Return to Genshiken – Volume 9: Don’t Call It an Ending?

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.

Silence

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.
Girls: ……
Kasukabe: Huh?

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……?
Girls: ……
Kasukabe: Huh?

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.

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Breakthrough: Return to Genshiken – Volume 8

We’ve reached the climax of Genshiken series 1, and the moment that all Ogiue fans cheered for. How does one of the most famous otaku confessions in manga history still hold up?

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 8 Summary

The Genshiken members are on a trip to the resort town of Karuizawa, when a drunken girls’ night in causes Ogiue to reveal her past to the other girls. It turns out that Ogiue had a boyfriend named Makita in middle school, but after she  drew a BL doujinshi starring him and his best friend, and Makita transferred to another school presumably after seeing it. This is the source of Ogiue’s hatred of herself and her fujoshi side.

Sasahara is left to take care of Ogiue during her hangover, and ends up confessing to her, only to be rejected, because Ogiue “can’t date men.” At the prompting of Kasukabe and Ohno, Sasahara goes after her, where she reveals that she’s been drawing doujinshi of him and Madarame this whole time, and is suffering from immense guilt over being unable to stop herself. Sasahara, instead of recoiling in fear and horror, shows understanding and support, which convinces Ogiue to invite him over to her place after the vacation with the goal of putting everything on the line. After having him read the doujinshi starring himself and seeing him accept it, the two finally get together and consummate their relationship.

After a cute but awkward early stage, the two are fairly comfortable together. However, Ogiue runs into a couple of other hurdles. First, she’s rejected from Comic Festival, which tanks her confidence. Second, the Manga Society she unleashed havoc on back when she was much, much angrier. Visited by some old members, namely a Kansai girl named Yabusaki who also draws, it turns out that Yabusaki’s been garnering jealous eyes in the Manga Society herself, and that Yabusaki’s friends see a friendship with Ogiue as a way to benefit both parties. The two begin to get along…sort of?

Ogiue’s Past Revealed

As Ogiue gives her drunken rant (by way of flashback), one takeaway is just how serious her trauma is over her time with Makita—it’s enough to consistently give her nightmares. I once got the chance to submit a question to Kio Shimoku as to why her eyes changed over the course of the series, and he mentioned that her character originally necessitated those eyes. I wonder if it signifies her no longer being victim to her own bad dreams.

Nakajima is a fascinating character. It’s clear to me that she was jealous of either Ogiue or Makita, but the extent of her involvement in actually bullying Ogiue remains ambiguous. I think this shows more Ogiue’s mind in turmoil than any absolute truths, that she lost trust in Nakajima, but also faith in the assumption that Ogiue herself was a good person. Based on the character’s appearances in Nidaime, it’s obvious Nakajima wants to mend bridges with Ogiue, but her own personality gets in the way. Maybe both Ogiue and Nakajima are cursed with standoffish personalities.

As for Makita himself, I find it significant that he never really shows up, not even in Nidaime, even though Nakajima makes a couple of appearances. I think this is to show that there’s a part of Ogiue’s past she’ll never be able to directly confront, and that she’s ultimately okay with this. Then again, I figured that was the case with Madarame’s unrequited love for Saki and that eventually got resolved, so maybe if Genshiken had more volumes it would’ve happened eventually. Another point about Makita is how he contrasts with Sasahara. Makita was (assumedly) so bothered by the doujin that he transferred school. Sasahara took it head-on. Again, while he doesn’t seem like he should be a seme character, one can see how Ogiue would interpret him as such.

The Confession, Part 1

I consider Sasahara’s confession to Ogiue and the subsequent fallout to be the most magical part of Genshiken, and not simply because of the fact that it’s the big romantic climax. There’s just so much in terms of the characters’ personalities, histories, and quirks intertwining over an extended period. The confession essentially comes in parts, starting with a stock “I like you, and I want to protect you” line straight out of some dating sim. Sasahara’s willingness to back off at what he takes as a rejection is a flaw of his, but also one of the qualities Ogiue admires in him. Then, when Ogiue blurts out that she been drawing a hardcore comic of him with Sasahara, she’s trying to drive him away with all her might, afraid that getting closer would hurt them both.

I remember the degree to which Ogiue took Sasa x Mada was a pretty big surprise back when I first read it. Now, it’s been so long and been such a part of Ogiue’s character as to feel natural.

