Spotted Flower chapters 22/ 23 reconsidered in light of the recent English fan translation. Spoilers Ensue. See also the earlier posts
— Fer krissakes, give it a rest already!
— No Way! Roll third feature:
Nine months after the Japanese publication of Spotted Flower chapters 22 and 23, a definitive English scanlation appeared in mid-March 2018. While most of what transpired within had already been known and discussed, the English version has served to put some readings into sharp perspective and (unfortunately, to me) close off others.
It doesn’t look like “It was all a dream” and worse, it looks like someone while eager for sex, repeatedly suffered hydraulic pressure failure and so agreed to other arrangements. As well, they prefaced their invitation to the bedroom with an outpouring of whining self-pity. The tone of the encounter shifts from “two guys (or at least dick-owners) trying things” to raw BL (yaoi) seme x uke roleplaying.
The entire encounter is suspicious. Kio Shimoku is known for his elaborate set-ups.
First, the furtive encounter has definitely added to the circumstantial evidence that the characters are thinly veiled future versions of the Genshiken and Genshiken Nidaime cast, no matter what official statements Kio Shimoku has made to the contrary. Without “reading in” the entire history of Kenjiro Hato’s “notice me sempai” crush on Harunobu Madarame, the BL shipping nonsense, and their over-reliance on fujoshi fandom as a way to manage their gender and sexuality issues, the “mangaka” figure becomes too thin to carry their part of the story.
Without the backstory they are merely some random new half cartoonist, who because of a past infatuation wants to have rushed fetish-sex with someone they knew a decade earlier in university. They will come running when called by that person.
Likewise, if “the husband” is nothing more than a whiny salaryman who feels that he was treated in a condescending manner by acquaintances after his wife gave birth and makes a gay booty call, we have little more than a trailer park melodrama. Ho hum…
If however the backstories from Genshiken and Nidaime inform Spotted Flower‘s characters, the goings on gain far more nuance and drama. As a bonus, even the official pronouncement by Kio Shimoku that the two properties have nothing to do with each other becomes a curious echo of the story itself. Much like the husband who sneaks off for a torrid affair, Spotted Flower was a little something on the side, with Kio two-timing Kodansha’s Afternoon Magazine by dallying with Hakusensha’s Rakuen Le Paradis. Aside from the small ground self-defence force of lawyers that would have been needed to port characters from one contracted work over to a rival publishing house, there are niceties that must absolutely be observed under such circumstances. Most important of these is: don’t rub your mistress in your wife’s face.
Rakuen Le Paradis publishes three times a year and caters to a more mature, presumed majority adult woman’s audience. It is also far more tolerant of explicit content, as long as the overall tone remains tasteful. That Kio-sensei still manages to stay in the good graces of the first company while working the other side of the street is an impressive display of authorial power. Kio’s denials must be read in light of these obvious conditions.
The characters in Spotted Flower don’t have to be the characters from Genshiken if you do not want them to be — it just makes the story work better. Everyone’s favorite senior uber-geek character did not do what looks like man-sex with his old university kouhai who is now a gender-queer/ non-binary rotten girl who still packs male bits, while his wife was in the hospital having just delivered their first child. And he most certainly did not go limp and acquiesce to being sodomised according to an old-school BL script by said kouhai.
If you do not want Madarame to have gone there, it never happened.
For the purposes of the rest of this essay though, he did. With Kenjiro Hato. I will now drop the alts- nots- and [!] prefixes and consider all the Spotted Flower characters as the once and future Genshiken and Genshiken Nidaime characters, with minor blurring around the edges. (1)
Next we need to edge around Kenjiro Hato and how they relate to Harunobu Madarame. Unlike some old-guard Genshiken fans, we cannot condemn Kenjiro Hato for merely existing in the story, in proximity to Madarame.
With a deadline approaching and 6 pages for her doujin remaining, the mangaka gets a phone call from their university club sempai of 10 years ago. Since that time she has carried a torch for “the only man I’ll ever love” which is tangled up with her decision to live as a woman, a lesbian, a fujoshi and as an ero-mangaka who draws BL dojinshi. She turns to her lover-manager, who knowing that it is pointless to try to stop her silently nods in assent and then freezes as she listens.
Finally she replies:
“I don’t think this is a good idea, sempai. You are a married man. Your wife has just had your child. Have you been drinking? This is a booty call, right?”
The husband makes sputtering noises over the phone.
“Sempai; I’ll listen to anything you have to say. I’ll listen to you all night. But I will not sneak over to your place. We had our time, ten years ago and we both backed off. That time is long gone; you have a wife and child and I have Merei, my partner, my manager and my lover. I cannot go to you and we both know it.”
