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The previous chapter of Genshiken ended with most of the characters pairing off in unexpected ways (none of them romantic), setting up the anticipation that there would be some intriguing interactions that go outside of the normal range that Genshiken has been using as of late. In this regard, Chapter 113 is far from being a disappointment.

After Yoshitake finally reins in her history otaku nature and ceases to be a tour guide through the shrines of Nikkou, all of the groups do their own special thing. For this reason, for this month’s review I think it’s worth talking about each notable pair on their own.

Madarame and Yoshitake

In a lot of harem manga, the characters that act as if they’re stringing the main character along through feigned expressions of affection often fall into the category of the harem as well. Because they show the possibility, they’re part of the fantasy too, even if they’re supposed to be tongue in cheek. Not so with Yoshitake. She drags Madarame away not only to spark the fire among the characters who actually are interested in Madarame, but also slyly manipulates Madarame as well by making it seem as if she’s also into him. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but the reaction on Madarame’s face seems less like surprise and more like, “Oh no, not again,” which when you think about it is a far cry from where he was originally in Genshiken.

Yajima and Kuchiki

Kuchiki wants what Madarame has but he’ll never get it because it’s hard to imagine too many girls who would like Kuchiki’s personality (then again he did have a girlfriend once upon a time). At the same time, their mildly venomous conversation has a lot of grains of truth being sifted. Kuchiki mentions the appeal of the girl-boy, which is that you have the physical attraction of a female without the seeming mystery of trying to figure out how they think and feel. This actually isn’t far off from what I’ve read about the appeal of certain, shall we say, “alternative” forms of adult entertainment in anime and manga, and it even reflects something I’ve seen before in an old Ann Landers/Dear Abby, which had to do with a wife questioning if her husband was gay. Long story short, that aspect of being able to directly understand the feelings of another, whether that’s more spiritual or more physical, is something that’s understandable when you think about it. As for Kuchiki almost figuring out Yajima’s feelings for Hato, that probably has less to do with Kuchiki being perceptive and more that Yajima is often an open book (see her first meeting with Yoshitake’s “brother”).

Hato and Keiko

It’s been established that the two don’t really get along, and this chapter I think really shows the foundation of why that’s the case. Essentially, both Hato and Keiko believe that the other is somehow manipulating Madarame. Hato believes Keiko is just stringing him along, while Keiko sees Hato’s personality as an ideal construct, pleasing but artificial. Together, they both open up to each other in an antagonistic manner, giving details as to what transpired in each of their respective close encounters with Madarame. Now they both know the approximate truth, and while it can’t be said that Madarame is a two-timer, I do think Hato and Keiko have bonded in a rather bizarre yet understandable manner. That said, I think their lowered opinion of him comes from somewhat different places; with Hato it’s because of how easily Madarame was enticed, and Keiko because it connects to the whole thing about Madarame being happy about Hato’s chocolates.

And then…

I think there’s something to be said about the way that the characters of Genshiken try to exert their wills in this chapter. Yoshitake temporarily dons the role of a fawning admirer to mess with Madarame, Keiko intentionally withholds the fact that Kugayama was at her club too to make Hato think that Madarame came of his own accord, and Hato throws the events of the previous night in Keiko’s face. Nowhere is this clearer than with the fact that Angela’s time has arrived, and she’s come prepared for bear, so to speak. As soon as she finds out she’s pairing with Madarame, out come her noble familiars, barely constrained and ready to serve their master.

I’m not sure if it’s clear from my previous posts, but I love the idea of Madarame and Angela, if only because to me it’s the most hilarious. This chapter begins to prove why that’s the case, even if she probably has the slimmest chance out of the four. Will next month be the most fanservicey chapter of Genshiken ever?

Speaking of Angela and Madarame, or rather the renewed kujibiki drawingI do find it interesting that Yoshitake’s plan to see the temple Youmeimon, the culmination of her trip to Nikkou, is derailed by construction much in the same way that her original plan to mix the group up into new and exciting pairings also backfired in terms of its original intent. It makes me wonder if this second lottery is going to also be reflected in Yoshitake somehow encountering an even more amazing sight.

