It’s finally here—the advent of Our Lady of Surly Shipping, the Angriest of Fujoshi, Ogiue Chika. To call this a major event in the series would be an understatement, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
What is Return to Genshiken?
Genshiken is an influential manga about otaku, as well as my favorite manga ever and the inspiration for this blog, but it’s been many years since I’ve read the series. I intend to re-read Genshiken with the benefit of hindsight and see how much, if at all, my thoughts on the manga have changed.
Note that, unlike my chapter reviews for the second series, Genshiken Nidaime, I’m going to be looking at this volume by volume. Starting with this volume, I’ll be using both English and Japanese versions of Genshiken! Also, I will be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the first series and the sequel, so be warned.
Volume 4 Summary
Due to the fire accidentally started by Kasukabe, the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture has been temporarily suspended, with club room privileges revoked and its members assigned mandatory community service. Feeling incredibly guilty over causing all of this trouble, Kasukabe reluctantly volunteers to go to Comic Festival to buy doujinshi for the others and even participate in a cosplay contest. There, she not only punches out a guy trying to get some upskirt shots, but her striking appearance causes the embers in Madarame’s heart to ignite into a flame.
More revelations and events follow. Tanaka and Ohno have started dating. Madarame passes on the mantle of club president to Sasahara, who declares his intent for Genshiken to create a doujinshi to sell at ComiFes. The club even gains two new members: Kuchiki, a familiar face who was rejected from the Anime Society, and Ogiue, a standoffish otaku-hating girl who literally jumped out a second-story window to spite the other Manga Society girls. So Genshiken grows with two problematic additions.
The way Saki’s guilt slowly eats at her, culminating in that single tear rolling down her cheek, is quite subtle. Her stoic expression as they move from one member’s apartment to the next in lieu of a club room is easy to miss. Even more significant is why she feels so bad about the situation.
It’s not simply a matter of being responsible for the fire, it’s that she sees how lifeless the others have become. It’s as if her actions have robbed them of the very space where they can open up and just enjoy being who they really are. This is where I think Saki truly becomes one of them—even if she’ll never be an otaku, she at the very least can empathize with their energy.
Later in Nidaime, when Madarame finally confesses to Saki, his thoughts go back to this moment: “I always knew that Kasukabe-san cries easily.” It was her first true moment of vulnerability in the series, and may be what planted the seeds of “Kasukabe is moe” in his head.
The Ritsuko Kubel Kettengrad cosplay she does in this volume is, in some ways, merely the icing on the cake. But what an icing it is!
The Cosplay Heard ‘Round the World
Saki’s cosplay is the catalyst for many future threads in Genshiken. It’s the moment Madarame confirms his own feelings for her. It’s what prompts him to get those photos of her, which eventually are found by Hato. It’s what leads to Saki pressuring Ogiue to cosplay as Renko from Kujibiki Unbalance.
Speaking of those Saki photos, I’ve always been fascinated by how they’re made to look more…lustrous…than the actual characters themselves, including Saki. It gives those pictures a kind of aura, almost like this is how Madarame sees her. Comparing the photos to the actual depiction of Saki, the difference is that the photos use screentone shading for her outfit, and that she looks comfortable and poised in them (as opposed to nervously sweating like in the image earlier).
There’s actually another moment related to this cosplay that I think marks the beginning of something special, which is a clear sign that Kio Shimoku is paying more and more attention to page composition.
In the above scene, we see from Kasukabe’s point of view as she tries out her Ritsuko cosplay for Ohno. For each panel, Ohno is in a similar position on the page, creating a clear vertical column that unites the page from top to bottom. At the same time, the fact that Ohno’s size varies relative to each panel gives it some variety and keeps it from feeling repetitive. It’s simple yet highly effective, and captures well the concept of “flow” in manga.
Tanaka: Best Friend and Boyfriend
Model kit and cosplay-loving Tanaka ultimately gets fewer dedicated chapters than many of the other characters in Genshiken. It’s sort of a shame, as the brief spotlights he gets here (though shared), point towards an interesting fellow. Not only do we get the sense that he and Ohno have been developing their feelings not-so-under the surface all along, but let’s not forget that he was the first of the “total dork” otaku to get a girl. As the characters themselves mention, it only makes sense. It’s not just that their hobbies overlap, but that their respective passions for their hobbies run equally strong.
The anime Genshiken 2 actually saw it fit to devote an episode to exploring the sexual side of Tanaka and Ohno’s relationship. In the manga, we only get Ohno’s lament that he still hasn’t made a move, and then towards the end of Nidaime we find out that he gets to see Ohno “only” once a week. Talk about progress!