Nope… the readers wouldn’t buy that for a second.
Not for a millisecond.
Future Kenjiro Hato, the besotted trans-fujoshi mangaka must pledge to hurry right over. She then must go into a frenzy of dressing up, load her purse with supplies, take one last measure of encouragement from the woman who has shared her bed and probably plotted out most of their dojin output over the years. “For the Art!” Merei calls after her as she slips out the door into the night.
Give the ero-mangaka and her creator the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that she truly is (/written as being) hopelessly infatuated after all these years. She has flirted with buddy boy – never thinking that anything would come of it – but now he has summoned her in earnest and she cannot refuse. Too much of herself, her ‘self’ is tangled up in the call. And because she is in love, she has to play out the only love between men that she knows, as a BL male character; gender-noncomforming but still at their core a man. There will be sex, as proof of love and it will be done in the manner of their beloved genre fiction.
What else was the husband, Harunobu Madarame expecting?
While the fujoshi-ness of it all is a bigger provocation by the author than any mundane case of quasi man-sex as marital infidelity, it also imposes a set of structural rules upon the affair — rules that Madarame is only dimly aware of. This might be difficult to parse without a forced contrast. If say, Hato and Mada’s fooling around was inscribed as “gay” then it would be within narrative convention to mark the affair down to curiosity, mutual physical desire and an enthusiastic “sex is good, let’s have at it” context.
Classic fujoshi scripts of male:male intimacy are far more melodramatic and “romantic”. At least one of the parties must be overcome with fierce longing for the other, even if they are inarticulate about it. That the other party eventually comes to recognise, share and return these feelings is what the story is about. The two are fated to be together, perhaps for all time, hence the convention of the ‘One True Pairing”. Issues of sexuality become secondary as the infatuation is only for the intended other; ‘I’m not gay, it’s only him”. Any prior romantic or intimate attachments are seen as mistakes and/or as insignificant in comparison to the fated pairing; these will be abandoned because they are not “authentic”; as inauthentic they are in any case ultimately untenable and probably harmful.
It is even more complicated. Within the genre there were stages of development where the conventions of romance (and its acting out) shifted. The earliest stories, involving androgynous pretty boys in bygone European settings had very little ritualised sex and were far more “fluid” in terms of the gender roles of the characters. Popularization of the genre in the late 1990’s, through the noughts led to more emphasis on the “yummy bits” acted out as a pantomime of rough heterosexual intercourse. A survey of contemporary trends within the genre is beyond this essay but it must be noted that the great yaoi controversies of the 1980’s have finally been layed to rest by a combination of changing fan tastes and the commercial mainstreaming of the genre. Old-school BL sex scenes, of the kind favored by Kio Shimoku’s fujoshi characters now face the ultimate complaint by the newest generation of fans; they are derided as “too heterosexual”. Yet for Spotted Flower as for Genshiken Nidaime and Ogiue’s Genshiken before it, the prefered club style, as parodied in the second season of the Genshiken anime’s notorious ‘yaoi episode’ (2007) is late 1980’s and 1990’s seme x uke roleplaying, formalised endlessly in both fan lore and pop culture (and later academic) descriptions (Nagaike, Mizoguchi, et al.). This is the ‘Boy’s Love” that Kenjiro Hato, the ero-mangaka must use as a template for their own intimacies. See the bibliography for the link to the Johnson article on the Aestheticism site, the details therein which reappear with minor variations throughout pop culture consideration of the genre and its tropes from 2000 through 2009.
It is important to bring out this distinction in order to see the full nature of the trick that Kio Shimoku has played by winding Kenjiro Hato’s springs with a certain type of BL.
IRL gay correspondents have described some of the sex scene conventions of this type of BL as “way too rapey” and a distanced view of them would see the worst parts of heterosexual “bodice ripper” romance fictions transferred to male bodies and then pushed to further fetishise “forcefulness”, all while providing an alibi for the behavior by positing male emotional inarticulateness and then consensual role-playing. That sexual assault is later “ritualised” into a made up out of whole cloth dom/sub roleplaying fetish merely sugar-coats rape fantasy fiction as much as similar heterosexual fetish fiction does.
At this point defenders of such tendencies within the genre might weigh in with well-practiced arguments and justifications that stem from the historic position of the readers, the value of displacement, fiction and re-appropriation plus a few others that require more nuance and mental gymnastics than I care to apply to the issue. I merely note that sloppy, nasty, violent, poorly written non-consensual sex fiction is equally suspect across all genders, sexualities, bodies and fanfictions. Atavisms are seductive; caution is advised.