To Ogiue’s surprise, Sasahara sees the good in her, and this gradually opens Ogiue’s eyes to the idea that, just maybe, she should accept and embrace herself. Ogiue’s struggle this entire time has been based on the feeling that her desires and her conscience are in direct conflict, when they need not be. She’s afraid of hurting Sasahara, but what if her actions simply don’t bother him? It’s a compatibility issue, not a fatal flaw that denies her companionship.

The Confession, Part 2

When they decide to meet at her apartment, the tension is thick with both nervousness and sexual energy. It rightly feels like they’re on the verge of something big after so long. But I think the key to it all is in Sasahara’s line: “I can feel your overwhelming love for your characters,” in reference to the BL-ized versions of himself and Madarame. Those words free Ogiue. Her drawings come from a place of passion.

Seeing Sasahara grapple with the fujoshi mindset, and Ogiue having to explain it to him, is also pretty fascinating. After reading through her doujin, he asks her if she also has feelings for Madarame, which Ogiue denies. There’s something different about the way she uses each of them for inspiration. It feels as if she takes the qualities that make her like Sasahara and exaggerates them for fiction, but for Madarame it’s that his “uke” qualities make him excellent as a character first and foremost.

That’s if we’re talking Ogiue, at least. As the sequel shows, sometimes Madarame as imagination fodder and subject of affection can come as a package. Perhaps Hato is meant to tap into that aspect of Madarame, and to show that there are simply a lot of different people in the world.

Returning to the subject of Ogiue, she tries to prompt Sasahara into being more aggressive, which Sasahara tries to live up to with awkward (yet effective?) results. It’s funny to see Sasahara from this point forward actively put on that more aggressive personality when I’m romantic situations with Ogiue, because it clearly comes from a desire to thrill and excite her. It’s very fitting for their characters.

Once their feelings are known, the two immediately go into sex, which I think is actually kind of wild. Sure, they’re horny college students who also obsess over drawn pornography, but to go from that degree of pussyfooting to just (offscreen) pants-off carnal desire makes me think of a hose previously being held back suddenly letting loose (ifykwim). From this point on, Sasahara and Ogiue are not only boyfriend and girlfriend, but this can also be seen as a major stop along the way in their respective careers as editor and artist because Sasahara essentially gave a “review meeting” about Ogiue’s Sasa x Mada doujin. It’s shown to be a pretty constant source of tension between the two, but one that’s ultimately minor in the face of their love for each other.

The Manga Society

I’m very impressed looking back at how the Manga Society girls (Yabusaki, Asada, Katou) are able to make such a strong impression after such a brief appearance. You get a sense of how they relate to each other, what the club environment was like, and the girls themselves are just plain memorable.

One thing I find funny is that, at this point, Asada Naoko didn’t have an actual name. At most she’s referred to as “Nyaako” in the Volume 9 doujinshi extra by some of the artists. Asada actually comes from the Genshiken 2 anime credits, and Naoko is from Nidaime, which retconned Nyaako into being her nickname—a play off of “Naoko.”

They also drop that tidbit about Ohno and Katou knowing each other. One thing I find interesting is this idea that true bonds can be formed through shared kinks. I don’t think that notion has gone away, but I have to wonder if making that aspect of oneself more visible to the public (“horny on main” as they say it these days) makes it so that aspect of oneself is no longer as revealing or telling of one’s true self. Basically, maybe showing one’s kinks isn’t as much of a soul-bearing activity if it’s never made private in the first place.

Final Random Thoughts

There’s a very memorable scene I had ironically almost forgotten about: on the train home from the zoo, Ogiue basically tells Sasahara that “their date isn’t over yet,” which makes Sasahara shift his bag to hide his erection. While Genshiken often deals in literal fans of drawn pornography, these moments of sensual realness stand out all the more because of it.

That zoo, by the way, is based on Tama Zoo, which is a short train ride away from Chuo University (the school that visually inspired Genshiken‘s Shiiou University). I actually went there when I studied abroad in Japan!

Love and Lust. Return to Genshiken: Volume 7

Volume 7 is the point where Genshiken starts focusing much more heavily on Ogiue’s story, for better or worse (guess which side I’m on!). As the only character at this point who has a powerfully emotional backstory (though I wouldn’t have minded learning about the others in their younger days), it makes sense, even if it pulls the manga away from its more laid-back origins.

