Alright class! Butts in seats! Samurai-Sensei here, and what do you know, we’ve finally reached the College-Level in the back to school reviews. This last review will touch on a series that, in more ways than one, has touched my heart and spoke to my inner otaku. “Genshiken”, in its simplest form, is a celebration of the fans–showing the intimate details of how an otaku’s mind works and how we behave towards each other in groups! What is it about “Genshiken” that speaks to the heart and soul of the fan? Well, pull out your textbooks, class, and let the lecture begin!
Warnings and Objectionable Content – While this series does bring up the inevitable subject of anime and pornography, doujinshi, and some other sexual items in nature, on the whole, “Genshiken” is a pretty clean series. I would recommend it for those 13 and older, right along the lines of the official rating.
Series Availbility – Gee, its been a while since I said this, but this series is actually pretty well out there for purchase. While it might be limited in some brick and mortar stores, online retailers like Wal-Mart and Best Buy have them in full supply. There’s even a “Complete Collection” that includes both seasons and the OVA. It’s a little pricey, but considering all that you get, its not that bad.
Story Premise – “Genshiken” is a twelve episode series based on a manga created by Shimoku Kio. There is a second season called “Genshiken 2”, but for the purposes of this review, we’ll be reviewing the first season only. The series starts off with a flashback of a young girl dragging a teddy bear in what looks to be a barren wasteland. We then cut to a bubbly opening sequence featuring a young, slightly curvy girl in a school uniform. Cut to the first scene where our main character is cooking breakfast and calling for his sister to–oh…wait…this is an anime in an anime–that is, this is a show that one of our characters is watching. Nicely played “Genshiken”. Nicely played. I stand corrected. “Genshiken” is really the story of a group of otaku in college who are a part of a club known as “The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture”. The club was founded under the basis of blurring the lines between anime, manga, video games and other visual media. The story follows the day-to-day lives of this particular group of fans [and one non-fan…] as they deal with the ups and downs of otaku culture; whether it’s attending the mass exodus known as Comiket [“Comic Market“], constructing models of their favorite mecha, dealing with those outside the fandom, or discussing, dissecting, and digesting the most recent episode of the hottest new show. “Genshiken” is a window into the world of the fan. It’s everything that a slice of life anime should be–it opens a window into the world of the college otaku and lets you take part in their day-to-day activities. I love the fact that, even with the addition of a new character about half way into the series, “Genshiken” still keeps its cool, level pace without falling into the whole “OMG, We have a new character! Let’s devote a whole episode just to that one character!” She falls into the ranks perfectly as though she were there the whole time. Also, the idea of creating the show within the show, namely “Kujibiki Unbalance”, is a brilliant way to show our characters in their own element and make them shine. It would’ve been EASY to just have the characters discuss some random, 0ff-camera anime and refer to scenes and dialogue that we, the viewer, never see. But the idea that the creators went the extra step and actually created a whole SHOW with a real plot and characters shows just how dedicated the creators were to make “Genshiken” a true tale of the otaku. The ending of “Genshiken” is excellent both as a stand-alone conclusion giving you hope for the future of our characters, and as a setup for things to come in “Genshiken 2”. Overall, “Genshiken” fits the bill perfectly as a slice of life and even a coming of age story…or rather, in the case of our main character, a coming of otaku story. [25/25]
Favorite Scene – In Episode 3, there’s a scene when our main character, Sasahara, has finally blended in and accepted his otakuness and is going shopping with the other members of Genshiken at Comic Festival. He sets off on his own and begins going wild, buying just about every dojinshi in sight featuring the Student Council President character in “Kujibiki Unbalance”. When he says the line “Oh… I feel like something inside my skull is about to crack it open and come crawling out!” I immediately laughed and said to myself “Heaven know’s I’ve been there!”
