Kasukabe Saki visits Genshiken, bringing pangs of nostalgia to readers everywhere! As Hato puts it, “Is this what Genshiken used to be like?”
As Hato exchanges contact information with his old classmates, Kasukabe attends Shiiou University’s school festival, she catches up with her old friends, showing the degree of wit and perceptiveness she’s always been known for, the conversation turns towards the future, career paths, and even romance. Watching Saki work her magic, Hato can’t help but notice that the club somehow seems more lively when she’s around. Inevitably the topic of conversation turns towards Madarame, whom Saki caught receiving a kiss on the cheek from Sue in the previous chapter. Having heard about Madarame’s full-scale defense against the charms of Angela on top of that, Saki jokes that Madarame must be a lolicon, to which Hato comes to his defense in a rather awkward way.
As Sasahara’s sister discovers the truth of Hato, Saki silently considers that Madarame is finally hitting the point at which a guy like him becomes attractive to the opposite sex. Encouraging him to try out dating, the conversation ends on the kinds of porn that Madarame watches, which apparently is “everything.” We already knew that, though.
The new crew doesn’t get much exposure this chapter, but the hints towards Yajima possibly having feelings for Hato are definitely there. This is evident from the way her old friend Mimasaka, who thinks the world of her, reacts to Hato. Even if Mimasaka is being paranoid, it seems like she knows Yajima well enough to see when something is up. I actually expect them to be the focus in the next chapter or the one after that, especially because Hato’s story is “wrapping up” in certain respects, the mysteries of his existence now being a little less mysterious.
I have to wonder if showing Kasukabe again is a little cruel to the people who really miss the old Genshiken. While I know plenty of people who are fine with the new series, I also know people who much prefer the original style, presentation, and character dynamics of the first series. Giving them a glimpse of that environment once more might be equivalent to saying, “I could have continued Genshiken like how it used to be, but I didn’t!” In this respect it really does make the new club seem like a second generation.
That said, Kasukabe has always been that extra bit of spice which pushed Genshiken into interesting directions, the sole non-otaku in the club full of hapless dorks, as opposed to the current state where awkward isn’t quite what it used to be but no one is so firmly out of that sphere as Saki was. Just the way her statement about being okay with gay relationships getting misinterpreted by the fujoshi minds of Ogiue and Ohno (Saki’s response is that she’s referring to actual gay couples she knows in real life) shows that the rift still exists, albeit a rift that has had a solid bridge of friendship and understanding erected across it for years.
I realize that one of the limits of my analyses every month is that I don’t spend a significant amount of time on Hato, who seems to be getting more and more time in the story. At the same time, personally speaking I don’t think predicting whether or not he’ll end up with someone, be that Madarame or otherwise is particularly fruitful. I think Hato’s sexuality is not meant to be clear cut, whether that’s “he’s gay but denying it” or, as so many have mentioned both within the story and outside of it, that “2D and 3D are different,” and though I don’t have quite so much of a vested interest in the turn-out, I do find the degree to which the manga tackles the ambiguity of the topic to be particularly good. Hato destroys the lines which divide.
To what degree is otaku culture, especially male otaku culture, receptive to concepts like homosexuality or even sexuality in general? I’ve viewed it, both within Japan and outside of Japan, as being somewhat similar to geek culture in general in this regard, which is to say liberal in certain ways but can be quite conservative in others, which is why, as Kio Shimoku continues to bring the topic up through Hato and his potential feeling towards Madarame every chapter, I have to step back and think, “is this okay in a seinen magazine?” Granted, it is a seinen magazine which also runs Ookiku Furikabutte! (Big Windup), but I feel like there’s definitely a risk involved, especially when the potential target of homosexual affection is the most geeky of the otaku in Genshiken. Then again, if the guy was willing to make a detailed and in some ways harshly realistic manga about raising a newborn, then I guess nothing can stop him anymore (aside from lack of sales).
Saki views Madarame now as the late bloomer who’s apparently finally showing his petals. I’ve seen other manga talk about how there are simply times in a guy’s life when he’s more attractive to the opposite sex (and in the context of harem manga this means having it all concentrated into the present), but I don’t think Genshiken is quite going for that. Rather, I think it’s a complex interplay of elements that gives us the Madarame of today. When you actually look at him, although he’s similar to the Madarame we saw back in Chapter 1, he has in fact changed quite a bit. First, he’s not nearly as “aggressively otaku,” touting the lifestyle as a badge of sad pride, and second, he’s nowhere near as uncomfortable around girls as he used to be, probably from interacting with them so much in Genshiken.
Call it whatever you want, maturity, a betrayal of moe values, but I could easily see the how tempering of his passions to still be evident but not quite so extreme, as well as his overall understanding attitude (the result of being otaku in certain ways) could combine at this current point to make a fairly attractive guy. It doesn’t hurt that he dresses better now too. Madarame is seemingly no longer held back romantically by just being too much of an otaku, but by a combination of being unable to accept the possibility that he himself might be attractive, and that he has an unrequited love which he’s afraid to lose or to move away from. That said, I have to wonder if having to constantly interact with the girl he loves while hiding the fact (or at least trying to) also ironically helped him to develop more socially.
I noticed that there’s discussion as to whether or not Kasukabe is actually pregnant, given her choice of clothing, or if that’s just some fashion faux pas on the part of Kio. I can’t decide for myself, but I will say that because he’s tackled the topic of pregnancy and childbirth in his work, it wouldn’t be that surprising. It also might be me just making silly associations, but the way she looks reminds me of that moment in His and Her Circumstances where Yukino is pregnant and her mom, not knowing the truth initially, comments that she somehow looks more mature.
Again, though, I can’t say but it would lend meaning to Saki’s remark that Ohno’s wedding must be getting close. I have no idea whether she’s just joking or not, though Most of the relationship developments in the manga for Ohno and Tanaka have been off-panel (though the anime Genshiken 2 had its own steamy interpretation of things), so I can’t count out the possibility that this is actually for real.
Last thing I’ll say is, the reference for the next chapter is of Getter Robo Go, a decidedly older series compared to what’s been used lately. Curious.