Genshiken

Genshiken

GENSHIKEN

Watched via DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: When it comes to plot, Genshiken is rather fundamental. Like many other anime series, this show is focused around the daily interactions of a school organization. However, this time there is no beating around the bush. Rather than focusing on star-gazing, photography, neighbors, card games, etc., Genshiken connects directly with its audience by being about otaku culture. We no longer have to relate to strange club activities we don’t really understand or care for just to see golden social relations. You could say, Genshiken is an otaku’s otaku series.

We become introduced to the club “Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyukai” (The Society of Modern Visual Culture) through the eyes of newly recruited freshman Sasahara. What made Genshiken so enjoyable for me was watching the cycle of the otaku. Starting off the series we see Sasahara and his fellow freshmen join the organization. Their lives are not only affected by the deep friendships they make with their club mates, but by their personal lives as well. For example, beautiful and popular Kousaka begins dating a non-otaku woman who attempts time and again to drag him away from otaku culture. While the freshman are more timid and new to the subtle nuances of otaku fandom, the seniors are there to confidently haze and impart their wisdom on their younger classmen. Over time the club takes on new members and dynamics as year after year passes with new leaders and focal interests.

In a lot of ways Genshiken is beautifully romantic and nostalgic. Once the seniors move on and graduate there is that longing to go back, but the idea that it’ll never quite be the same. As a member of my college anime club for about 5-6 years, and president for 2 of those, I find it way too easy to relate to all the dynamics of the club cycle. For that reason I think Genshiken will always be dear to my heart since it is so relatable, despite being so simple.

Genshiken definitely shows that nostalgia for club life, but I don’t think it romanticizes anything. It shows the arguments you can get into with other anime fans, and it also shows just how hard it is to be an adult.

PLOT: Genshiken is the quintessential mostly-true-to-life otaku anime. It follows a club for otaku at a college in Tokyo as they obsess over various fandoms, deal with growing up, and sometimes get girlfriends. We are introduced to the club through Kanji Sasahara, a newly-out otaku who finds the club when he starts college and slowly gets introduced to various aspects of the otaku lifestyle. Because of his broad interests, Sasahara’s a good surrogate for the audience, and the audience can learn along with him (if they need to) about gunpla and cosplay and doujinshi.

The other new members to the Genshiken (which stands for something long and nerdy) cause more tremors in the club than the easy-going Sasahara. Makoto Kousaka is a good-looking and fashionable new student who’s obsessed with games, and with him comes the loud non-otaku Saki Kasukabe, who’s dating Kousaka because of his good looks and in spite of his otaku nature. Kousaka fits in rather well, but Kasukabe has a hard time understanding aspects of the otaku lifestyle at first. She especially creates friction with the super-hardcore otaku Madarame, who’s both embarrassed because of her opinions and secretly pining over Kasukabe.

Genshiken follows its members over the span of several years, especially if you include its OVA and TV sequel series. Members graduate and get jobs, while new members join and slightly alter the group dynamic. Throughout it all, though, Genshiken keeps in touch with the fundamentals of otaku life, including how difficult it can be to fit in, even with other otaku. It’s a great case study of otaku and anime clubs in general, and watching it feels a little like visiting my old anime club.

Genshiken makes me miss club so much. It’s a beautiful rite-of-passage exploration of nerdiness.

SETTING: In my mind the Genshiken club room is like a dream come true. I’m not sure how typical it is, but it’s essentially a library of leftovers from prior generations of members. There are shelves upon shelves and stacks upon stacks of manga, anime, games, doujinshi, etc. You could find almost anything you’d want to borrow or browse through. In addition, the members all meet together to watch a series and create commentary about it. I like that the organization has a permanent residence, it’s like a safe haven where anyone can come to take a break from the day and enjoy some otaku culture on their own terms. Some of my favorite scenes are when the room is empty save for one person who is nervously reading by themselves waiting for someone else to enter and be the catalyst for conversation.

