Here we are: the end of Genshiken. At least, that’s what we could’ve said if the sequel never came out. It’s fascinating to look at this last volume while both remembering the finality with which it hit back around 2006, and being cognizant of the developments that have occurred since then.
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! I’ll also be spoiling the entirety of Genshiken, both the first series and the sequel, so be warned.
Volume 9 Summary
A visit from Ohno’s American friends, a New Year’s shrine visit, a fight between Sasahara and Ogiue, and a failed confession from Madarame all lead to the finale of Genshiken: graduation for Sasahara, Kasukabe, and Kohsaka. Good times, good memories, and an open future are in store (at least, until the sequel shows up).
A New Ogiue
It surprises me that even to the very end, we’re still learning a lot about Ogiue. It might be because she’s had such a dramatic shift in her own life in the previous volume (i.e. resolving her inner turmoil and starting a relationship with Sasahara) that we’re seeing sides of her that were previously obscured.
One of the most notable qualities in Ogiue after her change is that she loves being in love. She wants Sasahara to hold her. She enjoys walking and talking. She’s easily embarrassed, so public displays of affection are out of the question, but the thrill of being with Sasahara permeates her being and helps to make every day of Ogiue’s a less angry one compared to her past. However, what becomes evident is that Ogiue did not undergo a total transformation. That anger and confrontational stubbornness is no longer omnipresent, but it’s still there, and it still fuels Ogiue when she needs it.
This quality of hers is seen in Volume 9, when Ogiue asks Sasahara (who’s now working as a manga editor) to look over her submission for a published manga magazine (Monthly Afternoon, the home of Genshiken, as we later learn). Here, we find out Ogiue tends to take criticism very personally. In her eyes, comments about the lack of a clear protagonist and a too-long introduction are attacks on her character and her ability, and she lashes out at Sasahara. But as Yabusaki points out, Ogiue’s not the type to give up easily. Motivated by rage, she revises her manga (and draws a second submission!) in a way that incorporates Sasahara’s advice. So it turns out that she’s bad at receiving criticism but great at utilizing it—a volatile combination that Sasahara somewhat laments.
The unique editor-artist/boyfriend-girlfriend relationship between Sasahara and her is another facet of Ogiue hat is revealed in this final volume. In the sequel, this dynamic is constantly referenced, even as early as the first chapter of Nidaime, making it a vital part of how they interact with each other. While I’m loathe to simplify everything into S&M relationships, there is a sort of subtle sadomasochistic quality to their relationship because they keep going through this pattern of criticism, anger, and renewal, only to come back for more. But given that Ogiue’s both willingly letting herself get mad and taking it out on Sasahara, it’s not like there’s a clear-cut “S” or “M,” if you can even use those labels at all.
As an aside, Yajima in Nidaime goes through a similar thing, creating a highly entertaining manga after getting fed up by her lack of apparent talent compared to Hato, but I wonder if that’s less anger and more frustration.
In Chapter 53, “Confession,” Madarame runs into Kasukabe alone in the club room, conjuring up the memory of when he first started to develop a crush on her. Sure that she’d be forever out of his reach, Madarame elects to stay quiet about his love, preferably for the rest of his life. Back when I first read it, I thought Madarame did, if not the right thing, then the Daidouji Tomoyo route of “I want the person I love to be happy.” I think it was and is easy to relate to the plight of a noble (or perhaps spineless) nerd and his unrequited feelings, and to see Madarame as a mildly tragic (perhaps moe) character.
Of course, things have changed since then with Madarame in Nidaime confessing, being turned down, and ending up with Sue after a drawn-out competition from a bevy of female suitors, but I distinctly remember back then thinking that leaving things unspoken and unsettled might indeed be Madarame’s fate. And now, looking at this whole plot thread in full, I’d say Madarame confessing in Nidaime was the right choice because it’s clear he just couldn’t move on. In order to find another potential partner, he needed to be rejected because he’d be stuck in perpetual emotional limbo otherwise.