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 7 Summary

It’s the dawn of a new age for Genshiken, as Ohno now leads the club. However, an awkward scene with Kuchiki drives away all prospective members, aside from Sasahara’s sister Keiko (who doesn’t even attend the school). This means the balance of the club has shifted to actually have more women than men.

Ogiue’s troubles are only beginning, as she finds out she’s been accepted for Comic Festival. Given her outward hatred of fujoshi, the idea that she’ll be putting out a BL doujinshi frightens her. However, thanks to a pep talk by Ohno, she begins to move forward, though Ohno also uses this as an opportunity to get Ogiue into some mildly skimpy cosplay. Sasahara sees this, and later begins to fantasize about Ogiue, and the other girls in the club (including Keiko!) pick up on the small, yet smoldering sparks between the two.

Ohno and Kasukabe begin plotting to get the two closer, which ends up with her bringing her American friends, Angela Burton and Susanna “Sue” Hopkins, to ComiFes as a way to get Sasahara and Ogiue to be at the event together alone. The two actually begin to hit it off (to the point that it overwhelms Ogiue a little), but a chance encounter with two hometown women from Ogiue’s past—people she hesitantly calls “friends”—clearly induce emotional anguish in her. A confusing moment with Sue at first helps Ogiue calm down, only for her to flash the most hardcore page from Ogiue’s own doujinshi in front of Sasahara—the last person she wanted to show it to.

Sasahara, meanwhile, has his own non-romantic troubles, namely being unable to find work. He’s decided to pursue a career in manga editorial, but keeps getting rejected. Finally, he lands at a dedicated freelance editorial company and uses his experience with Kugayama and Ogiue to finally land a job.

The volume ends with Ohno and Kasukabe setting up a club trip to the resort town of Karuizawa, where they intend to finally get Sasahara and Ogiue together.

Is Kuchiki “Okay?”

Kuchiki’s character is being “that guy”: the one whom the other members barely tolerate because they don’t want to drive out because they either 1) don’t want to get too aggressive 2) have empathy for someone so socially awkward. It’s an understandable situation for anyone who’s had experience with a social circle full of dorks.

Given what’s happened with women and the rising tide against sexual harassment, however, Kuchiki’s character becomes increasingly hard to swallow. It’s not just that he’s got lascivious behavior, and it’s not just that he fails to respect personal space, but that he actively tries to creep on the girls, including attempting to peep on them bathing. Even Nidaime, with its female-centric cast, shows the ladies of Genshiken pretty much enduring Kuchiki’s existence and waiting for him to graduate.

I don’t fault Genshiken for this, simply because it does a good job of reflecting the reality of anime clubs in the 2000s and before. Not only is Kuchiki portrayed as being too spineless to actually threaten them, but it’s not like Genshiken rewards or praises the character. And yet, I have to wonder if a socially conscious series made in 2018 would even let him through the front door, so to speak.

Kuchiki’s not all bad, as he does try to defend Ohno’s cosplay from that one thief, but it’s arguably just an example of having a worse villain make a milder one look better. Sasahara sticking up for him and treating him like a human being does help Kuchiki grow a little bit, but is Sasahara’s kindness accidentally a form of complicity? It’s made more complex by the fact that it’s also one of Sasahara’s best qualities, and what helps him get his editor job. A later chapter in Nidaime has an in-love Ogiue praising this very quality of Sasahara, and even here in Volume 7 you can see her being somewhat smitten by that accepting demeanor. It’s perhaps the fate of the moderate force to sometimes not do enough.

Ogiue’s Right to Love

Volume 7 is where the layers of Ogiue begin to peel away, revealing not just a self-hating fujoshi, but one marred by trauma. The first time I read this volume, it wasn’t entirely clear where it would go, but re-reading while fully aware of Ogiue’s past actually makes it kind of heartbreaking. Her anxieties creep to the surface in many of her interactions, and as her feelings for Sasahara get stronger, it’s clear how much her experiences weigh on her mind.

One of the big moments comes when Ogiue is talking to Ohno about having to make a doujinshi for ComiFes. In it, she directly mentions that she’s drawn doujinshi before, and that she hates herself for being a fujoshi. Looking back, the idea that Ogiue has experience drawing more extreme material only makes sense, but I recall it being a bit of a revelation back when I first read it. This conversation is also the first true indication of Ogiue and Ohno having become friends. Before that, there was still a noticeable amount of animosity between them, and I believe here is where it begins to die down a bit.

