Volume 6 of Genshiken is probably my favorite volume of manga ever. I think I’ve re-read it more than any other, so coming back to it for “Return to Genshiken” is almost like visiting an old friend.
At this point, it feels almost unnecessary to call it a transitional volume because it feels like every volume brings a major shift or two. This time, I’d say there are two especially significant events: the graduation of the old guard, and the first full dive into Ogiue’s head.
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, using both English and Japanese versions of Genshiken! I’ll also be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the first series and the sequel, so be warned.
Volume 6 Summary
Ogiue decides to try her hand at drawing a doujinshi for Comic Festival, but only after a series of wacky/traumatic mishaps. From cosplay to drawings of Sasahara and Madarame to getting caught red-handed with a bag full of doujinshi at ComiFes itself, Ogiue’s grudging acknowledgement of her fujoshi side is the very definition of reluctant. What’s more, Kasukabe thinks Ogiue has a twinkle in her eye for Sasahara, and refuses to believe otherwise.
Meanwhile, Keiko tries to get into Shiiou University despite years of neglecting her own education, Madarame has a nervous non-date with Kasukabe, and the classic trio of dudes finally graduate from college. Ohno feels a twinge of sorrow, but that’s eventually wiped away when she becomes the new president of Genshiken, with the hope of bringing about a true Society for the Study of Cosplay.
End of an Era, Dawn of a New Age
Madarame, Tanaka, and Kugayama are all classic images of otaku. Out-of-shape, awkward, and filled with trivia, they’re firmly in the camp of nerds who can never pass as “cool.” All three stick around to varying degrees for the rest of the first series and even in the sequel, but the fact that these “big children” are entering into the adult world is important for the tone of Genshiken. While all have made strides in previous volumes in different areas—girls, artistic progress, life in general—their graduation in hindsight feels like the moment when “more” might just be possible. They, and especially the younger members, are poised to break through the boundaries of the otaku identity, if only a little.
The buildup to graduation is filled with emotion. For example, when Madarame runs into Kasukabe chatting with friends on campus, a combination of his powerful crush on her and his general social awkwardness causes him to snub her. It’s such a painfully relatable scene, especially with how Kasukabe’s friendly “hello” gesture throws Madarame completely off guard. How could Kasukabe actually be that friendly? When did she even get that way? While re-reading Genshiken has helped me to see this change more readily, I recall it feeling almost out-of-nowhere the first time around.
Another moment comes from Ohno, who has a cloud of melancholy hanging overhead prior to the guys’ graduation. The reason is that, because she came back from abroad, she has to do an extra year at the university, and thus will graduate a year after Sasahara, Kasukabe, and Kohsaka. It’s a heartfelt moment where Ohno and Kasukabe grow even closer, albeit with Kasukabe promising to fulfill a cosplay request that she’ll eventually regret. What makes this moment hilarious in hindsight is that, as saddened as Ohno is here, she ends up delaying her graduation multiple times throughout Nidaime because she just doesn’t want to face adult society. Like Kasukabe, Ohno changes quite a bit over the course of Genshiken, sometimes so gradually that it’s notice. That doesn’t apply here, though, as Volume 6 is also when Ohno agrees to become the new Genshiken president so that she can shape it in her own cosplay-loving image. Later in Volume 9, Ohno even makes a comment that her character appears to have changed at some point, referencing her transformation from meek token girl otaku to confident motherly type.
This volume is chock full of premium Ogiue content. It’s a constant barrage of scowls, dreams created and destroyed, misunderstandings, and burgeoning romance. What’s especially telling about Ogiue’s prominence is that we’re privy to her inner thoughts to a degree only a few other prominent characters share, such as Sasahara and Madarame. She has a brief moment in Volume 5, but this time it’s entire extended internal monologues that lay bare the true Ogiue lurking within.
We have Ogiue going to Comic Festival incognito, i.e. half a chapter devoted to showcasing Ogiue’s mix of anger towards others, anger at herself, and the sense that she just really want friends but is her own worst enemy. As she stomps through Tokyo Big Sight in her winter coat and high school-era glasses, a snarly pout adorning her face, you can see her giving into her basest desires, mirroring Sasahara’s first voyage to ComiFes (though this is certainly not Ogiue’s first rodeo). When Ogiue’s hovering around the rest of the club, the lonely look she gives as they laugh over in the distance is almost heartbreaking. The subsequent silliness of her bumping into Ohno and having her doujinshi spill out of her bag for all the world to see is dramady at its finest. In other words, Genshiken.
The breakdown of Ogiue’s defenses is a recurring theme in this volume, seen not only in her ComiFes disaster but also in her very first cosplay. Kasukabe, having noticed that Ogiue’s a little weak to pressure, uses this opportunity to try and get Ogiue to open up. Ogiue dressed as Renko from Kujibiki Unbalance is probably her most iconic moment. Not only has it been replicated on multiple occasions across various anime adaptations and decorative covers, but it’s the subject of Ogiue’s only full PVC figure (which I own, yes).