Last thing of note: as seen in the first image in this post, this chapter clearly used photo references for its color pages that lend a greater amount of realism to the backgrounds, to the extent that it feels like the chapter is actually promoting tourism for Nikkou. I don’t think that’s actually the case, but Genshiken rarely goes for that look.

After the bomb drop that was last month’s Genshiken, Chapter 112 winds things down a bit, only to then create anticipation for next month. In a way, it’s a much needed break, but the fact that it ends by mixing up the formula a bit basically makes me want to read the next chapter already.

As Yoshitake nerds out about the history of Nikkou and its connections to Japan’s past (something I don’t specialize in but would totally make an interesting post by someone other than me), they remember Hato’s return the previous night. While a lot of the girls are suspicious about what happened, especially Keiko, Hato quietly resigns for the evening, and Yoshitake turns out to be the kind of snorer you can’t ignore. Yoshitake then proposes an idea: draw straws (“kujibiki” in this case), and randomly pair off. While the hope to further some romances looms about, the gods of probability crush almost all hope of that happening.

I’ve never been a part of Hetalia fandom, but I’m aware that it’s encouraged a lot of girls (and even a few guys) to study history more extensively. In that respect, I wonder if Hetalia fans feel a significant connection to Yoshitake, even if Hato is the one who’s explicitly stated that he’s into that series. Speaking of Yoshitake, I’m always impressed by the translators who bother to work through all of her text. The way it’s hand-written, and appears as if it’s trying to economize every last bit of word balloon space, and the fact that this chapter even features a map in the middle of one onslaught of verbage makes it seem like you’re not really meant to read what she has to say.

As is often the case with Genshiken, this chapter is primarily about setup, a brief pause after the weightiness of Hato’s heart to heart talk with Madarame. While of course the decision to break these characters off into specific pairs was probably not random (unless Kio actively chose to replicate what Yoshitake does in the manga itself), I think it’s both telling of Yoshitake’s desire to be the grease that moves the wheels forward, and that both the author and the characters haven’t forgotten about good ol’ Kujibiki Unbalance.

While it’s doubtful that anyone who’s still reading Nidaime doesn’t know what that is, it’s kind of fascinating that the series which so dominated the conversations of the old generation have all but vanished with these youngins. I wonder if Kio misses that a bit. Not only is the chapter title, “Kujibiki Unbalance 1″ a reference to it, but at one point Yoshitake says, “Kami-sama no iu toori,” or “Do as God says,” which is a line from the Kujibiki Unbalance anime opening.

When Yoshitake revealed the kujibiki, I was hoping for the wildest and nonsensical pairings to happen, and in the end my wishes were fulfilled where it counts. While it wasn’t 100% off-the-wall (Ogiue + Sue and Angela + Ohno are obvious ones), seeing things like Hato + Keiko and Madarame + Yoshitake has a certain odd thrill, either because there’s so much tension or because there’s none at all. It’s almost like when characters have to change seats after a semester, and it becomes an opportunity to really see sides of them that we the manga readers haven’t before, or when you’re watching a fighting game tournament and two characters who rarely fight each other are in the grand finals. You’re not sure if you like it more, but the novelty alone keeps you glued.

If we’re allowed to speculate (and seeing as this is my blog I’m going to say it’s okay), I think that the main focus of the next chapter will probably be Hato and Keiko, which will involve Hato trying to pussyfoot around the subject of Madarame and Keiko going straight for the proverbial jugular. Keiko, while not the sharpest tool in the shed in certain respects, is still very perceptive, and even if that’s not enough she’s the type to really egg someone on and force them to admit something. From there, I predict Keiko will really try to force Hato to confront why exactly he crossdresses, and might even explain directly what she finds to be so disingenuous about Hato’s personality and behavior.

Also, on the topic of Keiko, is she purposely wearing a coat that’s similar to Madarame’s? It’s not the kind of clothing I typically associate with her, and as stated previously, she’s intentionally toned down her makeup to appeal more to Madarame’s sensibilities.

And if I were more into yuri, I’d probably make a bigger deal out of both Ogiue and Sue pairing off for the trip, and the fact that they slept in the same sheets at Yajima’s home. I’ll leave that to the other intrepid fans.

