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NOTE: It seems that an inaccurate translation of the contents of this chapter have been floating around. Please look at this supplemental post after reading this review to get the right picture.

At long last, Madarame makes his choice in Chapter 122. And in the end the winner is…

Is…!

…No one. Madarame chooses to abstain.

I get the strange feeling some readers might be pulling out the pitchforks, but I think it’s best to put them away. I believe the reasons behind Madarame’s decision are worth exploring, as they really show the kind of consideration Genshiken has for its characters and their connections to both the real world and that of their awkward nerd fandom.

Madarame says that there is no universal reason he’s chosen not to date any of the girls. Each circumstance is unique. When you add them all together it paints an interesting picture.

For Angela, it’s a matter of a long distance relationship, but Madarame explicitly mentions that it has to do with the idea that being with the hottest thing on Earth, but only having physical contact twice a year, would be like “torture.” Implied is the notion that Madarame is open to the idea of a relationship based on bodily desire, but that’s untenable unless Angela moves to Japan.

Physically, Madarame is ready, but emotionally he’s not. This is what puts Keiko out of contention, as the possibility that Keiko will remind him of Saki, whether because of their similarities or because Keiko might just mention her in conversation is difficult for him at this point. While Madarame is indeed attracted to Keiko, the important thing is that he needs more time to come to terms with his lost love. As Madarame mentions, he’s just been kind of passively going along with everything, and that’s probably what he needs least at this point.

Sue’s is an odd rationale, because Madarame’s “reason” for not dating her is because he likes seeing Sue’s displays of yuri affection with Ogiue. This feels like a cop-out, but I really do think there’s more to Madarame’s words than meets the eye. Given how positively Sue reacts to Madarame’s explanation, I think it shows that Madarame not only understands Sue well, but that he sees Sue herself as not being ready for a relationship. She’s still shy and sensitive, and might need more time to step out of her shell.

Madarame’s basis for rejecting Hato is the most complex of all, but it all comes down to not wanting to hurt Hato. Madarame explains that, even if he and Hato were to work out as a couple, the constant worry that Hato has had to suffer because of Madarame risks being not simply a short term thing.

In all likelihood, their relationship would be forever plagued with doubts and second-guesses as to whether Madarame likes the fantasy more than the reality, or whether Hato feels comfortable being who he is. As Madarame puts it, Hato should be with someone who just simply accepts him as he is, and lets Hato feel like his identity as a crossdressing fudanshi is a matter of course. This mindset mirrors a conversation the two once had, where Madarame mentioned that Hato’s just the way he is and it shouldn’t be a big deal.

I think some readers might also be concerned that Hato says that Madarame will be the first and last man he ever loves. Hato says a lot of things, like how he has no interest in men at all. Pretty much every character in Genshiken changes their mind, and Hato is just the best example of this.

All of this means that, of the four prospective love interests, only Hato has truly been rejected. Madarame considers both Keiko and Sue as not having any faults that aren’t rooted in Madarame’s own broken heart, and if Angela were to move to Japan, I think he might die from crushed pelvis (it’s also worth nothing that the virgin vs. whore thing doesn’t even come up, which might say something about Madarame’s maturity). Essentially, Madarame has been on the rebound this whole time, and his clouded judgment, combined with his propensity for waffling, has been a bad combination that can only be solved with time and some space.

I think it all makes sense.

Genshiken sets up two new threads in the aftermath of the Madarame harem arc. First, as Hato mentions that he likes the idea of finding someone who accepts him without much fuss, Yajima sees this as possibly her opportunity. The irony here is that Yajima didn’t accept him for the longest time, as her more conservative values as well as her poor self-image made Hato a target of mild disdain and jealousy. Things are different now, but the real question is…how different? Spotted Flower different?

Second, as if to speak directly to those readers who missed the way Genshiken was once upon a time, the next chapter preview basically says that the manga is going back to doujinshi and clubroom antics. Something tells me that this isn’t giving the whole picture though.

As for Ogiue, I feel as if Kio put in extra care when drawing her this chapter. Call it a hunch.

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The trip to Nikkou winds down with a final stay at Yajima’s family home. Yoshitake presses Madarame to make a decision about who to date, but as each potential partner makes their case (or has their case made for them), Madarame is still hesitant to pick. However, when Kuchiki suggests that it be done by lottery if Madarame doesn’t care one way or another, Madarame chooses not to leave it in fate’s hands and declares that he will make his decision…next chapter.

Is it at long last the end of the Madarame harem arc? Will he end up with anyone or perhaps no one at all? Will Genshiken actually have Madarame choose, or will it be a Naruto-esque string of chapter titles each more final than the last?

Personally speaking, the harem aspect itself, the fact that four individuals are attracted to Madarame to varying degrees, is less interesting in terms of who ends up with who, and more in terms of its opportunities for characterization. This includes characters both inside and outside of the harem.

One of Yoshitake’s recurring traits is that she always has the group dynamic in mind. Much of the reason she wants Madarame to just choose already is because she’s worried about the relationships, the friendships, that exist among the members of Genshiken. The longer Madarame takes, the more these threads get frayed, but at the same time she wants the decision to be a real one, not a spur of the moment fancy. That’s why she arranged the whole Nikkou kujibiki dating scheme in the first place.

