Spotted Flower and the Role of the “What-If”

The manga Spotted Flower is more than just a story about a male otaku and his non-otaku wife. To fans of the author, Kio Shimoku, the series is also a thinly veiled alternate universe version of his most famous work, Genshiken. With nearly all of the characters in Spotted Flower having direct analogues in Genshiken, the manga is constantly nudging and winking at the audience. Recently, one of those nudges turned into more of an elbow to the solar plexus, and many assumptions about the series have gone out the window. A story seemingly about marital bliss (despite some ups and downs) has become a tale of adultery, and Genshiken fans are left reeling.

The buildup to the big moment occurs shortly after the birth of the husband and wife’s first child, who is named, appropriately, “Saki.” Visited by her ex-boyfriend, the ease with which she and her former lover banter back and forth drives the meek husband to wallow in quiet envy. In a moment of weakness, he ends up sleeping with an old mutual friend—one who’s female up top, male down below, and who still identifies as male—and cheats on his wife. Only, instead of doing the deed, he winds up on the receiving end.

Jealousy and Betrayal

It’s clear which Spotted Flower characters map to which Genshiken identities. The husband is uber nerd Madarame Harunobu, while his wife is the no-nonsense Kasukabe Saki. The ex-boyfriend is Kohsaka Makoto (who is Kasukabe’s actual boyfriend). The one night stand (?) is with Hato Kenjirou, the male BL fan who ends up falling in love with Madarame. Seeing all of these characters act so terribly to each other can feel like a betrayal, especially to fans of the popular Madarame-Kasukabe pairing. But the situation begs the question: where do the Genshiken versions end and the Spotted Flower ones begin?

Spotted Flower resembles fanfiction in the sense that, while it’s possible to enjoy it standalone, the work encourages and even to some extent assumes a certain degree of familiarity with the source material. What use is a story about Mikasa from Attack on Titan turning into a robot, if the reader doesn’t know how Mikasa is supposed to act normally? To that extent, I suspect that the controversial decision to make the husband an adulterer is part of stressing Spotted Flower as the space where all the things not possible in Genshiken become real. The very premise of the series is built on that idea—Kasukabe ultimately rejects Madarame because she loves Kohsaka.

If the husband does all the things Madarame didn’t or couldn’t do, then his poor decisions make sense. At one point in the second manga series, Genshiken Nidaime, Madarame comes close to sleeping with his friend’s little sister, Sasahara Keiko. As it turns out, Keiko is actually trying to cheat on her current boyfriend with Madarame, and her casual admission to this fact sends Madarame running for the hills. Madarame is unwilling to be an accomplice in another’s unfaithfulness, but the husband in Spotted Flower is not. Later in Nidaime, Madarame ends up alone with Hato in an awkward spot. Hearts racing, the two come close to having something happen, only for happenstance to deflate the tension. Madarame ends up rejecting Hato later, out of concern that Hato should be with someone better. The evening that goes nowhere in Genshiken certainly ends up somewhere in Spotted Flower.

What’s more, where Genshiken deals in relatively tame kinks and features mostly faithfully monogamous relationships where available (Keiko notwithstanding), Spotted Flower thrives on the unconventional. The not-Hato (hereafter referred to by his artist pen name Asaka Midori) is already in a physical relationship with his manager who’s the Spotted Flower version of Genshiken character Yajima. But rather than being upset or surprised, the manager was already well aware of Asaka’s desire for the husband. She even goes as far as to ask how it was giving anal sex to him. At another point, it’s implied that another character (a manga editor who maps to original Genshiken protagonist Sasahara) could maybe potentially be having threesomes with his girlfriend and her very touchy-feely American girl friend, but doesn’t. “Open relationships” seems to be the name of the game, which further emphasizes the Bizarro Universe-esque aspects of sexual relations in Spotted Flower relative to Genshiken.

