Even as I become more disillusioned with the college-otaku core of this title, the characters keep me coming back for more. Take the last volume: It ended on an interesting cliffhanger as hardcore otaku (and series mainstay) Madarame found himself in the Genshiken club room again with Saki, the girl he’s had a crush on who not only has a boyfriend, but not a single fangirlish bone in her body. The previous times the two were in the clubroom alone happened to be some of the most illuminating for Madarame’s character, and quite memorable for the series as a whole. Was the third time going to be the charm, or represent one too many trips to the well?
The answer isn’t as clear cut as I’d like, but it still represents a victory for mangaka Shimoku Kio. What works about the resolution of the Madarame/Saki non-romantic quagmire is how the former is forced for the first time in his life to be honest about his feelings about someone of the opposite sex. It’s something that’s completely alien to him and the tension he feels about it is expertly conveyed in the art. Kio also manages to play off previous events in the series to illustrate the development of their relationship over time. This all culminates in a confession from Madarame that manages to be an utter non-sequitur and yet convey his exact feelings. It’s beautiful to behold, as is Saki’s reaction to it all.
As well executed as this is, I have to wonder why there was a need for it to happen at all. I liked the resolution that Kio arrived at with Madarame at the end of the series’ first cycle because of how it went against convention. Instead of confessing his feelings to try and get the girl, Madarame realized that he’d never be able to get with her and just left it at that. Also, this whole setup seems just more than a little cruel on the part of his friends. It was all orchestrated by Keiko, currently working as a hostess and the loudmouthed sister to former club member Sasahara, with the full knowledge of the rest of the cast because she just couldn’t stand to see people not be honest with themselves. The rest of the cast effectively gave their tacit approval by not interfering since they knew what was going on all along as well. Madarame’s exasperation at this and attempts to double-down on his hardcore otaku-ness are understandable, and would be depressing if it weren’t for what follows from this.
After his confession, Madarame quits his job and winds up spending even more time at the club while also making cryptic remarks such as, “I want to see how far I can fall.” Rather than any kind of suicidal ideation, Keiko nails his current mindset as a way of romanticizing his feelings for Saki. She made him want to be a respectable member of society, and now that the dream is over he’s going to make himself as depressing as possible to show off the effect this woman had on him. It’s some cutting insight from Keiko and such accurate insights would actually make her likeable in my mind if it wasn’t for the fact that she seems to be doing all of this not out of any hidden romantic feelings for the otaku, but to snag another customer for her job.
Speaking of hidden romantic feelings, it would seem that the only person in this series who is further up a certain river in Egypt than Madarame would be Hato. The club’s resident crossdresser still can’t seem to decide whether or not his feelings for the otaku are a byproduct of his obsession with “boy’s love” manga or actually romantic in nature. There’s some real tension developing here as it’s really not clear what side of the line he falls on. Madarame’s confession was painful enough to witness here. The way Hato is going, it looks like his eventual moment of truth is going to be even more exquisite to observe in the agony it causes.
Then there’s Sue, the little blonde American college student who exists only to quote from other manga, anime, and miscellaneous bits of Japanese culture. She’s been an enigma ever since her first appearance in this title. In this volume and the one previous, it’s become clear that she feels “something” for Madarame as well. Exactly what this is… will most likely be revealed in another quote from the annals of fandom. If this is what the future holds, then I’m not exactly thrilled with it. Though I will say that if anyone is capable of parsing the hidden meaning in such an obscure, nerdy gesture it’s probably Madarame.
So we’ve got a fair amount going on with these particular members of the cast with a solid plot thread in following Madarame’s fate from here on out. Unfortunately the rest of the cast is either shoved into the background, used as comic relief, or afforded development that plays out like comic relief. It’s actually kind of sad to see Ogiue and her budding manga career pushed off to the side here, with the only mention of it being her recruitment of Hato as a contributor to her latest doujinshi. The idea of following the career of a fan-made-good seemed like it had a lot of potential. As of now, that potential has yet to be realized.
New members Yajima, the heavyset one, and Yoshitake, the nut with the glasses, appeared to provide different personalities to add in the club mix at first. Here, they’re reduced to taking part in an off-color comedy of errors as they try to figure out if the enemegra that they find in the club room actually belongs to Hato. Misunderstandings and misconceptions abound in their spotlight chapter, most of them invoking a roll of the eyes than any kind of amused chuckle from the reader. Ohno comes off a bit better as she deals with the possibility of staying another year at college while she figures out what to do with her life and if she can make a career out of her cosplay hobby. This leads to a scene where she drunkenly makes sexy poses in costume with the idea of maybe selling them on a CD at a fan event. As her boyfriend Tanaka is the one taking the pictures -- and who is also a class act himself -- he gets to act as the voice of reason here which allows Ohno’s story to come to its utterly formulaic conclusion. If nothing else, I appreciated the fact that while Ohno appears bustier than ever in this volume, Kio keeps things modest by covering her up with strategically-placed word balloons while Tanaka measures her in one scene.
Even though these parts don’t measure up to the Madarame thread, they’re more disappointing than aggressively awful. There’s still hope to make these characters and situations interesting, Kio is just going to have to invest some real work in doing so. Fortunately, I’m well-invested in following Madarame’s situation as it continues to deteriorate. It’s a vividly-realized picture of someone in the throes of heartbreak that keeps the angst to a minimum and leavens things with comedy. Though this may seem depressing, that’s not the vibe this thread gives off and that’s why I’ll be interested in seeing where it leads in another six months’ time.