For the purpose of the Genshiken/Spotted Flower verse, remember that Chika Ogiue, Kanako Ohno, Sue Hopkins. Angela Burton, Merei Yajima and Rika Yoshitake (as well as the later editor Endou) enjoy seeing and want to see man-rape or something close in their recreational porn. No one ever said that fetish fantasies are pretty, let alone make sense. They just have to deliver the goods. This is why rotten girls are called rotten. Guys have been doing this shit since day one, why can’t women have their fun? Yadda yadda yadda…
Kio-sensei’s innovation in Nidaime was the curious interplay between the demands of Hato’s hallucinatory Stands and Hato’s oscillation between male and female presentation and therefore roles. This led to their initial fantasies of taking Madarame as seme to his sou-uke competing with their later fantasies of being taken by Madarame while in the role of a crossdressing male; in effect becoming the uke to a sou-uke or at least “taking care” of Madarame’s interest in josou game/ otokonoko characters. This was Kio-sensei’s own take on “reversibility” and incidentally allowed him to update the oldest chestnut of outsiders peeking in on rotten girls: over-emphasising the a pairing argument.
Kenjiro Hato the fujoshi-who-can-be-male, can be written as besotten with Madarame even after all these years and yet still compelled to act out an unsatisfactory ritual when they finally win an intimate moment with their intended. How ridiculous was the off-screen Mada-sou-uke session?
The shock of the sex occurring distracts from how poorly it transpires. If Spotted Flower is informed by the Genshiken-verse and Merei Yajima’s “for the Art” means anything, then it can also be safely assumed that Hato, as well as Madarame had never before done man-sex. What happened was not an auspicious debut for either of them. The only suggestions we can draw from the plot set-up would be that both parties always recognised that the evening would draw inexorably towards Hato’s “turn”, whether or not Madarame got his first.
Spotted Flower’s Kenjiro Hato must be compelled to act as they did, as under a geas imposed by their creator. Otherwise, the temptation to blame the whole affair on them would overwhelm the story.
Kio-sensei goes out of his way to show Madarame instigating everything. A neutral text message from Hato is read as secretly flirting, the stirring first movement of the self-pity concerto already playing in the background as he makes his way home from the hospital. Then the booty call that Mada guesses Hato cannot refuse. When Hato arrives, an outpouring of over-the-top whining to telegraph that he is ready to cheat, to close the deal. Behind the self-pity, the echo of the old thrill of the forbidden with his need to be “dirtied”. There is no romantic infatuation behind Madarame’s actions. Something else has set him in motion.
The whining wasn’t as noticeable when there was no English translation floating around. Now it is out for all to see as on par with the performance from an in-story decade earlier when Madarame spazzed out at a bar in front of his friends and Saki until he was set up with Sue as a consolation prize.
Why settle for sou-uke when sou-uke-hime is within reach? It is a wonder that Kio didn’t have Mada pout and stamp his feet. (Wait for an officially licensed Chinese translation, they are big on that.)
Mada even went so far as to blurt out when the “cowgirl” position failed, that his wife usually gets the same unenthusiastic treatment. Had he not gone to a doctor to deal with this? Is Kio suggesting that too much weird manga pr0n will ruin you for the real thing? Is there no Viagra in Japan?
Are Japanese salarymen THAT BAD AT SEX?
This is not erectile dysfunction, this is a prolonged low-grade snit. I have long complained that manga sex, unless drawn by Akiko Morishima (2) is rushed, unimaginative and usually lacks any recognisable sign that the two people like each other. Kio Shimoko can do tender intimacies, as when Yajima massages Hato’s breasts. In C22, the dialogue-less panels as the two begin to fuck at least give a nod towards foreplay. The problem remains that the sex posited must absolutely end in anal penetration. Even most heterosexual couples eventually figure out that there are alternatives to penetration if such is a no go. Gay guys are known to tut-tut at the genre’s fixation on sex being nothing more than someone porking someone. It is all rather, I dunno… Hegelian. Mada goes limp twice; perhaps he unconsciously does not want to put it in there? Must the only alternative then be Hato taking their turn?
Why not… swat Mada’s ass with a financial magazine? I hear this is a thing now.
Hato is spring-loaded to either “be done” or “do”. Hato might declare an abbreviated version of the classic bishonen love vow (3) but it reads as a thin justification. No wonder Kio Shimoku finally staged the fateful event. Otherwise years of winding the Hato would be wasted. Meanwhile, we look away and miss how Madarame’s spring was being wound too.