Ogiue’s blushing profusely as Sasahara smiles at her is incredibly adorable but also complicated. You can feel the inner turmoil raging inside of her as she questions whether she should be happy. Also, I think her switch from a Haregan [i.e., not-Full Metal Alchemist] doujinshi to a Mugio x Chihiro Kujibiki Unbalance one is an early sign of her secret Sasahara x Madarame drawings.

The Society for the Study of Getting Turned On

There’s something very real and refreshing about the way Genshiken portrays sexual desire. The fact that it’s not limited to the male characters also means Genshiken goes a long way in showing women as beings with sexual desire. The approach isn’t like the hyper-eroticism of a fanservice series or a pornographic title and it doesn’t revel in the lasciviousness of its characters carnal wants, but it also doesn’t shy away from showing their libidos at work in public and private contexts.

Nothing shows this better than when Kasukabe drags Kohsaka off so that they can “do it ten times.” Immediately after, Keiko informs her brother that she’s not staying over that night, and Madarame decides it’s his cue to leave too. Keiko and Madarame, having the hots for Kohsaka and Kasukabe respectively, are clearly thinking similarly about how to “remedy” the situation in private. You can practically feel their hormones being barely contained.

Then the manga cuts to Sasahara playing an erogame while thinking about Ogiue in cosplay. It implies that he’s going the same route as his little sister and Madarame, but the fact that he’s thinking about Ogiue (and not Kasukabe) is significant. The Ogiue cosplay moment happens in the previous chapter, which means Sasahara had Ogiue on his mind the entire time. Let’s also not forget that the guys in the club were willing to use the other girls as masturbatory material, so this shows how much Ogiue’s been encroaching on Sasahara’s psyche. This obviously isn’t the first sign that Sasahara’s into Ogiue, but it certainly is one of the most vivid. Later, when they have a ComiFes planning meeting with Ohno, Sasahara’s brief glances at Ogiue show much his mind’s image of Ogiue still persists.

Angela and Sue

As we know from the end of Nidaime, Madarame eventually ends up with Sue. It’s kind of funny that he’s the first guy she meets in Genshiken, as if it was all a long play into the most classic of romance tropes.

I always found Angela and Sue to be fairly realistic, if exaggerated portrayals of American fangirls, but I think that it’s become even more the case as time has passed. Maybe it’s my greater exposure due to social media like Twitter, but Angela’s willingness to just announce her fetishes without hesitation seems not that unusual. Then again, Yoshitake from Nidaime is built from a similar cloth; the only difference is maybe level of sexual experience (Angela is clearly sexually active, while Yoshitake is very much not).

In Volume 7, Sue has a certain grumpiness about her, even as she becomes attached to Ogiue. However, Ogiue is pretty surly herself. I wonder if the softening up of Ogiue leads to Sue becoming less harsh as well.

It’s also funny to think about the fact that, at the time of Genshiken, Sue’s combination of Asuka reference (“Anta baka?”) and Ruri reference (“Baka bakka”) was like, anime nerd knowledge 101. Now, I think it wouldn’t be unusual for the typical fan, Japanese or otherwise, to not have it click immediately.

Final Random Thoughts

The between-chapter specials this volume include Sasahara and Madarame discussing preliminary Kujibiki Unbalance designs. Those drawings are clearly from a younger Kio Shimoku, as it’s the same style as the first chapter of Genshiken! Kio’s aesthetic changes are amusingly visible as a result.

As Sasahara is thinking dirty things about Ogiue, there’s a Gundam model kit box in the background. I think it’s a Sazabi.

In Sasahara’s job interview, he talks about how Kujibiki Unbalance has changed so much since the original cast graduated, to the point that it doesn’t even feel it’s the same series anymore. At the time, it feels like it might have been referencing the graduation of Madarame, Kugayama, and Tanaka, but now it seems to reflect Genshiken Nidaime even more—almost as if Kio doubled down on this idea for the sequel. We know he’s a guy who likes to get referential with his series, but I wonder if Nidaime is even more meta than any of us realized.

Return to Genshiken: Volume 6 – Eyes as Black as the Abyss

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.

Ogius Maximus

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.

Kujibiki Unbalance in Volume 3

Kujibiki Unbalance in Volume 6

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.