Does this mean that Spotted Flower is reliant on Genshiken, or that the sense of betrayal on the part of readers would only come from Genshiken fans? Perhaps not, but the feelings are likely most intense from that established fanbase. However, I find it fascinating that, unlike fanfiction, which typically exists on a very clear line of what is “canon” and not, the fact that Spotted Flower is this very obvious Genshiken what-if with only the barest degree of plausible deniability makes that canon/non-canon distinction much blurrier. At the same time, it is fact that the Spotted Flower characters are definitely not the Genshiken ones, and not just the same characters in an alternate universe or timeline. They simply have too many different physical features that can’t be explained by the passage of time on account of the Spotted Flower characters being older. “Ogino-sensei” (Ogiue in Genshiken) has a different face structure. The blond American otaku behaves like the petite Sue but has a body like the tall, buxom Angela. In some cases, it’s not even clear who’s supposed to be who based on character design alone. Spotted Flower might be a “possible future” as both it and Genshiken like to put it, but it’s practically CLAMP’s manga, Wish—a series based on a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure doujinshi of theirs with the names and designs altered into “original” characters. Only, for Kio, he’s his own source of inspiration.

Ogiue’s Counterpart: Ogino-sensei

The question as to how much Spotted Flower should speak for Genshiken is a tricky one. The characters of the former mirror the latter. Are they the true desire of the author, or simply a chance to tell different stories? Is it precisely because the characters are alternate versions that this can happen, or does that thread of possibility mean the two are tied together? I don’t believe there to be a true answer to these questions, simply because it really depends on individual readers’ relationships with both series. But it’s also curious that some of the characters and relationships are not as different as others. Ogino-sensei is still seeing her manga editor boyfriend, and their bond seems to have remained strong. The wife’s ex-boyfriend (not-Kohsaka) looks almost the same, except his hair is black instead of blond, and his bright-eyed gaze has been replaced with some kind of seeming cynicism or darkness. Maybe there are characters who can find the same happiness on the alternative route, and those who cannot.

A new character: Endou

How much Spotted Flower will continue to be self-parody remains to be seen. Volume 3 introduces wholly original characters in Asaka Midori’s editor, Endou, as well as her publisher. I wonder if this is the signal that the manga is on the verge of becoming its own entity.

 

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8 thoughts on “Spotted Flower and the Role of the “What-If”

  1. After !Madarame decided to cheat on his wife, I was done with “Spotted Flower.” His quirkiness in not wanting to have sex with his pregnant wife was odd to me, considering his penchant for eroge sex fetishes. But, at the same time, I could believe !Madarame might have a hangup like that. I could not believe that !Madarame would suddenly decide to cheat on his wife, even more so in the way that he did. As such, I lost all interest in reading more of the manga, but I was curious to read your thoughts here.

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  2. Thanks for the summary
    Also for pointing out the physical differences. Perhaps these are closer to the
    what the real life Genshiken character models could have been or have become.

    As for the psychological differences that allow !Madarame to cheat on his wife
    these could just be the result of further sexual maturity. !`rame has now had
    sex many times and seeking multiple sexual partners is not so strange.
    It is to be noted that with Japanese sexual maturity coming later than
    we might expect that sexual activity can have a explosive result as the
    freedom to release tensions of which the immature are barely aware.

    !Madarame does not deserve hatred for his enlarged sex life and with many
    males when sex is available they have it. !M is still young enough to be
    foolish and some males pursue beauty and youth in their partners into
    advanced age.

    We have already seen !Hato’s relentless campaign to have sex with !Madarame
    and I was more bothered by the initially shown encounter while the wife was
    still pregnant. !M refused and if he had not that would have been an unacceptable
    lapse.

    I hate to point out that the !Hato !Yajima may be based in mutual
    appreciation of sexual/social deviance and the ease with which !Yajima
    accepts the encounter between our two bad boys may have some
    relationship to this.

    bliss

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    • I’d say that it really shows how they are “adults” , with not so pretty wants & needs that come with age, they’re at the stage in which the “might have been ‘s” are coming in full force. Madarame is laying down his pride, and even his shame. Forgoing his loyalty to his wife in this scene. It’s obvious that he’s reminiscing the choices he missed, and that he feels trapped by his choices . He’s being inmature because he feels inadecuate, the way he sees himself and his awkward relationship with his wife (worsened by the impending “doom” of his newborn, which is a reality that as an otaku he has never took seriously, as it is too “normal”. We never have seen him actively talking about his daughter with fondness.That’ a serious red flag that cuestions his relationship with his wife) Basically, he has realized this all too late, and subsecuently, bursted to drown the old flame by calling Hato, and doing “the deed” he couldn’t dare before. But as the classical Madarame, even at this he remains as an “uke” to the end *laughs cinically*