Angela is an impossibly attractive blonde American who encourages polygamy, having the least to lose due to the distance between the US and Japan. She has an interest in Madarame, but is more about having a good time. Sue, as Ogiue puts it, is Madarame’s ideal character: a blonde loli who’s also fluent in both “Japanese” and “otaku.” However, even after her confession it’s clear she still isn’t entirely sure what she wants their relationship to be. Hato is a “girl-boy” straight out of a visual novel,  but interestingly enough is still espousing the potential pitfalls of a homosexual relationship to ground Madarame in reality. They all carry some element of wish fulfillment that borders the realm of perverted imagination with some counter-balance in the fact that they’re all actually human.

In contrast, Keiko’s points out that she’s the most similar to Saki out of all of them, and this hits Madarame like a ton of bricks. While that makes Keiko in a way the most “realistic choice,” her words also carry an element of fantasy to them. She is the closest to fulfilling Madarame’s unrequited love for Saki, the most profoundly grounded woman he has ever met. The fact that Madarame reacts so intensely to Keiko’s words shows that he still holds a torch for Saki, and perhaps even suggests that his indecisiveness towards both accepting and rejecting others is a product of a desire to be wanted but also to want someone like Saki.

It’s surprising that Keiko of all people objects to Angela’s “harem ending” suggestion, stating that she’d rather not be involved at all if that’s how it’s going to end up. She wants to try a monogamous relationship, and she’d rather be single than deal with some fantasy otaku arrangement. Given that Keiko is not above seeing more than one guy at a time, I think it might say something about how Keiko sees Madarame as an opportunity for some stability, and further puts into relief the differences between her and the rest. At the same time, being an approximation of Saki isn’t actually being Saki, so in a sense Keiko becomes the most “ideal” choice of all. Of course, she certainly doesn’t see it that way, and I wonder if she in fact sees herself as what Madarame ultimately needs.

Madarame, as much as he acts like anyone would do because he’s just a dorky, desperate otaku, is suddenly against the idea when it’s suggested that he pick randomly when Kuchiki brings it up. Madarame is neither totally noble nor utterly selfish, and the realization that he cannot just keep the harem in stasis as is common in long anime and manga series ultimately forces him to try and choose on his terms rather than leave it up to luck. I think somewhere in his decision is the belief that having the choice made for him is utterly irresponsible and would lead to more harm than good, while also clarifying that he clearly does not see all of them the exact same way. In the end, actions have consequences, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

To end off, this month’s Ogiue moment is more of an Ogiue focus than anything in a long while. As briefly alluded to above, Ogiue gets really invested in presenting Sue as the best possible choice for Madarame, even going so far as to say that this is Madarame’s once in a lifetime chance to be with this girl of his dreams. What’s really notable about her behavior in this instance is that Ogiue has never really come across as being particularly invested in the Madarame/Sue combination even if she does believe it’s the right choice. It feels like there’s something more at stake here. Is it being able to finally get Sue to abandon the “Ogiue is my wife” joke (probably wouldn’t happen)? Does she truly believe that Madarame and Sue are best for each other? Does she want to give Sue some happiness? Whatever the case may be, I quite enjoyed seeing Ogiue’s fire.

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It’s Keiko’s turn for with Madarame, and she uses the opportunity as only Keiko can. At the same time, she shows both some chinks in her armor and her resilience in spite of that. The chapter also ends with a reference to Overman King Gainer, which is never a bad thing.

One thing I’ve neglected when it comes to these recent Nikkou chapters of Genshiken is the potential meaning behind Yoshitake’s historical expositions. One purpose is to show that Yoshitake is indeed a history otaku, and visiting such a culturally significant place as Tokugawa Ieyasu’s tomb would set her off, yet I can’t help but feel that there’s a sense of metacommentary behind it. According to Yoshitake, Ieyasu purposely lied about the true location of his grave in order to mislead his enemies, and similarly it’s possible that Kio Shimoku has been placing one Madarame love interest in front of the others as a kind of red herring. The question is, then, which of the four is actually in the “lead?”

The answer is probably Keiko or Hato at this point, and you could make cases for either. In Chapter 115, Keiko outright states her case. Keiko: The Realistic Choice. It’s not the most inspiring campaign slogan, so to speak, but as I’ve mentioned in the past that is part of the Keiko x Mada pairing’s charm, that they already seem like a married couple, that opposites attract, etc. In certain ways, like a tangent graph, the more Keiko x Mada is a thing, the more it approaches (but never quite reaches) Spotted Flower. It’s realistic in a very specific sense of the word, where it reflects a popular image of how monogamous love and relationships are “behind the scenes.”

As for Hato, Yoshitake makes a comment that Hato has gotten closer to Madarame as a guy than he ever has in his female guise. Whether Yoshitake realizes it or not, she’s directly addressing one of Keiko’s criticisms of Hato, that he’s putting on an act, a performance, to get attention. Is this gender performativity, and is Keiko any less guilty of it?

If Hato is the front-runner, however, then this chapter is possibly the undermining of that, and again it has to do with Keiko. At the end of the chapter, Speaking of that, Keiko defies the standard manga progression, where secrets are unspoken and affect the dynamics of the love polygon, by just telling Hato about Yajima’s feelings for him. Cutting to the chase in that way is very characteristic of Keiko. You’d think it’d perhaps also be Saki-esque, but I feel like while Saki was devious, it’s a different kind of planning and awareness when Keiko is involved. Keiko is “realistic,” and part of her “reality” is that she both shatters illusions while creating others, and is very aware of everything that goes into presenting herself to Madarame. The main thing that throws her off is that Madarame is indecisive beyond her imagination, to the point that she at first interprets his waffling as rejection. There is a great deal of miscommunication because Keiko just perceives the world differently compared to the primarily otaku cast.