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Chapter 111 of Genshiken II more or less features Madarame on top of Hato for the entire duration. Is it a sign of Madarame’s feelings gradually changing, an extended comedy scene, a heart to heart pep talk, nerds nerding it up, or something more?

I find it very appropriate how the conversation between Madarame and Hato goes, with respect to the mix of anime/manga analysis, sexual confusion, genuine desire to help, and how all of this connects to the basic premise of Genshiken as the story of a club of awkward otaku. Almost as soon as Madarame accidentally falls onto him (see last chapter), Hato starts to talk about Madarame as a “lucky pervert” (lucky sukebe), the trope often found in anime and manga (especially harem series) where guys and girls will accidentally fall on each other in compromising positions. Like gusts of winds blowing skirts up, it’s generally regarded as something that only conveniently happens in fiction. By mentioning it, Hato attempts to deflate situation and, as we can later see, to avoid having his imagination go wild. “It finally happens, but it’s when I’m a guy. How unfortunate for you.” While “This isn’t manga!” has itself become a trope of Japanese comics, here I think it’s used to different effect as a way to highlight Hato and Madarame’s characters.

I believe the fact that Hato is a guy during this situation is an important factor, and not simply for the possibility that Madarame might be feeling something for Hato even without his female guise. Rather, it’s because Hato is a guy that Madarame can speak comfortably to him in this situation and even encourage Hato to not be so down on himself. Madarame basically says to Hato to stop mentioning “reality” as if it’s the final destination, the end of hope, the cruel master that rules over him, and uses his own feelings about Hato giving him chocolates as the example of how Hato’s actions have meaning, pperhaps playing into the idea that reality is a social construct and that people can attempt to change reality through the same channels. At the same time, he engages in a dialogue with Hato that follows a similar flow to the typical Madarame/Genshiken discussion over anime, manga, moe, and other otaku topics. In a way, because Madarame has a tendency to freeze up when confronted with the opposite sex, even though it’s clear that he is attracted to them, all of this could only have happened when Hato was a guy.

As mentioned above, Hato tries to use otaku talk to deflect, but Madarame actively engages with it to bring the situation back to “reality.” I think it’s because, while Madarame certainly doesn’t confuse fantasy for reality, he long ago embraced his 2-D complex and his love of anime for all of its worth, seemingly at the expense of his connection to the real world. Of course, the current arc with its emphasis on potential romance for Madarame is partly about how much this has changed, and the more I think about it, the more I find it interesting just how these two characters, as well as every other character in Genshiken, approaches that anime/fantasy vs. reality question in different and fascinating ways. It’s actually one of the topics that’s been with Genshiken throughout, and perhaps it should be the subject of a future post. It’s been a long time since I wrote about Genshiken outside of these chapter reviews, after all.

I think at this point it’d more than make sense for Madarame x Hato to happen, but at the same time I find that the other girls have their own interesting interactions with Madarame as well, so it’s not like this one outshines the others. In that sense, perhaps Genshiken provides more of a “harem” feel than most actual harem series, because often times those will have one girl clearly stand out among the rest as the “main heroine.” For Genshiken, all of the possible Madarame romances have potential, and all operate under different dynamics. Connected to this somewhat, when Madarame brings up the topic of BL, which Hato tries to mentally resist, he says that this situation isn’t right for Madarame, who’s supposed to be an “uke.” While admitting that he doesn’t really know anything about BL in the first place, Madarame replies that Hato is the only person out of the “harem” where Madarame would probably be the aggressive one, even if alcohol were to be involved.

Upon reflecting on Madarame’s words, I find that he’s actually right. Only Hato would end up in this situation because Angela, Keiko, and Sue are very strong-willed. With any of the three girls, with the possible exception of Sue, it’s hard to imagine them even in that position, and if Angela and Keiko were it’d probably be of their own devices, an intentional seemingly passive action to appeal to Madarame’s otaku senses/fear of women.

In any case, I feel like this is a point of no return for Madarame and Hato, not least because they were “interrupted” by Kuchiki, rather than breaking apart of their own volition. Whether or not it ends in love, pain, or just mutual yet awkward friendship, they’ve arrived somewhere new.

