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.
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.
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.
Oh dear me. When you have an anime based on Otaku life, its not going to always be pretty. Still, the show is rather good for its own right. It was odd because the very first episode actually felt like my group of friends just sitting and talking anime like the podcast. Also, for those that want to learn a little bit, I should say you should watch all the way through the credits because after, they sometimes have little facts. I even learned from them even though I watch tons of anime.
The main character is really a bland guy, but I feel that they did this for a reason. It brought us into this world with somewhat a clean view on things. Now if only he wasn’t always talking about Hentai and dojinshi… I guess on the bright side, he is in a point that he’s not a complete otaku but more on the edge who is just learning the deeper parts of his fandom.
What’s great about an anime like this is that there is a character that anyone could really relate to, not just the main character. Sometimes you can even take parts of the characters and put them together to represent you. They have the cosplayer, the game player, the over obsessed guy, an artist, and even a newbie in the group as well. All these characters help give a wide variety of storylines to grab hold of and give you a sense of connection. The feeling I normally get watching this is that this little clubhouse, this small sanctuary of otaku-dom is pretty much their home. They are almost like one big family who doesn’t want to lose their life.
The only person that really creeps me out is the head chairman. He has really black eyes and acts really odd most of the time. Also, many times he talks in almost a out of this world manner. Just something that really creeped me out when he actually did anything.
People don’t really notice this but this show has a lot of philology involved in the show. It does dive into the reasons as to why people go to anime without going way to out of control. They dissect what makes an otaku an otaku and the reasons behind why some people don’t like it and some do. It’s also about people trying new things weather or not they will actually like it.
The animation is very bland, looking a little like Colorful but not as bad. It’s a step in the right direction at least and they do have a rather good contrast between the real world with its rather toned down colors and the anime side with its bright and rich colors. I never really found any point where they lacked art styles or was off. If something was, then it was slight and pretty much unnoticeable. What you see in the first episode is what you get throughout the show when it comes to art style with it only slightly getting better as it was going. Each of the ending credits surprised me though. The artwork for the ending actually changes each show. It’s not always the same ending.
The dub isn’t really all that bad actually. It’s an older one so some of the voices are slightly stiff, but it doesn’t feel unnatural. I would think they actually would be stiff when meeting new people or so and it’s not like they don’t end up warming up.