It's the spring of freshman year, and Kanji Sasahara is in a quandary. Should he fulfill his long-cherished dream of joining an otaku club? Saki Kasukabe also faces a dilemma. Can she ever turn her boyfriend, anime fanboy Kousaka, into a normal guy? Kanji triumphs where Saki fails, when both Kanji and Kousaka sign up for Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture.
Undeterred, Saki chases Kousaka through the various activities of the club, from costume-playing and comic conventions to video gaming and collecting anime figures—learning more than she ever wanted to about the humorous world of the Japanese fan...
Genshiken was published as Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture by Del Rey Manga from April 26, 2005 up until volume 9 on November 27, 2007. Kodansha Comics USA picked up the license and has been publishing the series from volume 10 which was released on September 4, 2012 as Genshiken: Second Season, republishing the previous volumes in 3-in-1 omnibuses from May 22, 2012 to January 29, 2013.
There's a huge misconception in the Western world about the word "otaku", especially regarding it's usage. Most Westerners believe that the term refers to someone who is a zealous fan of something, in particular (but not exclusively so), anime and manga, with the word gaining a distinctly positive bias over the years. This is partly due to Gainax's tongue-in-cheek usage of the term in their 1991 movie "Otaku no Video", however the word has much darker and far more derogatory connotations in Japan, something which continues even to this day.
Bit of a sombre beginning to a review of a comedy manga isn't it? Well it does have a purpose, particularly as Genshiken is a series about otaku in their various forms, from the cosplayers and fujoshis (girls who are crazy about "boy's love" stories), to the doujinshi mangakas and the game junkies, and everyone in between.
Created by Kio Shimoku in 2002, the manga quickly filled the void left by Comic Party and established itself as a firm fan favourite due to its realistically humourous take on otaku subculture. The story focuses on a university club called GENdai SHIkaku Bunka KENkyūkai (The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture - the capitalised letters show where the title "Genshiken" comes from), which, in truth, is nothing more than a collection of oddballs and social misfits who are only linked by a love of anime, manga, games, and other pastimes that are the "normal" realms of the social recluse. Into this strange environment walks freshman student and closet otaku Sasahara Kanji, a shy young man who wants to join a club that he would enjoy (and where he might be able to watch/read some hentai/porn).
If there's one memorable aspect of the slice of life plot that the manga adopts, it's the quirky, and often humourous, manner in which the various characters interact with each other. Genshiken is very much a character driven piece which, ironically enough, is also the main reason why the comedy works so well. In truth, the series is very much an otaku sit-com, and much of the humour is derivative of social stereotypes, particularly the more derogatory ones.
The thing that is most pleasing about the plot though, is that it presents a broad spectrum of otaku subculture rather than focusing on one single type. Each of the characters brings something unique to the story, especially Kusakabe Saki, who is basically the only "normal" major character in the series. Whilst it's true that otaku are portrayed through rose-tinted lenses throughout the manga, Genshiken also presents the characters as plausible human beings, something that no other otaku based story has done (until NHK ni Youkoso! that is).
The plot does have its flaws, but in truth these are mostly niggling annoyances rather than anything major. The story progresses at a good pace, neither too fast nor too slow, and because of the emphasis on the characters there are very few occasions where "events" are used to move it forward. Some readers may find certain chapters rather placid, especially those where nothing seems to happen, however it should be remembered that such small tales present the characters in ways that the manga may have only hinted at before.
As far as the artwork goes, I was honestly impressed by the level of simple detail in each panel. The author has taken great care with the designs of each character in an effort to make them as individual as possible while at the same time playing on the social stereotypes. This is particularly notable in the case of Kousaka Makoto, who is unlike the other members of the club (more on this in a bit). Given the focus on the characters and the fact that they are sometimes quite literally under the microscope, it's nice to see that the author has made them expressive in both mannerisms and actions. Facially the characters are pretty simplistic, however they are extremely emotive, and it's easy to tell what each character is feeling at a given time from their expression.
