This “Second Season” of “Genshiken” is going to end up not being as enjoyable as the first. I don’t know how many more volumes of it mangaka Shimoku Kio has in store for us now, but no amount of effort is likely to reverse that fact. I’m saying this now because I’ve come to the realization that the one plot thread that has powered these past couple of volumes -- Madarame’s Harem -- is fatally flawed. I thought that the idea of seeing a dating sim/hentai game play out in a setting trying to approximate real life is a good one. Except it all breaks down when you start to wonder exactly what the four members of his harem exactly see in this guy.
To recap: Madarame is the ultra-nerdy college graduate who recently quit his job in a fit of heartbreak after the long-standing crush he had on the “normal” girlfriend of one of the club’s members was finally snuffed out. These days he spends his time hanging out at the clubroom or his apartment, except when he goes out to attend a big event like ComiFest… and winds up breaking his wrist… again.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is our romantic protagonist! Befitting a man of his character and social standing he currently has not one, not two, not three, but FOUR potential suitors for his affections. There’s Angela, the big-bosomed blonde from America who can’t speak any Japanese. The sassy Keiko, sister to fellow club member Sasahara, who never misses a chance to slip him a cutting remark. Sue, the other girl from America, who is smaller and small-chested and can only speak in anime catchphrases. Finally we have Hato, the crossdressing aficionado of Boy’s Love (BL) manga, who exhibits a whole lot of guilt and confusion over the fact that he’s fallen in love with a boy.
It’s not that there isn’t good material that can be mined from this setup. The problem is that the execution is pretty much botched from the start. Take Angela and Keiko, who shouldn’t even factor into this setup but find their way in anyway. The former has mainly been defined by her boobs and gentle trolling of Madarame -- making playful advances towards the character just to get a rise out of him. Keiko has been more interesting in the sense that she takes great joy in cutting through the nerd’s delusions to expose what he’s really thinking or feeling. As potential romantic interests for Madarame, they just don’t seem credible at all. I mean, in this volume they’re more concerned about the other person not winding up with Madarame than who does. Considering that one of them lives a whole continent away… what was the whole point of this again?
Moving on to the two characters who at least make a marginal amount of sense as romantic interests for Madarame, Hato should by all means be a fascinating thing to consider. What with the latter’s gender identity issues and the former’s observed hetrosexuality clashing in ways that should allow enough dramatic sparks for a virtual wildfire. It doesn’t work for me because Hato’s feelings for Madarame never come off as genuine. There’s plenty of talk about how he feels that he’s fallen in love with a boy, yet very little action on that idea. If Kio were writing the character’s feelings as a man who was in love with the idea of being in love with another man, that would be more interesting. You could see Hato start to question why he likes BL manga and crossdressing and maybe even confront it as a form of narcissism.
Except that the mangaka intends for us to believe that Hato really has genuine feelings for Madarame. Despite not offering up any credible reasons for why this is the case. Oh, there’s an attempt to do that here when Yoshitake gets the current club members to bring up all of Madarame’s weak points in an attempt to break up his harem. After writing them all down on a whiteboard, Hato comes in and sees what they’ve come up with. Rather than realizing that this uber-nerd is no catch at all, he responds by saying that these are the things that make him cute. That’s right. Because being unemployed is ADORABLE! If reasons like this are really why Hato is into Madarame, then their relationship is officially as believable as the ones in the dating sims that Kio is using as inspiration for this storyline.
Then we have Sue, who does. not. work. at. all. in this context. She’s been a one-note character who has played that note quite effectively up until now. The problem is that her role as a potential love interest for Madarame requires a level of expressiveness that is beyond how she has been portrayed in this series. Put simply: Her whole schtick is quoting anime lines and making cute expressions, how am I supposed to take someone who only does that seriously as a romantic interest, let alone a real character? Really, the only fun part involving Sue here is seeing her try to deny that she has any interest in Madarame at all by declaring “Chika Ogiue is My Waifu!” Because getting a cheap laugh by quoting an anime-inspired internet meme is about all she’s good for in this series.
It’s not a complete loss for the series at this point. I was wondering when Kio was going to give the new fangirls of Genshiken something interesting to do and he has finally managed that here. I’m actually kind of rooting for Yajima, the heavyset fangirl, to wind up with Hato, and am enjoying the manipulations of her friend Yoshitake, the excitable fangirl, to that end. It’s nothing great, but I can actually see why Yajima would be interested in Hato. He’s good looking and they share the same interests in BL manga. The problem is that she has to get over her own hang-ups about her looks and general shyness. Also, while it’s clear that Yoshitake genuinely wants to help her friend, this help tends to be painful in ways both helpful and not. Though the Hato/Yajima pairing doesn’t have any real charisma to it, this setup at least manages to fall within the bounds of credibility. A remarkable achievement considering what I’m comparing it against.
There’s also a good helping of the fanboy/fangirl-related humor that has been a staple of the series since the very first chapter. The best of that is where Ohno and Yoshitake pledge to take Yajima to a beauty salon, only for their plans to be derailed when they spend the funds intended for that trip on pre-ordering blu-ray season sets of the fangirl-oriented boys water polo anime that’s currently airing. Moments like these aren’t plentiful enough to make up for the fact that the core story of “Genshiken” just isn’t working right now. Given that Kio appears to be committed to seeing it through to the end, I can only wonder what kind of utter ridiculousness he has in store for us as he tries to convince us that Madarame has four plausible relationships to pursue. At this point, I just hope the focus shifts to the one plausible one that doesn’t involve him.