It’s time for the second installment of “Return to Genshiken,” where I re-read my favorite manga title with the benefit of hindsight. For those unfamiliar with Genshiken, it’s a series about a college otaku club and their daily lives. Originally concluding in 2006 before restarting in 2010 and finishing once again in 2016. A lot has changed about the world of the otaku, so I figured it’d be worth seeing how the series looks with a decade’s worth of hindsight.
Note that, unlike my chapter reviews for the second series, Genshiken Nidaime, I’m going to be looking at this volume by volume. I’ll be using the English release of Genshiken as well, for my own convenience. Also, I will be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the old and the recent manga, so be warned.
Volume 2 Summary
This volume introduces a variety of new side characters: Kuchiki the bizarre prospective club member, Kitagawa the strict student committee vice president, and Sasahara’s “gal” sister, Keiko. During this time, Genshiken gains a new member just as it loses one: Saki finally joins (reluctantly), while the club president retires and names Madarame his successor. As for Madarame, he sprains his wrist at Comic Festival for the first time, leading to a true test of his otakudom.
Those Who Left…
It’s interesting to see which supporting characters vanish from the face of the manga after Volume 2.
The first club president plays a big role here as the driving force behind Saki joining. After this point, however, he never appears again. It really feels like something was supposed to come about from him and his legacy, especially given his mysterious senior thesis—a project implied to have something to do with Genshiken itself. There also isn’t another character even remotely like him from this point forward, and his Kuroko Tetsuya-like lack of presence provided a certain humor absent from hereon in. I’m just still surprised that he doesn’t even show up in the two finales this manga has, neither the end of the first series nor the end of Nidaime.
This volume also introduces (and promptly gets rid of) Sawazaki. If you don’t remember him, you’re probably not alone; I even have to constantly look up his name. He’s the other guy who tries to join the club with Kuchiki before Kohsaka inadvertently saps his will to live by kicking his ass in fighting games as Saki shows her affections for her man (as a way to make Sawazaki and Kuchiki feel worse). One has to wonder why Kio decided to bring back Kuchiki eventually but write off Sawazaki, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that Kuchiki is just a stranger person and a more hardcore otaku. Genshiken isn’t exactly a club for the casual fan. While Sasahara is “normal” in a certain sense, it was more like he was in a larval stage and has now metamorphosed into a dork butterfly. In other words, he had it in him all along, and all it took was exposure to actual doujinshi to turn him. In contrast, Sawazaki feels like he just has less potential.
…And Those Who Stayed
In contrast to the first president and Sawazaki, a number of characters end up sticking around for much longer.
Haraguchi is an edge case, as he more or less disappears after this volume but ends up coming back later to give Sasahara advice on making their first doujinshi. When he does show up here, it reinforces what I thought of Haraguchi relative to Kuchiki from the previous volume’s re-read: Kuchiki is a creep, but Haraguchi is a creeper.
Speaking of Kuchiki, we won’t see him again for a while, but he’ll become fairly prominent in Volume 6 and on, as well as ever-present after Volume 10 and the start of Nidaime. At this point, he doesn’t come across as exceedingly bizarre. Either this is because his personality wasn’t well-defined at the time he was created, or because he froze up in a tense moment as he has so many other times moving forward.
Kitagawa, I’ll always remember as being the favorite character of an online friend who passed away a few years back (rest in peace, Cortana). That somber note aside, she kind of reminds me of Ogiue, and it’s kind of a shame that the two never interacted. When she later appears at the first graduation chapter, it’s notable to me that, by not showing her for a while and then bringing her back with a subtle personality difference, it really feels like she grew and changed as a human being. This might just be one of Kio’s greatest strengths as a creator.
And then there’s the biggest one of all: Keiko. In Volume 2, we first see her as the rude younger sister who actually just refers to her brother as “monkey.” While it’s clear that she’s the same character with the same base personality traits in Volume 2 compared to Volume 21, reading her introduction again made me realize just how much she changes over the course of the manga, from an immature high schooler to a mature (enough) adult.
By the time shes in Nidaime, Keiko is a perceptive woman who, while maybe not having the best head on her shoulders, is still capable of being pragmatic and clever. When we first meet her here, however, she’s asking for money from Sasahara because her boyfriend basically abandoned her. Rather than the one in control of her relationships, she’s the one being manipulated. Instead of using her femininity to attract entice, she uses it essentially to pander (we’ll be seeing more of this in the next volume!). It makes me wonder if the reason Keiko distrusts Hato so much in Nidaime is because she sees a bit of her old self in him.
All About Saki
There are a lot of indicators as to Saki’s relationship with the rest of Genshiken at this point. When she discusses Kohsaka having sex with her doggy-style so that he can presumably watch anime at the same time, the other members decide to use that mental image as masturbation fodder. Here, when they all still only kind of know her, she’s still just as much a “hot girl” as she is an antagonistic force and an erstwhile club member. It’s like they still don’t yet consider her a friend, which only makes sense given how much she tries to mess with Genshiken.
When it comes to the actual story of how she joins Genshiken, I wonder how okay it really is from a contemporary perspective. Essentially, the first president blackmails her into joining because he (somehow) knows that she’s been using the club room as a “private space” for her and Kohsaka. While Saki’s suspicion of hidden cameras is never corroborated, it leaves the question of whether or not this development would fly in today’s more socially conscious environment. I don’t think this damages the friendship that forms, but it does put an odd perspective on her character relative to the club.
In general, the biggest impression I get from Saki in Volume 2 is how she’s still so inexperienced when it comes to handling otaku. While she’s still characteristically sharp (her ability to spot plastic surgery might just relate to her being able to recognize Hato as a man), she hasn’t yet mastered the mind of the otaku and how to work both with it and around it. Like Keiko, there’s plenty of development awaiting her in the future.
As noted above, I’ve been using the English volumes because my Japanese ones have been hard to access and because it’s just quicker for me. I’m wondering if this is a mistake, because when reading this one I noticed some issues with the translation when comparing it to my memory. For example, when Ohno is explaining that Tanaka sewed so much support in her Kuradoberi Jam outfit that she didn’t need to wear a bra, the English version has the girls call him “creepy.” If I recall correctly, however, they’re actually saying that he’s terrifying(ly skilled). Keep in mind that the translation is like 90% fine, but there are just some moments that indicate a lack of close familiarity with not just otaku culture but also the otaku mindset. Granted, this was translated many years ago at this point, and there were just fewer resources back then.
Mebaetame and the Pre-Evolution of Kio Shimoku’s Ar
Volume 2 is the premiere of Mebaetame, the Genshiken circle doujinshi, which is also the debut of Kujibiki Unbalance art. The reported art evolution comparisons as the fictional manga goes on as explored by Kohsaka are interesting, if only for the fact that it’s 2003-ish Kio Shimoku trying to draw extreme stylistic changes. It’s similar to what he’d eventually go through as an artist. You can also see elements of his move between cutesier and more realistic styles.
Final Random Thoughts
Ohno’s cosplay gets me thinking. Back when this volume first came out, Guilty Gear was a big thing. Now, over a decade later, Guilty Gear is again at the forefront of video game fandom. It just makes me wonder if we went from collectively knowing Kuradoberi Jam, to forgetting who she is, to remembering her once more.
Also, in the image of Saki above, Kio uses a small amount of screentone to hint at cleavage. I’m not pointing this out to be a pervert, but to call back to a later statement of his that he had to essentially earn the ability to do nudity. This might be considered the start of it all.