Keiko’s reaction to her “rejection” is fascinating in its own way. You can tell just from how shocked she is that Madarame might not be interested in her just how much confidence she had about winning. It actually didn’t occur to her that she wouldn’t be able to do just the right things to get Madarame to fall into her arms. It’s indicative of how she thinks that she feels that Angela is the biggest threat to her but is thankfully stymied by a long distance, and sees Sue as being too reticent for anything to happen, not realizing that this might be part of her appeal. Keiko aims for physical desire, and aims her personality in that direction.

So what does it mean that Hato is aware of Yajima now? It could go in a lot of different directions, but I could see it going for a while where Yajima doesn’t know that Hato knows about her crush. Yajima is fairly observant, but nowhere near on the level of Keiko or Saki, and Keiko is likely going to try and push them together. In other manga, Keiko might be viewed as the scheming villain, but I wonder if Hato and Yajima would be so bad after all. For one thing, characters like Yajima, especially in terms of physical appearance, are kind of a rarity in manga and anime, and to have them together might make for an interesting statement.

As for the red herrings, perhaps neither Keiko nor Hato are as likely choices as they seem.

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It’s finally Angela’s turn to spend some alone time with Madarame in Chapter 114. Looking as if she’s going to do something wildly inappropriate, especially for a shrine, but in fact it doesn’t amount to anything more than hand-holding and longing stares. However, what would normally be considered fairly chaste interactions are in fact evidence of Angela’s absolutely diabolical nature when it comes to winning a man. At the same time, Keiko and Yajima are on their own, but to describe them as oil and water is to not quite do their dynamic justice. Keiko quickly realizes that Yajima likes Hato, and wonders how she can use that information.

When I first saw Yajima start to talk about how much she disliked Hato’s crossdressing to Keiko, my only thought was, “Yajima!!! Don’t do it!!! You don’t know what you’re getting into!” Yajima is too much of an open book and Keiko is already extremely perceptive as it is, so it’s no wonder Keiko figured it out rather quickly. With this knowledge, one has to wonder if Keiko will try to pair the two together, somewhat like Yoshitake, except for her own ulterior motives as opposed to maintaining overall harmony as Yoshitake desires. Though, Keiko and Yoshitake cooperating sounds rather frightening, and I look forward to possibly seeing more.

That brings us to the main feature of Chapter 114: Angela and how she has basically done her research. In the past, she mentioned that what she wants most is for Madarame to fantasize about her on those lonely nights, because doing so will conflate lust with love in Madarame’s virgin otaku mind, and will make Angela that much more desirable to him. In her last attempt, she took an extremely aggressive approach, basically attempting to throw Madarame off the diving board when he had never stepped into the kiddie pool. This time, rather than trying to get Madarame to touch her breast, she directs his hand towards her face, and thus encourages him to stare into her eyes as she gives a warm, inviting smile. However, because of the close call last time, perhaps because of everything Madarame’s been through since they last met, and because Angela decided to wear an extremely bold and unrealistic outfit that accentuates her superior figure compared to the others (generally speaking), she is letting Madarame’s imagination do the work. Angela is essentially taking advantage of the otaku mindset to water the seeds of wild and uncontrollable urge she had originally planted in Madarame’s head way back.

Otaku, especially the typical kind of Madarame’s generation, are confronted with two images of romantic love interests in anime, manga, and games. The first is the sweet and innocent childhood friend, the pure girl who’s all about long walks and blushing profusely. The second is the highly physically attractive type who somehow doesn’t realize that she’s the center of attention when it comes to guys. A lot of times, these two characters overlap (you can even argue that Ohno starts off as this type), and Angela is actively playing both roles. She’s the sexual dream who’s also now shown her “maiden” side, and Madarame is encouraged to connect fantasy A with fantasy B. Probably any guy given this information would have a similar reaction, but because Madarame is who he is, it’s 10x more intense. In a way I feel like Angela’s actions directly confront what an otaku is, or was supposed to be.

It’s also telling that Angela immediately gives Kuchiki the cold shoulder. She isn’t “easy,” but rather just knows what she wants.

The last thing I want to talk about this chapter is, of course, Ogiue. Though she’s not the spotlight of this chapter in any way, she does have an interesting moment with Yoshitake. As Yoshitake falls into tour guide mode, she claims that it’s just her and Ogiue spending time alone together. In order to emphasize this, Yoshitake whispers sweet nothings in Ogiue’s ear, and by sweet nothings I mean history trivia that would directly appeal to Ogiue’s fujoshi side.

We’ve seen Ogiue blush in many different ways, but I don’t think it’s ever quite been like this.

 

The previous chapter of Genshiken ended with most of the characters pairing off in unexpected ways (none of them romantic), setting up the anticipation that there would be some intriguing interactions that go outside of the normal range that Genshiken has been using as of late. In this regard, Chapter 113 is far from being a disappointment.

After Yoshitake finally reins in her history otaku nature and ceases to be a tour guide through the shrines of Nikkou, all of the groups do their own special thing. For this reason, for this month’s review I think it’s worth talking about each notable pair on their own.