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After successfully getting a drunk and passed out Kuchiki back to the hotel, Madarame invites Hato to drink and talk. With the help of some liquid courage, Hato pours out his thoughts on crossdressing, his exact feelings for Madarame, and the line between fantasy and reality. After their long and revealing conversation, Madarame gets up, but inadvertently does the harem protagonist thing and ends up in a compromising position with Hato due to a combination of Madarame’s poor physical strength, alcohol, and a rogue shoe.

Chapter 110 is, in a word, heavy. Or thoughtful (insert Japanese pun here). Most of the pages and panels consist of Hato just gradually letting it all out, talking through his issues while trying to resolve them (though perhaps making them worse?), and it really leaves an impression. Though we’ve known for quite a while now how Hato feels about Madarame, to also see a fuller elaboration of Hato’s complex personality and circumstances that has been wrapped around those feelings makes me think that this is one of the most important chapters in Genshiken.

Hato mentions a lot of things, including why he has avoided coming over to Madarame’s after Valentine’s Day (the situation was too much like a BL narrative for him to be comfortable), but what it all comes down to in terms of Hato’s inner conflict is the idea that “reality can never be BL.” It’s a subject that gets talked about a fair deal in both fan and academic circles, because of how BL’s portrayal of homosexual relationships is highly romanticized; some have even called it problematically unrealistic as a form of storytelling that generally appeals more to women than to actual gay men. Are Hato’s feelings too mixed up in his fundashi ways for him to separate his fondness for yaoi from an actual relationship with Madarame, and is that even what he wants to do?

In the case of Ogiue back in the first series, we saw that the answer was “yes and no.” Though she drew doujinshi of Sasahara and Madarame, she said that the fictional Sasahara was more of a character than anything else. At the same time, Sasahara has slowly incorporated bits of his own BL parody’s personality, namely a position as a “strong seme” that thrills and plays into Ogue’s own fantasies. What I find interesting with Hato here is that he’s not so much worrying about treating Madarame like a 2D character but wondering how much he can maintain his own position and life between fantasy and reality.

This can be seen in Hato’s explanation that he’s tried to maintain the “Madarame harem” as much as possible, because his actions essentially push reality as close to the fantasy of the harem series (and Hato’s chances with Madarame) that it can go without breaking the “illusion.” Years ago, I wrote a post (and never wrote a part 2. Whoops!) about how many protagonists in harem series are purposefully passive and indecisive because it means that, not only does every girl (or guy if it’s a reverse harem) get the chance, but the main character through their passivity is essentially free of any true error. It’s a kind of stasis or holding pattern, and in a previous chapter Madarame even comments internally how this is actually untenable in reality (even indecision has its consequences). Hato essentially tries the same thing, but by not being the “center” of the harem, it has something of a different intention and effect.

From Hato’s perspective, Madarame is essentially straight (even if he does play games about extremely effeminate crossdressing boys who get pregnant), so Hato has the least chance of winning Madarame compared to Angela, Sue, and Keiko. Once, Madarame even said back in Chapter 79 that it was “biologically impossible.” Hato believed that the closest he could come to being with Madarame was in this “harem” format. It occupies roughly the same school of thought as “I’m happy if the person I love is happy” (Tomoyo in Cardcaptor Sakura) and “I can substitute my love for another girl with that girl’s twin brother who looks almost exactly alike” (Kana in Aki Sora). It’s likely why Keiko dislikes him so much. As we see in this chapter, though, Hato believes it’s time to move on, and that Madarame should choose one of the girls who are pursuing him.

There’s actually an extra fold in all of this concerning Hato. Even as he realizes that he’s gay or perhaps bisexual and can identify himself that way when dressed as a man, he still wants to continue to crossdress for reasons somewhat unrelated to his sexuality. It helps him to draw as he wants to. It makes him comfortable when talking to friends and making new ones. All along, he’s mentioned that BL and real guys are two different things, and that the crossdressing doesn’t reflect his sexual preferences. It still carries that meaning, but more in that Hato the man who has feelings for Madarame is not 100% the same as Hato the “woman” that loves to discuss BL. Or is that really the case? It seems like Hato himself doesn’t entirely know, though one possibility is laid out in Spotted Flower where the equivalent of Hato is either in the process of transitioning physically into a woman, or has done so already. As that’s supposed to vaguely be an alternate what-if scenario, it’s not clear if this Hato is the same way deep down, but his own view of himself as male or female seems likely.

