Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Genshiken: Second Season
It's Madarame's time to shine! With his unlikely harem expanding to include Hato, Sue, Angela, and possibly even Keiko, you'd think Madarame would be having the time of his life. Unfortunately, this is Madarame and the Genshiken we're talking about, so romantic drama mostly just leads to insecurity and sulking. Hato, Sue, and Madarame himself will all have to come to terms with their feelings over the coming weeks, with winter break offering a chance for everyone to cool their heads. But some things can't be fixed just by thinking about them, and it seems likely the resolution to Madarame's troubles will lead to some permanent changes in the Genshiken.
The trials of young Madarame continue in Second Season's seventh volume, as both he and all his improbably suitors struggle to deal with their feelings. As befitting a harem story, in the wake of Madarame breaking his hand (again) after learning the truth, the gang all decides to hash out their feelings at a public bath. There, jilted love interests will surely come to blows in a bunch of slippery, fanservicey fun.
Of course, this is Genshiken, so that's not what actually happens. Most of volume seven is an exercise in applying Genshiken's usual close character focus and thoughtful writing to larger-than-life anime storytelling, and the group's bathhouse expedition is a great example of this weird mixture. There are certainly moments of romantic growling between characters like angela and Keiko, but Genshiken treats its characters like people, and so those moments are actually reflective of both personality and a kind of comic self-awareness. Characters talk about their feelings, and listen to each other. While Hato and Sue panic over their immature feelings of romantic longing, Keiko and angela act like the relatively well-adjusted adults they are - they may find Madarame cute, but his affection is not the end of the world. And so angela's romantic aspirations come across half like she's just messing with the more insecure nerds around her, while characters like Yoshitake revel in the silly archetypal drama of it all.
It's a tricky balance struck in these chapters - giving Madarame a harem was an inherently ridiculous narrative choice, and Genshiken seems to know that, so the execution is a mix of winking at the absurdity of the situation and treating the characters' feelings with absolute respect. Madarame doesn't get a single moment to enjoy his newfound popularity - instead, he predictably ends up overwhelmed by the stress of being liked, and unable to make any difficult choices. And with angela heading back to America and Keiko not terribly invested in the first place, the theoretical harem is reduced to Sue and Hato, two people far too insecure to actually act on their feelings. Yoshitake urges Madarame to pursue Keiko, the one love interest he can actually act naturally around, but it seems likely as not that her advice is aimed more at preserving club harmony than helping a guy who's really just an acquaintance. And so as the comic festival fades into winter break, the characters drift off in their separate directions.
While Madarame's insecurities dominate the early chapters of this volume, it's Hato's feelings that come to the fore in the second. Going home to his family prompts more confrontations with his old crush Kaminaga, who responds to his concerns with a friendly “wow, kid. You are all kinds of messed up right now.” But when Hato meets up with his old friend Konno (in a sequence that makes strong use of oversized panels to create a real sense of physical intimacy), he seems to come to a decision - he loves Madarame, he's not going to give up on the Genshiken, and he's going to embrace the parts of himself he's been denying all along.
And so Hato moves to his own place, a smaller one where he can no longer hide his BL or blouses. With Hato reaching some kind of peace, the last few chapters of this volume settle back into something approaching the Genshiken's usual slice-of-life storytelling. There's a nice chapter where the girls discuss possibly taking a group trip to a salon, and another where Yoshitake and Yajime help Hato settle into his new apartment. There's still a lingering tension in these chapters; silent sequences of Sue mulling over her thoughts at home or Madarame grimly checking job listings quietly imply that things can't last, and this weird stasis will change. But when the volume ends with Sue literally moving into the apartment next to Madarame's, it seems clear that the manga will at least be sticking to its current weird mix of the emotionally grounded and the dramatically absurd.
This is a strange volume of Genshiken, one which moves the story into a level of heightened reality I'm not really sure fits it. Genshiken's strengths are in creating true-seeming banter and depicting the small details of life, and wacky harem shenanigans don't really fit into that plan. But even if this wasn't the strongest volume, the story's still full of humor and strong dialogue and great character moments, so I'm on board to ride this strange story out.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B+
+ Genshiken retains its strong writing on a line-by-line basis, and the art is as consistent as ever.
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