Madarame and Yoshitake

In a lot of harem manga, the characters that act as if they’re stringing the main character along through feigned expressions of affection often fall into the category of the harem as well. Because they show the possibility, they’re part of the fantasy too, even if they’re supposed to be tongue in cheek. Not so with Yoshitake. She drags Madarame away not only to spark the fire among the characters who actually are interested in Madarame, but also slyly manipulates Madarame as well by making it seem as if she’s also into him. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but the reaction on Madarame’s face seems less like surprise and more like, “Oh no, not again,” which when you think about it is a far cry from where he was originally in Genshiken.

Yajima and Kuchiki

Kuchiki wants what Madarame has but he’ll never get it because it’s hard to imagine too many girls who would like Kuchiki’s personality (then again he did have a girlfriend once upon a time). At the same time, their mildly venomous conversation has a lot of grains of truth being sifted. Kuchiki mentions the appeal of the girl-boy, which is that you have the physical attraction of a female without the seeming mystery of trying to figure out how they think and feel. This actually isn’t far off from what I’ve read about the appeal of certain, shall we say, “alternative” forms of adult entertainment in anime and manga, and it even reflects something I’ve seen before in an old Ann Landers/Dear Abby, which had to do with a wife questioning if her husband was gay. Long story short, that aspect of being able to directly understand the feelings of another, whether that’s more spiritual or more physical, is something that’s understandable when you think about it. As for Kuchiki almost figuring out Yajima’s feelings for Hato, that probably has less to do with Kuchiki being perceptive and more that Yajima is often an open book (see her first meeting with Yoshitake’s “brother”).

Hato and Keiko

It’s been established that the two don’t really get along, and this chapter I think really shows the foundation of why that’s the case. Essentially, both Hato and Keiko believe that the other is somehow manipulating Madarame. Hato believes Keiko is just stringing him along, while Keiko sees Hato’s personality as an ideal construct, pleasing but artificial. Together, they both open up to each other in an antagonistic manner, giving details as to what transpired in each of their respective close encounters with Madarame. Now they both know the approximate truth, and while it can’t be said that Madarame is a two-timer, I do think Hato and Keiko have bonded in a rather bizarre yet understandable manner. That said, I think their lowered opinion of him comes from somewhat different places; with Hato it’s because of how easily Madarame was enticed, and Keiko because it connects to the whole thing about Madarame being happy about Hato’s chocolates.

And then…

I think there’s something to be said about the way that the characters of Genshiken try to exert their wills in this chapter. Yoshitake temporarily dons the role of a fawning admirer to mess with Madarame, Keiko intentionally withholds the fact that Kugayama was at her club too to make Hato think that Madarame came of his own accord, and Hato throws the events of the previous night in Keiko’s face. Nowhere is this clearer than with the fact that Angela’s time has arrived, and she’s come prepared for bear, so to speak. As soon as she finds out she’s pairing with Madarame, out come her noble familiars, barely constrained and ready to serve their master.

I’m not sure if it’s clear from my previous posts, but I love the idea of Madarame and Angela, if only because to me it’s the most hilarious. This chapter begins to prove why that’s the case, even if she probably has the slimmest chance out of the four. Will next month be the most fanservicey chapter of Genshiken ever?

Speaking of Angela and Madarame, or rather the renewed kujibiki drawingI do find it interesting that Yoshitake’s plan to see the temple Youmeimon, the culmination of her trip to Nikkou, is derailed by construction much in the same way that her original plan to mix the group up into new and exciting pairings also backfired in terms of its original intent. It makes me wonder if this second lottery is going to also be reflected in Yoshitake somehow encountering an even more amazing sight.

Last thing of note: as seen in the first image in this post, this chapter clearly used photo references for its color pages that lend a greater amount of realism to the backgrounds, to the extent that it feels like the chapter is actually promoting tourism for Nikkou. I don’t think that’s actually the case, but Genshiken rarely goes for that look.

After the bomb drop that was last month’s Genshiken, Chapter 112 winds things down a bit, only to then create anticipation for next month. In a way, it’s a much needed break, but the fact that it ends by mixing up the formula a bit basically makes me want to read the next chapter already.

As Yoshitake nerds out about the history of Nikkou and its connections to Japan’s past (something I don’t specialize in but would totally make an interesting post by someone other than me), they remember Hato’s return the previous night. While a lot of the girls are suspicious about what happened, especially Keiko, Hato quietly resigns for the evening, and Yoshitake turns out to be the kind of snorer you can’t ignore. Yoshitake then proposes an idea: draw straws (“kujibiki” in this case), and randomly pair off. While the hope to further some romances looms about, the gods of probability crush almost all hope of that happening.

I’ve never been a part of Hetalia fandom, but I’m aware that it’s encouraged a lot of girls (and even a few guys) to study history more extensively. In that respect, I wonder if Hetalia fans feel a significant connection to Yoshitake, even if Hato is the one who’s explicitly stated that he’s into that series. Speaking of Yoshitake, I’m always impressed by the translators who bother to work through all of her text. The way it’s hand-written, and appears as if it’s trying to economize every last bit of word balloon space, and the fact that this chapter even features a map in the middle of one onslaught of verbage makes it seem like you’re not really meant to read what she has to say.

As is often the case with Genshiken, this chapter is primarily about setup, a brief pause after the weightiness of Hato’s heart to heart talk with Madarame. While of course the decision to break these characters off into specific pairs was probably not random (unless Kio actively chose to replicate what Yoshitake does in the manga itself), I think it’s both telling of Yoshitake’s desire to be the grease that moves the wheels forward, and that both the author and the characters haven’t forgotten about good ol’ Kujibiki Unbalance.