I think it’s worth mentioning briefly that, within Genshiken itself, we see another character who tries to toe the line between fantasy and reality in Kuchiki, who loves the idea of the girl-boyas, though he’s shown to desire a world more like his anime fantasies than his reality, just as much if not more than Hato.

Of course, all of this has been focusing on one half of the equation for this chapter. What about Madarame? How does he really feel? Though he’s firmly maintained and argued for his heterosexuality, we’ve seen moments where he’s been legitimately confused. Not only does Madarame think about Hato’s words as an example of him being rejected again, but we also see a lot of blushing in this chapter. While I believe it’s purposely ambiguous as to whether his and Hato’s flushed faces are more from the alcohol or their own feelings, it increasingly sets up the possibility that, contrary to Hato’s beliefs, he really does have a chance.

A few questions come out of this. First, has Hato’s active and passive blurring of fantasy and reality (including the fact that he still has his makeup on) “worked” to make Madarame realize that he’s not 100% into the opposite sex after all? Second, would Kio Shimoku actually go through with having the character most representative of the classic otaku in Genshiken be to even somewhat gay? Third, would this cause those afraid of the subject of homosexuality who have identified with Madarame to reject his character, or would perhaps this bring in people who have felt similar to Madarame but don’t necessarily prescribe to heteronormative values?

As the chapter ends and Madarame is accidentally sprawled on top of Hato, I find myself truly unsure of what’s going to happen. I mean, most likely it will be “nothing,” just like it was “nothing” when it came to Sue and Keiko (Angela still has yet to truly make her move). However, whereas in the past I would say that Madarame most likely won’t have any realizations when it comes to Hato, now I’m not so certain. My prototypical otaku character can’t possibly be this challenging.

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The vacation has turned into a house party. As Keiko and Angela try to butter up Madarame with alcohol and sex appeal, Yoshitake and Ohno give Kuchiki somewhat similar “VIP” treatment. Kuchiki asks Ohno if he can touch her breasts, who unsurprisingly refuses, especially when Kuchiki references Ohno’s tendency to avoid getting a job. Hato gets tired of Angela and Keiko and tries to make Madarame jealous by appealing to Kuchiki, but accidentally makes him pass out from too much alcohol. After some arguing where Keiko and Angela try to use this as an opportunity to be alone with Madarame, Hato and Madarame are tasked with bringing Kuchiki back to the hotel.

This chapter has made me realize that breast-touching, or the prospect of it, has been a recurring theme of sorts in Genshiken Nidaime. I know that might sound kind of absurd, but hear me out.

Between Kuchiki futilely requesting Ohno, Madarame’s risque evening with Keiko, and even the fact that Kuchiki has already indeed crossed this threshold (albeit unconsciously), the “value of boobs” has been present for many chapters. At first glance, this might very well appear to be the descent of Genshiken into something cliche and unrecognizable, but I think that there’s a certain critical or observant eye towards the division between guys and girls that still exists to a certain degree in Genshiken, otaku culture, and perhaps even culture at large.

The reason I believe this to be the case, though for the most part it’s probably just an opportunity for jokes, is that one of the notable differences about the second series compared to the first is the mostly female main cast. It’s a point I and others have brought up again and again, to the extent that it’s arguably not even necessary to repeat, but Genshiken currently consists of this very candid, almost unglamorous look into the lives of these female otaku. Even in this very chapter, you have Kuchiki talking about how every guy in Genshiken secretly wanted to feel up Ohno juxtaposed with three girls in the bath, casually nude, talking casually, while none of them are the “targets” of this desire. On the one hand, breasts are almost a holy grail of manhood, a reflection of the mentality of the Genshiken old guard. On the other hand, girls are letting it all hang out and breasts aren’t a big deal, an indicator of how things are now.

