When a creator revisits an old creation, it can be interesting from a reader’s perspective, as we see how changes with time influence that work, whether it’s the Eva Rebuild movies, or Chris Clairmont returning to the X-Men, Timothy Zahn returning to Star Wars, or what have you. With the revival of Genshiken – Genshiken Second Season – the manga elects not to pick up right where the old manga did, and instead skips forward, to a new generation of otaku and a look at how fandom has changed with time, with some interesting results.
First off, probably the most pronounced change here is that Genshiken Second Season changes the cast from a whole bunch of guys with a couple of girls to a whole bunch of girls with a couple of guys. With this comes something of a shift in what the characters are talking about… sort of.
Over the years since the original Genshiken series ended, there has been a lot more of a push in Japanese animation to create works that appeal to fujoshi – more series with BL themes, including series with male-moe elements such as Free and Ouran High School Host Club. So, when I came into the manga, I was expecting a moderate amount of time to be spent on a similar show as a sort of Kujibuki Unbalance surrogate. I was wrong.
Instead, the manga has become something of a more conventional slice of life series, which follows otaku, who talk about otaku things, but who also aren’t necessarily just talking about anime and such either. Part of this, in particular, is related to how where the character of Madarame has landed in the show.
Specifically – and it’s spelled out explicitly by the time of volume 8 – he’s got a harem. Madarame, who was always something of a sad sack and by the end of the original series was trying to make something of his life by entering the workforce and becoming a salaryman, starts the series taking his lunch breaks at the Genshiken, and by this point has left his old job entirely to spend more time there. However, he’s got multiple romantic interests, and at this point in the series has no idea how to handle it.
On top of this is the introduction of the new character of Kenjiro Hato. Hato is something of a Fudanshi (male equivalent of a Fujoshi). I say sort of because part of his character arc is also figuring out that they are genderfluid. Hato is a talented artist and very good at drawing yaoi – but only when they are dressed as a woman, and they’re very much uncertain if this aspect of their personality is based around gender role assumptions – that because liking BL is typically something that only women do, they have to adopt a female persona to enjoy it, or if this is very much a part of them.
As part of this is a question Hato faces as well about their growing attraction to Madarame. To the credit of the series and to the credit of Madarame, Madarame picks up on it and doesn’t have a gay or trans panic response. Further, this is handled by the manga as a legitimate part of Madarame’s harem, as opposed to treating Haro as a “joke” option that doesn’t stand a chance.
Still, all of that portion of Hato’s arc becomes about reconciling that part of themselves. That said, I also can reasonably say that as a cis-het person, I do feel very much like I’m unqualified to discuss how sensitive this part of the series is. It feels like Shimoku Kio, the mangaka behind Genshiken, is trying to be sensitive in the depiction of this character and their gender identity. However, I’m also aware that the people who actually get to make that call are people who are actually gender fluid.
All of that said, having the anime do an actual harem played semi-straight feels weird. I say semi-straight because it is a case of multiple romantic interests for one character, with a question of who will “win”, but the concept is examined and discussed within the work because the cast is genre-savvy, as opposed to being violently deconstructed like in School Days.
Still, it’s a tonally different work from the original Genshiken, something readers may want to keep in mind when they pick this up.