While it’s doubtful that anyone who’s still reading Nidaime doesn’t know what that is, it’s kind of fascinating that the series which so dominated the conversations of the old generation have all but vanished with these youngins. I wonder if Kio misses that a bit. Not only is the chapter title, “Kujibiki Unbalance 1” a reference to it, but at one point Yoshitake says, “Kami-sama no iu toori,” or “Do as God says,” which is a line from the Kujibiki Unbalance anime opening.

When Yoshitake revealed the kujibiki, I was hoping for the wildest and nonsensical pairings to happen, and in the end my wishes were fulfilled where it counts. While it wasn’t 100% off-the-wall (Ogiue + Sue and Angela + Ohno are obvious ones), seeing things like Hato + Keiko and Madarame + Yoshitake has a certain odd thrill, either because there’s so much tension or because there’s none at all. It’s almost like when characters have to change seats after a semester, and it becomes an opportunity to really see sides of them that we the manga readers haven’t before, or when you’re watching a fighting game tournament and two characters who rarely fight each other are in the grand finals. You’re not sure if you like it more, but the novelty alone keeps you glued.

If we’re allowed to speculate (and seeing as this is my blog I’m going to say it’s okay), I think that the main focus of the next chapter will probably be Hato and Keiko, which will involve Hato trying to pussyfoot around the subject of Madarame and Keiko going straight for the proverbial jugular. Keiko, while not the sharpest tool in the shed in certain respects, is still very perceptive, and even if that’s not enough she’s the type to really egg someone on and force them to admit something. From there, I predict Keiko will really try to force Hato to confront why exactly he crossdresses, and might even explain directly what she finds to be so disingenuous about Hato’s personality and behavior.

Also, on the topic of Keiko, is she purposely wearing a coat that’s similar to Madarame’s? It’s not the kind of clothing I typically associate with her, and as stated previously, she’s intentionally toned down her makeup to appeal more to Madarame’s sensibilities.

And if I were more into yuri, I’d probably make a bigger deal out of both Ogiue and Sue pairing off for the trip, and the fact that they slept in the same sheets at Yajima’s home. I’ll leave that to the other intrepid fans.

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In Chapter 108 of Genshiken II, Yajima’s mom plays “Are you a Man or a Woman,” Yajima tries to get closer to Hato, and the club meets Yajima’s dad. As Kuchiki has a surprisingly heartfelt moment.

I think Genshiken in general has a knack for conversations that feel natural while reflecting the awkwardness of its characters, and nowhere is this more evident than in the scene between Hato and Yajima this chapter. As Hato and Yajima are going to pick up Madarame and Kuchiki from the nearby hotel (motel?), Yajima begins to talk to him about his comic. It’s the one subject where she believes that they’re on roughly even ground and that they can both relate to in a way that the others (sans Ogiue) cannot, so she’s going to use it for all that it’s worth. It’s a moment that really says, “Yes, this is what Yajima is about.” What makes this scene really work for showcasing Yajima’s feelings, though, is the artwork itself, where Yajima is trying her best to work through her own awkwardness and continue conversation.

Obviously that scene references the previous chapters where Yajima and Hato have been working on their manga, but there are actually quite a few callbacks to events much further back in Genshiken as well. The first one worth mentioning is Yajima’s mom trying to guess which of the girls is in fact a boy. You might recall that this happened in Chapter 56, the very first chapter of Nidaime, when Madarame predictably couldn’t figure it out and Saki was able to with one look. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing how that was Madarame and Hato’s first meeting, and now it’s gotten to this crazy stage. Also, the logic Yajima’s mom uses to single out Keiko is clear, even if she’s off the mark: all of that effort put into her makeup and appearance has to be for something, right?

Poor Keiko. Poor Yajima. Speaking of Yajima, she really does look like the halfway point between her parents.

Speaking of Yajima’s mom, I do find it interesting that the chapter goes out of its way to point out her similarities to Yoshitake in terms of personality. I think we’re supposed to interpret that comparison in two ways, the first being that she has a kind of subtly aggressive personality as she questions everyone’s gender (including her own daughter’s!), and the second being that she gives off a warm, inviting personality. One could even argue that Yajima, who takes after her father in terms of temperament, would get along with someone who’s just like her mother. That’s probably a stretch, though.

The second callback comes from the bath scenes. Recalling the Karuizawa trip, it’s quite telling that Keiko treated the disparity in chest size between her and Ohno back then not as an attack on her confidence, but in the case of Angela she sees the American character’s body as more of a threat. No doubt this is done to show that Keiko views Angela as the most dangerous rival of all for Madarame, reinforcing also her initial view of Angela upon finding out that Angela has a thing for Madarame. I’ve talked about this before, but the friendly antagonism that exists between Keiko and Angela is something you don’t see in a lot of manga, let alone manga about a group of otaku. Both clearly have a lot of sexual experience, both are aware of this fact, and thus both see each other in a different light compared to the rest.

To a lesser extent, Ogiue and Sue’s bath scene also references Karuizawa, but it’s not as significant. It’s mostly just an opportunity to make a joke at Ogiue’s expense, though in this case it’s her own self-deprecation. Actually, when I think about it, most of the time when the subject of Ogiue’s chest comes up, it’s usually her putting words into another person’s mouth. “Now you’re going to say… I’m a small-chested tsundere!” exclaims Ogiue “Joseph Joestar” Chika, as Sasahara or Sue or whoever denies her accusation.