Return to Genshiken: Volume 5 – Pride and Fujo Justice

Volume 5 holds a very special place in my heart—it was my first ever manga purchase when I studied in Japan, and my first real exposure to the character of Ogiue. As such, it’s one of the volumes of Genshiken I know best, but in re-reading it I’ve still managed to pick up on some things I hadn’t before!

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. 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 5 Summary

Ogiue’s is one of the club’s newest members. After some spirited discussions/arguments” with Saki and Ohno about yaoi, she inadvertently reveals her true fujoshi nature. Her kink: BL inspired by shounen manga.

Madarame attempts to take on his greatest foe: premium clothing shopping. Although it nearly drains him of all will, he ultimately succeeds. Ogiue, following similar advice, does not.

Sasahara’s Comic Festival application is accepted, and Genshiken must fight through a meddling pest (Haraguchi), editor and artist tensions between Sasahara and Kugayama, and a fast-encroaching deadline on the way to their first vendor experience at a doujin event. In the end, they manage to make it in time. They even sell out of their Kujibiki Unbalance-themed doujinshi onsite, thanks in part to the cosplay/crossplay powers of Ohno and Kohsaka.

Ogiue Exposed

There’s a lot we learn about Ogiue in Volume 5. She’s indeed a fujoshi, in spite of her vocal disdain for them. She comes from the Tohoku region (and, as we learn in Nidaime, Yamagata specifically) when she panics and slips into her native accent. She’s also an artist, though we’ve yet to learn the significance of art to Ogiue (and how it ties into the trauma of her past). But there’s another major development in this volume that has major implications for the rest of the series.

Before I get into that, however, I do want to point something else out. Ogiue’s initial excuse when Kuchiki mentions that he caught her at a Scram Dunk event is that it was “for her little brother.” I never got around to it in my Nidaime reviews, but it turns out that she actually does have a little brother. The reveal happens in Volume 16, in a 4-panel comic where Ogiue and Sue visit Ogiue’s family home. A simple “Sis?” followed by “He’s my brother” is all it takes to finally know that the brother, at least, was not a lie.

The True Origins of Sasa x Mada

As an Ogiue fan, one of my favorite aspects of Genshiken is naturally her gradual acceptance of her fujoshi side, and her quiet obsession with Sasahara x Madarame yaoi is a part of this. While that particular thread comes to the fore in the next volume, I realized during my re-read that the seeds were planted in Ogiue’s head in Volume 5.

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. When Sasahara is later arguing with Kugayama about getting the doujinshi done, and he refuses Ogiue’s help because he doesn’t want her picking up Kugayama’s slack, this also contributes to her fantasy image of Sasahara. It might also have “helped” that he made her cry, showing his gruff, masculine side, however limited.

As for Madarame as “uke,” right after Sasahara tells Haraguchi that emphatic “no,” Haraguchi turns to Madarame to ask if it’s really okay. Madarame then mentions that Sasahara is president now and it’s up to him to make the final decisions. I think this moment of deference towards Sasahara by Madarame is what plants the seed of “bottom-ness” in Ogiue’s mind, along with Madarame’s general behavior around Kasukabe.

Doujinshi Creation: From Passive to Active

Sasahara’s decision to participate in Comic Festival in the first place is a major pivot for Genshiken. Up to this point, they were an extremely passive club, where things sort of happened to them. Now, they’ve stepped into the field of creators; they’re making an active contribution to otaku culture, so to speak. This experience is also clearly what eventually leads Sasahara to becoming a manga editor. All of the back-and-forth with Haraguchi, having to know when too far is too far, and basically managing disparate elements of production to create a single complete product in a limited time span is portrayed as a tiring yet invigorating experience for Sasahara—and one that he’s pretty good at too. His personality is somehow a good fit for editorial work, especially in the manga sense of also having to manage artists.

Speaking of passivity, the argument between Kugayama and Sasahara is too real. Sasahara basically accuses Kugayama of discounting his own ability to become a professional manga artist to protect his “flimsy pride.” In other words, Sasahara is saying that Kugayama is choosing to give up because it would feel even worse to try his hardest and fail. While the opposite mentality is encouraged in life and in movies, fearing failure is something that virtually anyone can relate to.

Saki in Transition

Saki, as much as she’s spending time with the Genshiken crew, is still in a period of transition between being absolutely new to the world of otaku and being fully accustomed to it, as she is in Nidaime. While she’s always the “normie” outsider in the series, there are a number of choice moments in Volume 5 that speak to her status being in flux.

