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.