The last reference to the past is the most obvious, as Kuchiki is told to recount how he became a member of Genshiken in the first place. Between his initial club visit, his running away upon seeing the lovey-dovey interactions between Kousaka and Saki, his re-joining the club and causing trouble from the get-go, the scene for the most part reinforces Kuchiki’s role in the story as that annoying guy in the club you just can’t get rid of. However, Kio takes the time to put a bit of a twist on all of that when he has Kuchiki reminds everyone of Genshiken’s origins as a home for misfit otaku (the rejects of the rejects).

In this regard, I  find that his apology to Ogiue actually says a lot. As he’s giving his speech before the toast, Ogiue jokingly reminds him that in their first meeting he laid her hands on him and that she’d never forget that, and Kuchiki gets down on his knees (“dogeza”), and immediately says sorry. Within this one moment, we can see that, as much as Kuchiki is generally a completely tactless and grating individual, that he cherishes Genshiken as more than just a place where he can fantasize about being a harem lead. Rather, it’s his home, a place that accepted him when nowhere else would, and to lose that connection is to lose a sense of belonging.

A few days ago I posted a translation of Japanese blogger Tamagomago’s latest article on Genshiken, where he asserts that the distinction between otaku and non-otaku, at least as it was in the mid-1990s to early-2000s, no longer really matters or indeed exists in the same capacity. Kuchiki clearly comes from before this time (as does Madarame of course), and I think given how Nidaime has gone it’s easy to forget just how awkward the club used to be. Kuchiki is a refreshing reminder of its origins, of a time that has arguably passed ages ago, and how places like Genshiken can be important for the awkward. On a personal level, as I’ve gotten older myself I’m no longer quite the nervous teenager I once was, and though vestiges of it still exist within me (and I’m still an awkward individual to be sure), it can be easy to forget just how intense it can be to worry that you don’t belong.

In a way, I wonder if Genshiken and its titular club at this point embody not simply the idea of a group of otaku, but the idea of a space to grow.

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Chapter 107 of Genshiken II mostly takes place on a train. Unlike Baccano!, there is no trail of dead bodies, thanks mostly to Yoshitake.

The crew is traveling to Nikkou, a popular domestic and foreign tourist destination, which happens to be located near Yajima’s hometown. As Kuchiki feels that his spotlight has been stolen by Madarame and the women who love him, Yoshitake placates his (somewhat justified) anger by playing with him various classic school trip games, like UNO UMO, at the same time she tries to encourage Madarame towards a romantic conclusion. Before arriving at Yajima’s place, Yoshitake reveals that she deliberately split off Kuchiki and Madarame into their own hotel room to keep boys and girls separate, except also intentionally failing to mention that Hato is considered one of the girls in this instance.

Genshiken can generally be considered something of an ensemble series, with a rough protagonist in each part. First it was Sasahara, next it was Ogiue, now it might be considered Hato. However, if you were to take just this chapter by itself, and define protagonist in the conventional sense as the character whose actions move the narrative forward, then Yoshitake is clearly the hero in this instance, setting the characters on their paths, or at least trying to do so. That, or she’s like Satan, purveyor of half-truths, hiding her ulterior motives by giving reasons that appeal to her targets’ senses. For Madarame, pushing him towards altruism by bringing closure to his harem woes and preventing any potential fractures in the club hide her simple desire to see her friends end up happy.

Not that I dislike Yoshitake, but rather, as Japanese blogger tamagomago once said, Yoshitake is very good at being the glue that holds a group together. Here she demonstrates that ability to full effect using her silver tongue, managing to set up two different groups that take on different dynamics depending on which guy is placed within them. Madarame surrounded by Angela, Keiko, and Sue is pretty self-explanatory, but as soon as he shifts over to Yoshitake, Yajima, and Hato, it becomes an opportunity to see how Hato and Madarame react to each other. At the same time, Kuchiki being with the other girls lets him somewhat fulfill his harem fantasy, if only in the most bare-bones manner.

Of course, the other characters get their own moments too. While Yoshitake is the one moving things about, it’s the others’ lives that are the concern. Angela makes her appearance after a long while, and in a few moments she gets tied directly into the developments of the previous chapters. Specifically, she has a duel of confidence with Keiko, which references the close call that Madarame had with her, and she gets her breasts fondled by Sue, who is still mad about Madarame’s comment about breast size. Despite being so far away, she still perhaps has a “chance.”

Another character makes her return in Mimasaka, Yajima’s old friend, only this time she has tiny hearts literally emanating from her being. Previously I had considered the possibility that her affection for Yajima might merely be platonic (or at least something like what Sue feels towards Ogiue), but this little detail changes things.  For one, it makes for a complex chain of romance where a girl likes another girl who likes a boy who dresses like a girl who likes a guy who recently had his heart broken and is currently popular with the ladies. We also get to see Yajima’s mother, who clearly resembles her. The chapter mentions something about genetics in terms of appearance, but I do find it interesting that Yajima’s mom is so much more cheerful than her daughter. Obviously their lives and circumstances are different, but it does make me a bit curious what her home life was like.

Ogiue literally took a backseat this chapter, staying out of the storm while on the train. One notable moment is that you can see her internal speech is still Tohoku-ben (Watashi wa zutto Sue to issho nandabeka…).

As for next chapter, the preview mentions that it’ll be centered around the Yajima household. I for one am curious when that Angela-centric chapter will happen. It’s really on a matter of when.

