As Hato becomes aware of Yajima’s feelings for him, a heartfelt discussion between the two ensues, where they share their doubts and beliefs about what it means to live with oneself. Though ostensibly a prelude to the last “date” of their trip to Nikkou, the moment between Hato and Yajima might well end up being one of the highlights of Genshiken Nidaime.
Over and over, I think one of the questions asked of Nidaime has been, why a harem arc? Why go for the most stereotypical anime trope that potentially damages Genshiken as this realistic depiction of otaku and fujoshi? Given how Genshiken has turned out in its exploration of Madarame’s awkward love life, one answer has been that it’s commenting on the disconnect between the fantasy of the anime harem and the reality of interpersonal relationships. This has been supported by the characters themselves sometimes even saying as such. However, there’s a second possible answer that’s arguably much simpler, and perhaps even extends out from the original series, which is a desire to portray greater diversity in the otaku population, and that includes a greater number of girls and women.
While I cannot attribute any proof of intent to creator Kio Shimoku’s goals with the second Genshiken manga, there are a few factors that have me considering this. First, there’s the higher female to male ratio. Second, there’s Hato himself, who is, suffice it to say, rather complex when it comes to ideas of gender, sex, and sexuality. Third, there is the greater emphasis on the idea of body image in Nidaime. I think this is perhaps where the “harem,” one of the most upfront formulas for having a heavy amount of female characters in a series, becomes integrated into this idea of diverse representation.
In this chapter, the discussion between Hato and Yajima essentially falls on what it means to “look” or “behave” like a woman. Yajima tells Hato that his crossdressing affects her deeply because it reminds her that she is not beautiful, that she’s overweight and lacking in anything that would attract men. Hato responds that he’s jealous of Yajima because he has to constantly put on this ideal act of being a woman in order to keep from getting found out, whereas Yajima naturally exudes femininity even when she does not fit societal standards.
Moreover, Hato remarks that he totally believes a relationship between him and Yajima would be possible, and fondly imagines the idea of being able to share a love of BL with a fujoshi girlfriend, while also specifically mentioning that not just any fujoshi would do (Yoshitake’s personality he considers possibly incompatible). The very things that make Yajima hate the way she looks, the tension of being a woman but not “acting the part,” are what Hato finds appealing about Yajima. And yet, Hato resists starting a relationship because he came to Genshiken to make friends, fujoshi friends, and doesn’t want to taint that desire and pervert it into a pursuit of a relationship.
There’s a lot to unpack there! We have a clear indication that Hato is bisexual, or somewhere deep in that middle area of the Kinsey scale. We have Yajima, who’s not even part of the Madarame harem, sharing these everyday questions that can haunt the mind and subtly cripple one’s self esteem. Basically, there are these two embodiments of so much inner and outer pressure, and they are opening up to each other in a way that, while it technically fails the Bechdel Test in multiple ways (one of them is sexually a man after all, let alone Madarame being a major topic of conversation), it speaks to something deeper about how people view themselves relative to societal standards. For example, why is there sometimes the assumption that an attractive woman can fall in love with an unattractive man for his inner qualities, but that an unattractive woman has no chance with a beautiful man?
On top of all of this, Yajima shows something that I think is truly impressive: she isn’t fully comfortable with homosexuality still, despite being a fujoshi. At one point, Yajima thinks to herself that she should tell Hato, who has said that a relationship with Yajima isn’t out of the question, that he should make the “right” choice and go with a girl. In her mind, she sees that as the proper way things should go. However, and this is key, she holds back because she realizes how much Hato has gone through when it comes to his relationship with Madarame and the soul searching that he’s had to do. Here is a character who is in her own way affected by the standards society puts on women, yet is vulnerable to assumptions of what is normal and what is not as seen in how she opposes Hato’s crossdressing for so long, and over time is learning and changing her mind at a pace that is her own. In the end, Yajima encourages Hato to try his best in his pursuit of Madarame, and it means so much given what Yajima is thinking and what kind of person she is. It’s a real struggle that is rarely talked about.
Diversity and representation are two of the biggest topics when it comes to current American comics and cartoons. Japan’s history in this regard is different, with things such as shoujo, BL, yuri interacting with a traditional and contemporary sexist society. In Genshiken Nidaime there’s something powerful, almost as if there isn’t an overtly political motivation to improve representation of other sexes, genders, and sexualities, but a simpler desire to show more of the world in all of its complexities using the tools of manga. I’ve had a feeling along these lines the entire time I’ve been reading Nidaime, but this is perhaps the chapter where it stands out more than any other up to this point.
(Obligatory Ogiue sighting)
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