But Madarame’s confession isn’t the only time silence plays a major role. One of the highlights of Volume 9 is a special chapter dedicated to showing Kasukabe finally doing a joint-cosplay photo shoot with Ohno. The story has Kasukabe an unwilling victim of her own promise, Ohno trying to sneakily give photos of Kasukabe to Madarame, Ohno getting clocked for her efforts, and everyone getting ready for the graduation. This is done entirely without dialogue or sound effects (the sole word balloon being a “!?”), and it creates a powerful mood as the penultimate chapter. The fact that it comes directly after “Confession”—silence following silence, so to speak—might be coincidental, but it only adds to the feeling that “this is it, the end of Genshiken.”
That chapter is also an exercise in creativity for Kio, which is something I see in Volume 9 more generally. Earlier in the volume, when the characters are visiting a shrine in Narita for New Year’s, there’s an image of the group walking around, overlaying a bunch of other panels showing off the scenery. I have to wonder if these are the seeds that lead to the more dynamic (perhaps one could say shoujo-esque) paneling of Nidaime, and if that shrine visit is the start of Kio’s fondness for dumping tourist information into his series.
Before moving to the next topic, there’s an interesting panel in the silent chapter: an unfinished drawing of nighttime that leads into a Sasahara and Ogiue scene. It’s clearly not meant to be unfinished in that “roughness makes it look more interesting!” way, and it’s never been fixed or corrected. This isn’t a big deal, but it stands out all the more because of how detailed the scenery and environmental backgrounds typically are in Genshiken.
Sue, and the Story “Yet to Come”
Sue’s always been a fascinating character in the sense of her being a non-American’s (surprisingly accurate) interpretation of an American fangirl, but also in that she makes a strong impact from her mere presence. To this day, one of my favorite moments in Genshiken is Sue reenacting the “hiccup scene” from Azumanga Daioh—there’s something perfect about those “clones” of hers showing her gradually moving toward Sasahara, delivering every line in the process, before planting her fist in his solar plexus. In one of the between-chapter comics, Yabusaki runs from her (feeling awkward/shy around foreigners), only for Sue to unexpectedly start chasing her. If there’s any character in Genshiken who’s consistently hilarious, it’s Susanna Hopkins.
Given how little she appears, it’s amazing how much we see of Sue in Volume 9. We learn that she wants to study in Japan, we see her form a weird and affectionate bond with Ogiue, and we see her interact with Madarame more. If Genshiken had ended here as it originally did, we’d be left with just a general sense of Sue’s comfort around the two of them. With the context of Nidaime, these two relationships become much more significant. Even though Sue’s known Ohno for years, Ogiue might actually be her best friend. As for Madarame, that scene of him with Sue on his shoulders as he feels the warmth of her thighs takes on a whole new dimension.
Graduation as the Turning Point
Graduation is a special time in most school-themed works that run long enough, and it’s typically presented as all the things one might expect: a changing of the guard and the dawn of a new age. Genshiken ends up having two (three if you count Nidaime), and I think of its many strengths is how it handles these generational changes. They’re not necessarily abrupt, and it’s not like the old characters go away, but the refocus of the core cast is tricky to handle. While I know everyone has their own favorite “era” of Genshiken, I’m impressed by how well this manga handles that transition each time.
Anachronisms and Retcons
It amuses me that we still see flip phones in Volume 9. By the time Nidaime rolls around, Ogiue already has a smartphone. The sequel is supposed to take place not long after Volume 9, but the actual real-life time gap meant a lot of small things ended up changing. In the end, I think it’s for the best, instead of having to try and faithfully replicate 2005-2006 for the newer series. Besides, one of the points of Nidaime is to reflect how much otaku culture had changed over the past decade, and that wouldn’t quite fit if Kio just went straight back to the subculture of the mid-2000s.
In fact, one of the big changes in Nidaime is the much-higher female population, something that’s already sort of in motion in the first Genshiken. This brings up a big question: is the original Genshiken ending retconned? In it, we see a group of anonymous guys come up to the club room and greet an off-screen club president. In Nidaime, those guys are nowhere to be found. Is it supposed to be some undefined “future?” Should we pretend that scene never happened? It can’t be the past, because there’s a poster of Sänger Zonvolt and the little-girl version of Irui Ganeden from Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 (2005).
