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.