The lyrics of Genshiken’s ending theme poetically summarize the show’s content:
We are not yet adults
Both simple and complex, a shiny marble
When we looked through it back then
It was nothing special, but our world was shining
What we see now through this marble in our hands
Is a little different, but it will shine on
Discreetly next to us
As a college-aged anime lover myself, these words have affected me to such an extent that I could sing you the song, memorized, this very moment. Never has any other piece, or any other series, given me so much pride in my otaku-ness. Our lives would appear simple or even artificial when filled with the wondrous stuff of Japanese animation, video games, and comic books, but to us it makes our lives shine as brightly as a glistening marble, continuing to do so as we stumble into our adult years.
This is what renders Genshiken such an arresting work. From the eyes of a layperson, the show provides an unadorned look into the college life of an anime nerd: No sparkles, ninjas, improbable harems, other dramatic accessories, or even an overarching storyline added. It seems unnecessary. Why spend your precious entertainment time looking at…real life? Sometimes, though, a show like this is indispensable, where the characters you see are raffish reflections of your own selves, and you can laugh and clap in the middle of an episode exclaiming, “I totally understand what these people are going through!” Genshiken’s humor is as subtle as it gets – to the point where you’re not completely sure how to react. It becomes even better for the American wannabes: Here is a taste of true, authentic, Japanese otakudom. Either fling yourself into the fire or run away screaming.
Genshiken’s visual style may not be for everyone. Character designs look slightly blocky, colors are on the dull side, and the animation flows like an airplane on the tarmac – you keep expecting for it to take off but it never does. But the sheer eccentricity of the style may add a rather “genius-like” flourish to an otherwise eyebrow-raising piece of artwork. For one, the utter lack of exciting movement suitably fits Genshiken’s unique pacing, designed to replicate the ambling commonality of a college student’s life. For another, the colors’ darker, earthier tinges seem a little too dark and earthy to not be purposeful. In some ways it acts like how a looming homework assignment would to a middle schooler’s afternoon in front of the tube. As the blander colors of reality (adulthood) creep around the edges of your screen, you acknowledge in a remote corner of your brain that the fun has a limit. Which, I think, is quite clever. (Or it may just be my imagination).
In many ways Genshiken’s tonal palette consists of little more than recorded traffic, college hustle and bustle, buzzing silence, and other mundane soundtracks of an unembellished world. As with the animation, one could view this anomaly as either a stroke of genius or an indication of bad taste. In any case, voices are terrifically gauged to fit their roles, and the luminous opening and closing themes are among the most thoughtful I have encountered.
The best way I can describe Genshiken’s cast is to liken it to an orchestra: Each person plays a different instrument (in which certain ones stand out more than others), and each holds the ability to perform them to a certain extent. But only when one character steps onto the podium as conductor does the group settle into place and commence its harmonious – or hilarious – collaboration.
Of course, every member of the Genshiken club promises his or her own personality bonus, ranging from Madarame’s neuroticism to Sasahara's endearing timidity to Ohno’s love of cosplay to Kohsaka’s understated fanaticism. But only so much can be done in twelve episodes. The writers for Genshiken simply don’t have the time to lavish histories, flashbacks, and emotional turmoil to every single club member. Fortunately, these characters do not allow themselves to be defined by solely one stereotype; their murkier individual personas lend to fluid and interesting interactions, which eventually tie the individuals into a strong group product. Who does the tying? Saki, of course.
As the black sheep of the club, Saki is able to endure the geek-heavy atmosphere for a single end: to spend more time with her boyfriend Kohsaka, and hopefully fish him from his fanboy activities (with little success). Her ferocious grappling with otaku culture singlehandedly becomes the fodder for Genshiken’s humor. Whether it’s through terrorizing Madarame, entering a cosplay contest against her will, dismantling a week’s worth of work, or accidentally setting the school’s courtyard ablaze, it is Saki who highlights the entire group in all its eccentric, riotous glory.
Genshiken remains rather difficult to summarize. It’s part documentary, full comedy, a warm immersion into modern Japanese culture, an illustration of vanishing youth tinged with a hint of nostalgia. The meaning increases with amount of anime watched, so I may not be particularly apt to predict how people will feel. Nevertheless, I find it highly unlikely for anyone to dislike this series.
Why the careful, strange score of 7.25? One thing I wished of the show was a more convincing transmission of intent onto the screen. I feel that the makers of Genshiken held more in their hearts than they showed: Otherwise, an entertaining twelve-episode series about otaku could have blossomed into something much more powerful.
