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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Return to Genshiken: Volume 2 – Loose Threads

It’s time for the second installment of “Return to Genshiken,” where I re-read my favorite manga title with the benefit of hindsight. For those unfamiliar with Genshiken, it’s a series about a college otaku club and their daily lives. Originally concluding in 2006 before restarting in 2010 and finishing once again in 2016. A lot has changed about the world of the otaku, so I figured it’d be worth seeing how the series looks with a decade’s worth of hindsight.

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 old and the recent manga, so be warned.

Volume 2 Summary

This volume introduces a variety of new side characters: Kuchiki the bizarre prospective club member, Kitagawa the strict student committee vice president, and Sasahara’s “gal” sister, Keiko. During this time, Genshiken gains a new member just as it loses one: Saki finally joins (reluctantly), while the club president retires and names Madarame his successor. As for Madarame, he sprains his wrist at Comic Festival for the first time, leading to a true test of his otakudom.

Those Who Left…

It’s interesting to see which supporting characters vanish from the face of the manga after Volume 2.

The first club president plays a big role here as the driving force behind Saki joining. After this point, however, he never appears again. It really feels like something was supposed to come about from him and his legacy, especially given his mysterious senior thesis—a project implied to have something to do with Genshiken itself. There also isn’t another character even remotely like him from this point forward, and his Kuroko Tetsuya-like lack of presence provided a certain humor absent from hereon in. I’m just still surprised that he doesn’t even show up in the two finales this manga has, neither the end of the first series nor the end of Nidaime.

This volume also introduces (and promptly gets rid of) Sawazaki. If you don’t remember him, you’re probably not alone; I even have to constantly look up his name. He’s the other guy who tries to join the club with Kuchiki before Kohsaka inadvertently saps his will to live by kicking his ass in fighting games as Saki shows her affections for her man (as a way to make Sawazaki and Kuchiki feel worse). One has to wonder why Kio decided to bring back Kuchiki eventually but write off Sawazaki, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that Kuchiki is just a stranger person and a more hardcore otaku. Genshiken isn’t exactly a club for the casual fan. While Sasahara is “normal” in a certain sense, it was more like he was in a larval stage and has now metamorphosed into a dork butterfly. In other words, he had it in him all along, and all it took was exposure to actual doujinshi to turn him. In contrast, Sawazaki feels like he just has less potential.

…And Those Who Stayed

In contrast to the first president and Sawazaki, a number of characters end up sticking around for much longer.

Haraguchi is an edge case, as he more or less disappears after this volume but ends up coming back later to give Sasahara advice on making their first doujinshi. When he does show up here, it reinforces what I thought of Haraguchi relative to Kuchiki from the previous volume’s re-read: Kuchiki is a creep, but Haraguchi is a creeper.

Speaking of Kuchiki, we won’t see him again for a while, but he’ll become fairly prominent in Volume 6 and on, as well as ever-present after Volume 10 and the start of Nidaime. At this point, he doesn’t come across as exceedingly bizarre. Either this is because his personality wasn’t well-defined at the time he was created, or because he froze up in a tense moment as he has so many other times moving forward.

Kitagawa, I’ll always remember as being the favorite character of an online friend who passed away a few years back (rest in peace, Cortana). That somber note aside, she kind of reminds me of Ogiue, and it’s kind of a shame that the two never interacted. When she later appears at the first graduation chapter, it’s notable to me that, by not showing her for a while and then bringing her back with a subtle personality difference, it really feels like she grew and changed as a human being. This might just be one of Kio’s greatest strengths as a creator.

And then there’s the biggest one of all: Keiko. In Volume 2, we first see her as the rude younger sister who actually just refers to her brother as “monkey.” While it’s clear that she’s the same character with the same base personality traits in Volume 2 compared to Volume 21, reading her introduction again made me realize just how much she changes over the course of the manga, from an immature high schooler to a mature (enough) adult.

