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!