What is worse for old-guard (mostly guy) readers who had always seen Harunobu Madarame as an otaku avatar? Seeing him cheat on his wife by engaging in what looked at first like mutual gay sex with a boob-enhanced femboy? Having it confirmed by the English fan translation that he went limp and then acquiesced to being ‘taken”. Was it that he was used as an “ultimate bottom”; that the dance ensued not as spontaneous improvisation between two people but to an old-school fangirl script? Or was it that Madarame instigated the whole evening while acting out as an insufferable whiny little bitch?
Harunobu Madarame may have admirable qualities as uber-otaku but he also carries about him the whiff of the fortunate son, whose resources and upbringing afford him sufficient room to chafe at the demands of respectable riajuu life and to perform mild, symbolic transgressions before returning to behavior appropriate to his station. Genshiken‘s Madarame may have at times appeared to be financially stretched but he never ran out of money. Spotted Flower does not deploy a walled estate with a bamboo water-gong but having his mother appear in full tomesode drag when she attends to the rituals of naming his child telegraphs class markers in a way that casual outlander readers may miss. Madarame is haute bourgeois.
While some fans are enraged, they miss the bitter message lying in wait just below the surface of this farce. Madarame is misbehaving, spectacularly because he can. Has he realised that while the rest of his cohort have gone on to build lives around the otaku enthusiasms of their youth, he alone has ended up disenchanted but holding the brass ring? A salaryman’s financial stability, marriage, a wife and child and that these have fallen into his lap in return for his compliance, his allegiance to the sacred order of forms in Japanese society.
As long as he continues to pay homage to these, he enjoys the privilege to get away with stuff. Or he could take up board sailing on the weekend.
Madarame goes along to get along; his “spinelessness” has always payed off handsomely for him but now it has grown a passive-aggressive underside – which is very Japanese in itself. Don’t think for a moment that he believes his own mewling story about getting Saki because she and her ex felt sorry for him; he understands transactional behavior. Kousaka was not prepared to offer Saki something she required and so she found someone who would. Having a wayward husband may not be a deal-breaker for her, depending on how the indiscretion is managed. A few chapters later, Saki already suspects something. Watch as Madarame draws Kanji Sasahara into the deception to provide an alibi, thus ensuring that news of the scandal will slowly spread. What is the use of privilege if you can’t assert it?
Makoto Kousaka must eventually get around to popping him one in the snout. Madarame will just stand there and laugh.
This is the way things are. It cannot be helped.
(1) Thanks to Genshiken Dropout‘s Asandyrabbit for help with this puzzle. It could be that I am over thinking it and it is exactly what it says on the label: Madarame got all whiney and self-pitying and used it as an excuse to himself to satisfy his long-held curiosity about Hato. As per their discussion ten years earlier, Hato would take the role of ‘bottom” but Hato had always hoped to at least see, even better take Madarame not just as a “bottom” but in full role-playing sou-uke mode — whatever exactly that means to Hato. Madarame had always known this and must have had some idea that the subject would come up if they ever got naked together. When it does, Madarame is suspiciously easy to convince. After ten in-verse years, it’s a win for team Hato.
see also: https://genshikendropout.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/spotted-flower-26-or-is-it/
Given that I am an old, straight guy who remains uneasy with male:male intimacy, Kio Shimoku is having a field day with how readers like me are processing this. I feel as if a large number of readers have been Kubler-Ross’ed further and further down the line but where we all ended up is still somehow “off”.
(2) Akiko Morishima must serve as exemplar here. Her Hanjuku Joshi is amazingly sweet and sexy. Honorable mention to Kurogane Ken, who occasionally manages to show a depth of love between characters that can take one’s breath away. Then he’s back to the “I’m gonna get mine” trashy stuff…
(3) This is a mile further on up the tracks than the “I’ll stop running” from 10 years before but still far from what would have read as simple and authentic. Almost as bad as Sue only speaking in anime and manga taglines. There are easier ways to say “I love you” in Japanese. Hato’s “Body and soul” declaration is undoubtedly used to echo the love vows of 1970 proto-BL stories. If Hato had only mumbled ‘Ski-da” or ‘D’ai-ski” when the two were talking alone on the temple grounds, all would have long ago been worked out. Too late.
The vow itself is overblown, very romantic and poetic: “My body and soul are yours, now and forever. Even after the flames take my body, my soul will forever remain yours.” Echoes of this formulation pop up now and again in many works, including some very steamy girl:girl porn. This is an early token of the One True Pairing trope.