By the time shes in Nidaime, Keiko is a perceptive woman who, while maybe not having the best head on her shoulders, is still capable of being pragmatic and clever. When we first meet her here, however, she’s asking for money from Sasahara because her boyfriend basically abandoned her. Rather than the one in control of her relationships, she’s the one being manipulated. Instead of using her femininity to attract entice, she uses it essentially to pander (we’ll be seeing more of this in the next volume!). It makes me wonder if the reason Keiko distrusts Hato so much in Nidaime is because she sees a bit of her old self in him.

All About Saki

There are a lot of indicators as to Saki’s relationship with the rest of Genshiken at this point. When she discusses Kohsaka having sex with her doggy-style so that he can presumably watch anime at the same time, the other members decide to use that mental image as masturbation fodder. Here, when they all still only kind of know her, she’s still just as much a “hot girl” as she is an antagonistic force and an erstwhile club member. It’s like they still don’t yet consider her a friend, which only makes sense given how much she tries to mess with Genshiken.

When it comes to the actual story of how she joins Genshiken, I wonder how okay it really is from a contemporary perspective. Essentially, the first president blackmails her into joining because he (somehow) knows that she’s been using the club room as a “private space” for her and Kohsaka. While Saki’s suspicion of hidden cameras is never corroborated, it leaves the question of whether or not this development would fly in today’s more socially conscious environment. I don’t think this damages the friendship that forms, but it does put an odd perspective on her character relative to the club.

In general, the biggest impression I get from Saki in Volume 2 is how she’s still so inexperienced when it comes to handling otaku. While she’s still characteristically sharp (her ability to spot plastic surgery might just relate to her being able to recognize Hato as a man), she hasn’t yet mastered the mind of the otaku and how to work both with it and around it. Like Keiko, there’s plenty of development awaiting her in the future.

Translation Errors

As noted above, I’ve been using the English volumes because my Japanese ones have been hard to access and because it’s just quicker for me. I’m wondering if this is a mistake, because when reading this one I noticed some issues with the translation when comparing it to my memory. For example, when Ohno is explaining that Tanaka sewed so much support in her Kuradoberi Jam outfit that she didn’t need to wear a bra, the English version has the girls call him “creepy.” If I recall correctly, however, they’re actually saying that he’s terrifying(ly skilled). Keep in mind that the translation is like 90% fine, but there are just some moments that indicate a lack of close familiarity with not just otaku culture but also the otaku mindset. Granted, this was translated many years ago at this point, and there were just fewer resources back then.

Mebaetame and the Pre-Evolution of Kio Shimoku’s Ar

Volume 2 is the premiere of Mebaetame, the Genshiken circle doujinshi, which is also the debut of Kujibiki Unbalance art. The reported art evolution comparisons as the fictional manga goes on as explored by Kohsaka are interesting, if only for the fact that it’s 2003-ish Kio Shimoku trying to draw extreme stylistic changes. It’s similar to what he’d eventually go through as an artist. You can also see elements of his move between cutesier and more realistic styles.

Final Random Thoughts

Ohno’s cosplay gets me thinking. Back when this volume first came out, Guilty Gear was a big thing. Now, over a decade later, Guilty Gear is again at the forefront of video game fandom. It just makes me wonder if we went from collectively knowing Kuradoberi Jam, to forgetting who she is, to remembering her once more.

Also, in the image of Saki above, Kio uses a small amount of screentone to hint at cleavage. I’m not pointing this out to be a pervert, but to call back to a later statement of his that he had to essentially earn the ability to do nudity. This might be considered the start of it all.

Ah, time.

 

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Return to Genshiken: Volume 1 – The Old Guard

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Welcome to the very first “Return to Genshiken,” a new series of posts where I revisit the very first Genshiken manga series. For those unfamiliar with Genshiken, it’s a series about a college otaku club and their daily lives. Originally concluding in 2006 before restarting in 2010 and finishing once again in 2016. A lot has changed about the world of the otaku, so I figured it’d be worth seeing how the series looks with a decade’s worth of hindsight.