One last thing to mention: a new volume of Genshiken came out in Japan, and once again it comes with different store exclusives. This time, they’re Christmas-themed, and they feature Sue, Hato, and Angela, as well as a group shot.

Genshiken has portrayed elaborate fantasies, some nudity, and implied sex, but Chapter 103 may be the most erotic chapter the manga has ever seen.

At the end of the last chapter, Madarame was headed with Keiko to her apartment. While it was a little unclear (though heavily implied) that Keiko was using this situation to her advantage, all doubts are erased in Chapter 103 as Keiko does everything in her power to seduce Madarame. On the verge of success as she bids Madarame to feel some real skin, they are interrupted by a phone call from Keiko’s boyfriend, who plans to come over. After Keiko casually admits to having affairs pretty regularly, Madarame escapes, though Keiko expects for him to return.

When I say that this month’s chapter is especially erotic, it has a lot to do with the fact that this is the first chapter ever in Genshiken that has been primarily devoted to one person’s efforts to seduce another. Not only that, but this chapter creates an atmosphere of anticipation and sexual excitement through Keiko’s actions and gestures, going one step even further than the last chapter. Everything Keiko does, from her decision to shower to her choice of clothes, from her subtle choice of words that boost Madarame’s confidence to her serious bedroom eyes, implies advancement towards sex… not to mention that they’re in such a confined space. While I’m not typically one to analyze erotic manga (and this doesn’t quite count as eromanga in the typical sense), I would like to discuss the first panel in the image below, where Madarame’s hand is above Keiko’s open sweatshirt after she’s invited him to touch her breasts.

There’s a real sense of tension in the panel, created by its size, the lack of word balloons, and especially Keiko’s expression, which conveys excitement, anticipation, and even arousal. What’s also notable is that this eroticism is different from the fanservice scenes in the anime Genshiken 2 (not to be confused with Genshiken Second Season), which at times were virtually pornographic (the studio that made Genshiken 2 is best known for its work on Ikkitousen and Mezzo Forte, among other things). Instead, in terms of portraying sexual acts, this veers closer to what can typically be found in more adult josei manga in terms of buildup.

When looking at this chapter, I get the strong feeling that Kio Shimoku’s work on Spotted Flower is bleeding into his work on Genshiken. After all, he has a history of sorts with this, as the very first chapter of Genshiken II was made at a time when his latest work was Jigopuri, and characters looked much rounder and more in line with a moe aesthetic. One can think of Spotted Flower as essentially an alternate universe Genshiken where a man very much like Madarame is married to a woman very much like Kasukabe, and it has been an opportunity for Kio to portray adult sexual desire with far more detail than Genshiken is known for. Whether that’s through depictions of nudity, scenes about the wife trying to get the husband erect, or just the general expression of romantic lust, Spotted Flower has distinguished itself from Genshiken by being a more mature and sexually explicit series. Keiko’s interactions with Madarame venture deep into that territory, and I wonder if this will have a long-term effect on Genshiken going forward.

I think it’s useful to compare Keiko to Angela, not only because Angela once attempted to seduce Madarame herself, but that they have much in common when it comes to men. In my review of Chapter 93, I mentioned that Angela and Keiko look like they could be friends, and I think it’s no accident that Kio has portrayed them as both aiming for the boob grab as the lynchpin of their pursuits of Madarame. Both of them are quite experienced with sex, and both are aware that, for guys in general but especially a virgin like Madarame, breasts are placed on this grand pedestal. Keiko is even shown planning to moan erotically as soon as Madarame makes his move as a way to draw him in further, a bit of characterization in a sexually charged scene that indicates Keiko’s understanding of Madarame and further shows that she and Angela are of similar minds.

Now, I think a fair number of people, upon reading my description and analysis of Chapter 103, might feel that Genshiken has hit the point of no return. “Seriously? A scene where Madarame is basically about to have sex with Sasahara’s sister? What is this harem stuff? What happened to this manga?” Interestingly, the chapter features an explanation as to how Madarame finally started being viewed as attractive. At one point, Keiko says that seeing an otaku like Madarame in love with a person like Kasukabe who is (from Keiko’s perspective) completely out of his league actually makes him pretty cute in her eyes. In other words, as Keiko puts it, it’s thanks to Kasukabe that Madarame was able to exude his awkward charms. Not only that, but Keiko is sort of fond of no-good, pathetic types as well.

When thinking about the other characters, Sue, Hato, and Angela, they’ve all been shown to have also come from similar angles, either implicitly or explicitly. Sue’s wild denial that she has feelings for Madarame is the direct result of Saki seeing her kiss him. Angela already had a thing for sou-uke characters in anime and manga, and she began making her move upon learning that Madarame was feeling heart-broken. Hato, why, much of the series at this point is about his growing affections for Madarame’s character flaws, and it was even prompted by him learning about his unrequited love for Kasukabe. Of course, with Keiko it’s not as if she only has eyes for Madarame; he’s but one of many that she wouldn’t mind sleeping with. The fact that not everyone interested in Madarame has the same view of sex and relationships (which is often the case with actual harem anime and manga) is part of what makes this story arc intriguing. I do have to wonder if Keiko’s boyfriend is of a similar personality in spite of his greater financial success (he’s a subordinate of the president of an IT company).

Next chapter will be about Hato, but the question on my mind is, how will Sasahara react when he finds out about this?! I’ve read comments where people think it’s all over for Keiko x Mada, but I get the feeling that she’s not quite yet done.

