Knowing that this is the final volume is a good thing. No really, especially when you've started to have a real emotional attachment to the characters, it gives them a chance to say goodbye to you, and you to them. Sasahara and Ogiue continue their relationship, but it becomes dicier when she solicits his advice on her possible entry into the ranks of Manga professional. Ohno is still President of the club, and Madrame still hangs around, but things are changing in the senior year of Sasahara, Kousaka and Saki.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Kio's work is that of a great storyteller, one who is certainly so confident in his craft that he takes chances, and almost always those chances pay off in big ways. A final chapter here is presented solely in pictures, allowing us, the dedicated readers, to fill in the dialogue in our heads. Its beautifully presented, and needs no word balloons. We know the characters; we've lived with them now for a number of years. We can hear their voices, we have no need for Kio to put the words into Saki's mouth as she discovers Ohno doing to worst possible thing: distributing pictures of her doing cosplay to Madrame in the hallway. It sandwiches in between the quiet touching moments one last scene of the way things were when we started: Saki at most furious, Ohno at her most mischevious, Madrame and Sasahara and rest along for the ride. It is hysterical, and like all moments from the end of college, taken in with the knowledge that this is a time that will end, and that things will never be the same again. On pages 138 and 139 we see Madrame looking up at the ceiling, trying desperately to ignore the fight between Saki and Ohno at his feet, Sasahara and Oguie holding back Kucchi, and he's smiling. We know that he seeing, in his mind, the moment of the Genshiken as it is now and never will be again.
If there is a tightrope to walk here, it is one covered with grease and done in high, dangerous swirling winds. Doing the bittersweet finale to any popular series is so fraught with the potential to slide into saccharine that its a wonder that some authors never want to undertake it, (Jerry Seinfeld should never have done it certainly.) and others can't wait to wallow in it. The middle part of the book, the real emotional meat to the volume, is the chapter with Oguie and Sasahara negotiating the minefield that is trying to work professionally with one's significant other. Oguie has a thin layer of civility on her emotions on her best day, and she's barely going to be able to handle the tough personal criticism that the professional artist has to endure, much less from her boyfriend. Kio has the camera as an unflinching eye on them as they work to reach a personal and professional understanding. It is not given "happily ever after" treatment. The narrator is given the last line in the chapter: "Sasahara couldn't stop worrying about the future of their relationship". Its a realistic, adult assessment and ending.
There are plenty of other moments that show the maturity of the characters. Madrame is given plenty of opportunity and time to finally reveal his secret love of Saki to her... and in the end doesn't. What is beautiful is the he realizes how much better it was that he didn't say anything. The younger Madrame would never have come to that understanding.
I'll admit that the final two chapters left me confused, so perhaps someone can explain them to me and I'll suddenly end up feeling fairly stupid. Sasahara's sister shows up at the graduation and says that "she's in the Genshiken", when we know that she's not in school there. Perhaps she thinks that she's "in" because they all went to beach two years ago. And at the end of chapter 55, we see three people walking in to the Genshiken room, saying, "President, we've got a new member." I'm taking it that we're getting a glimpse of the new Genshiken members that start to come during Oguie's term as president. The picture on the outside of the door might be one of the cosplay shot's of Saki as the President, but if it is, then I'm not sure what it is supposed to signify. Last, Del Rey handily translates the word Tsendere for us, but not the term Moe, which is, of course, an integral part of the conversation that takes place at the final graduation party. Any help here?
All in all, the nine volumes of Genshiken sit on the bookshelves of my studio waiting to cracked open again and again. Its a great piece of work, and despite what some people might think, the Otaku culture translates far too well for american comic fans. I'll miss these characters. They've become buddies and I'll wish that I knew what they were up to 5 years from now, 10 years from now.
Perhaps I'll just have to Google "Madrame-san" and see what shows up in 10 years.