Nerds in the Mist: Katou Megumi and the Role of the Non-Otaku

With a series title like How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend, a certain image comes to mind. Given the existence of Japanese dating sims, the success of “raising sims” such as Gainax’s famous Princess Maker series, as well as the tendency towards popular otaku tropes such as nerd protagonists in harem situations, it’s easy to assume that the series is about creating a bland, milquetoast love interest. Is this an attempt to revive the old-style dating sim heroines such as Kamigishi Akari from To Heart, that childhood friend who once stood at the top of the harem totem pole? Is Katou Megumi, the titular “boring girlfriend”—more accurately “boring heroine” in Japanese—one man’s “ideal waifu” the way Asuna from Sword Art Online is, or something else entirely?

To my surprise, Megumi’s aggressive mediocrity actually turns out to be a subversion of her seeming purpose as a no-personality love interest or another character in the yamato nadeshiko mold. While the fact that the other characters keep talking about how aggressively mediocre she is might point in those directions, her role in Boring Girlfriend is closer to that of Kasukabe Saki from Genshiken—the “normal” one who contributes by being an outsider.

In works about groups of otaku there is often a non-otaku, though their purposes can differ. In Otaku no Video, the main character Ken is the “commoner” who gradually falls in love with the otaku lifestyle, while his girlfriend, Yoshiko, becomes increasing disgusted. The dating sim Comic Party (as well as its anime adaptations) follows a similar pattern, with protagonist Kazuki becoming more involved with doujinshi as his sporty childhood friend (and canon love interest) Mizuki just can’t seem to fathom what these nerds are jabbering about.

Owing to the fact that Genshiken gradually pushes its characters from the relative safety of a college environment into the real world, Saki as the non-otaku becomes a kind of guiding force. While she begins the series antagonizing the otaku and begrudging the fact that her boyfriend is an otaku, she eventually becomes a close friend whose understanding of human social interactions (notoriously lacking in otaku) provide answers that the others could not arrive at by themselves. While she isn’t as aggressive and outspoken as Saki, Megumi in Boring Girlfriend accomplishes the same things by being more observant than the perpetually self-centered and inward-looking otaku characters she has befriended.

Because Saki begins from a place similar to Yoshiko in Otaku no Video and Mizuki in Comic Party, Megumi doesn’t quite have the same development as her. Instead of that period of conflict with the otaku, the changing dynamic comes from the gradual reveal that Megumi indeed has a mind of her own, and that her seemingly mundane nature throws a wrench in the assumptions of the others. Moreover, her “boring” status provides a sharp contrast to the other girls in the series, who fall more in line with familiar tropes: a tsundere, an adorable underclassman, a cooldere, a tomboy cousin.

While those other characters have their origins in the same era that spawned Akari from To Heart and Mizuki from Comic Party, taste in otaku consumption has changed over time such that characters with more extreme and pronounced character traits tend to be more popular. The shape of “moe” has changed, and everyone but Megumi falls into that line. However, because Megumi is present, and because the series is named after her, it’s as if Boring Girlfriend is setting up and knocking down its own pieces to say, “Subtlety has its place.”

In this sense, How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend and Megumi remind me of two other series. The first is My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, as I Expected aka My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. It’s a series that also goes against what its title implies and plays around with its characters supposed archetypes to create a greater sense of depth. The other is The World God Only Knows, which features the character Kosaka Chihiro. Though she has a different personality compared to Megumi, and that series has only one real otaku character, Chihiro fulfills the role of being defiantly “normal.” Her behavior runs against everything that Katsuragi Keima believes in as someone who bases his life entirely on dating sims, and Megumi by virtue of her supposed blandness accomplishes much the same.

 

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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Moe + Saki = Maki: A Genshiken/Love Live! Character Comparison

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On occasion I’ve had to explain to those unfamiliar with Love Live! the appeal of Nishikino Maki. While terms like “beautiful” or “cooldere” kind of get the point across to an extent to those who already know her, I’ve found that they still don’t quite do the trick for people outside the fandom. However, I’ve recently thought up a comparison that I think works well, provided that you have some experience with Genshiken. Maki, in esssence, is like Kasukabe Saki—or more specifically, the “moe” version of Saki that Madarame once envisioned.

In the extra at the very end of Volume 9 of Genshiken (the finale of the first series), the characters are discussing why Saki isn’t “moe.” They talk about how she essentially has no weaknesses, that she’s just an extremely capable person overall. Even her boyfriend agrees that Saki isn’t moe. Then, Madarame has an idea: the only way Saki would be moe is if she was a virgin.

While this might bring to mind the issue of “purity,” it’s more that being a virgin would be a chink in the armor of Saki’s all-powerful self. She would be this smart, no-nonsense woman who just knows how to get things done, but her relationship advice would come not from personal experience. By being a virgin, she’d have that essential vulnerability that would bring her into moe territory.