As suggested in the last chapter, Madarame and Kugayama visit Keiko’s cabaret (i.e. hostess) club. Though Keiko at first turns up the charm typically expected of a hostess, she quickly reverts to her familiar, sharp-tongued self upon finding about Madarame’s recent inner conflict over receiving Valentine’s chocolate from Hato. When it comes time for Keiko to switch out with another girl, however, Madarame asks if Keiko can stay because in spite of being a girl Madarame feels like he can talk comfortably with her. Many hours later, Madarame wakes up from a drunk stupor only to find out that it’s 3am in the morning. Madarame goes to find a 24-hour internet cafe to crash at, but Keiko suggests he come over to her place.

The Almost-Romantic Misadventures of Madarame (If They Ever Begin At All) is such a strange place to be at when you think about how Genshiken began and Madarame’s original role as alpha otaku. Obviously the awkwardness around women was there from the start and has persisted to even this most recent chapter, but now Genshiken is actively presenting Madarame pairings for people to ship and feeding solid arguments for each. In the case of Keiko, we see Madarame able to actively argue and interact with Keiko in a way that looks natural. Not only that, the fact that Keiko herself quickly reverts to her true self instead of continuing her performance as a hostess means that this attitude is reciprocal. Perhaps if this were a different manga, Keiko would say something like, “I can’t help but be myself around you!”

I bring this up not to board the Keiko x Mada train, but in order to preface something I’ve felt about the past two chapters. I find that, perhaps more than ever, the manga gives the impression of a sense of “progress.” In other words,  while obviously many characters have changed in major ways throughout the series (Ogiue most of all), the smaller developments in Madarame feel potent because of how relatively small they are. To some extent, this has to do with the fact that these chapters have concerned characters from the older generation like Madarame and Kugayama, but what’s even more significant is that, even though these conversations feel comfortable, there’s a new context around them in the form of Madarame’s girl troubles that also tinges it with just a bit of exciting unfamiliarity.

Having never been to a host or hostess club, anything I know about them comes from media (anime, written articles, etc.), so I was a bit surprised to find out about all of the little things they do to get your money. While I’ve heard that people spend lots of money on their hostesses, what I didn’t know was that they actively switch every 15 minutes or so and that the only way to keep talking to your preferred girl is to spend money on them in the form of drinks. It reminds me a lot of how contemporary free-to-play games work, giving the customer a small taste and using the allure of continued immersive entertainment to lighten their wallets.

In that sense, the cabaret club is not that different from cute girl-oriented games such as Love Live! School Idol Festival or Kantai Collection, especially when it comes to all of the tricks the girls use to keep a guy enticed. School Idol Festival presents little “stories” where the girls talk about their favorite things, and there’s always the implication of an ambiguous romantic attraction to you the player (“Maybe next time, I can wear other outfits for you!”). Similarly, in this chapter, Keiko demonstrates a number of tricks of the trade. Showing a bit of cleavage is an obvious one, as is presenting a cutesy and demure persona through her attitude and posture, but it didn’t even occur to me until she dropped the act and crossed her legs that her original way of sitting with legs pressed together is clearly suggestive. This doesn’t mean that bare, uncrossed legs are always about sending signals, but in the context of a cabaret club and its employee it’s pretty clear what the true motive is.

I believe that Keiko’s familiarity with the use of a persona to attract men, perhaps not only due to her current profession but possibly also due to the circles she’s run with in the past, is what makes her so skeptical of Hato. Seeing Hato act so girly while knowing that he’s really a man (and sees himself as a man), most likely Keiko thinks that Hato must have some kind of ulterior motive or is not presenting his true self. After all, she fakes her personality for work every day, and knows what will get a guy to pay more attention (and money).

Of course, as established previously, Keiko does have some degree of attraction towards Madarame, and so this changes the dynamic of their hostess-customer relationship in this chapter. However, I find that her approach to getting Madarame, while comparable to her hostess strategies, is still significantly different and perhaps even closer to Angela’s approach. When originally trying to get with Madarame, Angela told Ohno (in the between-chapter extras) that she had intentionally emphasized her dynamite body around him so that her image would linger in his mind (Angela specifically says that he wanted Madarame to masturbate to his memory of her). Although Keiko doesn’t utilize the same sledgehammer method as Angela, it’s also clear that Keiko knows exactly what her words imply when she invites Madarame over to her place at 3am in the morning, and that this has instantly planted a seed into Madarame’s imagination. Keiko the hostess nudges and winks, Keiko the person presses the issue.

Even though he doesn’t have much of a presence in this chapter (or well, ever), there are these little things the chapter presents about Kugayama that I find interesting. After Madarame wakes up, Keiko informs him that Kugayama paid for everything, and that it looks like he makes more than a decent wage. While we’ve seen Kugayama employed for a long time now, this gives me the impression that he’s become a true otaku salaryman, in the sense that while he may not have much time anymore he’s able to devote his earnings to continuing his fandom. Additionally, while Kugayama is secretly praying that Madarame won’t buy an expensive drink for Keiko with the expectation that he’ll be treating Madarame to it, Madarame himself doesn’t even consider the notion that he’s doing this on Kugayama’s own dime (or 10-yen coin ha ha ha ha please don’t kill me). There’s just something there that makes me really feel their friendship even though we don’t see it too often anymore.

The last thing I want to mention is that the next chapter preview reference this time is actually from Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, the bizarre anime where Captain America and friends are kind of like Pokemon. Kio frequently makes both obscure and recent references, but this one actually caught me by surprise more than any other.

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