Seduction of the Innocent: Spotted Flower Babies

Spotted Flower has long been a bizarre, twisted version of Genshiken, but a couple of side chapters posted (temporarily) for free on the Rakuen: Le Paradis website reveal an extra wrinkle to its story. Portraying two groups of parents, it shows their actions inadvertently corrupting their children.

In Chapter 33.5, the wife (not-Kasukabe) is trying in vain to get her infant daughter, Saki, to raise her head. When the husband (not-Madarame) drops his phone by accident and it shows an old picture of him getting his necktie pulled (much like that famous moment in Genshiken), Saki’s eyes go wide with excitement. When the husband picks his phone back up, Saki’s head follows, and voila, she’s able to lift her head up under her own power. In that one moment, a fujoshi is born.

Then, in Chapter 34.5, not-Ohno has put her two kids, Shin (three years old) and Yuu (one year old) to bed alongside her. On her other side, however, is her husband (not-Tanaka!!), and she’s in the mood for some intimacy.. Not-Tanaka notices that she’s actually wearing pantyhose from a Kakegurui cosplay, which clearly shows that she’s been wanting this, but when she also tries to put on a Yumeko wig, he nixes that idea. The mini-chapter ends with them having sex off-panel, with Yuu being woken up and then lulled back to sleep by the sound of his parents knocking boots next to him.

The idea of seeing these geek parents influencing, even if accidentally, the next generation of degenerate pervy otaku is an intriguing one. What makes it all the more…special…is specifically that it’s the Spotted Flower characters doing this instead of the Genshiken ones. What will the future hold for these kids…?

Friends with Consequences: Spotted Flower, Volume 4

Spotted Flower has always been a difficult series to suss out what the story is trying to say, if anything at all. What once began as a thinly veiled what-if pairing of two Genshiken characters has morphed into a crazy tale of adultery, inadequacy, and a cast of characters where monogamy is rare and polyamory is chaotic and unpredictable. Volume 4 continues this trend, spotlighting all the unusual relationships that have arisen. And while I haven’t consistently reviewed Spotted Flower over the years, this one has a lot of Ogiue—er, Ogino-sensei—so I have an extra reason to write about it.

Last year, I presented a panel at Otakon about Kio Shimoku’s works, and during my research, I came to realize that Genshiken is actually somewhat of an outlier in terms of his catalogue. Most manga Kio makes, including his debut professional manga, involves extremely messy relationships and a whole lot of emotional betrayal—and not in a fetishy way, either. So Spotted Flower is actually a kind of return to the older Kio, and the fact that it hits so hard is because the characters are Genshiken analogues.

Volume 4 has the husband (Not-Madarame) and wife (Not-Kasukabe) returning home with their newborn daughter, Saki. It’s not long after the husband had a one-night stand with Asaka-sensei (Not-Hato), so he’s on-edge the whole time, and literally still feeling it in the ass. The wife doesn’t suspect anything at first, especially because Asaka was very thorough in cleaning up, but the slightest hint of perfume on just one of the husband’s sweaters—as well as some pointed questions later—have her suspecting foul play. The rest of the volume involves the husband and wife reaching out to different friends to express their worries while those friends, in turn, grapple with their own complicated situations. Also, Endou (Asaka’s editor) discovers that Hato has a penis, learns about Asaka sleeping with their beloved senpai, and inadvertently spills the beans to Ogino and Not-Sue.

I think it’s important to lay down just how convoluted the web of relations is in this series. The husband is married to the wife, who just recently had their kid, but the husband slept with Asaka out of a sense of inferiority over the wife’s ex, Not-Kousaka. Asaka is in a relationship with Not-Yajima, who knew well in advance what Asaka was planning and was generally okay with it. Not-Kousaka always really wants to have a threesome, but can’t get any, and it’s probably why he’s no longer with the wife. Ogino is living with Not-Sue and is in a physical relationship with her, but also has a real thing going on with Not-Sasahara, whom she adores. Not-Sue is extremely jealous of Not-Sasahara, and balks at the idea of them in a threesome. Not-Ohno and assumed Not-Tanaka seem to be the only ones exclusive to each other. Whew! What a situation.

One of the biggest gut punches of Volume 4 is when Not-Sasahara explains in clear detail that Madarame’s worries over not matching up to Not-Kousaka are totally unfounded. Specifically, it turns out that the wife’s ex just straight-up left after seeing the baby—which means that he basically gave up, and confirms that the husband fucked up 10,000%. What’s amazing to me is that it’s easy to see where the husband is coming from, but just as easy to acknowledge that he’s garbage.

