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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.

Since the last chapter, Madarame has been mulling over Hato’s Valentine’s chocolate. Feeling a sense of happiness over receiving them yet also confused and alarmed by this very reaction, he seeks the advice of Kugayama, who is the only other guy out of the old Genshiken crew to not have a significant other and thus won’t spill the beans to the girls. As the two get increasingly drunk over some barbecue, Madarame reveals where he believes the confusion lies: to him, Hato is a man and therefore someone Madarame can relate to, whereas women are so foreign to him that he doesn’t know how to even begin dealing with their affections. Kugayama suggests going to a soapland to help him get over his fear of women, but realizing that it’s probably too big a jump for either of them they consider instead going to a cabaret club, more specifically Keiko’s.

For a chapter basically consisting of two scenes and a brief look into Yajima’s attempt to improve her figure drawing with the help of Yoshitake, there’s actually a whole lot to unpack. At this point, it’s something I expect from Genshiken even putting aside my own tendency to analyze the series in depth, but the more I thought about the simple events and topics of this chapter, the more complex the exploration of otaku sexuality and its perception in the otaku mind becomes.

Although I’ve had to re-assess the manga’s messages when it comes to attraction and sexuality a number of times, at this point one thing continues to be certain: Genshiken presents the idea that one’s “2D” and “3D” preferences neither overlap entirely nor are they truly separate. It wasn’t that Hato was in denial when he originally said his preference for BL existed purely in the realm of doujinshi and the like, but that he honestly felt that way. However, as we’ve learned, even the distinction between “2D” and “3D” is tenuous, as the characters of Genshiken ship real people (or at least imaginary approximations of real people). I would argue that BL was not Hato’s realization of homosexuality, but something which made the idea a distinct possibility in his mind that helped him to clarify his feelings for Madarame.

While I don’t think Madarame is having the same thing happen to him, I do think his actions in this chapter reflect a similar semi-disconnect between his 2D and 3D desires. Consider the fact that one of Madarame’s warning signals was that he began re-playing his otoko no ko eroge. One would expect the situation to be that ever since Madarame received the chocolates that he began to look into those games, but he in fact had them for a while. While Madarame maintained is self-identity as heterosexual, he was playing those types of games the whole time, and as implied in the chapters where he first discusses his experience with those games, it’s less about being into guys 2D or 3D and more about the use of sexual expression coded generally as “female” in otaku media that appeals to him. Hato, who similarly performs “femininity” looks to be hitting the same triggers in Madarame, and the very fact that this deliberateness in the end positions Hato to be male is also what makes Madarame feel as if he can relate to Hato better than any woman.

The female sex is something Madarame has viewed his entire life as a realm of distant fantasy, only barely entering his purview of reality when Kasukabe suggested that maybe they could’ve had something if circumstances had been different. This, I think, is why Madarame has trouble deciding what he feels in reaction to Sue and Angela (via Ohno) giving him romantic chocolates as well. Madarame has expressed interest in 2D characters similar to Sue, and there’s no doubt that he finds Angela attractive on some level, but they’re a foreign existence, both figuratively and literally. In that sense the anime girl and the real girl are equally “farfetched.” This is also what makes the Chekhov’s gun that is Keiko’s heavily photoshopped business card so powerful. Not only is it the case that Madarame’s refusal to visit the cabaret club back in Chapter 59 potentially overturned the next chapter, and not only is Keiko one of the other girls into Madarame, but Keiko herself plays a “character” at her workplace. Even firmly within the realm of “3D,” the line between fantasy and reality blurs.

Another thing I find interesting about this whole notion that Hato’s feelings are easier to respond to because Madarame can relate to them as a fellow guy is how this somewhat mirrors one of the reasonings touted for why people get into BL of shounen manga. Traditionally, female characters and love interests in battle/sports/competition manga have been on the sidelines, and most of the displays of fiery passion consist of male rivals and enemies confronting and antagonizing each other, which leads to more time and effort to devoted to those relationships than the ones between the hero and his would-be girlfriend. While this isn’t quite the same as what Madarame and Hato have, what is similar is this concept of guys being able to understand each other on some deeper level (or with girls in yuri), whether it’s intrinsic or something that’s developed over time. In the case of Madarame, it’s perhaps an inevitability given his inexperience with women. In a way, Kugayama’s solution of breaking the “mystique” of the opposite sex through the use of a “professional,” while extremely typical in various cultures (there was even a King of the Hill episode on the subject) is itself also a breakthrough for the otaku-minded, as it involves a desire to get away from the ideal of sexual purity and enter “reality,” though even that conception of the world is fueled by a fantasy. There’s a more I could say about Kugayama as well, but I’ll leave it alone for now except to say that Kugayama in some ways occupies Yajima’s position.

As for the scene with Yajima, Yoshitake, Hato, and Sue, although it’s fairly short, it is notable that Yajima is actually trying to improve her drawing despite being previously resigned to suck at it forever, and Hato’s mention that he’s been drawing manga lately is likely going to mean that he’s gotten past his previous dilemma of only being able to draw BL when dressed as a girl and a rather bizarre style when as a boy. The “disappearance” of the two voices that accompanied Hato (his other self and the other Kaminaga) were likely a prelude to this development. I suspect we’ll see more in the next chapter.

Also, Ogiue does not appear in this chapter but is at least mentioned twice, once when Madarame believes Sasahara would definitely tell her if Madarame were to divulge his secret struggle, and once when Yoshitake states that it was Ogiue’s suggestion for Yajima to do some rough sketches.

 

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!