NOTE: This is a review of the entire Genshiken anime series including both seasons and the three-episode OVA.
The first question on your mind might be the same one that was on mine when I first heard about Genshiken; so I think it might be appropriate to answer it right away. What exactly is a genshiken? Genshiken is an abbreviation. This anime revolves around a university club called [GEN]dai [SHI]kaku Bunka [KEN]kyūkai which translates to “The society for the study of modern visual culture”. The club was, as it is explained in the anime, originally formed ten years prior in order to bridge the gap between anime, manga, and video games. However, with the blending of these three originally separated sectors in the recent years, Genshiken has somewhat lost its purpose and is therefore a very inactive club in the beginning of the series.
Genshiken is a comedic slice-of-life parody that revolves around the daily activities of the members of the club. Genshiken doesn’t really have a story with a set beginning, middle and an end. It is an episodic series that sets out to examine what it means to be an otaku in its entirety. The series touches on virtually every subject, issue and area of interest you can think of with regards to the otaku culture. It delves into Cosplay (costume role-play), Plamos (plastic models), Eroge (erotic games), Dōjinshi (fan-made manga that often contains erotic content), “otaku merchandise” (posters, limited edition items…), Akihabara (aka Akiba), anime and manga conventions, fashion, women, money and more. The only area that I can think of that the show doesn’t really touch on too much is with regards to hikikomoris or shut-ins (although they are mentioned and hinted at a few times throughout the series).
Genshiken is often compared to the Welcome to the N.H.K. manga and anime series. There are defiantly similarities but there are also some noteworthy differences. Welcome to the N.H.K. is about the very serious social issue (… or psychological disorder if you will) of hikikomoris and the continual increase of this problem. Welcome to the N.H.K attempts to examine this serious issue using bits of parody and comedy in order to better relate to the viewers, but all the while it never forgets the seriousness and severity of the problem. Genshiken on the other hand is more than anything a comedy. The show never gets too serious (… possibly a bit in the last one or two episodes of the series; but not really). Both shows do examine the otaku culture but unlike Welcome to the N.H.K which concentrates mostly one particular sector (hikikomori), Genshiken looks at the entire otaku culture. You may think of these two shows as complements to each other. Welcome to the N.H.K. fills in the hole that Genshiken leaves by not examining the hikikomori too deeply.
This anime, as you can probably imagine, is full of references to many anime, manga, and video game titles. The writers have tried to avoid using the real names of the titles and events in question in many cases (I assume to avoid lawsuits), but the references are obvious. You can expect to see and hear things such as Gungal (Gundam) and Comifes (based on Comiket which is the largest anime and manga convention in existence). There are also several references to titles that don’t actually exist such as Kujibiki Unbalance which is a fictitious anime series that is displayed throughout the series (Although, Kujibiki Unbalance actually does exist now as a spinoff result of the Genshiken series).
The characters are probably the best part of the Genshiken anime series. The characters each have their own unique personalities, hobbies and interests, and it is through these differences that the series manages to touch on every aspect of the otaku culture. Let’s examine some of these characters:
+ Kousaka Makoto: Kousaka is like a creature from another planet. On the outside, he seems to be almost every woman’s dream guy. He is good-looking, full of confidence, smart, friendly and on top of that he has a great fashion sense. However, the inside is another story. He is a complete otaku (probably more than any other character on the show) and he appears to be hopelessly clueless. If my memory serves correctly, he is at one point rightly referred to as “a race of his own” or something of that effect.
+ Kasukabe Saki: Kasukabe is a great addition to the cast mainly because she is not an otaku. She only appears at the Genshiken doorsteps because she is attracted to Kousaka. Her only desire in the beginning is to stop Kousaka from being an otaku (an impossible task) and she believes she needs to destroy Genshiken to achieve this goal. She is loud, outgoing and violent and hates everything otaku. However, she turns out to have good heart and eventually start to soften up a bit after some time at Genshiken.
+ Madarame Harunobu: Madarame is what you would typically picture when you hear the word otaku. He has the voice, the look, and the demeanor. As he himself says at one point, he is from “planet otaku”. He is also very non-confrontational and that makes him even more fun to watch.