When Saki is talking with Ogiue next to the gigantic pile of homoerotic doujinshi, she looks at one of them, gets suspicious, and then opens it up and has her supicions confirmed. If she were an otaku, or at least much more familiar with the stuff, she probably would’ve realized it immediately. Still, the fact that she noticed something was “off” speaks to the time she’s been in Genshiken.

At Comic Festival, Saki sees Kousaka in drag and is clearly taken aback. Back when I first read it, it seemed like she was about to say something sad, but knowing Saki better now, I get the impression that she was going to respond with something kinder, albeit still embarrassing. In Nidaime, she reveals that she has plenty of gay friends and friends who crossdress, which makes me wonder if Saki’s response was actually going to be more “If you’re into that sort of thing, I guess I can accept that,” before she’s interrupted by Kuchiki.

But she’s also learning, whether she likes it or not. In one of the post-ComiFes 4-panel comics, Saki mentions that having the Kujibiki Unbalance vice-president (Ohno’s cosplayed character) selling pornographic doujinshi of the president must be pretty strange. Ohno gets a look of surprise on her face that Saki has shown a small example of otaku-esque perception.

However, just as we think she’s adjusting, the otaku world smacks her right in the face. At the very end of the volume, she’s shown reading the doujinshi Genshiken put out and reacting with awkward disgust. It’s clear why: the doujinshi is lolicon (and the volume has a heavily censored version of it), featuring a young Chihiro and Ritsuko from Kujibiki Unbalance having an early sexual encounter. Ultimately, while the rest of the club is treating it like nothing big (and it’s likely powered by Sasahara’s general obsession with Ritsuko, as opposed to any specific age range), Kasukabe’s reaction is all too expected, and is likely the sort of thing that keeps her from ever fully embracing otaku subculture.

She never really interacts with Nidaime‘s resident shotacon, Yoshitake Risa, either. I wonder how that conversation might go…

Mebaetame

This time around, Genshiken’s small club doujinshi looks at the Kujibiki Unbalance anime, which, in case you didn’t know or forgot, was actually made. A lot of the screenshots are actually taken directly from the anime, but a few of them are actually drawn by Kio Shimoku to resemble a TV anime screenshot. I find that kinda funny.

Final Random Thoughts

Madarame and Ogiue’s fashion trips might have seemed like one-off adventures originally, but looking back it’s clear that their voyages made an impact. Madarame starts to dress at least a little better, especially after he starts to work professionally, but it still sticks even when he quits his job in Nidaime. As for Ogiue, she starts to wear better-fitting clothing, and after she starts dating Sasahara she becomes even more fashionable. By the time Nidaime rolls around, Yajima is actually kind of intimidated by how good-looking Ogiue is. That’s quite some progress for a girl who used to actively shun fashion.

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Return to Genshiken: Volume 4 – Ogiue Descends


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.

Saki’s Remorse

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.

Sasahara’s Ambition

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.

Ogiue Time

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.

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Return to Genshiken: Volume 3 – Stimulation Simulation

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. 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 first series and the sequel, so be warned.

Volume 3 Summary

Love begins to claw its way into the awkward otaku world of Genshiken. Tanaka shows Ohno the wondrous world of Gundam models. Madarame finds himself alone with Kasukabe Saki in the clubroom, and the situation is too much for his poor nerd heart to handle. Keiko tries to put the moves on Kohsaka by trying to understand the otaku mind. Sasahara gets his first computer and his first private dating sim “experience”…

But trouble is on the horizon, as Saki accidentally sets a pile of old Genshiken garbage on fire. The volume ends with a lot of burnt paper and a frantic Saki.

Love, not Lust?

The “Madarame alone with Kasukabe” scene is, in my opinion, the most significant part of Volume 3. Madarame trying to use his dating sim knowledge IRL is of course quite humorous, but in hindsight, the repercussions of this moment are tremendous. It is essentially when Genshiken as a series began to transition its characters out of the cocoon of their otaku worlds. As we know from later volumes, they never stop being otaku, but this is where the chinks in Madarame’s armor begin to show.

When Madarame finally confesses to Saki in Nidaime, Madarame considers this the point when he first fell in love with her. Looking at the chapter, the symbolism is right there: he forgets his bag full of doujinshi, an item which he’d have treasured above all else. In that moment, 3D overwhelms 2D, and not even Madarame himself fully realizes it until much later in the series.