Luckily we don’t have to actually sit through the members watching series and commenting on them, instead we see a lot of interactions that build relations between characters, and sometimes friction. We are also treated to field trips, like when they suffer their way through Comiket every year. This right of passage helps to link together the group as they use team work to make their way through and back home in one piece. I love that the group is always building that sense of camaraderie through otaku-themed events.

SETTING: Genshiken primarily takes place in their club room, which is a tiny, rectangular space that’s barely large enough to fit a table, some chairs, and all of the Genshiken’s crap. They’ve been collecting (and never getting rid of) otaku-related items ever since they were created, and it shows in the stacks of old doujinshi and posters all over the walls. The room is an otaku’s paradise, with manga, anime, and games along with other supplies for its members. The Genshiken’s room is gloriously detailed and is clearly lived in, as you can tell from the first shots of the show’s opening. As a main setting for the show, the Genshiken’s club room is a great one.

The rest of the show occurs in places you would expect around Tokyo, like Akihabara, and the characters religiously visit Comiket every year. The main focus is on the otaku-related lives of the characters, though, so we never see much of the university, and we only visit characters’ apartments when the group decides to visit them. All of these settings are represented well, and it’s nice visually see what these iconic places in Japan were like when this show as made.

I wish we could have had a club room like this! The club room is so essential to the friendships that are built in Genshiken. I loved being able to watch as the room begins to be like a second home to all of the characters.

CHARACTERS: I love the cast of characters for Genshiken! They are all so relatable, even though they are slightly trope-ish. Then again, when have you ever been to an anime club and not seen “one of those guys”?

Anyways, so we have Sasahara, new member to Genshiken, who is slightly naive to the extremes of the otaku culture as a whole. He is by far the easiest to relate to as he’s a fairly typical guy, mostly quiet, a little socially awkward, and a people pleaser. I really enjoyed watching him become more comfortable with himself and his new friends, and towards the end take over as president. In a lot of ways my own experiences in anime club parallel his, as I’m sure will be the case with lots of fans.

There are a couple of extremes in the group who I think are less typical, like pretty boy Kousaka who loves doujinshi and video games and has a non-otaku girlfriend. I had a much harder time relating to these types, as they just seemed so over-the-top and created just for that “what-if” factor. His girlfriend on the other hand is a great link for easing non-otaku into the series, as people can learn about the fandom through her view point.

Crystal is right that several characters begin to be annoying after time, but then again, that’s what makes the series so great and believable. For example, my favorite character by far is Madarame. He’s a hardcore otaku with just about zero social skills. While he’s extremely talented at getting a good bargain on a freshly released doujinshi, he has absolutely no backbone, which we see time and again when he argues with Kousaka’s girlfriend (who he has a HUGE crush on). Over time, and through the spin-off’s, we see him slowly mature and move into the real world. At his core he’s still an otaku, but he’s found a way to relate to the world around him. At times he’s wonderfully nostalgic about what was, and what could have been. Madarame is such an underdog, it’s hard not to be super moe for him. :3

I still love Madarame as a character, I just wish he would get up the nerve to confess his feelings to Kasukabe already! Seeing a character you like be mostly stagnant for so long is sad.

CHARACTERS: The benefit of a show like Genshiken, where it follows a group of characters, is that it’s easy to find at least one character that you like and identify with enough to enjoy the show. The easy choice is Sasahara, as the new member and newly-out otaku, but I could easily see people identifying with other characters, as well. Madarame’s realistically developed as an extremely socially-awkward nerd, and I could see newer viewers identifying with Kasukabe.

Though each character is reasonably well-developed, the characters beyond Sasahara all begin to fall into certain base character types. Kousaka is the gamer, while Madarame’s the hardcore doujinshi-obsessed fan. There’s a character who’s into cosplay and gunpla, and another character who likes to draw doujinshi in his spare time. Eventually more characters join and slightly diversify the cast, including the female Ohno who loves cosplay but, somewhat surprisingly, isn’t much of a fujoshi. The main fujoshi, Ogiue, doesn’t appear until the OVAs.

