Reviews

Feb 25, 2014
gwern (All reviews)
By this point, one knows what to expect from a _Genshiken_ and whether one likes it: the clubroom will be stuffed full of figurines and posters from real anime which the viewer can enjoy trying to identify; Ohno will be cosplaying all the time and try to get others to cosplay; Sasahara will be mild and helpful; Kousaka will be pretty and not do anything; Ogiue will draw yaoi manga while looking like a paint brush; Madarame will be cadaverously thin and live in his head (but be much more subdued and less of a delightful eristic); Sue will be very blond and very blue-eyed as she occasionally quotes some anime; and Kuchiki will be an asshole, who serves to remind us, as we reminisce about our anime club days, how there was always that one guy who was irritating & obnoxious; the club will attend summer Comiket, buying & selling stuff; someone will worry about graduation and going into the real world (Anno: "I wonder if a person over the age of twenty who likes robots is really happy?"); etc.

Having mostly graduated, the club faces its usual recruitment crisis and Ogiue's drawing of a guy from the Japanese civil wars reels in a few more yaoi fans: a genki girl, a trap, and a fat girl. Genki is a decent supporting character, and I found the fat girl interesting: anime in general do not seem to include very many fat women as characters, much less sympathetic ones, and usually plays them for cheap laughs as grotesqueries (the most recent one I've seen being in _Hataraku Maou-sama!_). The trap character, unfortunately, is played pretty much as one expects: a cheap source of laughs and ambiguously-sexual tension with one of the few remaining male characters, Madarame. The trap has almost the same back story as Ogiue and the ultimate resolution is odd. I don't mind the yaoi material, in fact, I appreciate it as symmetrical to the earlier seasons which focused on a mostly-male cast and their corresponding interests and as some coverage of a subculture I know little about with their correspondingly nerdy arguments (even if I have no freaking clue who are the generals they are arguing about), but the trap is just a waste.

Episode 11 was the main highlight of the series for me (especially since I am older than when I first watched _Genshiken_ season 1 all the way back in 2006 or so): it finished the Saki/Madarame plot thread, the main outstanding issue from the 'first generation'. Shut up together in the clubroom, with figures and posters of _Kujibiki Unbalance_ (and particularly the Saki-stand-in character) prominent in the background, both finally speak aloud what everyone knows: Madarame has a crush on Saki. And Saki turns him down. As expected, as is realistic. Their connection is cut, unfinished business resolved. To their surprise, the release of the tension, even after being rejected & rejecting, is far better than the rejection. Madarame sadly, wistfully, smiles one last time (and here I'm reminded of Anno's comment on Rei Ayanami: 'At the end Rei says "I don't know what to do," and Shinji says, "I think you should smile," and Rei smiles...Afterwards, when I thought about it, I cursed. In short, if she and Shinji completely "communicated" there, then isn't she over with? At that moment, Rei, for me, was finished. When she smiled, she was already finished, this character.') and comments "It really was fun. It really was... fun." And we flash to an empty clubroom (from the earlier seasons, I think).

And with that, Madarame's story is over. We can look back and see the whole arc, beginning to end; to quote Gene Wolfe's critical essay "Nor the Summers as Golden: Writing Multivolume Works" (http://gwern.net/docs/2007-wolfe):

"The ending of the final volume should leave the reader with the feeling that he has gone through the defining circumstances of Main Character's life. The leading character in a series can wander off into another book and a new adventure better even than this one. Main Character cannot, at the end of your multivolume work. (Or at least, it should seem so.) His life may continue, and in most cases it will. He may or may not live happily ever after. But the problems he will face in the future will not be as important to him or to us, nor the summers as golden."

And even more with that, the world of the original _Genshiken_ is gone. Each generation is its own world, and the members begin separating. Saki and Kousaka are inseparable; Ohno & Tanaka are going into cosplay business and marrying; Sasahara & Ogiue are on the first rungs of the manga world; Kuchiki is (as we're told repeatedly) going into finance; Madarame's destiny is not yet fixed but is away from the university; like the original President, they surely still exist and will go on to other things, but the viewer has a definite sense: they may (or may not) live happily ever after, may or may not become famous mangaka or powerful editors or prestigious businessmen or wealthy bankers. But they will keep their memories of the Society for the Study of Visual Culture, and the summer Comikets will never be as golden.

For those who like the new cast, this is fine. Out with the old, in with the new. For those who identified much more with the old cast than the new, _Genshiken Nidaime_ may be the end of the road.