herself this chapter. Usually she’s with Ohno, or Ogiue, or Angela, but here Genshiken presents the lone Susanna Hopkins, and though there’s nothing surprising about her lifestyle (or the fact that her dorm is a mess!), there’s an almost melancholy feel to seeing Sue without others to bounce off of, for her actions to collide with the sensibilities of others. If it weren’t for the stuff with Hato mentioned above, I would say Sue in her dorm room would have been the most powerful image in this chapter. Also, though it’s hard to tell I think Sue lives in an on-campus dorm specifically devoted to foreign students. My clues are the bits of unreadable English (or other roman alphabet text) on a couple of plaques and the fact that the two other dorm residents portrayed are speaking something unintelligible for Sue.

I also feel the need to talk a bit about Yoshitake, if only because, as much as the old Genshiken characters were into some pretty hardcore stuff, they never spoke so openly and candidly about topics like sex. Of course, Yoshitake’s exclamations come from a place of otaku fantasy and not personal experience, so it’s not that different, but she’s a far cry from everyone else outside of maybe Angela who’s more forward and is more sexually active than Yoshitake is. I think Yoshitake’s decision to title the whiteboard list of Madarame’s faults as “Rame-senpai no koko ga ramee,” which makes it sound like a line from a porn manga, says it all. As an aside, Yoshitake makes a reference to Kamijou Touma (I’ll break that illusion apart”), which I’m sure will please at least a few.

Sadly we did not get to see Ogiue in her hometown, which I was really hoping for. That said, though this may just be my own wishful thinking, I believe that Ogiue could play an important role in all of this because she understands the emotional and relationship damage that can happen when people refuse to communicate with each other, which I think is the biggest “threat” when it comes to a club like Genshiken falling apart.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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