I can’t say I’m entirely surprised that a Genshken hug pillow would exist some day. Kio Shimoku once drew a fake Ogiue hug pillow, and it’s not even that farfetched for the pillow to be Sue of all characters. When I think about it, though, isn’t Sue pretty much the polar opposite of the typical “hug pillow” character? She’s not just an awkward otaku, she’s an awkward otaku who actively makes others feel awkward, as opposed to some ideally flawed character. Or has the popularity of Tomoko from Watamote changed the dynamic and now this sort of girl is “in?”

I’m honestly curious as to who’s going to end up buying this. I get the feeling it’ll require a very specific and special type of fan.

news_large_genshiken2-suomote news_large_genshiken2-suura

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.

Kio Shimoku, the author of Genshiken, is an elusive individual. Portraying himself as a kind of ape, he so rarely makes public appearances that he is sometimes mistakenly believed to be a woman. In fact, when he appeared for an event to celebrate the Genshiken Nidaime (Second Season) anime, it was kind of a big deal. Thanks to Brazilian Genshiken enthusiast Diogo Prado, however, I’ve learned that photos of Kio do exist.

Apparently Kio had attended an event in Taiwan in 2010, where he promoted the release of his manga Jigopuri (also known as Digo Puri). His desire for privacy is respected here, as none of the photos actually show his face, yet it’s still pretty cool to see the man himself. Obviously I don’t know how he is as a person, but the fact that he looks like a nerd who knows how to clean himself up and dress nicely is a trait also demonstrated by the characters in Genshiken over time, namely Ogiue and Madarame. In fact, he looks pretty similar to Madarame from behind, while in the old Publisher’s Weekly interview with Kio he said that Ogiue is somewhat reflective of his own experiences.

By the way, I wonder how Jigopuri ended up doing in Taiwan.

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.

Volume 15 of the Genshiken II manga came out in Japan recently, and with it a limited edition featuring an OVA (or OAD as they call it) where they animate a couple of chapters from the original Genshiken. Covering Sue’s stay over at Ogiue’s apartment and the group’s new year’s shrine visit, it’s a part of the story that should be completely familiar territory to Genshiken fans, and watching it has made me want to both consider its role or purpose as the first Nidaime OAD and think a little about the story itself.

When you think about it, this OAD didn’t have to be the new year’s shrine visit, but it is in many ways the most appropriate given Nidaime. Ogiue’s trauma and the trip to Karuizawa would have been too long and arguably too heavy for this. The graduation in the last chapter of the original Genshiken would have been nice but is of course more of a finale than anything else. The no-dialogue chapter would have been an interesting part to adapt, but that would negate the entire new set of voice actors they’ve brought in. With the new year’s shrine visit, however, you get various threads which lead directly into Nidaime, particularly what’s been covered by the anime. Ogiue shows her softer side, which plays into her role in the second series. Sue expresses her desire to study in Japan, thus setting the stage for her increased prominence. The forlorn romance of Madarame is in full swing here, expressed almost painfully in its silence. Though Genshiken is in a sense full of turning points, this is a pretty major one in hindsight.

In terms of adaptation from manga to anime, I find it interesting that the characters were made to look like in the original series. It seems like a no-brainer but they had to do things like switch to older hairstyles and even styles of dress in order to capture the visual sense of how different the club was back then. In fact the entire mellowness of the OAD really stands out, and I imagine for anyone who watches it after having only experienced Nidaime, they would notice first and foremost the relative lack of bombastic energy. Even the references are from a different period of otakudom (“Sit, Nekoyasha!”).

One minor but noticeable change has to do with the fact that Ogiue has her default Series 1 hairstyle in the OAD, which is subtly different from the hair she wore to the shrine in the manga. There, instead of having the horizontal “antennae” on the sides of her head, Ogiue has more pronounced tufts of hair over her ears, and most likely creating another set of character design sheet just for this one-off Ogiue hair would have been too difficult or time-consuming. What’s important is that this specific hairstyle was not a fluke or a shift in judgment in the manga, as Kio Shimoku specifically drew Ogiue with that hair on the the limited edition cover of Genshiken Volume 15. Given her dress-up for Sasahara’s graduation a few chapters later, I feel like the purpose of this hairstyle was to show Ogiue trying to pretty herself up a bit (which in turn extends from a longer trend of her getting more fashionable after talking to Kasukabe).

If there’s one thing I really took away from  watching this, however, it would be a case of self-reflection, so I hope you’ll forgive me as I indulge in some introspection.

When Ogiue is drying Sue’s hair, she talks about how she’d like to be more like Sue, who isn’t afraid to be an otaku and to just be herself, which Ogiue has been trying to learn. This process Ogiue undergoes in the series is part of why she’s my favorite character, and it’s something I’ve tried to live by as well, to my benefite even, but as I get older I increasingly feel this pressure to not display my otaku-ness so openly. It’s not something I try to hide, but I realize that it’s important to know that sometimes other people won’t quite understand, and explaining who you are and why you love the things you do requires a certain sociability and deftness with words which often escape me. On some level, I worry that the essential advice of “be yourself” is something I’ve begun to creep away from even though it’s been so important to me.

Also, because I’ve managed to become more social and more comfortable over the years, I think what I basically am afraid of is becoming the very person I swore I never would, that person who passes judgment on others for being weird or socially awkward, not because I want to but because I might have lost touch with that feeling. That said, if I’m actively concerned about this, then that’s maybe for the best because it means I haven’t forgotten that idealism even if it doesn’t work out, well, ideally.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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