This also makes me wonder if something like this could’ve happened to the real Madarame and Kasukabe in Genshiken. Fans loved the idea of opposites attracting, but it wouldn’t have been out of the question for Madarame to feel like he could never match up to Kousaka. Madarame and Sue are on similar wavelengths, after all. However, there’s also a lot that’s different about Spotted Flower, and it feels as if this is maybe a symptom of how their world is, instead of the cause. Another notable change is that Endou (who is jokingly implied to be the Yoshitake of this series) never went to the same college as the rest of the cast.

During this volume, Ogino initially tries to suss the truth out of her editor boyfriend, and when he refuses to budge, she lays one hell of a deal out: in exchange for telling her what the husband spoke to him about, she will agree to a threesome with her and her blond girlfriend. The look on his face is one of deep, soul- and libido-igniting conflict, and the fact that he apparently doesn’t give in is testament to this character. Ironically, it probably makes Ogino like him even more. 

It can be difficult to figure out Kio’s intent, but there’s perhaps a clue in the extra story provided in this volume. The wife is talking about how she read Ogino’s new manga, which is more out and out BL. The husband responds, “Isn’t it good that she’s doing what she wants?” The wife follows up and says, “But I think her previous work was better.” Maybe Spotted Flower is just unchecked Kio Shimoku, for better or worse.

Given that Spotted Flower chapters come out at a snail’s pace, it’s wild how far the story has come. It’s really impossible to tell how things will resolve, but the way it portrays the differences between willing unorthodox relationships and those built on deception means things are probably going to get worse before they get better. The fact that a child is involved makes the sting that much more severe.

PS: I managed to get both a general purchase bonus, as well as a Toranoana store-exclusive one featuring Ogino and her blonde, Sue-esque roommate. Does it count as Ogiue merchandise when it’s technically not Ogiue?

Kio Shimoku’s Kagerowic Diary and Its Influence on Genshiken and Spotted Flower

A special edition of Kio Shimoku’s Kagerowic Diary (aka Kagerou Nikki) just came out last month, which prompted me to read an ebook of it I purchased ages ago. Having now finished it, I find myself reevaluating certain aspects of Kio’s more recent titles in Genshiken and Spotted Flower.

Kagerowic Diary is split into two parts. Part I concerns a female college student named Suzuki Touko (above) who seemingly has it all figured out but hides the fact that she’s a virgin from her friends. Part II follows a different woman in college, Tachihara Hatsuho (below), and the complicated web of sex, emotion, and deceit she finds herself in. To Genshiken fans, it can feel both comfortably familiar yet also exotic due to the strong emphasis on physical relationships.

Touko’s story shines new light on Genshiken, specifically the final volume of the first series. In the epilogue, the characters begin a discussion of how Saki, the sole non-otaku of the bunch and by far the most mature character, could be viewed through a moe lens. After some deliberation, Madarame says that she would have to be a virgin (Saki very clearly is not). When I previously read this scene, I thought the purpose was merely to show how Madarame’s mind works and to embarrass Saki. Now, I realize it’s actually a reference to Touko and Kagerowic Diary.

Hatsuho’s story, on the other hand, makes me feel that Spotted Flower and its adultery subplot are not as out-of-left-field as fans assumed. While it’s a far cry from Genshiken, the tangled web of love and lust in Spotted Flower is not unlike the plot of Part II in Kagerowic Diary, where Hatsuho sleeping with a male friend of pity and then discovering that her boyfriend cheated on her too (and probably has been for a while) It’s charged, it’s messy, it’s complicated. In other words, Spotted Flower is sort of a return to the old days for Kio, when writing realistic characters meant more than just realistic portrayals of awkward nerds.

In addition to Kagerowic Diary, there’s a special edition of Kio’s Yonensei (“4th-year Student”) out too. I intend to read through it and see how that other early work of his compares to his more famous material.

Spotted Flower and the Role of the “What-If”

The manga Spotted Flower is more than just a story about a male otaku and his non-otaku wife. To fans of the author, Kio Shimoku, the series is also a thinly veiled alternate universe version of his most famous work, Genshiken. With nearly all of the characters in Spotted Flower having direct analogues in Genshiken, the manga is constantly nudging and winking at the audience. Recently, one of those nudges turned into more of an elbow to the solar plexus, and many assumptions about the series have gone out the window. A story seemingly about marital bliss (despite some ups and downs) has become a tale of adultery, and Genshiken fans are left reeling.