When it comes to Love Live!, being a virgin isn’t any more or less special from on character to the next, as it’s implied that all of the main girls don’t have sexual experience (no matter what fans think/hope). However, the idea of an overall intelligent, talented girl with a firm head on her shoulders who is also naive in certain respects and easily flustered by embarrassing things is right in the same territory as “Moe Saki.” Within Nishikino Maki exists both the girl who keeps Nico in check, and the girl who believes in Santa.

Side Note: While Maki is basically Moe Saki, I bet Madarame’s favorite Love Live! would be Nico. 2D is different from 3D, after all.

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Boyz II Men: Genshiken II, Chapter 125

In this month’s chapter of Genshiken Nidaime, the old boys are back.

Chapter Summary

Madarame, Tanaka, and Kugayama meet up for drinks. While they start talking about how things have changed now that Madarame’s finally not going back to the old university, the conversation eventually shifts to girls. As Madarame realizes how the boys of Genshiken have at some point started talking about girls instead of anime, he swears to bring himself back to his original mega otaku self. However, just as he successfully tempts the rest of the guys to pull out some 18+ doujinshi, Kohsaka shows up with Saki, who seems unfazed by Madarame’s attempts to creep her out. Not long after, they reveal to the guys that Saki is pregnant.

This causes Madarame to flip and exclaim that he should’ve just picked someone and ended his virginity, but then Saki reveals that it was all a lie orchestrated by her and Kohsaka to get Madarame to confront his true feelings. She then tells Madarame straight up that he should go out with Sue on account of his reasoning for rejecting her being total BS, and even gets Sasahara to call Ogiue and get Sue on the phone. Saki says to Madarame that, if Sue’s not interested anymore then it’s fine, but otherwise…

Straight Shooter Saki

Ah, Kasukabe Saki. While Keiko kind of fulfills her role as the no-nonsense outsider, she doesn’t quite capture Kasukabe’s ability to just cut straight to the point. Quite a few of the readers on this blog have commented that Madarame’s reasoning for rejecting Sue was incredibly weak, and I find it interesting that Kio Shimoku would purposely set that up as a sticking point. While I do still think that Madarame’s reasoning wasn’t solely to run away from the situation, it was pretty flimsy on the surface.

It’s also revealed that Saki set her ploy up because Kohsaka and her suspected that Madarame’s real reason for not choosing a girl was that he was still pining after he deep down inside. While I think this was pretty clear, especially given his reason for rejecting Keiko (she reminds Madarame too much of Kasukabe), this really shows just how much that’s actually the case. Somewhere in all of this is the idea that the other girls are maybe too otaku to get to the heart of the matter. Ogiue might be blunt and Yoshitake might be a schemer, but their anime and manga-oriented minds inadverently allowed the harem to flourish, and thus allowed Madarame to remain wishy-washy about the whole thing. Saki really is amazing.

As for the fake pregnancy, before Saki revealed the truth my immediate reaction was that this basically would have marked off Spotted Flower as a possibility. Now, it’s back to being in this nebulous space of pseudo-canon/alternate universe, and it’s a very intentional move by Kio to mess with his readership. Maybe, somehow, we’re all Madarame. What this also means, based on all of the talk of girls and sex (or in some cases lack thereof), is that the thematic gap between Genshiken and Spotted Flower is ever-shrinking.

By the way, the named of the chapter is “High-Slope Flower,” which is a parody of Spotted Flower, only with a reference to Kohsaka instead of Madarame; the saka in Kohsaka means “hill.”

Kio you troll.

Sex Talk

Though it’s one of the main jokes of the chapter, it really is crazy that the boys of Genshiken have been having varying degrees of success with the ladies, not least of which is Madarame’s recent harem adventures.

It’s unclear if Rino the Cabaret girl is actually interested in Kugayama or is basically doing her job and manipulating her client for more pay (remember, Cabaret Clubs are all about talking with girls as opposed to being a sex service), but it’s very likely that the latter is a factor. Kugayama himself acknowledges this, but just the fact that he is making some kind of vague move towards fulfilling his desire for real-life women, and that he’s gone from visiting Cabaret ladies to just one in particular, is itself a kind of change or progression.

One of the more notable aspects of this chapter is that Tanaka and Sasahara reveal quite a few details about their sex lives. Tanaka mentions that he “only” gets to have sex with Ohno about once a week, while Sasahara says that his rate is about once a month, much to Madarame’s consternation. Tanaka even mentions to Kugayama about how asking for a girl’s three sizes in order to get a cosplay outfit made for her (Kugayama’s current plan for a gift to Rino) can turn into dirty talk.

References to the characters having sex is nothing new to Genshiken. Way back, Saki talked about her and Kohsaka doing it doggy-style. Ogiue started drawing more realistic penises in her doujinshi after she began her relationship with Sasahara. I think this situation might feel different because it’s the guys, the ones who are supposed to be the “losers,” doing it, and so the dissonance in Madarame is understandable. I also believe that this dissonance was a huge factor when it came to Madarame’s decision to abstain from choosing a partner. This candidness contrasts with the younger characters that comprise the main cast now as well, because they are for the most part are still very shy about this sort of thing.

It’s easy to tell that the conversations are causing Madarame’s imagination to go wild, and that too is understandable.