+ Ohno Kanako: Ohno is a Cosplay manic with a cute face and a nice figure. When she is introduced into the story, she has just returned from studying abroad and has been somewhat out of touch with the otaku culture and cosplaying. However, it doesn’t take her long at all to get back into the groove. Most conversations with her somehow end up related to her cosplaying or her trying to make someone else cosplay. Her passion is only fueled when she meets Tanaka Souichiro who loves making cosplay customs, at Genshiken.
+ Manabu Kuchiki: Kuchiki or as he likes to be called, Kuchi, is by far my favorite character in the series. He is only a supporting character but for me, he induced more laughter than all of the other characters combined. Think of the most over the top anime character you have ever seen and assign a number to how over the top that character actually is. Now take the number to the power of fifty and you will have a general idea of how over the top Kuchiki actually is. He overreacts to just about everything and says things others would only think of but never actually say. One of my favorite quotes from the series is one that Kuchiki says about himself which roughly translates to: "when it comes to going ballistic, I've never lost to anyone!”
+ Ogiue Chika: Ogiue is introduced into the series in the three-episode OVA and sticks around for the remainder of the series. She fits perfectly into the Tsundere character archetype. Much to her dismay, she has a serious fetish for yaoi manga (boys’ love / homoerotic manga usually created by females). She is very self-conscious and her interest in yaoi makes her embarrassed enough to hate herself and by a process of transference every other otaku on the planet. Much like Saki, she also starts to loosen up a bit after spending some time at Genshiken.
+ Sasahara Kanji: Genshiken doesn’t really have any characters that can be called THE main character. But if one had to be picked, it would be Sasahara. Now you may be wondering why I am mentioning the main character last. The reason is simple. I found him to be the dullest of all of the characters in the series. He is the boring good-for-nothing harem male lead character that strayed from the yellow brick road and found himself in a non-harem anime. His only redeeming quality, as is common with male harem leads, is that he is nice. That pretty well sums up Sasahara Kanji.
There are other characters in the show that I would like to talk about, but the character section of this review is already more than large enough so I will be skipping the rest.
There is not too much to say about the art and animations in Genshiken. The art and animations are not great, but they are definitely more than acceptable. The style and quality of both can be compared very closely to that of Welcome to the N.H.K.
The voice acting is done pretty well and the characters match their voices in every case. My personal favorites are the voices of Manabu Kuchiki performed by Ishida Akira, and Mitsunori Kugayama performed by Nomura Kenji which I think are done quite brilliantly.
The music is one of the strong points of Genshiken. I love all of the opening and ending songs. Soft and mellow songs were chosen for the ending themes and more upbeat songs for the openings. The lyrics are great and the visuals are fantastic. I was especially impressed with the season 2 OP that contained Gundam lookalikes alongside a song that could very well have been used for a Gundam series.
In sum, Genshiken is a great parody slice-of-life anime that never takes itself too seriously. It will make you laugh and it will even educate you a bit at the same time by giving you great insight into the otaku culture. While full of fun and laughs, the non-story of Genshiken also has a moral theme. That theme is acceptance. Many unique and fascinating characters are introduced throughout the series and despite their differences they befriend each other and all manage to find some common ground. This anime belongs on your must-watch list.
Genshiken is funny. The End.
Seriously, though, this is usually the only thing in comedies that matters. In anime like Dragon Half, Golden Boy or Fumoffu, there really isn't any point other than the sheer quality of the gags. Watching any of those series for anything but laughs is about as productive as using a condom as a water balloon. Sure, you might be able to do it, but you're missing the point entirely.
This isn't really the case, however, with Genshiken. Even though the show is a comedy, the creators are sure to also include some fairly interesting insight into true otaku culture (not the wannabe stuff found in the US). The look into what actually makes these dysfunctional folk function is so intimate, honest and perceptive that only an insider could have ever made it.
None of the otaku in the show are really developed fully as individuals, but as a group they become a living, breathing, and believable portrait of what has become Japan's most defining subculture. In the end, the collective actions are filled with flavor and are the true heart of the show.
Saki, the other major character in the show, acts as a tool to draw out the inherent humor in this brutal honesty. The simple juxtaposition of a relatively mainstream and normal character with the rest of the cast is all that is needed to allow for a good deal of the humor.
When the jokes are handed out, the style is decidedly unique from most comedies that I've seen; whereas most non-ecchi gag series merely try to be as wacky as they can be (FLCL, Hare and Guu, Excel Saga), Genshiken relies primarily on understatement and subtlety. Many of the funniest parts are in the long silences following something extremely awkward, and there are numerous running undercurrents of humor that are never explicated to the point of eliciting a laugh. Some might take issue with this style, but the approach was more than satisfactory for me.