The backgrounds and settings, especially the clubroom where much of the story takes place, can sometimes seem haphazardly drawn, yet they are highly detailed, with very little in the way of open space used throughout the series. Each chapter takes place in an area that is literally filled with "stuff", and while the art may be a bit messy at times, each panel has a sense of realism about it because of the detailed nature of the artwork.
The characters form the centrepiece of Genshiken in terms of both the story and the club itself. Each of them are individuals to a tee, with their own thoughts, feelings, prejudices, hobbies, etc, etc. Genshiken is nothing if not a lesson in characterisation as each of the club members, together with the supporting characters, are complete from the start of the series. One needs to remember that because the story is set in a university club, the characters are adults for the most part. This gives the whole series an edge that many other otaku based tales lack in that the humour, the relationships, the prejudices, the emotions, the hang ups, etc, etc, are all presented in a manner that is more mature, more subtly humourous, and more accessible to fans of anime and manga, especially the older ones.
One of Genshiken's biggest achievements is the degree to which the characters develop over the course of the series. This isn't simply a story based on one year of life, but covers several years during which members of the club leave, whilst new members are admitted. Over the course of the manga there are many notable progressions for each of the characters, Madarame's attempt at shopping for "decent" clothes, Sasahara being made club president, Ohno and Tanaka's cosplay based relationship, and a whole heap of other points where the characters learn something new about themselves and the world.
Probably the most notable and interesting character is Kusakabe Saki, who is very much the epitome of normalcy. She is in a relationship with Kousaka Makoto, a self confessed otaku who, against all of Kuskabe's reasoning, logic and judgement, looks nothing like the stereotypical "freak". He is handsome, smart, stylish, sociable and amiable, and cares for her deeply. He is also the king of eroge (erotic video games), an anime junkie, and a dedicated club member. It is because of his association with Genshiken that she meets the other characters, and although she has a deeply rooted dislike for all things otaku, this openly conflicts with her desire to be with Kousaka, and with her gradual realisation that otakus may not be as bad as she first thought.
Kusakabe's relationship with Genshiken is probably the most important point of the story, as even though the otaku characters are very much plays on social stereotypes, she represents the voice of "society", and her gradual understanding of otaku subculture plays a huge part in the development of the story and every other character. In truth, one could say that Kusakabe is the most important character in the story, and that while Sasahara may be the main lead, she is the one whose influence on the other characters is the most telling.
Genshiken is a series like no other, not simply in terms of its realistic portrayal of otaku subculture, but also because of its sensitivity, humour, maturity, and the depth of its characters. Any fan of anime or manga will find themselves relating to the story in ways that they probably never thought of, no matter the age of the reader, and it's this level of accessibility that makes the series truly great. The dichotomy between normal and otaku is handled extremely well, however it should be noted that this is very much based on the Japanese perception of otaku.
At the beginning of the review I mentioned that the word "otaku" is misinterpreted in the Western world, and it's understanding this fact that brings new depth and meaning to almost every aspect of the manga, from Ogiue's unwillingness to "come out of the closet", to Kusakabe's efforts to have a "normal" relationship with Kousaka. If the reader remembers that, for Japanese people at least, the word "otaku" is generally a derogatory term (although admittedly this perception is changing as anime, manga and games become more and more mainstream), then much of the story becomes more understandable.
One thing I think will clear things up a bit more is the anime series called Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu. In that show, the lead female character is a closet otaku who was shunned, teased and bullied to a degree when her schoolmates found out she was a huge fan of anime and manga. It may surprise many to know that this sort of reaction to fans of anime and manga was once considered acceptable, as otaku were, for the most part, shunned like lepers. This is how the word "otaku" is viewed in Japan. Not as something positive, but as something purely negative and derogatory.