Kasukabe Saki, Moe, and a Translation Correction
I’m about to say something that might surprise Genshiken fans: The English translation of the final page has issues that alter the meaning significantly.
The final side story for Genshiken series 1 involves everyone having post-graduation drinks, when Madarame brings up a topic of discussion: “What would make Kasukabe be moe?” They go through different possibilities (sexy character, tsundere), only to realize that other girls closer fit those archetypes (Ohno and Ogiue, respectively). Madarame thinks the only way it’d work is if Kasukabe were a virgin, such that her insecurities became her vulnerability and thus her moe quality. Kasukabe asks Kohsaka what’s moe about her, and his answer is nothing. The other girls then wonder if Kasukabe really hasn’t noticed Madarame’s feelings, and the entire manga ends with her looking at them (and the viewer), oblivious.
This might not be how you remember it, and it wasn’t quite how I remembered it either. Back when I first read this, that I thought the final chapter was more about taking the piss out of Kasukabe and just ending with a good ol’ classic otaku discussion. Only now, having done this re-read, I realized both my error and the official English translation’s mistake. Japanese is very much a language of unspoken context and Genshiken is quite slangy when it comes to how the characters talk. By being even a little off in terms of understanding the meaning conveyed, it can completely derail the point of a scene.
Here’s the English translation:
Keiko: I wanna watch this whole thing explode.
Ohno: No, that wouldn’t be fair. Because you wouldn’t be the one exploding.
Ogiue: I’ve always felt this way, but I don’t think Kasukabe-senpai realizes how sensitive she is to conversations like this.
And here’s what it’s saying in Japanese (I’ve made the translation a little stiff on purpose to give as much of the full context as possible).
Keiko: I sooo wanna step on that landmine.
Ohno: You can’t. Because you’re not the one who’d explode.
Ogiue: Um……I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but do you really think Kasukabe-senpai hasn’t noticed? I mean, she’s perceptive when it comes to this kind of talk, right……?
The issue is that the English translation first has Keiko talking about wanting to watch it all explode, when the Japanese is using the term “step on a landmine” to basically mean “I want to bring up something I shouldn’t,” i.e. the fact that Madarame is in love with Kasukabe. That’s why Ohno responds with “You wouldn’t be the one exploding,” because it’d be Madarame catching the brunt of that. Then, when Ogiue chimes in, what she’s really talking about is how odd it is Kasukabe hasn’t noticed Madarame’s feelings when she’s normally so good at catching on to these kind of subtle social cues. The trouble is the term binkan, which can mean sensitive or susceptible, but also aware and alert.
So the real point of this whole thing is that Kasukabe’s potentially “moe” qualities are there, just not in the way that’s readily apparent. They mainly exist only relative to her interactions with other individuals, namely Kohsaka and Madarame. With her boyfriend, it’s her inability to handle Kohsaka’s cutting remarks. With Madarame, it’s the possibility that, somehow, the most socially perceptive person in the group hasn’t notice how hard this guy is crushing on her. As we later learn in Nidaime, Kasukabe’s suspected Madarame of liking her all along, but didn’t pick up on the actual hints, in a “stopped clock is right twice a day” sort of way.
Final (Random?) Thoughts: What is Genshiken‘s Greatest Strength?
As I finish this revisit of my absolute favorite manga series, I’m left to wonder why Genshiken grabs me so thoroughly. Luckily, a recent interview with Kio Shimoku revealed an important factoid: Kio never actually spent all that much time in the anime/manga/gaming club that became the inspiration for Genshiken. Instead, his characters are shaped by a seeming desire to make them feel as real as possible. And that’s who these characters are. They’re otaku, but they’re not limited by that label. They’re human beings, full of wants and desires, contradictions, the potential for growth, and so much more. That’s what drew me to the series, and that’s what inspired me enough to name this blog after Ogiue. The endless voids of her eyes and the anger inside of her filled me with inspiration and joy all those years ago, but it’s the way she evolved that made me a fan of her (and this great manga) forever.