Comic Picks By The Glick

Genshiken: Second Season vol. 4

March 30, 2014

I’m pretty sure I mentioned this in my original podcast about this series, but one of the reasons I liked the first “season” so much was that it reflected the experiences of myself and my friends in our anime club in college.  We didn’t talk as much about hentai games or doujinshi, but not only did our group still had lots of passionate discussions about anime and manga, we lived in the shadow of a more popular group and became a far more close-knit circle of friends as a result.  There’s also the fact that we had a direct analogue to “Genshiken’s” Kanako Ohno as well.  Unlike the title club here, our group arguably became too close-knit to the point where it eventually morphed into a weekly hangout for us and new members stopped showing up.  Eventually, the club ceased to exist at the college when our last member graduated.

Where am I going with this?  Well, even when I was attending/running that club, I and some of the other members were also attending the other anime club on campus.  We were on good terms with them and continue to remain so with some of the key members of the time to this day.  That club also served as a weekly hangout session for us as we became known as the “outdoor group” because we didn’t actually bother watching most of the anime being shown, we just wanted to socialize.  Eventually, we stopped going altogether as friends became busy with other commitments and the mindset between us and the younger group inside eventually became too different.

So what does this have to do with “Genshiken?”  While I was very enthusiastic about its return for the first two volumes, that enthusiasm has been greatly diminished with vols. 3 & 4.  It’s not to the point where I’m about to consider giving up on it -- particularly with the note this volume ends on -- but as the makeup and focus of the group changes I find myself identifying more with the reasons I stopped going to the anime club at college.  Some of you may feel differently, but I can’t really identify with the passions that drive fujoshi (fangirls who love yaoi or “boy’s love” comics) even as they take up most of the space here.

This continues to be true as the members of Genshiken prepare for their college’s campus festival.  Not only does this volume kick off with a chapter about club president and professional mangaka Ogiue trying to find a way to get Hato, their resident crossdresser, to draw regular manga and not hardcore gay porn when he’s in women’s attire, there’s still an incredible amount of chatter about this stuff as things go on.  Whether it’s courtesy of  the few girls from Hato’s past showing up at the festival or the existing cast members themselves, talking about all kinds of male pairings and fangirl obsessions isn’t something I find desperately interesting.  I realize that as Genshiken is now made up almost entirely of women, having this subject come up so often is something which is going to happen as a matter of course.  However, it dominates the discourse so thoroughly here when the “first season” treated us to a variety of otaku subjects, this one included.  If this were my club and I was still hanging around well after graduation, I like to think I would’ve recognized the writing on the wall and realized that it was time to stop attending.

However, given that this is a fictional manga about a group of otaku the situation is most obviously quite different.  Even though I’m not impressed with all of the talk of yaoi and boy’s love that goes on here the fact remains that mangaka Shimoku Kio hasn’t lost any of his skill for creating well-rounded and interesting characters or how to zero in the insecurities and traumas that define them as well.  That’s on full display here when two of Hato’s former classmates show up at the club and he spends and excruciating couple of pages trying (and succeeding) to pass himself off as a girl to avoid interacting with them.  This plan is ultimately foiled by (who else but) Kuchiki and leads to us learning about the crossdresser’s past in high school.

What we find out is particularly illuminating and not entirely dissimilar from what Ogiue experienced in middle school back in the “first season.”  Yet there are some key differences, particularly in the attitude of the object of Hato’s affections and the feelings of the person who found out that the boy likes yaoi manga.  The latter part is the most interesting since it’s implied that she has feelings for Hato.  Given where this volume winds up, I can certainly say that’s something I’d like to see followed up on.

You see, through the four volumes of the “Second Season” released so far it’s clear that Hato feels something for hardcore otaku Madarame.  It’s not clear if it’s exactly love, as he proclaims to everyone that he’s straight and everyone regards him with the equivalent of an arched eyebrow while saying, “Uh-huh.”   Yet there’s something going on there and Kio appears determined to send it on a collision course with one of the most memorable parts of the original series.

The thing is that Madarame has been pining for Saki, the non-otaku former member of Genshiken, for a good long time now even though she hooked up with another club member, the ultra-hardcore yet unassuming Kosaka.  Some of the series best scenes touched upon this as Madarame had to struggle with liking someone who not only didn’t share his interests, but to whom a love confession would likely destroy whatever relationship they had.  In the end, it appeared that the otaku made his peace with the status quo and things were going to continue on as they always had.

What changes here is that Keiko, the lively non-otaku sister to former club member Sasahara, winds up embroiling Hato in a plan to get Madarame to confess his feelings to Saki.  On one hand, seeing the resolution of that particular thread re-opened here is somewhat worrying.  Having Madarame keep quiet about his feelings definitely went against convention for this kind of story, and it was pretty clear that this was the happiest ending someone like him could get out of this particular situation.  Seeing it brought up again here leads me to fear that it’s going to end very badly if he does confess because that’s the only way it can end -- no way does Saki consider going out with him, it’s just not going to happen.

Yet the way that this particular storyline is being approached actually works in context.  While Ohno and the rest of the Genshiken members who knew about this kept their mouths shut because they knew how exposing this secret would end, Keiko and Hato clearly have interests in seeing it brought to light.  Keiko’s may be entirely self-centered, and while she may have strong-armed Hato into this scheme a little, it’s clear that he has an interest in the direction of Madarame’s love life as well.  As for Saki herself, she was completely oblivious to the otaku’s feelings in the previous series, and remains so here as she reflects on how all of the “female attention” Madarame is getting represents his chance to shine.

All of these interests collide in what is a visibly low-key cliffhanger for this volume as Saki and Madarame wind up sitting down for another of their chats in the Genshiken club room.  It’s not a visually intense situation, but the moment is clearly charged with all of the simmering emotional undercurrents I’ve described in this volume.  After that kind of a buildup, the fact that we’re faced with another six-month wait between volumes really does feel fairly cruel in my opinion.  So even if the members of Genshiken are focused almost exclusively on fujoshi interests that I don’t find compelling, there’s enough going on within its characters that will keep me coming back for more.

Jason Glick

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