All of this is further contrasted by Angela and Keiko. There’s a certain chasteness among the other characters and even the idea that the boob grab is this life-changing event, and then there are these two characters who are so far beyond the borders of whether or not a guy has touched a breast before, so distant from even the question of virginity, that I can imagine the other people on this vacation seem almost quaint to them. In fact, they’re utilizing their breasts for the exact reason of appealing to Madarame’s innocent awkward otaku mindset, and even the Madarame Harem itself consists of two characters who are highly experienced when it comes to sex and relationships, and two who are absolute beginners. In a way, it reminds me of the image and existence of otaku culture itself, which is in a way childish (this is not a bad thing) but also filled with adult concerns (also not a bad thing), and I don’t even mean that in an “otaku suffer from arrested development” sort of way.

What I think this all leads to is an emphasis that there are many different perspectives at work, to the extent that the idea of the otaku is not as simple and monolithic as it once was. This is perhaps what Tamagomago was trying to get at when he said that the concept of “otaku” as we knew it no longer exists.

While I don’t want to put too much into author intent, it’s a fact that Kio Shimoku is married and has a kid now. He knows and has had the experience of touching a breast. In fact, I bet a lot of manga creators have had this experience, even the ones who draw the most fanservicey, harem-y series around. I have to wonder how much Kio has maintained this theme for the purpose of remembering that being an awkward, unsocial guy who can’t even talk to girls can make it seem as if breasts are attainable only in fantasy, only he’s tempered it by taking into account the point of view of girls as well, not as objects of desire, but as people. In the case of Angela and Keiko, and perhaps even Hato, they’re people actively working to present themselves as objects of desire. Hato himself might be the center of this storm, a male otaku who is also a fudanshi, who has to come to realize his own sexual orientation, and who actively works with symbols of the feminine both inside and outside of notions of romance. Even this chapter features male Hato in makeup for the first time, as if to say that the borders within himself are becoming nebulous. That’s not to say that guys can’t wear makeup, but for Hato makeup has a very specific function.

This chapter review has turned more into a small essay, it seems. I think I’ll cut it short here so I can mention a few other things. Yajima’s mom continues to show that she’s more Yoshitake than Yajima. Mimasaka continues to confirm that her attachment to Yajima is probably something bigger. In the extras of Genshiken Volume 17, Angela tried to send Madarame some dirty footage of herself for Valentine’s Day(whether it’s photos or video they never show or say) , but they got intercepted and destroyed by Ohno before reaching their destination. I have to wonder if Angela is operating under the assumption that he was able to see it.

As always, I prefer to end each review talking about or showing something Ogiue-related, and sadly I could not fit “on the title page Ogiue is wearing that boob window sweater that’s become a popular meme in Japan” into what I was talking about above. It’s the obvious joke, that Ogiue doesn’t have the size to properly fill out that sweater, an idea that fan artists have already leaped on with other similarly-proportioned characters. While I know that Genshiken is full of references to popular culture (Sue makes references to both Dragon Quest and Sakigake!! Otokojuku this month), it’s much rarer for a meme of this kind to reach the pages of Genshiken. At the same time, no one really draws Genshiken fanart, so I guess it’s up to the creator himself to undergo the task.

What’s funny is that, if not for the boob window, this is very much the kind of outfit that Ogiue would wear.

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In Chapter 108 of Genshiken II, Yajima’s mom plays “Are you a Man or a Woman,” Yajima tries to get closer to Hato, and the club meets Yajima’s dad. As Kuchiki has a surprisingly heartfelt moment.

I think Genshiken in general has a knack for conversations that feel natural while reflecting the awkwardness of its characters, and nowhere is this more evident than in the scene between Hato and Yajima this chapter. As Hato and Yajima are going to pick up Madarame and Kuchiki from the nearby hotel (motel?), Yajima begins to talk to him about his comic. It’s the one subject where she believes that they’re on roughly even ground and that they can both relate to in a way that the others (sans Ogiue) cannot, so she’s going to use it for all that it’s worth. It’s a moment that really says, “Yes, this is what Yajima is about.” What makes this scene really work for showcasing Yajima’s feelings, though, is the artwork itself, where Yajima is trying her best to work through her own awkwardness and continue conversation.