      Basically, this is not strange in Japan. He gave in to society’s pressure, and as the *herbivore* he has been shown to be in the manga, he hasn’t really looked forward to what his life would be, and never questioned what would made him really happy. He never explored it further… In retrospect, his passive outlook or life haunts him, something that at some point every “otaku” member of the genshiken has dealt with, sooner or later. He’s learning now that not trying to “taste” the things that were offered to him in his college years are biting him. This is assuming that Spotted Flower really is not “canon” but showing an alternative to what would have happened if he refused the last chance in the canon manga (getting Sue) and reunited later with Saki. The inconsistencies unexplained ( Saki achieved a good starting career in bussines at the end of the canonical manga, and it’s likely she wouldn’t renounce to that career easily, not only that her personality is way less witty in Spotted Flower) support that this alternative Saki and Madarame aren’t canonical. It’s possible that she isn’t the “Saki” , but another girl with similar name and traits that Madarame just committed to.

      All in all, this is just Kio Shimoku just “mindfucking” us, even at the possible risk of alienating his followers. I think he just did want to explore what the life of Madarame would be if he just ended with a girl close to his image of Saki, instead of running Sue’s course. I feel that the autor wanted to “reward” Hato, even if this ends being a bitter whishplash for Madarame and him/her. Finally, Madarame coups the trophe of his lot: being an antihero with no fulfilling rewards.(and no drive, such is the vicious circle he’s in) What happens next will make or break him, for good or for worse. Though there’s that trend in mangas to open ended endings (Yesterday no Uttate comes to mind…) that just brush matters off as conundrums of no consequence. That would be a big turn-off.

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  3. Pingback: The New Year Isn’t Just For Show!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2018 | OGIUE MANIAX

  4. Sorry to burst your bubble about spotted flower but those characters arent saki and madarame.

    http://konomanga.jp/interview/33082-2/2 Interview with the manga creator Kio

    It’s in Japanese but you’ll probably be able to understand it if you use Rikaichan.

    Basically, he says that the main characters of Spotted Flower were based on the concepts “love” and “otaku” and that he’s having fun with the look-alikes but
    when he’s asked if he’s drawing it as a sort of Genshiken spin off he says no. That if that was the case, he would have never done Spotted Flower.

    Not to mention in chapter 20 the grandma sugggests they name the baby saki (which they do) after making fun of it for being in another manga, aka the wife couldnt be named saki or they wouldnt have made the other manga refrence.

    I know some fans want that but sadly spotted flower isnt about saki and madarame, it is two totally different characters that are based off of them, it is called an Expy ( http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/SpottedFlower here is a link you can click on expy to get definition or look it up)

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    • I think the big thing is that Kio’s answers in that interview are pretty tongue in cheek. They’re not supposed to be Madarame and Saki because there are too many physical and circumstantial differences, but the series also loves to use the established events of Genshiken as narrative shorthand to give the readers something to chew on. As much as the characters are different, it’s impossible to avoid planting in readers the connections to Genshiken even if it’s not a true AU or spin-off, and that’s what has readers of his works responding so strongly to this one.

      The adultery storyline might be Kio’s way of showing that this is DEFINITELY not Madarame, but you also can’t remove that mental connection in readers.

      Expy is an interesting term, but what sticks out to me is that it’s not just the husband and wife who are Expys. The entire cast, bar the editor and Asaka, are Expys. If enough Expys gather together, what happens?

      Lastly, while this has never been said outright, I have wondered if the reason they definitely could not be the same characters is because Le Paradis is under a different publisher (Hakusensha vs. Kodansha).

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    • https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2015-02-03/interview-genshiken-creator-shimoku-kio/.84036 here is another interview where he even says basically this isnt an alternate path

      he was asked this question and this was his answer
      What is the relation between your other manga “Spotted Flower” and Genshiken?

      Hm? There isn’t one.

      …And that is my official statement.

      The title name was just a playful idea that I came up with after creating the concept of the couple and noticing them feeling very familiar to me. I’m honestly not sure what to do with the big reaction that it ended up getting from the fans afterwards.

      Even from the planning stage, there was no intention of making the two titles related in any way. The idea never even came up during discussion with my editor either.

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  5. i also found an interview right on this site https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/15931-genshiken-kio-shimoku-and-the-otaku-soul.html

    The author even says ogiue is based off him and his experience and the wife in spotted flowers looks way more like ogiue then saki so if he got inspiration from any genshiken character i would lean way more to ogiue then saki since she is based off him and he likes putting himself into his manga atleast a little

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