Genshiken may be a comedy series, however it is in no way like Comic Party, Lucky Star, or any other otaku based comedies. The series possesses a sense of realism that is unlike many other manga, especially in terms of its interactions, and key to fully appreciating the story is knowing how the word "otaku" is meant to be used.
Now that you know the difference, give Genshiken another try. You may be surprised at how different it is.read more
With a medium-sized cast of characters, Genshiken provides a rich and realistic portrayal of otaku life, showing the otaku as not necessarily a positive or negative subculture, but simply one that is.
The characters designs are unique, with distinct yet reasonably subdued designs backed by an elaborately detailed look at the otaku world around them. The artwork changes significantly over time, but it manages to remain at a high quality all throughout. The only point in which the art suffers a little is in the volume 8 4-panel comics.
The series can be divided into roughly two parts, with the arrival of the character Chika Ogiue. Her appearance results in a gradual shift from a more general view of otaku life to more personal character studies, prioritizing their lives as human beings over the fact that they are otaku. However, that should not be cause for alarm, as the characters remain true to their existence, and the story Shimoku Kio proves is emotionally satisfying.
I cannot recommend Genshiken enough.
Summary: Genshiken starts off good. Then Ogiue appears. Which turns it from good to great. No, great isn't a sufficiently positive adjective for it.
So I'll say that Genshiken turns from good to Ogiue.read more
Genshiken: A fairly simple story concept which gets executed with surprisingly deep results. This is a tale of a loosely-run club of otakus, and of the trials and tribulations of the various members. Although none of the plots of the show is entirely original, the characters and the fact that they suffer through realistic otaku problems (combined with the fact that most readers are probably otaku) make it a very fun, and occasionally emotional, manga.
Characters: You have Sasahara (freshman), the introverted guy who opens up as he gets to know the rest of the club members. Kohsaka (also a freshman), who is the hardest of the hardcore in otakudom, but who looks like a normal guy. Madarame, a guy who wears otaku pride on his sleeve, has trouble dealing with ordinary emotions when he feels them (personally, I see his story as the most heart-wrenching). Saki, a non-otaku, stuggles to realte to her otaku boyfriend. Ogiue, a disgruntled artist, deals with her conflicting emotions towards otakudom (is one, but hates others). Other cast members are well developed, making the group dynamic very believable.
Art: Fairly expressive, and very cute (in a non-moe way). The first reason why I loved this manga was the twist on the classic "blood vessel pop" that Shimoku uses especially with female characters.
Story: The plot tracks various members of the club through their four years of development as otaku and humans. The overall premises aren't spectacular, but are enough to carry the group dynamic along.
Overall: A very nice, relaxed, funny, and heartful manga. Definitely worth a look.read more
What is Genshiken about? Put simply, it's about a group of college students who hang around in a college club for the 'study' of manga, anime and video games, the club being called Genshiken (The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture). The group go to Comicfest (a convention held twice a year where fan made manga gets sold) twice a year and hold a school event once a year, but most of the series takes place within the Genshiken club room. Also, there's no real main character -- some characters got more 'page time' then others but there wasn't a character that was focused on a significant amount more than the others.
Genshiken is a very odd series. You'd expect a series with a small amount of main characters, not a lot of variation in the backgrounds and lots of repetitive otaku (people with obsessive interests, with manga, anime and/or video games usually being the interest) fun to get boring after reading for awhile. But that wasn't the case with Genshiken -- whenever I opened up one of the volumes, I found myself able to read the book from back to front without issue. Maybe it's because I'm into anime, manga and video games myself and, to certain extent at least, can relate to the cast? I don't know. All I know for sure is that the dialogue was well written, the art was very well drawn and the author just generally put a lot of effort into his work. As a series made for otaku by an otaku, it succeeds.
A large amount of the chapters involve the cast simply sitting in the club room and talking about whatever the chapter in question focuses on. This allows Genshiken to be easy to pick-up and read, but it also means that the manga will fail in the eyes of someone who isn't able to like or connect with the characters. So, in a nutshell, what makes Genshiken work is the characters, and that's why I'm going to spend most of this review covering the characters in as much non-spoilerific detail as possible.
