Ever wanted to join an anime club but felt its geekiness would hurt your reputation? Sasahara feels your pain. Genshiken, the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, is an organization of college otaku obsessed with anime, manga and video games. Their daily activities include holding impromptu cosplay photo shoots, braving the crowds and avoiding injury at doujinshi conventions, and tolerating harassment by Saki, a girl irked by her boyfriend's otaku-ness! It's a perfect match for Sasahara's interests, so why is it so difficult for him to join?
StoryThe 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 Sigh. 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.AnimationGenshiken’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).SoundIn 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.CharactersThe 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.OverallGenshiken 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.
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.
Rating an anime highly just because it discusses that being an otaku is okay? Give me a break. This series, first of all, has terrible art and animation. The character art is that kind of lumpy facial style that seems to be the default shabbiest "acceptable" anime art form for people. It is completely lacking in style, substance, or detail. I am not just lashing out at random or trying to claim authority, this is seriously true; for instance, characters nearly never have elbows if their arms are straight (e.g. episode 3, near the end Kousaka randomly loses his elbows when he is crouched over, and just has claymation style lump arms). The animation has this kind of feel like it gets stuck in movement over and over, I imagine because there are just simply not enough panels. The coloring is good, but nothing detailed enough to make up for the rest. The thing that really made me decide "this might be the single worst anime I have ever seen" was the within episode anime and hentai, which is all the lowest grade, sixth grade fanfiction junk I have ever seen. The within episode anime basic style is not so bad, it is the type of style Negima takes after for instance, but it is drawn so blockily, so completetly undetailed, that everything looks like a complete caricature. It would be one thing if this were more of a comedy, but this is supposed to be establishing otaku as "being okay" more than that. The overall effect is to prove everything everyone says bad about anime and otakus right. The characters are losers, no mistake about that, but the characterization is decent a lot of the time. Unfortunately, when it slips back into portions like "the main character bumbling his way through terrible hentai as if he just started puberty, but unfortunately he is a college student," then that is right down the toilet. The only gags come from the non-otaku being mad (with suitably terrible art), often about otaku stuff, which degrades her character as well. Honestly in the end this series just shows "most people who like nerdy stuff are a little terrible...", so I am not sure exactly why people are so gaga over this. It definitely does not redeem nerd culture, and even has the "appealing" otaku as singled out as weird by his fellow otakus for not being as terrible as them.. It just says "being an otaku is mildly terrible, not completely miserable like people think!" What a message of hope! I guess if you identify with being terrible, then this is the anime for you, but otherwise stay away.
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