After successfully getting a drunk and passed out Kuchiki back to the hotel, Madarame invites Hato to drink and talk. With the help of some liquid courage, Hato pours out his thoughts on crossdressing, his exact feelings for Madarame, and the line between fantasy and reality. After their long and revealing conversation, Madarame gets up, but inadvertently does the harem protagonist thing and ends up in a compromising position with Hato due to a combination of Madarame’s poor physical strength, alcohol, and a rogue shoe.
Chapter 110 is, in a word, heavy. Or thoughtful (insert Japanese pun here). Most of the pages and panels consist of Hato just gradually letting it all out, talking through his issues while trying to resolve them (though perhaps making them worse?), and it really leaves an impression. Though we’ve known for quite a while now how Hato feels about Madarame, to also see a fuller elaboration of Hato’s complex personality and circumstances that has been wrapped around those feelings makes me think that this is one of the most important chapters in Genshiken.
Hato mentions a lot of things, including why he has avoided coming over to Madarame’s after Valentine’s Day (the situation was too much like a BL narrative for him to be comfortable), but what it all comes down to in terms of Hato’s inner conflict is the idea that “reality can never be BL.” It’s a subject that gets talked about a fair deal in both fan and academic circles, because of how BL’s portrayal of homosexual relationships is highly romanticized; some have even called it problematically unrealistic as a form of storytelling that generally appeals more to women than to actual gay men. Are Hato’s feelings too mixed up in his fundashi ways for him to separate his fondness for yaoi from an actual relationship with Madarame, and is that even what he wants to do?
In the case of Ogiue back in the first series, we saw that the answer was “yes and no.” Though she drew doujinshi of Sasahara and Madarame, she said that the fictional Sasahara was more of a character than anything else. At the same time, Sasahara has slowly incorporated bits of his own BL parody’s personality, namely a position as a “strong seme” that thrills and plays into Ogue’s own fantasies. What I find interesting with Hato here is that he’s not so much worrying about treating Madarame like a 2D character but wondering how much he can maintain his own position and life between fantasy and reality.
This can be seen in Hato’s explanation that he’s tried to maintain the “Madarame harem” as much as possible, because his actions essentially push reality as close to the fantasy of the harem series (and Hato’s chances with Madarame) that it can go without breaking the “illusion.” Years ago, I wrote a post (and never wrote a part 2. Whoops!) about how many protagonists in harem series are purposefully passive and indecisive because it means that, not only does every girl (or guy if it’s a reverse harem) get the chance, but the main character through their passivity is essentially free of any true error. It’s a kind of stasis or holding pattern, and in a previous chapter Madarame even comments internally how this is actually untenable in reality (even indecision has its consequences). Hato essentially tries the same thing, but by not being the “center” of the harem, it has something of a different intention and effect.
From Hato’s perspective, Madarame is essentially straight (even if he does play games about extremely effeminate crossdressing boys who get pregnant), so Hato has the least chance of winning Madarame compared to Angela, Sue, and Keiko. Once, Madarame even said back in Chapter 79 that it was “biologically impossible.” Hato believed that the closest he could come to being with Madarame was in this “harem” format. It occupies roughly the same school of thought as “I’m happy if the person I love is happy” (Tomoyo in Cardcaptor Sakura) and “I can substitute my love for another girl with that girl’s twin brother who looks almost exactly alike” (Kana in Aki Sora). It’s likely why Keiko dislikes him so much. As we see in this chapter, though, Hato believes it’s time to move on, and that Madarame should choose one of the girls who are pursuing him.
There’s actually an extra fold in all of this concerning Hato. Even as he realizes that he’s gay or perhaps bisexual and can identify himself that way when dressed as a man, he still wants to continue to crossdress for reasons somewhat unrelated to his sexuality. It helps him to draw as he wants to. It makes him comfortable when talking to friends and making new ones. All along, he’s mentioned that BL and real guys are two different things, and that the crossdressing doesn’t reflect his sexual preferences. It still carries that meaning, but more in that Hato the man who has feelings for Madarame is not 100% the same as Hato the “woman” that loves to discuss BL. Or is that really the case? It seems like Hato himself doesn’t entirely know, though one possibility is laid out in Spotted Flower where the equivalent of Hato is either in the process of transitioning physically into a woman, or has done so already. As that’s supposed to vaguely be an alternate what-if scenario, it’s not clear if this Hato is the same way deep down, but his own view of himself as male or female seems likely.
I think it’s worth mentioning briefly that, within Genshiken itself, we see another character who tries to toe the line between fantasy and reality in Kuchiki, who loves the idea of the girl-boyas, though he’s shown to desire a world more like his anime fantasies than his reality, just as much if not more than Hato.
Of course, all of this has been focusing on one half of the equation for this chapter. What about Madarame? How does he really feel? Though he’s firmly maintained and argued for his heterosexuality, we’ve seen moments where he’s been legitimately confused. Not only does Madarame think about Hato’s words as an example of him being rejected again, but we also see a lot of blushing in this chapter. While I believe it’s purposely ambiguous as to whether his and Hato’s flushed faces are more from the alcohol or their own feelings, it increasingly sets up the possibility that, contrary to Hato’s beliefs, he really does have a chance.
A few questions come out of this. First, has Hato’s active and passive blurring of fantasy and reality (including the fact that he still has his makeup on) “worked” to make Madarame realize that he’s not 100% into the opposite sex after all? Second, would Kio Shimoku actually go through with having the character most representative of the classic otaku in Genshiken be to even somewhat gay? Third, would this cause those afraid of the subject of homosexuality who have identified with Madarame to reject his character, or would perhaps this bring in people who have felt similar to Madarame but don’t necessarily prescribe to heteronormative values?
As the chapter ends and Madarame is accidentally sprawled on top of Hato, I find myself truly unsure of what’s going to happen. I mean, most likely it will be “nothing,” just like it was “nothing” when it came to Sue and Keiko (Angela still has yet to truly make her move). However, whereas in the past I would say that Madarame most likely won’t have any realizations when it comes to Hato, now I’m not so certain. My prototypical otaku character can’t possibly be this challenging.
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