Characters – “Genshiken” starts off with our main character, college freshman Kanji Sasahara, as he begins looking for a club to join up with. Sasahara is an otaku in potentia–a fan without an outlet for expressing his fandom or friends to share it with. On top of that, he’s a little shy about revealing his love of anime, manga, games etc to others. When I first saw “Genshiken”, way back in the day on a “NewType USA” Preview DVD, my eyes immediately went wide. “Holy crap, that’s me!” I related so much to Sasahara it wasn’t even funny! The awkwardness and the shyness he shows is just so real and true to life it’s scary! His determination to be involved with the group is amazing, and it happens so naturally, it’s almost funny. Acting as the de facto leader of “The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture” [and eventually full leader…] is Harunobu Madarame. Madarame is almost your textbook definition of an otaku. He loves the object of his fandom to almost manic proportions and passionately defends it to the hilt. However, he does have an understanding and nurturing side, taking Sasahara under his wing and showing him just how to be an otaku without shame. Kosaka Makoto, the pretty boy blonde gamer otaku, is an enigma. He’s a very handsome fellow, yet he’s a manic gamer who hangs out with otaku. He has a girlfriend and shows her some attention and affection at times, but put a good manga, anime or video game in front of him, and all that goes offline. It’s funny to watch, yet you really feel for his girl. Speaking of, Saki Kasukabe, the lone non-otaku main character in the show, is the perfect representation of an outsider in a foreign world. Though she really likes Kousaka, she find it extremely hard to take him, games and all and finds it even harder dealing with the other guys in Genshiken. This is an awesome dynamic to the group, and her character only makes the show that much better as she comes to…tolerate the group that her man has become involved with. Soichiro Tanaka is the clubs resident model maker and cosplay expert. He’s the cool, level-headed voice of the group, expressing his otakuness through his cosplay and model making. He makes a great sempai for both Sasahara and for Genshiken’s newest member, the soft-spoken cosplayer Kanaka Ohno. Ohno is a cute little character with a lot of personality, expressed through her love of cosplay. In a way, she reminds me of Hinata from “Naruto”…if Hinata were a cosplay otaku. [Which probably would’ve made “Naruto” a helluva lot more interesting…] Lastly, we have the gentle artistic giant Misunori Kugayama. He’s a cool character known for his drawing talents and his distinct stutter. Overall, all the characters in “Genshiken” act as a mirror for many different kinds of fans, and each one of them are accurately portrayed in this series. [25/25]
Animation – The animation of “Genshiken” is pretty decent. There are a few cases where character designs vary slightly from episode to episode, but on the whole, this show looks very well put together and it actually stays true to the original manga. I especially have to give props for the animation of the internal series “Kujibiki Unbalance”. For a show that was only made to be an anime within an anime, a lot of attention to detail was given to it and it looks like a show that can stand up on its own even in real life. [10.5/12.5]
Music – The opening theme for “Genshiken”, “My Pace Daioh” [“King of My Own Pace”] by manzo, is the ultimate rally cry and anthem for awkward, lanky guys and girls everywhere. It’s a song that says “Sure, you might not be the strongest or the fastest, but if you go at your own pace in life, you’re bound to find happiness.” It’s inspiring, energetic, and just an overall great song to blast from your stereo. And when it’s matched with the on-screen animation showing our main characters going about their day-to-day both on their own and as a group, it makes you laugh and it makes you look forward to the adventures ahead. The ending theme, “Biidama” [“Marble”] by Saori Atsumi [Who also performed the ending theme from “Midori Days”…] is quaint, peaceful and plays well over the slow pan across our characters in the club room. The incidental music is quirky and cool and, dare I say it, HIP! It gives me a real smooth, almost jazzy vibe. [12.5/12.5]
Performances and Production – “Genshiken” was directed in Japan by Takashi Ikehata. He has a somewhat spartan record, truth be told. Most of his resume consists of directing bits and pieces of random series. Here in the US, the project was licensed by Media Blasters and dubbed by Headline Sound Studios. Headline Sound was also in charge of the dub for “Boys Be…” , “His and Her Circumstances”, and “To Heart” among others. At the helm of this project, and playing the role of Madarame is Bill Timoney. Now, I’ve beat the whole “Directors Want to Act in their Own Shows” horse before, and dawg gone it, I’m gonna have to lay a punch on this one too…but not too hard. While all the other actors in this put on a great consistent performance, worthy of their Japanese counterparts, Bill Timoney’s portrayal of Madarame at times did not match up to the original actor, Nobuyuki Hiyama. There were times when Madarame was supposed to sound all excited and spastic in the Japanese, but in the English he doesn’t quite match that same energy. Don’t get me wrong, about 95% of the time, he’s spot on, and he does an awesome job, but it’s just that 5% that is lacking and for a series as short as this one, with so few characters, it’s noticeable. The only other thing that I have a problem with is episode 2–the town of Akihabara is pronounced differently by several members of the cast. Aside from that, “Genshiken” is a joy to listen to in the English dub. Michael Perreca as our male lead Kanji Sasahara is excellent, giving our lead character a whole lot of heart. Kenneth Robert Marlo as our pretty boy otaku Kosaka Makoto is good, but there are spots where he can sound a little monotone without any emotion to his voice and I wish he would’ve turned up the performance a few notches. Carol Jacobanis as our female non-otaku Saki Kasukabe is all kinds of awesome. She plays the role as the skeptic very well and her performance was flawless in that regard. Bill Rogers as the model building Soichiro Tanaka is very good, though I can’t help but think of Brock whenever I hear him speak, and it doesn’t help matters much that Tanaka hardly opens his eyes much like the Pokemon Breeder in question. Playing the stuttering and shy Misunori Kugayama is Rome Elliot. Take it from a person who stumbles and stutters over his words somewhat frequently, the speech affliction that Kugayama has is played perfectly. Rounding out or main cast we have Rachael Lillis as Kanaka Ohno. I swear, she has to have the cutest voice in this whole project. It’s absolutely perfect for our shy little Ohno. [20/25]
Story Breakdown – 25/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 10.5/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 20/25
Final Score – 93/100 = 93% – (B+)
Lagniappe [A Little Something Extra…]:
- The name “Genshiken” is a shortened version of the clubs official name, Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyūkai.