Obviously that scene references the previous chapters where Yajima and Hato have been working on their manga, but there are actually quite a few callbacks to events much further back in Genshiken as well. The first one worth mentioning is Yajima’s mom trying to guess which of the girls is in fact a boy. You might recall that this happened in Chapter 56, the very first chapter of Nidaime, when Madarame predictably couldn’t figure it out and Saki was able to with one look. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing how that was Madarame and Hato’s first meeting, and now it’s gotten to this crazy stage. Also, the logic Yajima’s mom uses to single out Keiko is clear, even if she’s off the mark: all of that effort put into her makeup and appearance has to be for something, right?

Poor Keiko. Poor Yajima. Speaking of Yajima, she really does look like the halfway point between her parents.

Speaking of Yajima’s mom, I do find it interesting that the chapter goes out of its way to point out her similarities to Yoshitake in terms of personality. I think we’re supposed to interpret that comparison in two ways, the first being that she has a kind of subtly aggressive personality as she questions everyone’s gender (including her own daughter’s!), and the second being that she gives off a warm, inviting personality. One could even argue that Yajima, who takes after her father in terms of temperament, would get along with someone who’s just like her mother. That’s probably a stretch, though.

The second callback comes from the bath scenes. Recalling the Karuizawa trip, it’s quite telling that Keiko treated the disparity in chest size between her and Ohno back then not as an attack on her confidence, but in the case of Angela she sees the American character’s body as more of a threat. No doubt this is done to show that Keiko views Angela as the most dangerous rival of all for Madarame, reinforcing also her initial view of Angela upon finding out that Angela has a thing for Madarame. I’ve talked about this before, but the friendly antagonism that exists between Keiko and Angela is something you don’t see in a lot of manga, let alone manga about a group of otaku. Both clearly have a lot of sexual experience, both are aware of this fact, and thus both see each other in a different light compared to the rest.

To a lesser extent, Ogiue and Sue’s bath scene also references Karuizawa, but it’s not as significant. It’s mostly just an opportunity to make a joke at Ogiue’s expense, though in this case it’s her own self-deprecation. Actually, when I think about it, most of the time when the subject of Ogiue’s chest comes up, it’s usually her putting words into another person’s mouth. “Now you’re going to say… I’m a small-chested tsundere!” exclaims Ogiue “Joseph Joestar” Chika, as Sasahara or Sue or whoever denies her accusation.

The last reference to the past is the most obvious, as Kuchiki is told to recount how he became a member of Genshiken in the first place. Between his initial club visit, his running away upon seeing the lovey-dovey interactions between Kousaka and Saki, his re-joining the club and causing trouble from the get-go, the scene for the most part reinforces Kuchiki’s role in the story as that annoying guy in the club you just can’t get rid of. However, Kio takes the time to put a bit of a twist on all of that when he has Kuchiki reminds everyone of Genshiken’s origins as a home for misfit otaku (the rejects of the rejects).

In this regard, I  find that his apology to Ogiue actually says a lot. As he’s giving his speech before the toast, Ogiue jokingly reminds him that in their first meeting he laid her hands on him and that she’d never forget that, and Kuchiki gets down on his knees (“dogeza”), and immediately says sorry. Within this one moment, we can see that, as much as Kuchiki is generally a completely tactless and grating individual, that he cherishes Genshiken as more than just a place where he can fantasize about being a harem lead. Rather, it’s his home, a place that accepted him when nowhere else would, and to lose that connection is to lose a sense of belonging.

A few days ago I posted a translation of Japanese blogger Tamagomago’s latest article on Genshiken, where he asserts that the distinction between otaku and non-otaku, at least as it was in the mid-1990s to early-2000s, no longer really matters or indeed exists in the same capacity. Kuchiki clearly comes from before this time (as does Madarame of course), and I think given how Nidaime has gone it’s easy to forget just how awkward the club used to be. Kuchiki is a refreshing reminder of its origins, of a time that has arguably passed ages ago, and how places like Genshiken can be important for the awkward. On a personal level, as I’ve gotten older myself I’m no longer quite the nervous teenager I once was, and though vestiges of it still exist within me (and I’m still an awkward individual to be sure), it can be easy to forget just how intense it can be to worry that you don’t belong.

