Well well well...look who flaked out last month?
Yeah, thanks to a lot of real-world projects and general household stuff, I was not able to finish up last month's theme month. That just means I have to double down and make sure I get this month's content going. With the return of another summer comes another month of manga sequels, prequels, & spin-offs. To kick things off and to make up for lack of content last month, let's start with the return to everyone's favorite otaku college club.
GENSHIKEN SECOND SEASON (Genshiken Nidaime), by Shimoku Kio. First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2012.
While the original club members have mostly graduated, Genshiken lives on (even if the members are largely female and their focus is largely on fujoshi matters). The club is thrown for a loop when a lovely young lady named Hato walks through their door, only to Hato to be revealed as a boy in drag. While some members have a harder time than others grasping Hato's situation, they all soon bond over their mutual love of manga and man-love. Meanwhile, former Genshiken president Madarame is having a hard time coping with transiting to the working world. He finds himself drawn back into club affairs when his place turns out to be the most convenient place for Hato to change, but will it be enough for him to get over the one who got away?
It's always a tough feat for any mangaka to return to their biggest hit and produce a sequel that can hope to rival it. At this point, it's hard to say if Kio will pull it off, but there's enough of a new dynamic and new ideas to make Second Season feel like something more than just a retread of the original.
Of course, Kio couldn't deny the fact that in the decade since he started Genshiken, the otaku dynamic has shifted. While there are still plenty of obsessive dudes downloading hentai games, these days there are just as many (if not more) fujoshi discussing their favorite ships and making art for them. Naturally, Genshiken would reflect these changes as well and that is the big reason for the cast change. Well, that and unlike some others he's not going to ignore the fact that eventually these kids have to graduate.
If there's anything holding this series back, it's the fact that it's not quite sure who the protagonist is meant to be. With the original, that was easy: it was everyday nerd Sasahara. It seems like at first the story will follow Oguie, one of the few returning cast members and current club president. She's too wrapped up in her burgeoning manga career, though, and the rest of the newer members don't work for those purposes. Most of the new kids are nice enough...save for two. First is Sue, who I'm not sure is meant to be a critique of weird, obsessive weeaboos or merely a feral cat in human form who lives only to stalk Oguie and spout Monogatari quotes. Her brand of weirdness is seemingly too weird for anyone to tolerate, although she's a gem compared to the creepy and downright off-putting Kuchiki. Between his need to be the center of attention and his constant creeping on all the girls, you'd think they would come to their sense and kick the bastard out.
Thankfully, Kio starts to find the heart of his story in the second half thanks to one new character and one returning one. The new one is Hato, whose fudanshi perspective and unconventional gender presentation gives this first chapter a lot of good material to work with. A lot of these chapters are about the club coming to understand Hato's situation and coming to terms with it. Luckily, most of the club members accept him readily and those who don't do come to realize they are being assholes about it and apologize (well...except for Kuchiki, who is gross and treats the whole thing like a fetish and why on earth have they not kicked this creep out of the club?!)
Hato not only bonds with the new club members, but also with the best of the returning characters, Madarame. He's gone from a pompous, know-it-all otaku to an everyday salaryman, but the way he lingers around the campus and keeps in touch with both the former and the current club members indicates that he's not quite ready to move on from college. More importantly and even more obviously to everyone who knew him before, he's really not ready to move past getting turned down by Saki. While his and Hato's acquaintance starts largely out of convenience, it swiftly turns into one of the most tender ones, even if it throws both of their orientations for a loop.
It's still hard to say just who (if anyone) will fill that protagonist role. It's still hard to say if the club will ever start talking about more than just BL and making manga. What I can say with some degree of certainty is that Kio does manage to create a sequel that successfully creates its own story and vibe without completely abandoning the emotions and people that made it what it was in the first place.
His artwork hasn't changed either, although it shows a degree of refinement that can only come from spending the better part of a decade on a single series. The old characters largely look the same, and the new ones are pleasantly diverse and mostly pretty cute. Again, the standout is Hato (and he should be, considering how much time he spends on his beauty routine to successfully pass as a girl). The backgrounds are still nicely detailed yet lived-in, as an ordinary apartment or college club room should. There aren't a lot of jokes here, but what few are there work well since it relies on holding an expression at just the right time for just the right length. It's a rather understated approach, but very effective.
Not surprisingly, there's a fairly big translation guide to explain all the pop culture references.
Genshiken Second Season isn't a quick cash-in on its predecessor but instead a worthy successor that explores modern otaku culture through the eyes of an endearing and (mostly) interesting cast.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is complete with 12 volumes available. 10 volumes have been published and are currently in print. This series is also available digitally.