Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Genshiken: Second Season
Genshiken returns with a new school year and new club members, bringing with them a host of fresh quirks and problems. As Ogiue attempts to juggle professional manga-making responsibilities and leadership of the Genshiken, the newly fujoshi-focused club runs through a gamut of personal dramas and getting-to-know-you adventures. The Genshiken is back, but will the club manage to survive its own glorious revival?
Genshiken has returned, bringing with it all the rapid-fire humor and distinctive sensitivity that made the first series so rewarding. A slice of life/light drama concerning an otaku club might not seem like the most fertile ground for compelling fiction, but like always, Genshiken sells its premise with personality and grace. Starting off with the school fair directly following the original series' graduation finale, Genshiken Second Season finds the club in a moment of crisis - with virtually all the club's male members graduating, it's up to club president Ogiue, Ohno, and newly transferred Sue (along with the inexplicably tolerated Kuchiki) to fill out the club with new members. This first volume is largely dedicated to introducing and exploring the three replacement members they find - Yajime, Yoshitake, and Hato.
Each of these new characters bring something very necessary to the Genshiken dynamic, doing great work to make up for the absence of half its old protagonists. Yajime and Yoshitake split portions of Madarame's old influence between them, with Yajime offering the caustic snark and Yoshitake bringing boundless fujoshi enthusiasm, whereas Hato's taciturn personality and apparent compartmentalizing of his fan nature through crossdressing facilitates a fair amount of the conflict in this first volume. One of Genshiken's core strengths is that it is incredibly good at a kind of naturalistic dialogue that promotes an immediate belief in and understanding of its characters, and that dialogue is used to great effect in establishing these newcomers. You very quickly feel like you've know these characters for years, which lets this volume move very quickly past introductions and into how the new personalities all rub against each other.
Perhaps the biggest thread running through these early chapters is the question of Hato, who attends Genshiken while passing as a woman but attends school as a boy. Hato's gender identity doesn't seem to be a real question here - he comfortably identifies as a male outside of the club, and the manga visually depicts his “other self” as a kind of compartmentalized fandom identity, but the logistics of his identity and the mere fact of how well he passes as a woman end up filling a good half of the volume single-handedly. It'll be up to future volumes to say whether Genshiken really has anything to say about gender identity, but so far, the way Hato's choices clash with the insecurities of characters like Yajime and Madarame are already providing plenty of engaging, sympathetic drama.
That's not to say this volume is entirely given over to introducing the new characters. Though they've been sidelined to a degree, characters like Ogiue and Madarame are still central to what the Genshiken is, and the practicalities of post-college life introduce a number of engaging new variables to the story. In the original Genshiken, the unvarnished, almost documentary-style depiction of nerd communities was itself one of the greatest rewards, and though that's still true here, images like Madarame sitting alone and reminiscing on the old days offer a poignant insight into the limits of fandom identity. Genshiken's old guard has started to grow up, and it seems like the manga is ready to grow up with them. This is a welcome shift, but it does mean Second Season is likely not the best introduction for beginners - though the general conflicts are easy enough to follow, readers unfamiliar with the context of characters like Ogiue, Madarame, and Saki will miss out on a great deal of emotional depth and drama.
Kio Shimoku's art remains stellar in Second Season, with particular highlights being the obsessive background detail and dramatically effective panel sequencing. Like with the acuity of the dialogue, the specificity of the environments really helps bring the story of Genshiken to life. Rooms are filled with games and figures, with the stories of these characters lives being told even through the relative states of their apartments. Cluttered, dialogue-busy panels give way to stark full-page reveals of an old friend's arrival, and the expressive faces gracefully sell you on what moments are truly meaningful to this cast. For a manga that's largely dedicated to nerds sitting around and talking about their favorite pairings, Genshiken looks very, very good. Overall, Genshiken Second Season offers a strong return from an old classic, and I'm eager to see where life takes both the old and new stars of this endearing story.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Excellent ear for dialogue makes for relatable, lifelike characters; matching acuity of art brings their world to life.
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