The buildup to the big moment occurs shortly after the birth of the husband and wife’s first child, who is named, appropriately, “Saki.” Visited by her ex-boyfriend, the ease with which she and her former lover banter back and forth drives the meek husband to wallow in quiet envy. In a moment of weakness, he ends up sleeping with an old mutual friend—one who’s female up top, male down below, and who still identifies as male—and cheats on his wife. Only, instead of doing the deed, he winds up on the receiving end.

Jealousy and Betrayal

It’s clear which Spotted Flower characters map to which Genshiken identities. The husband is uber nerd Madarame Harunobu, while his wife is the no-nonsense Kasukabe Saki. The ex-boyfriend is Kohsaka Makoto (who is Kasukabe’s actual boyfriend). The one night stand (?) is with Hato Kenjirou, the male BL fan who ends up falling in love with Madarame. Seeing all of these characters act so terribly to each other can feel like a betrayal, especially to fans of the popular Madarame-Kasukabe pairing. But the situation begs the question: where do the Genshiken versions end and the Spotted Flower ones begin?

Spotted Flower resembles fanfiction in the sense that, while it’s possible to enjoy it standalone, the work encourages and even to some extent assumes a certain degree of familiarity with the source material. What use is a story about Mikasa from Attack on Titan turning into a robot, if the reader doesn’t know how Mikasa is supposed to act normally? To that extent, I suspect that the controversial decision to make the husband an adulterer is part of stressing Spotted Flower as the space where all the things not possible in Genshiken become real. The very premise of the series is built on that idea—Kasukabe ultimately rejects Madarame because she loves Kohsaka.

If the husband does all the things Madarame didn’t or couldn’t do, then his poor decisions make sense. At one point in the second manga series, Genshiken Nidaime, Madarame comes close to sleeping with his friend’s little sister, Sasahara Keiko. As it turns out, Keiko is actually trying to cheat on her current boyfriend with Madarame, and her casual admission to this fact sends Madarame running for the hills. Madarame is unwilling to be an accomplice in another’s unfaithfulness, but the husband in Spotted Flower is not. Later in Nidaime, Madarame ends up alone with Hato in an awkward spot. Hearts racing, the two come close to having something happen, only for happenstance to deflate the tension. Madarame ends up rejecting Hato later, out of concern that Hato should be with someone better. The evening that goes nowhere in Genshiken certainly ends up somewhere in Spotted Flower.

What’s more, where Genshiken deals in relatively tame kinks and features mostly faithfully monogamous relationships where available (Keiko notwithstanding), Spotted Flower thrives on the unconventional. The not-Hato (hereafter referred to by his artist pen name Asaka Midori) is already in a physical relationship with his manager who’s the Spotted Flower version of Genshiken character Yajima. But rather than being upset or surprised, the manager was already well aware of Asaka’s desire for the husband. She even goes as far as to ask how it was giving anal sex to him. At another point, it’s implied that another character (a manga editor who maps to original Genshiken protagonist Sasahara) could maybe potentially be having threesomes with his girlfriend and her very touchy-feely American girl friend, but doesn’t. “Open relationships” seems to be the name of the game, which further emphasizes the Bizarro Universe-esque aspects of sexual relations in Spotted Flower relative to Genshiken.

Does this mean that Spotted Flower is reliant on Genshiken, or that the sense of betrayal on the part of readers would only come from Genshiken fans? Perhaps not, but the feelings are likely most intense from that established fanbase. However, I find it fascinating that, unlike fanfiction, which typically exists on a very clear line of what is “canon” and not, the fact that Spotted Flower is this very obvious Genshiken what-if with only the barest degree of plausible deniability makes that canon/non-canon distinction much blurrier. At the same time, it is fact that the Spotted Flower characters are definitely not the Genshiken ones, and not just the same characters in an alternate universe or timeline. They simply have too many different physical features that can’t be explained by the passage of time on account of the Spotted Flower characters being older. “Ogino-sensei” (Ogiue in Genshiken) has a different face structure. The blond American otaku behaves like the petite Sue but has a body like the tall, buxom Angela. In some cases, it’s not even clear who’s supposed to be who based on character design alone. Spotted Flower might be a “possible future” as both it and Genshiken like to put it, but it’s practically CLAMP’s manga, Wish—a series based on a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure doujinshi of theirs with the names and designs altered into “original” characters. Only, for Kio, he’s his own source of inspiration.

