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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!

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.

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.

As Yoshitake and Yajima discuss the Madarame “harem,” Hato shows that he is more accepting of all the complex facets which make up who he is. Given the issue of romance in the air, however, Yoshitake worries that it could end up breaking Genshiken apart.

One of the manga volume extras has Tanaka and Kugayama discussing the idea that romantic feelings can often destroy otaku groups, and to see that “aside” brought to the forefront in the main manga is interesting, to say the least. It’s an aspect of “nerd friendship” that has been left unexplored in Genshiken so far, for better or worse. Madarame had his thing with Saki, of course, but that was defined more by Madarame’s silence, and now that their particular subplot finished with everything out in the open, the potential drama of the current situation acts as perhaps an extension of that. It’s like every time I look at Genshiken another new arc or period is starting.

Of course, the fact that when Tanaka and Kugayama talked about otaku groups falling apart they had in mind the lone girl whom all of the male otaku fawn after, which is completely flipped with Madarame here. I think I wouldn’t be a fan of too big a swing into “club drama” in the venomous sense, as I think it might get way too far from the core of Genshiken (I’d hate to see friendships fall apart), but given where the series has been and my sense of how Kio Shimoku has advanced the story of the new generation so far, I strongly doubt that’s where it’s headed. Even if it does, I think the man has enough skill to execute it well and make it an opportunity for contemplation nevertheless.

This chapter shows once and for all that the projections have been manifestations of various conflicts in Hato. With the other Hato it’s about how he has tried to maintain this dual mental identity such that his “male” self and his “female” self are two separate entities when in fact they are, as the other Hato put it, the same person. When it comes to the Kaminaga stand, however, given what we know now it’s clear that she represents Hato’s repressed feelings for Madarame. As I’ve stated many times before, I find it interesting that these are two separate aspects. Seeing Hato accept and “absorb” them is probably the highlight of the chapter, as it show perhaps more than any other scene with Hato in the entire of the manga a kind of resolution, or should I say resolve? There’s something powerful about seeing those semi-subconscious facets of Hato disappear from the page, almost like the last time we see Madoka in the original Madoka Magica TV series. I find it also significant that Hato now wants to find an apartment closer to the school so that he doesn’t have to change at Madarame’s place. The idea is obviously that Hato’s own feelings for him make that scenario incredibly uncomfortable for Hato.

A first for Genshiken is that we get to see Sue by herself this chapter. Usually she’s with Ohno, or Ogiue, or Angela, but here Genshiken presents the lone Susanna Hopkins, and though there’s nothing surprising about her lifestyle (or the fact that her dorm is a mess!), there’s an almost melancholy feel to seeing Sue without others to bounce off of, for her actions to collide with the sensibilities of others. If it weren’t for the stuff with Hato mentioned above, I would say Sue in her dorm room would have been the most powerful image in this chapter. Also, though it’s hard to tell I think Sue lives in an on-campus dorm specifically devoted to foreign students. My clues are the bits of unreadable English (or other roman alphabet text) on a couple of plaques and the fact that the two other dorm residents portrayed are speaking something unintelligible for Sue.

I also feel the need to talk a bit about Yoshitake, if only because, as much as the old Genshiken characters were into some pretty hardcore stuff, they never spoke so openly and candidly about topics like sex. Of course, Yoshitake’s exclamations come from a place of otaku fantasy and not personal experience, so it’s not that different, but she’s a far cry from everyone else outside of maybe Angela who’s more forward and is more sexually active than Yoshitake is. I think Yoshitake’s decision to title the whiteboard list of Madarame’s faults as “Rame-senpai no koko ga ramee,” which makes it sound like a line from a porn manga, says it all. As an aside, Yoshitake makes a reference to Kamijou Touma (I’ll break that illusion apart”), which I’m sure will please at least a few.

Sadly we did not get to see Ogiue in her hometown, which I was really hoping for. That said, though this may just be my own wishful thinking, I believe that Ogiue could play an important role in all of this because she understands the emotional and relationship damage that can happen when people refuse to communicate with each other, which I think is the biggest “threat” when it comes to a club like Genshiken falling apart.

Interested in Supporting Ogiue Maniax?

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