After all is said and done, this is a surprisingly intelligent comedy that manages to be both interesting and likeable. Oh yeah, and Genshiken is funny. The End.
people think that a storyline makes an anime brilliant; I am one of those
people. In Genshiken’s case that is not true, there is no underlying plot in
this anime. Mostly it revolves around the day to day life of the Japanese
otaku, which in my view is a brilliant way to draw in the typical anime
watcher. The rolls into life with Sasahara, a college freshman, looking for a
club to join, thus he stumbles upon Genshiken, which stands for the study of
the modern visually-oriented culture. They do everything otaku related in their
club from anime watching to cosplaying to building figurines of their favourite
anime mechas. Can you think anything better to watch for the anime freak? I
can’t. That is why this anime had such a hold over me that I watched it from
the one morning to the next. They show how the mind of the otaku works and what
they like to do on a daily basis. It reminded me a lot of myself and many other
people who I know who love to watch anime, read manga and the odd doujinshi
here and there.
exceptional, but not mediocre in any way. The only thing that irritated me was
the way they drew the anime which they watch in Genshiken, but who cares? The
character designs were unique in their own ways. Kugayama for instance was a
big, fat guy who had a small voice and stutters when he speaks. Madarame is
also unique in his own right, a thin and weak looking guy who wears glasses.
All the characters were well designed to be excellent otakus.
opening soundtrack was fitting to the story, very upbeat and fast paced. The
closing soundtrack was also nice to listen to, not as fast paced as the intro.
The soundtracks were very well chosen from my point of view. The voice acting
was also brilliantly chosen, again Madarame shone with his shady and not so
is where the anime shone the most to me. Every character had their own
intriguing perks and downfalls, fitting of otakus from my point of view. They
had Ohno as the cosplaying girl with big boobs, Tanaka as the cosplay costume
designer and Kasukabe as the girl that is dating Kousaka, she always tries ways
to get Kousaka, the pretty boy of the group, to stop being an otaku. Sasahara
in my opinion was the shining light of all the characters. He started out as a
normal manga and anime fan, but slowly but surely trough out the story he
evolved into a fully-fledged otaku. His character development increased the
rating of this anime tenfold; it was a delight to see how he learned about
manga, doujinshi, anime and cosplay to the point where he became the character
he was at the end of the anime. You also learn about the characters preferences
towards manga and anime and what encourages them to be the otakus they are.
delight to watch till the very end. Recommended to ALL SERIOUS anime and manga
fans. The story envelopes you in the otakuness that the characters give off and
keeps you coming back for more every time, I think the only time I did pause
the screen was when I needed a bathroom and smoke break. ...Watch this anime...
Ah! What a surprise find! I'm glad I somehow decided to watch this one though I can't remember how I found out about it. It's not often I find a show that is both unique, funny, and a great ride until the end.
Positives: So you start the first episode of Genshiken and you don't know what to really expect of a show that's all about Otaku, but then the cool intro music begins and you are tossed into a fun exchange of a boy trying to decide if he's going to join what is ultimately the nerdiest club on campus. And from then on you get to experience in some part what it may very well be like to be a Japanese Otaku.
If you're not convinced yet then there's also the fact that you'll probably laugh a lot. The first 2/3 of the initial season is really funny. My wife and I laughed out loud a good number of times and she even commented on how surprised she was that she enjoyed this show. (She's not by any stretch an Otaku, nerd, or even really into this sort of thing at all, but she loved this show as well).
The characters are all really fun and while some get more screen time than others the interplay between them is just fantastic and will leave you wanting more, and since there's a second season you're in luck! Right?
Negatives: I didn't really have much to complain about with this show. It's a very solid 4 star in my opinion and the only real downside I can come up with is I wish there was more. It's not going to change your world, and I can imagine that for some it won't be something they enjoy, but for those who may be like me it was a perfect fit.
Once you're done go and enjoy the second season. It's not as strong, and becomes more about how some (most?) Otaku relate to the world sexually (so if that or homesexual storylines aren't your thing then you may want to skip it), but there are still some really fun moments though I think the writers had a lot more trouble coming up with the same level of quality that they did in the first season.
Oh, and the OVA's fit in between the two and I think are as good as the first season. Watch them!