Ogiue’s Counterpart: Ogino-sensei

The question as to how much Spotted Flower should speak for Genshiken is a tricky one. The characters of the former mirror the latter. Are they the true desire of the author, or simply a chance to tell different stories? Is it precisely because the characters are alternate versions that this can happen, or does that thread of possibility mean the two are tied together? I don’t believe there to be a true answer to these questions, simply because it really depends on individual readers’ relationships with both series. But it’s also curious that some of the characters and relationships are not as different as others. Ogino-sensei is still seeing her manga editor boyfriend, and their bond seems to have remained strong. The wife’s ex-boyfriend (not-Kohsaka) looks almost the same, except his hair is black instead of blond, and his bright-eyed gaze has been replaced with some kind of seeming cynicism or darkness. Maybe there are characters who can find the same happiness on the alternative route, and those who cannot.

A new character: Endou

How much Spotted Flower will continue to be self-parody remains to be seen. Volume 3 introduces wholly original characters in Asaka Midori’s editor, Endou, as well as her publisher. I wonder if this is the signal that the manga is on the verge of becoming its own entity.

 

Sexualization Without Objectification in Spotted Flower

When it comes to debates regarding how women are portrayed in media and entertainment, one recurring trend is the way that sexualization gets conflated with objectification. Whether it’s comics or not, Japanese or not, often times the two are presented as one, so it’s no surprise that there are readers who see them as one and the same and argue from a stance that reducing or removing certain depictions of women means a puritan-like removal of sexuality itself from media. While I don’t have the same problems with objectification that others might, it’s still an issue because this misunderstanding begets many other misunderstandings. It’s for this reason that I’m impressed by how the manga Spotted Flower handles the female body, and I think it gives a very clear case of how it is possible to draw sexual characters who aren’t necessarily sex objects.

A manga by Genshiken author Kio Shimoku, Spotted Flower is about an otaku husband and his pregnant non-otaku wife, and the small challenges they face as their lives enter a new stage. With a title referencing Madarame and Saki from Genshiken (Madara refers to spots—take note Naruto fans—and Saki means “bloom”) but clearly pointing out that the characters are not them, much of the manga revolves around how being an otaku can influence the relationship in certain ways. The other prominent theme, and the one I’m more concerned with for this post, is that of the pregnant wife’s sexual frustration. The problem the wife faces is that even through pregnancy she still wants sex and wants it badly, but it’s difficult for the husband to overcome the misconception that pregnant women are entirely different from sexual women (despite the act that it takes to get them that way). This makes sense, as depictions of pregnancy tend to focus on their motherly qualities and ignore the woman’s sexuality.

Spotted Flower does not draw that line in the sand. Much like his work on Jigopuri (about raising an infant), Kio doesn’t play it safe. He draws nudity. He draws bare breasts. He doesn’t shy away from showing sex and the desire for sex as very physical, mental, and emotional, but at the same time also doesn’t reduce pregnancy into a simplistic fetish or kink that you would find in some adult manga. He expresses the wife’s frustration in such a way that, even if she does not have the ideal body or the easy appeal of the “virgin” or the “nympho,” there is a kind of sexual attractiveness to her, an undeniable sensuality radiating from her which has little to do with the woman as object of desire and more as a person who desires.

As is obvious at this point, Spotted Flower is rather unusual in a number of ways, but it is also a series of possibilities and potentials. It pushes boundaries which probably shouldn’t be boundaries in the first place, and does so with a strong sense of characterization fans of Kio Shimoku have come to appreciate.

Peter Parker, Make a Contract with Me

Have you read Spotted Flower? It’s a comedy manga by Genshiken creator Kio Shimoku, about an otaku and his pregnant wife. Actually, the premise isn’t that important for this post, other than to say that it made me realize something recently.

Let’s look at this page from Chapter 4:

Pretty funny and bizarre moment. But let’s modify it a bit.

Basically, thanks to Spotted Flower, I realize now that all of the girls’ names inMadoka Magica are unconventional in that they’re actually two first names strung together, a convention that I primarily associate with American superhero comics.

That’s all, really. Maybe I’ll actually talk about Spotted Flower some other time.