One of the few negative comments I can throw at Genshiken is that a couple of the characters don't come across as realistic. The majority do, Madarame in particular coming across as very real, but I can't say the same about the best character (in my opinion, of course) in the story, Kasukabe, and her boyfriend Kousaka. It was a smart move by the author to attempt to link the lives of otaku to the the life of a 'normal', clothes loving woman because it allowed people who aren't as crazy as the rest of the cast to connect to at least one character. However, it's hard to believe that, for a period of around four years, a 'normal' woman would hang around with a group of otaku when she doesn't even have much interest in what the rest of the group are into. And as for Kousaka, her boyfriend, have you ever seen or heard of a real otaku that has sex appeal, doesn't wear glasses, spends money on fashionable clothes AND has an incredibly hot/understanding girlfriend? I rest my case. And in terms of personality, he's just an airhead...or, put in a more nasty way, he doesn't seem all the ticket. I assume his character was only created in order to link Kasukabe with Genshiken, and that's exactly why his character was a failure in my eyes -- rather than him having been created as a realistic otaku, he was made completely unrealistic in attempt to make 'normal' Kasukabe loving him and joining Genshiken to be with him realistic. For a story that's supposed to show the lives fictional but real people, the above two just don't quite fit.
I do love Kasukabe's character, though. Believable or not, she has the sort of fiery personality usually reserved for red-heads, and I must confess to having something of a fetish for the 'red-head personality'. Her character alone made the series funny at first with her comments and general lack of understanding with regards to how obsessive manga/anime/video games fans function. It was hard not to laugh when she had a serious discussion about her boyfriend deciding to switch positions during sex (doggy style, if interested) so that he could face the TV when an anime episode was on. Again, I have to question the believability since I find it hard (think anything twisted and you're a pervert) to imagine any male being able to focus on a TV screen whilst having sex with an attractive woman...but, of course, that didn't make the mental image any less funny. Her role did, sadly, become less important as the story went on due to her becoming more accepting of the group she, for some odd reason, spends a lot of time with for four years of her life. I kept hoping she'd switch from being more of a supporting character and return to being more of a main character but it became clear she wasn't going to once she stopped trying to get the Genshiken club to vanish.
As for the rest of the cast, only Madarame, a true otaku, was a truly memorable character. The rest of the characters have a quirk or two that separates them from each other but very little personality beyond those quirks. Madarame, on the other hand, came across as a person as well as an otaku. He had the 'camera' pointed at him a lot during the first half of the story, just like Kasukabe did, and that resulted in him receiving some decent development as he and Kasukabe, opposites in just about every respect, bounced words off each other. The most interesting aspect of his character is the hidden feelings he holds for Kasukabe and how he hides his true feelings because he knows she'll never return them, which allowed him to become more than just another otaku -- he became a person with understandable emotions; not just an insane guy. One of the best chapters involved Madarame attempting to act normal when alone with Kasukabe in the Genshiken room for the first time, with her oblivious to the fact that he was sweating like a pig and didn't know where to look or what to do in order to look normal. Sadly, like with every relationship of this kind where, for one reason or another, the male won't reveal his feelings, the scenes the two shared alone never built up to anything beyond friendship...but there was a chapter close to the end that repeated the earlier chapter where the two were alone near the start, and this time around they actually managed to talk, which showed how much they'd both changed over the course of the story.
As the story moved closer to the end, a new character, who would end up getting a huge amount of chapters focused on her, came into the story -- Ogiue, an otaku in denial who enjoys drawing hardcore yaoi. The story started focusing more on the characters and less on otaku culture around the time Ogiue came into the picture. She was very difficult to like or understand because what she said (otaku hate) and what she did (joining otaku clubs, reading/drawing yaoi) contradicted each other. The reasoning behind her actions was explained in volume 8, but what was shown didn't seem to be a good enough reason for her to act as bitchy as she did for a lengthy period. Tsundere or not, I was never able to like her very much because what she did and the reasons behind what she did weren't equal enough for me to think, "Oh, I can understand why she was such a pain in the arse now. The poor thing..."