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 old and the recent manga, so be warned.

Volume 1 Summary

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Sasahara Kanji is starting as a freshman at Shiiou University, a college in the Tokyo area. He wants to join an otaku club, and after some false starts winds up in a club called the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, or “Genshiken.” While he believes himself to be nowhere near as hardcore as the other club members, he discovers that he fits in well with the laid back atmosphere.  As he learns the ropes about the otaku life, he’s also joined by other new members, including cosplayer Ohno Kanako, the usually handsome supernerd Kousaka Makoto, and Kousaka’s non-otaku girlfriend, Kasukabe Saki.

Back in Time

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I must say, reading the first volume of Genshiken really is like going through a time warp. Not only is the visual style of the manga starkly different compared to how it ends up by Volume 21, but the aesthetic of the characters the Genshiken members themselves are obsessed with is a trip down memory lane. During this period, Genshiken makes references to series like To Heart and The King of Fighters, and the world of the otaku just seems…smaller somehow.

In one chapter, Tanaka is examining a garage kit of a cute girl model, and he remarks that female characters’ faces are getting rounder and cuter as of late. Keep in mind that this was back in 2002, before the K-On!‘s and the Bakemonogatari‘s of the world came along, the time of series like Star Ocean EX. Character designs like Lina Inverse from Slayers and Deedlit from Record of Lodoss War were still holding strong.

It’s also notable that the character profiles included between chapters bother to list each person’s “favorite fighting game character.” Fighting games still exist today, but it should be noted that they began to die out around 2003 before being revived in 2009 with the launch of Street Fighter IV. I think we’re catching the tail end of the fighting game craze.

Perhaps the most major difference between Genshiken and Nidaime is that the latter mainly focused on fairly contemporary references in order to emphasize that its values were more current. In contrast, the original Genshiken, by starting at a point where years and years of otaku history preceded it, draws from the previous decades in order to establish its characters and their preferences.

Memories Refreshed

There are a lot of things that happen in Volume 1 that I pretty much forgot, and a lot of things that, having recently finished Nidaime, stand out as likely reference points for the second series.

I did not remember that Sasahara joins Genshiken because Kohsaka scares him from the Manga Society. Given how close they become later on, it’s almost surprising to go back and see just how intimidating Kohsaka appears to Sasahara. It makes sense: Sasahara is a meek fellow, and he’s suddenly confronted with this idea that guys like him might populate the Manga Society. And just in general, most of the main cast of awkward nerds—Sasahara, Tanaka, Madarame, Kugayama—get really uncomfortable when it comes to regular-looking guys.

Going forward to Nidaime, it frames how Yajima feels upon entering the club all those years later. While Sasahara felt threatened by Kohsaka alone as a kind of living contradiction, Yajima sees herself as being practically surrounded by Kohsakas. Ohno is attractive. Ogiue is very attractive. Yoshitake’s surprisingly fashionable. Hato is Hato.

While I thought Madarame’s lamentations over all the sex talk in Chapter 125 was more of a general callback to how the club used to be, I find that it’s actually specifically in reference to the guys overhearing conversations from others about how much sex they have that can be found in Volume 1. If you just read Volumes 1 and 21 back-to-back, it is a stark contrast that the characters would go from freezing up and sweating nervously when some fellow talks about doing three girls in one day, to Sasahara and Tanaka both mentioning how they wish they had more sex with their girlfriends. Similarly, the way Madarame freezes when he sees Kohsaka and Saki kiss for the first time is possibly the long setup to the fact that he’s too passive to even get something started with Sue even after they start going out.

Another moment i had forgotten the exact details for was the very first Kujibiki Unbalance discussion we ever see. First, I had no idea that Kujibiki Unbalance is supposed to be a shounen manga, given its makeup. Second, the characters talk about the fact that the school in Kujibiki Unbalance is supposed to be a mix of various real schools—a self-aware nod to how Shiiou University is itself an amalgam of real schools.