Tanaka’s connection with Ohno is not the only highlight here. When most of the club finds out about them dating, it turns out Kugayama knew already because Tanaka told him. Here, you get the idea that they’re really close friends, arguably closer than any other two characters in a platonic relationship in the entire manga. By being a little more in the background, I get the sense that they’re having these private conversations on the regular, and we the readers are only privy to the crumbs.
The reason behind Madarame giving Sasahara the presidency is the interesting one. Essentially, he says that Sasahara is the one most true to being an otaku. From the perspective of 2017, this brings to mind the notion of “real geeks” vs. “fake geeks,” but it’s worth noting that Sasahara is the most inexperienced otaku out of all potential prospects (and Saki doesn’t count by not having a single otaku bone in her body). Ohno is well-known cosplayer with years of experience, and Kousaka is basically Madarame-level, but the big difference is that both Ohno and Kousaka are able to fully function in the world of non-otaku. Part of it is simply due to looks, but there’s a sense that what lies at the core of Genshiken as a club is personal and social dysfunction. If you’re able to function and thrive that easily among “normal folks,” can you be true to the spirit of the classic otaku?
The assumption that otaku will always be society’s rejects is also very telling in hindsight. After all, the whole Densha Otoko boom was about a year or two away at this point in Japan, and eventually Ohno does become president after Sasahara. The image of otaku begins to transform from those whose passions prevent them from being able to succeed to those whose passions help them succeed. It’s why Yajima in Nidaime is so self-conscious about her role in Genshiken—everyone else is attractive and/or successful, and Yajima is, in her own mind, fat and ugly and untalented.
But perhaps Sasahara is himself emblematic of this change. As soon as he becomes president, he declares his desire to create a doujinshi for Comic Festival, something that the club has basically avoided because none of them have the drive or the active desire to put in the hard work. After all, they did reuse their club presentation materials so much that the paper has started to brown. They’re slowly going from a do-nothing club to a do-something club, and a certain paintbrush-haired fujoshi eventually becomes central to that.
I had almost forgotten that, when we first meet Ogiue, we don’t quite know that she’s a closet fujoshi yet. We know she’s an otaku who hates other otaku for whatever reason, but it’s not until the next chapter that we see her get tempted by the Genshiken honeypot pile. She just comes across as an incredibly troublesome character with very brief glimpses of vulnerability, especially when Saki comforts her after Kuchiki puts a hand on Ogiue.
Because Ogiue is introduced alongside Kuchiki’s re-introduction, they’re presented as contrasts. Ogiue, coming from the Manga Society, is reticent, grumpy, and unwilling to open up to others. Kuchiki, coming from the Anime Society, is loud, spastic, and a little too lacking in a filter. Perhaps I’m biased, but I can see why Ogiue got more of the spotlight as the series goes on.
I think there’s a bit lost in Ogiue’s introduction in English versus the original Japanese. “My name is Ogiue, and I hate otaku” is a perfectly good translation, and it’s how I’d translate it as well. It sounds good in English, and it’s how English speakers typically introduce themselves: I’m [name] and I [do/like/am something]. But in Japanese, she says, “Otaku ga kirai na Ogiue desu“—”I am the otaku-hating Ogiue.” The very first thing she blurts out is her dislike of otaku and, as we later learn, her self-loathing. Maybe something like “I hate otaku. Hi, I’m Ogiue” would work better?
It’s also notable that Ogiue’s design is somewhat different at this point. Her side hair antennae are a little more angled, and her face is sharper. The character designs as a whole get a bit rounder over the course of the manga in general, but this specific version of Ogiue really gives off a “dangerous, do not touch” vibe.
Another thing to point out is how, while Ogiue’s eyes change permanently after she starts to date Sasahara, you see glimmers of it in Saki’s interactions with Ogiue right from the beginning. Saki’s quite good at breaking down walls, after all.
Final Random Thoughts
I need to make a correction to something I said back in Volume 2, which is that the original president never shows up again. But he does, right here in Volume 4! He dispenses some advice for Saki, that flits off to wherever wizened old otaku leaders go.
Last thing: One of the club discussions that crops up in this volume is comparing the Kujibiki Unbalance manga to the anime, where the former is inevitably considered better than the latter by its members. The anime is noted as having many more jokes, and overall being a crazier experience. What’s funny to me about this comparison is that it’s clear the Kujibiki Unbalance OVAs we got with the first Genshiken anime are trying to be the anime spoken of in this volume. It’s a bit of meta-humor for Genshiken fans, and it won’t even be the last time this sort of referencing occurs.