- Pay close attention to the opening title sequence. During the scene when Kousaka is playing “Guilty Gear”, the fighter he is using lands three combo hits in time with the song!
- The games that many of the members of “Genshiken” play are, in fact, real video games. This is mostly because Sega Sammy Holdings, a merged company that includes the Sega Corporation, co-produced the show.
- During the photo shoot scene in Episode 3, a girl can be seen dressed as Shinobu from the gag anime series “Ninja Nonsense: The Legend of Shinobu”. [A show I have GOT to get around to reviewing…] She is also seen holding what appears to be a stuffed Onsokumaru.
- The doujinshi festival that the Genshiken group attends in Episode 3 is called ‘ComiFes’, short for ‘Comic Festival’. This is, of course, a rehash of the actual “Comiket” or ‘Comic Market’ that occurs several times in Tokyo, Japan. The venue that the festival is held is called “Tokyo Big Sight”, a large arena with iconic upside down pyramids and multiple halls and atriums. Comiket and ComiFes can be seen in several different series including “Comic Party” and “Lucky Star”.
- The song Kousaka is singing towards the end of episode 2 is called “Hajimete no Chuu” [My First Kiss]. It is one of many opening themes from a long running anime series called “Kiteretsu Daihyakka” [Kiteretsu Encyclopedia].
- The DVD Release of “Genshiken” in the US includes a special section devoted to the meta-anime “Kujibiki Unbalance” which includes one full episode of the show per disk [Dubbed in the US as well…] as well as interviews with the performers of the opening theme song.
- Three full-length episodes of “Kujibiki Unbalance” were created for “Genshiken” including a first episode, a ‘recap’ episode and the first of a two-part last episode. Though viewers of “Genshiken” never actually see the full episodes, they are available on the 3-Volume DVD release. A few months later, “Kujibiki Unbalance” was released as its own twelve episode show and on its three-volume DVD set, three episodes of a new “Genshiken” OVA were added as “bonus features”.
- Our good friend TWWK over at “Beneath the Tangles” recently wrote up an awesome article about the relationship between Saki and Madarame. It should be noted that a manga called “Spotted Flower” came out in 2009 created by Shimoku Kio; the manga-ka who created “Genshiken”. This story features a newlywed couple, a male otaku with glasses and a non-otaku girl, get ready to have their first child together. The couple in question, while not named, are presumed by many to be Saki and Madarame, and it doesn’t help matters much that they look a LOT like Saki and Madarame. [Way to go dude…]
So where does that leave us? Well, simply put, “Genshiken” is a unique peek into the world many are apart of, but few understand; the world of the otaku. Though this show does have a few slight stumbles, “Genshiken” is a show that everyone who even REMOTELY consider themselves as being a fan of anime, manga or video games should watch…because it is a show that pays homage to you. With its detailed, true to life story, characters that make you jump up and shout “Hey! I know that guy!”, excellent animation, AMAZING music, and well done acting in both languages, “Genshiken” reminds us all that it’s okay to be different…just so long as you’re having fun in the process.
Okay guys! Consider yourself schooled in some of the best and worst of school anime! I hope you guys appreciate all that we were able to accomplish! October is going to be a rather unique month! It’s time to let your blood run cold and for shivers to run up your spine as we go into the world of spooky anime! Also, we’ll be celebrating our One Year Anniversary, so you KNOW that I’ll have to do something special! But that’s not till later! In the meantime, to kick off the month of the spookiness, we’re going to check out yet another show that I’ve wanted to review for quite a while! It has something for everyone; zombies, weaponry, action, adventure, fall-on-your-face comedy, and high school girls wearing…well…not that much. Stick around, wont you, as we dive into the bloody, full-figured world of…
Highschool of the Dead