They Just Keep Pulling Me Back In!

If Madarame does indeed end up with Sue after all, does it matter that it happens after the harem arc concluded rather than it being a direct result of Madarame’s decision? After all, choosing a partner would have, by definition, ended the arc anyway.

This is all speculation at this point, but I do think there is a difference between having Sue the winner of a competition versus her and Madarame potentially building something up together on their own. I think the harem itself put a lot of pressure on Madarame that a simpler one-to-one relationship wouldn’t carry, even if it doesn’t work out.

As for Sue essentially being Madarame’s 2D complex ideal given flesh and how this might mean that Madarame loses the last vestiges of his realistic otaku self, there are two points to take into consideration. First, guys can have many different ideals to the point that arguably any of the other partners could be considered an “ideal,” but the way the story has portrayed them shows a lot of interesting facets to their characters. Sue still seems a bit otherworldly, but this might be the start to opening her up more. Second, Sue really is the only one at Madarame’s otaku power level.

No Ogiue Image This Month

They do mention her, though.

Sasahara: Basically, Sue’s at Ogiue’s apartment, which means I can’t visit. Do something about it, please.
Madarame: Wha? What do ya mean? Wait… You just want to have sex with her!
Sasahara: ……That’s right! What’s wrong with that?!

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A Message from Another Time: Genshiken Nidaime OAD

Volume 15 of the Genshiken II manga came out in Japan recently, and with it a limited edition featuring an OVA (or OAD as they call it) where they animate a couple of chapters from the original Genshiken. Covering Sue’s stay over at Ogiue’s apartment and the group’s new year’s shrine visit, it’s a part of the story that should be completely familiar territory to Genshiken fans, and watching it has made me want to both consider its role or purpose as the first Nidaime OAD and think a little about the story itself.

When you think about it, this OAD didn’t have to be the new year’s shrine visit, but it is in many ways the most appropriate given Nidaime. Ogiue’s trauma and the trip to Karuizawa would have been too long and arguably too heavy for this. The graduation in the last chapter of the original Genshiken would have been nice but is of course more of a finale than anything else. The no-dialogue chapter would have been an interesting part to adapt, but that would negate the entire new set of voice actors they’ve brought in. With the new year’s shrine visit, however, you get various threads which lead directly into Nidaime, particularly what’s been covered by the anime. Ogiue shows her softer side, which plays into her role in the second series. Sue expresses her desire to study in Japan, thus setting the stage for her increased prominence. The forlorn romance of Madarame is in full swing here, expressed almost painfully in its silence. Though Genshiken is in a sense full of turning points, this is a pretty major one in hindsight.

In terms of adaptation from manga to anime, I find it interesting that the characters were made to look like in the original series. It seems like a no-brainer but they had to do things like switch to older hairstyles and even styles of dress in order to capture the visual sense of how different the club was back then. In fact the entire mellowness of the OAD really stands out, and I imagine for anyone who watches it after having only experienced Nidaime, they would notice first and foremost the relative lack of bombastic energy. Even the references are from a different period of otakudom (“Sit, Nekoyasha!”).

One minor but noticeable change has to do with the fact that Ogiue has her default Series 1 hairstyle in the OAD, which is subtly different from the hair she wore to the shrine in the manga. There, instead of having the horizontal “antennae” on the sides of her head, Ogiue has more pronounced tufts of hair over her ears, and most likely creating another set of character design sheet just for this one-off Ogiue hair would have been too difficult or time-consuming. What’s important is that this specific hairstyle was not a fluke or a shift in judgment in the manga, as Kio Shimoku specifically drew Ogiue with that hair on the the limited edition cover of Genshiken Volume 15. Given her dress-up for Sasahara’s graduation a few chapters later, I feel like the purpose of this hairstyle was to show Ogiue trying to pretty herself up a bit (which in turn extends from a longer trend of her getting more fashionable after talking to Kasukabe).

If there’s one thing I really took away from  watching this, however, it would be a case of self-reflection, so I hope you’ll forgive me as I indulge in some introspection.

When Ogiue is drying Sue’s hair, she talks about how she’d like to be more like Sue, who isn’t afraid to be an otaku and to just be herself, which Ogiue has been trying to learn. This process Ogiue undergoes in the series is part of why she’s my favorite character, and it’s something I’ve tried to live by as well, to my benefite even, but as I get older I increasingly feel this pressure to not display my otaku-ness so openly. It’s not something I try to hide, but I realize that it’s important to know that sometimes other people won’t quite understand, and explaining who you are and why you love the things you do requires a certain sociability and deftness with words which often escape me. On some level, I worry that the essential advice of “be yourself” is something I’ve begun to creep away from even though it’s been so important to me.

Also, because I’ve managed to become more social and more comfortable over the years, I think what I basically am afraid of is becoming the very person I swore I never would, that person who passes judgment on others for being weird or socially awkward, not because I want to but because I might have lost touch with that feeling. That said, if I’m actively concerned about this, then that’s maybe for the best because it means I haven’t forgotten that idealism even if it doesn’t work out, well, ideally.