This first attraction on the part of Madarame is not based purely on the physical aspects of Saki. It wouldn’t make him nearly as nervous otherwise. In the same volume, when Ohno tries to get her to wear a cat ear-adorned frilly maid headband, the guys in the club are quick to fantasize about a cat-maid Saki slowly becoming more subservient. In the previous volume, more than one of the guys intends to use Saki as masturbation material. And when Ohno falls in the water at the beach and ends up showing her polka dot swimsuit, the guys are clearly aroused. With Madarame and Saki, it hits him deeper than where his desires typically lie.

The Impenetrable World of Otaku

Aside from the ratio of boys to girls, one of the major differences between the first Genshiken and Nidaime that really stands out to me is just how much the former tries to introduce the world of the otaku. There’s a chapter about building Gundam models, there’s another about buying a computer, and the use of “normal” folks like Keiko and Saki positions the manga as easing laymen in. At the same time, there’s something about the portrayal of otaku that renders their conversations as opaque, and it’s not just the knowledge itself that creates this sensation. As someone familiar with most of what the characters are talking about, the way they present information just sounds very exclusive, as if it were a kind of defense mechanism. When the girls of Nidaime chat about their favorite pairings, the space they create through conversation somehow feels more accessible.

Turning Points

While this volume features what is arguably the most important moment for Madarame in Genshiken (especially the first series), it’s also of great significance to Saki. Her panicking over accidentally starting that fire is the first time Saki comes across as vulnerable. While she’s usually able to handle everything, this makes it clearer that she’s invincible when it comes to social situations but not physical dangers. While her full transformation into a member of Genshiken (not just in letter but in spirit too) comes in Volume 4, this is the pivot, the point of evolution.

Keiko also begins the transition here, as she slowly begins to understand the otaku mind. This comes out full force in Nidaime when she tries to seduce Madarame, but by then it’s tempered by a slightly more forethought. This is only the beginning of the beginning, though. Her actual key moment, in my opinion, comes when she stops calling Sasahara “monkey.”

Ohno is still extremely shy at this point, and it reminds me that she almost becomes a completely different character as the series progreses. The change is to some extent gradual, but if I recally correctly, the actual moment that triggers her more drastic metamorphosis into open, motherly figure is when Ogiue is introduced as an antagonistic force of sorts. Naturally, I’m looking forward to that next volume!

Doujin Fighting Games

This volume’s Mebaetame (the Genshiken club doujinshi magazine) is a review of the various characters in a fictitious fighting game based on everyone’s favorite series, Kujibiki Unbalance. The portrayal of this game is a real throwback to the days when doujin fighters were all the rage. Nowadays, the qualities that defined doujin fighting games—long combos, air dashes, anime aesthetic, etc.—have all become features of official, professionally produced games. BlazBlue, Arcana Heart, Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, Aqua Pazza, and of course Melty Blood (which began as a doujin game before transitioning into something found in arcades and played in tournaments) are all of this lineage.

The Genshiken members talk about how the game is more faithful to the characters than trying to be a balanced (or good) fighting game. Personally speaking, it’s what one wants out of a doujin game: a love of the series takes priority over trying to be, to use a more recent term, “eSports now.” It reminds me of a doujin fighter I really enjoyed back in the day called Magical Chaser. It was themed around magical girls!

The English translations for these Mebaetame entries are rather awkward, and suggest someone who is unfamiliar with fighting games in general. I say this from the perspective of having many more online resources, as well as a long history interacting with fighting game enthusiasts, so I understand that it’s simply not easy trying to adapt that lingo. If you know fighting games at all, you’d probably have a fair idea as to what the characters are trying to say.

Final Random Thoughts

Two little details in this volume really date the series. The first is when the club is giving Sasahara advice on buying a new computer. The second is when Madarame talks about watching the episode of Kujibiki Unbalance he recorded.

As the other members guide Sasahaa, they talk about how 200gb is needlessly large for a hard drive—a sentiment that predictably would garner laughs today. Madarame also talks about how the US is obsessed with big hard drives, and to my American perspective I don’t quite understand what the big deal is. It’s not excessive if you use up all the space!

Later, when Madarame suggests they watch Kujibiki Unbalance again, he pulls out a VHS tape. I always wondered at what point I would see video cassettes as artifacts. I guess now’s the time…

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