It’s Keiko’s turn for with Madarame, and she uses the opportunity as only Keiko can. At the same time, she shows both some chinks in her armor and her resilience in spite of that. The chapter also ends with a reference to Overman King Gainer, which is never a bad thing.
One thing I’ve neglected when it comes to these recent Nikkou chapters of Genshiken is the potential meaning behind Yoshitake’s historical expositions. One purpose is to show that Yoshitake is indeed a history otaku, and visiting such a culturally significant place as Tokugawa Ieyasu’s tomb would set her off, yet I can’t help but feel that there’s a sense of metacommentary behind it. According to Yoshitake, Ieyasu purposely lied about the true location of his grave in order to mislead his enemies, and similarly it’s possible that Kio Shimoku has been placing one Madarame love interest in front of the others as a kind of red herring. The question is, then, which of the four is actually in the “lead?”
The answer is probably Keiko or Hato at this point, and you could make cases for either. In Chapter 115, Keiko outright states her case. Keiko: The Realistic Choice. It’s not the most inspiring campaign slogan, so to speak, but as I’ve mentioned in the past that is part of the Keiko x Mada pairing’s charm, that they already seem like a married couple, that opposites attract, etc. In certain ways, like a tangent graph, the more Keiko x Mada is a thing, the more it approaches (but never quite reaches) Spotted Flower. It’s realistic in a very specific sense of the word, where it reflects a popular image of how monogamous love and relationships are “behind the scenes.”
As for Hato, Yoshitake makes a comment that Hato has gotten closer to Madarame as a guy than he ever has in his female guise. Whether Yoshitake realizes it or not, she’s directly addressing one of Keiko’s criticisms of Hato, that he’s putting on an act, a performance, to get attention. Is this gender performativity, and is Keiko any less guilty of it?
If Hato is the front-runner, however, then this chapter is possibly the undermining of that, and again it has to do with Keiko. At the end of the chapter, Speaking of that, Keiko defies the standard manga progression, where secrets are unspoken and affect the dynamics of the love polygon, by just telling Hato about Yajima’s feelings for him. Cutting to the chase in that way is very characteristic of Keiko. You’d think it’d perhaps also be Saki-esque, but I feel like while Saki was devious, it’s a different kind of planning and awareness when Keiko is involved. Keiko is “realistic,” and part of her “reality” is that she both shatters illusions while creating others, and is very aware of everything that goes into presenting herself to Madarame. The main thing that throws her off is that Madarame is indecisive beyond her imagination, to the point that she at first interprets his waffling as rejection. There is a great deal of miscommunication because Keiko just perceives the world differently compared to the primarily otaku cast.
Keiko’s reaction to her “rejection” is fascinating in its own way. You can tell just from how shocked she is that Madarame might not be interested in her just how much confidence she had about winning. It actually didn’t occur to her that she wouldn’t be able to do just the right things to get Madarame to fall into her arms. It’s indicative of how she thinks that she feels that Angela is the biggest threat to her but is thankfully stymied by a long distance, and sees Sue as being too reticent for anything to happen, not realizing that this might be part of her appeal. Keiko aims for physical desire, and aims her personality in that direction.
So what does it mean that Hato is aware of Yajima now? It could go in a lot of different directions, but I could see it going for a while where Yajima doesn’t know that Hato knows about her crush. Yajima is fairly observant, but nowhere near on the level of Keiko or Saki, and Keiko is likely going to try and push them together. In other manga, Keiko might be viewed as the scheming villain, but I wonder if Hato and Yajima would be so bad after all. For one thing, characters like Yajima, especially in terms of physical appearance, are kind of a rarity in manga and anime, and to have them together might make for an interesting statement.
As for the red herrings, perhaps neither Keiko nor Hato are as likely choices as they seem.