The downside of this being a show about an anime club is that some of the characters can be annoying, just as you’d expect in real life. Pretty much everyone hits a point where they get really annoying. Kasukabe takes a long time to become okay with her otaku boyfriend and his club members, while the doujinshi-drawing member is incredibly lazy and doesn’t have the discipline to finish anything he starts. After a while, Madarame’s pining for Kasukabe becomes a little grating because you just want him to do something about his feelings. On the whole, though, the positive aspects of the Genshiken members outweigh their negatives, and the show is still fun to watch.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Crystal is so spot on with the character designs. I love that the builds and styles of each character is so diverse. Usually in club series you get a Joe Shmoe guy with a bunch of cute girls that just differ slightly in hair color and bra size. In Genshiken we have the whole spectrum! Chubby nervous guys, adorable hyper girls, skinny glasses wearing nerds, etc. In a sense they start as tropes, but the way they are developed over time you can genuinely see the individuality in each character.

The animation is a bit spotty. Honestly, I love the manga more, but I think they did an okay job of recreating the energy and spirit of the manga in this series. It doesn’t quite retain all of the subtleties of the manga version, however, it still creates a wonderful dynamic that encapsulates the cultural interest of the story. I have to admit, it’s also nice to be able to hear the crew as they nerd out passionately. I think the audial aspect of Genshiken being animated is probably the strongest point of the series as it helps transform the experience and make you feel right at home in the club room.

Hearing the discussions about anime definitely helps with digesting the vast amount of them. It can get overwhelming to read all of them, especially when you have to also read all of the long notes in the back of each volume.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: This show’s about a decade old, and you can tell by both the animation and the character designs. The animation varies pretty widely between episodes, as is expected when budgets go up and down. Sometimes the characters are animated very well, with lots of attention paid to the particulars of their hair, and other times their faces start to get rounder as they slip off model. Overall, it’s a pretty well-animated series, and the level of animation is suited to the subject matter. You don’t really need a crazy attention to detail when the characters are mostly talking about the anime series they love.

The character designs are widely diverse, which is very welcome after so many other anime (including the characters’ favorite series-within-the-series, Kujibiki Unbalance). All of the main cast have completely individualized designs, both in terms of faces and physical builds, and they all look like real people do. It’s easy to see people I know from anime club in the characters, who represent so many kinds of otaku. The females do initially see less of a realistic range in body types, but that gets a little more attention in later anime series.

OVERALL: Genshiken is a must watch if you’re an anime fan. Especially now that it has a spin-off, it is essential to watch it, then return to watch the season that just aired. Just like I said before, Genshiken is an otaku’s otaku show. There isn’t going to be another series that hits quite so close to home, and so well. I love watching these series as it reminds me of so many friends and wonderful moments in my own past, as well as how the fandom has changed over time. Not only is Genshiken great for reliving the good ol’ days, but it’s a great way to explore anime if it’s all new to you. That said, it may not be the best for someone totally new to the culture as it has so many in-jokes.

OVERALL: If you consider yourself an otaku at all, you owe it to yourself to watch Genshiken. It has everything, from jokes about obscure anime to the identity issues of being an otaku. It may be a little less relevant now that anime fandom’s moving away from anime clubs, but I think anime fans could still see themselves and their friends in the characters. Beyond the in-jokes and references, though, Genshiken also has a great core group of well-developed otaku characters, which is especially refreshing in this age of anime that throw in otaku characters as a gimmick. Genshiken did it first, and it also did it well, with characters of all types represented. The second season gets a little rocky, but the first season is definitely worth watching, and when you’re done you can track down the manga. I think it’s recently been released in new omnibus editions….

Hmmm…I think I know what I want for Christmas this year…

FINAL SCORE: (9/10) FINAL SCORE: (8/10)
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2 thoughts on “Genshiken

  1. It’s a very cool series that does look at the various aspects of the otaku culture, while examining what it is in each of those different areas that makes it attractive to a particular individual.
    The Second Generation series (2013) is more character driven tho and less on the study of the culture. It was cool to catch up with some of the characters while meeting new ones, but it just wasn’t as good as the original two seasons (and OVA).

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