Saki the “Time Bomb”

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In this volume, the manga refers to Saki as a “time bomb” whose effects influence Genshiken in unforeseen ways. Looking back, this statement is more profound than I think even the author Kio could’ve imagined. She fundamentally changes a great deal about the club over time. It’s because of her that the members of Genshiken grow and evolve themselves as people, beyond the otaku stereotypes to varying degrees.

Outside of the possible exception of Sasahara, whose sister Keiko is very much the “gyaru” type, Saki is Genshiken’s biggest exposure to the “normal” world before the members start graduating. Because of her, Ohno goes from shy wallflower to mother figure for younger otaku. Madarame changes himself as he discovers his feelings for her. Ogiue learns to open up as well. She is a force for change in the club, and one might even argue that she’s the real protagonist of Genshiken, at least initially.

I also noticed that the presence of the real world outside of Saki is much more prevalent in Volume 1. The aforementioned bro talk situations happen. Saki herself gets hit on by guys looking for a quick fling. As the series continues, that realm fades from view until Saki is the primary example of it. And even then, Saki herself changes as she gets acclimated to being friends with otaku.

Comic Festival

I recall that, prior to my discovering Genshiken, my main exposure to the idea of “Comic Market” came from two anime: Comic Party and Nurse-Witch Komugi-chan. Suffice it to say, that’s kind of a strange combination. While Comic Party had a couple of Kuchiki-esque creepers, it was mostly portrayed as a fairly tame event. With Genshiken, however, seeing the final barrier of Sasahara’s shame come undone gives the full doujinshi-purchasing experience. In a way, doujin events are where you confront your true self, and see what values lie within. What are your real priorities? What fundamentally tickles your fancy? It’s a time for reflection.

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Before Kuchiki, There Was Haraguchi

I think there’s a common feeling throughout Genshiken fandom that Kuchiki is an unnecessary element. Who wants to read about a guy with the absolute worst social skills, whose behavior is grating and downright pathetic? However, in Volume 1 Kuchiki has yet to appear. Instead, within early Genshiken exists the character of Haraguchi, and in many ways he provides an interesting contrast with Kuchiki.

Haraguchi is portrayed as an opportunist who likes to lord it over others. A member of all three otaku circles (Anime Society, Manga Society, Genshiken), it’s implied that each group barely tolerates him. Haraguchi works by making connections and ingratiating himself to those who “matter,” and he’s viewed as a leech who mooches off the success and passion of others. Haraguchi is that guy who gives orders without ever actually contributing, and the result is that no one in the universe likes him.

A similar dislike of Kuchiki is certainly prevalent, but for as much as can be said about Kuchiki’s flaws, being a manipulative person isn’t one of them. He’s obnoxious, lacks self control, has a tendency to give TMI, and perpetually irritating, but he’s also absolutely honest and upfront about who he is and what he enjoys. I think it’s ultimately why he’s allowed to stay with the club. Kuchiki is a man of innumerable faults, but he’s not a scumlord like Haraguchi.

Art in Progress

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As I looked for the best image to include in this post, something hit me: the panel layout in Volume 1 is much less refined and elegant than what it would become. While there’s a nice sense of variation in terms of panel size, the composition isn’t as strong, the borders are rather rigid, and the pages don’t flow nearly as well. I’ve looked ahead a couple of volumes and it mostly seems the same, so I wonder if there’s a point at which it truly changes.

Actually, when looking just at the differences between chapters in Volume 1, the art style already begins moving towards the more familiar Genshiken style. As the series begins, the character designs are more similar to Kio’s previous works, and by the end of the volume they’re definitely getting softer. The difference between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 is significant enough that I suspect they were drawn months apart. That’s what happened with Nidaime, where the pilot chapter still had the feel of Jigopuri.

Final Aside

I thought the portrayal of underage drinking was a Nidaime thing. Apparently not! It happens wit Kasukabe and Kohsaka right from the start.

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