Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Genshiken: Second Season
With both Hato and Sasahara's sister having made aggressive plays, it seems like the wheels may finally be tumbling off the Madarame harem train. But before any resolutions can be reached, it's time for one more adventure, as the whole Genshiken club (plus friends) venture out to celebrate Kuchiki's graduation. Heading out to Yajima's hometown for a boozy break seems like a fun plan, but with every member of the harem present, it's likely Kuchiki won't be getting quite as much attention as he'd like. And that's before we even get to Yajima's own feelings…
Genshiken: Second Season has been a bit of a mess. In contrast with the original series' sensitive and remarkably grounded approach to fandom circles, Second Season has shifted from a promising setup into outright harem comedy territory, its characters moaning about their own cliche dramatic choices all along the way. Madarame was the breakout character of Genshiken, but Second Season is a clear demonstration of how easy it is to have too much of a good thing. Centering the manga on his absurd romantic foibles has irrevocably shifted the comic into a lower class of fiction.
That said, Genshiken: Second Season is still a very entertaining time, and this volume does a solid job of making the most of its own narrative. The early chapters here focus mostly on manga artist anxieties, as both Hato and Yajima fight against their own lack of confidence in order to present their art projects to the club. It's in these chapters that Genshiken demonstrates it can still occasionally execute on what initially made it strong - a thoughtful and emotionally generous exploration of young adult nerd feelings.
Yajima steals the show here, as she has for many recent chapters. When the club's manga viewing session ends up going more favorably for Yajima than Hato, both of them are surprised, and Yajima's complex reaction offers the strongest character-focused material of the volume. Yajima's feelings for Hato feel far more meaningful than most of the harem web, making it easy to relate to Yajima's sense of relief and even pride at making Hato insecure about his artwork. Yajima doesn't want to hurt Hato, but realizing her manga victory is essentially “the first time Hato's taken me seriously” is a complex and oddly rewarding feeling. And their followup conversation, where Yajima bolsters Hato's confidence by speaking frankly about his work, perfectly nails their strange friendship.
While this volume's first half dabbles in more emotionally grounded material, the second half is pretty much all harem hijinks. As far as that goes, this actually felt like some of the most confidently executed comedy the manga has seen in quite a while. Putting basically the whole cast in a room together for a vacation runs the risk of making scenes feel cluttered or unfocused, but Genshiken has always been extremely good at making great use of large ensembles, and that's true here. And sequences like Sasahara's sister complaining about bathing with Ohno and Angela because “all the empty space is tits!” demonstrate Genshiken still has a very distinctive way with words.
The actual dramatic content here is less exciting, and in large part a retread of prior harem get-togethers. But the manga does seem to understand this arc is wearing out its welcome, and the new lengths all of Madarame's suitors go to imply we're definitely nearing the breaking point.
Art-wise, Genshiken remains as consistent as ever. The manga's characters have always been very expressive, and the vacation sequence here offers a fine demonstration of Shimoku Kio's understanding of space and paneling. I also appreciated the diversity in body types within the group, as well as the very different ways all the characters feel about their own bodies. It's nice to see a manga where nudity isn't just treated as inherently embarrassing or erotic, and characters are allowed to have complex feelings about their bodies.
Overall, while this volume doesn't exactly save Second Season, it does execute quite well on the narrative it's given. Genshiken might not be coming to the most graceful close, but it's still an entertaining ride.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Strong character work in the first few chapters, great comedy in the second half
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