Mar 5, 2008
Psychonaut (All reviews)
If you were ever sitting around with your friends one day talking about anime, munching on pocky, sifting eagerly through the plunder and spoils after a grueling day at your favorite convention, wishing you could find a date, dreaming about selling your own Japanese animation idea, and wondering about your future, well then, my fellow otaku, a show has been made about you.

Genshiken, adapted from the manga by Kio Shimoku, is about a college club for otaku who never quite grew out of the doujinshi, cosplay, and resin-kit building phase of their lives, and how the members of the club find support and acceptance in the eyes and hearts of each other when the rest of the world labels them as, in the words of one of the characters, "failed human beings". Reoccurring themes throughout the anime are the ritualistic attendance of a Tokyo-based doujinshi convention, Comi-Fes, hanging out aimlessly in the club room discussing the latest installment of Kujibiki Unbalance (a fictitious anime series that often acts as the catalyst for many of the series' early events) and dealing with real life vs. otakudom.

The story of Genshiken, much like the relationships between the characters, starts off uncertain and it may seem to the uninformed viewer at times stuck in second gear. But as the characters begin to mingle and expose their personalities more and more, so too does the storyline of Genshiken grow in cohesiveness and also direction. Fans of the slice of life genre will not be daunted by the slow beginning, and will find themselves hooked by the third or fourth episode, as the storyline picks up the pace and wastes no time with the pestilent fluff that is the downfall of many mainstream series today. In a lot of ways, Genshiken reminds me of Azumanga Daioh in that as the series begins, you're indoctrinated into a newly formed circle of friends, almost like a silent observer, but you feel like you're there because of the strong storytelling and realism; by the end, as characters move on with their lives, you feel that profound sense of sadness that one feels leaving their friends behind from high school or college as the next phase of life's journey awaits them.

Artistically, Genshiken is on the mark. Tsutomu Mizushima, who adapted the series from Shimoku's manga, was true to form in favoring a mute, more realistic color palette and style of artwork. The background artwork is never shunned and scarcely ever will a frame or series of frames be blatantly recycled. Viewers might be puzzled, however, as toward the end of the series there seems to be some sort of shift in both coloration and style.

The sound effects of Genshiken are average, but the voice acting might as well be deemed stellar. Clearly, the brightest and most illustrious of Japan's voice talent was assembled for this job. In a series like Genshiken, where bells and whistles and intense action sequences or gratuitous nudity or fan service can't distract you from poor voice acting, the seiyuu chosen from each role is a critical choice. Each voice actor fits their role flawlessly, especially the character of Harunobu Madarame (voiced by Nobuyuki Hiyama), a high-strung, ultra-hardcore otaku and fetishist.

I'm a tough critic, so my numbers may be skewed from what you're used to reading. But truth be told, Genshiken deserves a 9 when it comes to characters. Very rarely do you come across characters in an anime with real problems, real vices, and real dilemmas. Genshiken characters are not stock, folks. They're you. They're your friends. And you'll get attached to them so much that it hurts. It is purely the characters that drive Genshiken, an echo of a world all to familiar to the series' sympathetic viewers.

You'll doubtlessly get a lot of enjoyment out of Genshiken, and each time you watch it, you'll learn something new, not only about the show, but about culture and the world you live in. Henceforth, the replay-ability of Genshiken is pretty high up there. Overall, it's a great show and worth forking over money for that pretty DVD boxed set your friends will envy.