In which Sasahara gets a job, the fans are serviced, and the writing team for Friends stages a hostile takeover.

Genshiken chapter 42: Mensetsu (interview) [previous chapter]

serialized 09/25/2005 in Afternoon

A three day event is drawn into its third month of coverage as the chapter opens on the last day of summer Comifesu. Sue has apparently grown quite fond of Ogiue since the encounter with her book, and it is with a sense of relief on all (Japanese) sides that Ohno’s gaijin friends return to America a few days later.

The action shifts back to the club room. It’s September, school is back in session, but relations between Sasahara and Ogiue don’t seem to have improved; he’s in the second term of his senior year, obsessed with finding a job, and she’s got her own bevy of problems that we’ll learn more about next chapter. For now, though, we get Sasahara and his job search.

We watch as he goes through a rejection letter and asks himself what it really is he wants to do with his life. We see an unhappy, frustrated side of his personality quite at odds with his past portrayal as the club’s zen peacemaker. Just as he seems about to break he finds himself looking through classified ads in the paper and spots something interesting: an entry level position as a manga editor, at a company that specializes in editing: it contracts with various publishers to edit their titles before printing.

He has his first interview with the stoic company owner, which he passes, and is shunted to a lower level employee for the real grilling. He’s asked about Genshiken, what activities the club has done (where it’s revealed that he has sold 18+ doujinshi at Comifesu), whether he can draw pictures himself (he can’t), and then the loaded question: what does he think of those who can?

They have their personality quirks, but it’s fun to see their work through to a final product, he says. The next big question: as an editor, what is the worst, most frowned-upon thing you can do? Make an artist lose his desire to work, Sasahara replies. His interviewer sees this as a fine answer, and moves on to a less heavy topic: “What’s your favorite manga?” he asks. “Kujibiki Unbalance,” Sasahara says, “although it felt like it ended when Kaicho graduated.”

“…I was responsible for that,” Says his interviewer. Oops. This company isn’t small peanuts; they have three editors who work with the Kujian author, apparently. Sasahara apologizes, and the interview is over.

A few days later, he gets a thick envelope in the mail… He’s hired! He goes to the club room, lets everyone know, and the chapter ends.

I found this chapter to be rather boring, partially due to my initial inability to read the kanji for “editor”, partially due to the lack of Ohno and partially due to the fact that even when Sasahara is agonizing over something, he’s still a pretty flat character. He seems to have regained his composure here, which means he can be deemphasized for a bit as the focus shifts once again to Ogiue in the next chapter.

In 20-20 hindsight it seems that the past several months have composed a plot arc, still in motion, involving Sasahara and Ogiue and their developing (or stagnant) relationship. I’m not convinced that Kio has the chops to pull this off in an interesting way; he may be sacrificing some of what made the manga so interesting in the beginning, or being forced to sacrifice it as he runs out of otaku schtick to mine. I’m straying now into territory best left for analysis of the next chapter, though, so without further ado:

Genshiken chapter 43: Welcome Party

serialized 10/25/2005 in Afternoon

With almost no preamble the Genshiken cast finds itself trekking up to a remote cabin in the woods for a little rest and relaxation. They scope the place out and then split, the guys staying back to hold down the fort (and let Kousaka catch up on sleep after a manic week of eroge programming), while Saki and Keiko go shopping and Ohno and Ogiue go for a walk.

A flashback reveals that Madarame, Saki and Ohno plan to use this trip as an opportunity to help Sasahara and Ogiue get closer together. Madarame is tasked with broaching the subject to Sasahara, but as he’s about to do so he is interrupted by Kuchiki’s announcement that he can’t find any “peeping points” in the cabin. Sigh.

For her part, Ohno isn’t having much luck with Ogiue either. On their walk she asks Ogiue about what happened with Sasahara at Comifesu, and she tells how Sue revealed the contents of her book.

This bit was worth translating more or less verbatim because of the subtext (I don’t think it’s just doujinshi they’re talking about letting Sasahara see here), and it sets up the tension we’re likely to see carried over into the coming chapter(s).

Keiko and Saki return from their shopping trip, Keiko having bought $1,800 worth of clothes and accessories in one fell swoop (using money borrowed from Saki, which in a stage whisper she says she expects to be paid back by Sasahara himself, poor bastard). Ohno and Ogiue get back as well, and Saki decides it’s time to take a bath.

Here’s where the chapter jumps the shark. I’ll let the scans do the talking, with a word of explanation: apparently the light in the bathroom doesn’t work, and when lights in bathrooms don’t work women lose their nipples. Or so I hear.

After tying Kuchiki up to a lamppost and four pages of pure fanservice, Saki and Ohno emerge from the bath to declare a girls-only drinking party that will occur momentarily. Saki flashes a knowing look at Madarame, who gets what is going on and agrees with the suggestion. Saki snags Ogiue as she emerges from the bath (sorry Ogiue fans, nothing this chapter) and pulls her into the room with the other girls. As their merriment begins, the chapter ends.

Did Kio walk into another manga by mistake, here? Gone entirely are references to anything remotely otaku, to be replaced by some sort of Friends episode. I don’t know what to think. I can’t say no to ridiculously abritrary fanservice, although it may just be a tacit admittance that there wasn’t enough actual content to fill the chapter. I can’t say no to the concise distillment of Ogiue’s personal issues that we see here, although with them she seems to be the most authentic member of the cast at this point. I almost don’t want to see the resolution that next chapter will surely bring.

The most favorable interpretation I can give to this turn of events is that Kio is not only aging his characters, he’s asking them to grow up a bit in the process. If this was Genshiken of yore, and the cast somehow magically found themselves transported into a cabin in the woods (no self-respecting otaku would PAY to go on a trip like that when they could be spending the money in Akihabara), they would certainly all appear with manga or portable game consoles in hand and Saki would be berating them while trying to sex up Kousaka at the same time.

How far we have come. Now, instead of a group of otaku, we have what literally looks like a group of “friends” who enjoy each other’s presence regardless of the pastimes involved. The two least mature and most otaku characters are the two youngest, and Kuchiki is nothing more than a silly caricature; when Ogiue’s problems are resolved and she hooks up with Sasahara the manga might as well be over as far as I’m concerned.

This was a problem I hadn’t anticipated until now, but looking back it seems clear: slowly but steadily the cast of characters has been maturing, leaving the fold, or going out of focus; Madarame, who was so central earlier in the plot, now seems firmly relegated to the sidelines and a safe support role. At this rate Kio is going to mature his characters out of his initial premise entirely, which may be what he’s been aiming for all along.

While certainly commendable from a narrative perspective, I have to confess it’s not how I wanted things to go. In the same way that the densha otoko shouldn’t have been co-opted by the mainstream, instead carrying his mainstream bride off to Akihabara to be indoctrinated, I want to see the cast of Genshiken gravitate back to their roots of nerdery and geekiness and assimilate all comers to that ideal.

Ah well. Perhaps my crystal ball isn’t on target and things will be steered in an entirely different direction over the coming months. I’ll certainly be on for the ride until the finish, but right now it’s looking to be depressingly… moderate.