In a way, I wonder if Genshiken and its titular club at this point embody not simply the idea of a group of otaku, but the idea of a space to grow.

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Chapter 107 of Genshiken II mostly takes place on a train. Unlike Baccano!, there is no trail of dead bodies, thanks mostly to Yoshitake.

The crew is traveling to Nikkou, a popular domestic and foreign tourist destination, which happens to be located near Yajima’s hometown. As Kuchiki feels that his spotlight has been stolen by Madarame and the women who love him, Yoshitake placates his (somewhat justified) anger by playing with him various classic school trip games, like UNO UMO, at the same time she tries to encourage Madarame towards a romantic conclusion. Before arriving at Yajima’s place, Yoshitake reveals that she deliberately split off Kuchiki and Madarame into their own hotel room to keep boys and girls separate, except also intentionally failing to mention that Hato is considered one of the girls in this instance.

Genshiken can generally be considered something of an ensemble series, with a rough protagonist in each part. First it was Sasahara, next it was Ogiue, now it might be considered Hato. However, if you were to take just this chapter by itself, and define protagonist in the conventional sense as the character whose actions move the narrative forward, then Yoshitake is clearly the hero in this instance, setting the characters on their paths, or at least trying to do so. That, or she’s like Satan, purveyor of half-truths, hiding her ulterior motives by giving reasons that appeal to her targets’ senses. For Madarame, pushing him towards altruism by bringing closure to his harem woes and preventing any potential fractures in the club hide her simple desire to see her friends end up happy.

Not that I dislike Yoshitake, but rather, as Japanese blogger tamagomago once said, Yoshitake is very good at being the glue that holds a group together. Here she demonstrates that ability to full effect using her silver tongue, managing to set up two different groups that take on different dynamics depending on which guy is placed within them. Madarame surrounded by Angela, Keiko, and Sue is pretty self-explanatory, but as soon as he shifts over to Yoshitake, Yajima, and Hato, it becomes an opportunity to see how Hato and Madarame react to each other. At the same time, Kuchiki being with the other girls lets him somewhat fulfill his harem fantasy, if only in the most bare-bones manner.

Of course, the other characters get their own moments too. While Yoshitake is the one moving things about, it’s the others’ lives that are the concern. Angela makes her appearance after a long while, and in a few moments she gets tied directly into the developments of the previous chapters. Specifically, she has a duel of confidence with Keiko, which references the close call that Madarame had with her, and she gets her breasts fondled by Sue, who is still mad about Madarame’s comment about breast size. Despite being so far away, she still perhaps has a “chance.”

Another character makes her return in Mimasaka, Yajima’s old friend, only this time she has tiny hearts literally emanating from her being. Previously I had considered the possibility that her affection for Yajima might merely be platonic (or at least something like what Sue feels towards Ogiue), but this little detail changes things.  For one, it makes for a complex chain of romance where a girl likes another girl who likes a boy who dresses like a girl who likes a guy who recently had his heart broken and is currently popular with the ladies. We also get to see Yajima’s mother, who clearly resembles her. The chapter mentions something about genetics in terms of appearance, but I do find it interesting that Yajima’s mom is so much more cheerful than her daughter. Obviously their lives and circumstances are different, but it does make me a bit curious what her home life was like.

Ogiue literally took a backseat this chapter, staying out of the storm while on the train. One notable moment is that you can see her internal speech is still Tohoku-ben (Watashi wa zutto Sue to issho nandabeka…).

As for next chapter, the preview mentions that it’ll be centered around the Yajima household. I for one am curious when that Angela-centric chapter will happen. It’s really on a matter of when.

One last thing to mention: a new volume of Genshiken came out in Japan, and once again it comes with different store exclusives. This time, they’re Christmas-themed, and they feature Sue, Hato, and Angela, as well as a group shot.

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.

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!

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