...If I keep going like this, talking about each character in detail, it's going to go on all year, so now that I've covered the most important characters I'm going to cover the rest of the important characters in a few sentences:
Sasahara (Kanji) - The first character in the story. He joins Genshiken right after he starts at his new college. At first he's afraid to admit he's an otaku and show his true colours, but the Genshiken group soon enable him to come out from within himself. He's a passive, rather boring character -- the sort that fades from memory quickly. He didn't have much to do until near the end, where he and Ogiue started spending a fair amount of time together. Out of all the characters, he was the most plain and lacked individuality.
Ohno: the cosplay freak. She joined Genshiken in order to cosplay. At first I thought she was just going to be there to show off her gigantic breasts in various costumes and smile (in other words, fan service), but her personality came out quickly once she started arguing about cosplay being a form of expression and the good of yaoi. She was one of the better, most likeable characters.
Tanaka - The model building and costume creating freak. He's not really a very important character, and he fades away like nearly all of the early cast do as the series goes on, but I thought I'd mention him because he's an important character for Ohno -- he makes all of her costumes and is involved in nearly all of cosplay related chapters.
There are a few other members of Genshiken but none of them are important enough for me to spend another couple of paragraphs covering. I'm sure after reading the above you will have a good feel for most of the cast and know if Genshiken sounds like your cup of tea already.
Like I said before I started talking about the characters, Genshiken doesn't have a main plot thread and, aside from a few chapters, most of the stories are self-contained. It's hard to rate the plot because of that. I was going to give the plot a 9 because, in this series, the plot and characters are one and the same...however, the open, inconclusive ending made me reduce the rating to 8 instead. Don't you just hate it when a story ends at a random point, without telling you anything about what happens to the characters? The Count of Monte Cristo did after 1250 pages; ‘Welcome to the NHK’, a very similar series to Genshiken, did and Genshiken also did. The blow was softened a little with Genshiken because there was a bonus chapter included that showed the characters talking after the end, but that didn't really make up for the abrupt nature of the ending.
Talking of bonuses, each Genshiken volume was full of extras. Every chapter has at least two four-panel stories, which connect to the chapter they appear after. They're all fairly amusing and added to my overall enjoyment. There was also a couple of bonus chapters, including what I mentioned above, and Del Rey spent a few pages in every volume explaining what certain words meant and what characters were referring to when they talked about certain otaku related things. If you're the sort of person who gets annoyed with buying anime DVDs and discovering no extras were put on the disc then reading the Genshiken volumes will please you.
And, finally, the art needs to be talked about a little. Each character was drawn excellently and I had no problem differentiating between them. It's worth mentioning that the characters often changed clothes between the chapters, which made the characters more real and showed that the author was far from a lazy person. And to back up that point, I'd also like to mention that the backgrounds are very detailed -- it was impressive to see that, in an attempt to make the rooms of the main characters look real, lots of games, books and models were included in their messy rooms.
The reason I haven't given the art max points? The Genshiken room. It appeared so much that I was able to memorize the layout, and that's saying a lot when I'm a goldfish. I got a little tired of seeing the exact same background over and over. It's not really a flaw when the series wouldn't have worked if not for the Genshiken room, but still...
Overall, I loved Genshiken. I put it straight into my top five after finishing it. There are few, if any, better character driven stories out there. It's a must read for every manga/anime fan because there aren't any out there that wouldn't be able to see parts of themselves in the characters. If money isn't tight or if you don't like to take the anti-piracy moral high ground then I recommend you read this series as soon as possible because you won't be able to stop reading once you start.