Sasa x Ogi Continues
In Volume 5, there’s a moment that I believe is the subtle beginning of Ogiue’s obsession with Sasahara x Madarame, and by extension the catalyst for her eventually falling for Sasahara. In Volume 6, Kasukabe’s actions nudge it towards greater prominence.
In one of the doujinshi planning scenes, Haraguchi reveals that he’s already made plans for Genshiken’s book (he wants to turn it into a big seller by bringing on a ton of high-profile guest artists). Sasahara keeps trying to politely refuse Haraguchi’s “kindness,” as his tendency as a non-confrontational person. However, as Haraguchi keeps pushing and pushing, eventually Sasahara’s expression grows stern (similar to how he reacts to his own sister). He puts his proverbial foot down, saying, “I will personally call all the guest artists you brought on board (without my consent) and turn them down.”
It’s potentially easy to miss, but immediately afterwards there’s a small panel with an Ogiue closeup, and she has the ever-so-slightest blush on her face. Without later context, it can just seem like she’s surprised or shocked at Sasahara’s change of behavior, but now it’s clear to me that this was the catalyst for her perception of Sasahara as a a “seme” character, and also her eventual attraction to him.
Back when I first read Genshiken, I was actually mildly skeptical towards the idea that Ogiue was interested in Sasahara just because Kasukabe said so. Both on a personal level and as a consumer of fiction, I’d groan at these situations. Just because someone looks at someone else once or twice didn’t mean romance is in the air!
Those situations still get overblown in my opinion, but as I’ve re-read Genshiken, it’s clear to me that the hints were there. It’s not that Ogiue is madly in love with Sasahara from the start, but that she begins to notice his finer qualities, and this grows into something more. This, I believe, is what Kasukabe truly notices, even if she misinterprets Ogiue’s drawing of Sasahara as aggressive top as a more typical from of affection.
Kasukabe really is the “matchmaker” of Genshiken, or maybe she just loves goading potential/existing couples. Whether it’s grilling Tanaka and Ohno, or it’s getting Madarame to quit waffling and pick a girl, her thrill at seeing her nerd friends get somewhere is actually one of Kasukabe’s most charming qualities.
The Ogiue Maniax Moment
The top image in this post is probably favorite Ogiue scene ever. It’s where my original banner came from, and I’ve used it in posts such as “Explaining Decompression in Comics.” As Ogiue thinks about the logistics of a Sasahara x Madarame relationship, her mind wanders down deeper and darker rabbit holes. She tries to pull herself away, but she can’t. In an entire volume where page after page of Ogiue’s piercing eyes is like manna from heaven, this is like the main course.
Keiko Shows Substance
Ogiue and Keiko meet for the first time in this volume, and it’s hilarious to see how antagonistic they were at the time. Keiko softens up to everyone over time, even her older brother, but there’s just a certain pleasure I derive from seeing Keiko eventually call Ogiue “onee-chan.” She’s marrying her brother and Ogiue in her head before everyone else. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Volume 6 is probably almost as big a deal for Keiko fans as it is for Ogiue fans; it’s when Keiko really begins to turn a new leaf. Even if we learn in the next volume that her attempts to get into Shiiou University are fruitless, and that she quits college entirely by Nidaime, she’s genuinely trying to be more than just a dumb, shallow girl. I get the feeling a lot of Keiko lovers wouldn’t be so keen on her if she had never changed, but that’s the magic of Genshiken.
Mebaetame Amateur Figure Hour
Starting this volume of Genshiken, the between-chapters extras get creative. This time around, it’s Tanaka’s blog where he shows off his design and construction of a figure from Kujibiki Unbalance. The most amazing thing about this is that it’s made using real photographs of an actual constructed figure. This then later factors into the end-of-volume special, when Tanaka accidentally drops the figure and breaks it. Someone actually built it for real, and I don’t think we’ll ever know if it was Kio himself, an assistant, or an acquaintance. Did he actually break his own constructed figure for the sake of a gag, or was there a stunt double?
Final Random Thoughts
This is the last we see of Kitagawa, the Club Council vice president. She ends up marrying her senpai. I kind of wish we saw where she was in Nidaime, but she was always a pretty minor character. On a personal note, I knew a guy who really liked Kitagawa, but he passed away a few years ago. Rest in Peace, Cortana.
At graduation, someone is reading the end of Part 1 of the Kujibiki Unbalance manga. The pages shown are meant to be an indication of how far the story has gone, as characters portrayed as enemies earlier in the series are now getting married.
The end-of-volume special also features the crew hanging out post-graduation, and in one instance Sasahara and Madarame are checking the girls out. I like that there’s pretending that they don’t notice how attractive their clubmates are, though obviously they don’t say anything out loud. What sticks out to me here is Sasahara getting a little hot and bothered by Ogiue in a skirt. With Kasukabe, who’s dressed to kill in a short skirt and pantyhose, it feels like he’s seeing her as just “an attractive lady.” But with Ogiue, she’s wearing a pretty subdued outfit and a pretty long skirt. I’d like to think it’s that spice of beginning to actually have feelings for another, which turns even plain clothes into thrilling adventures in fantasy. In Volume 7, Sasahara really lets his imagination run wild, but that’s for next time.