With an upcoming third season of Genshiken airing this summer, I figure I’d take a stab at the very first one.
College slices of life are rare in a medium prolific with high school romances, 15-year-old pilots in mecha, gargantuan harems, and everything inbetween. In comes Genshiken, one of the most laidback and down to earth shows I’ve ever seen. The heavy amount of realism is almost shocking, and the college club slice of life elements are fantastic. Picturing a life in an otaku club can’t get anymore immersible than this, with a solid lead character that’s relatable (much like Yuuta from Honey & Clover), and an all-around fantastic ensemble. You know you’re in for a ride when your appreciation for Genshiken‘s comedy is directly proportional to how awkward your social skills are.
Perhaps what’s most striking about Genshiken is its crassness with the ins and outs of otaku culture. The show manages to hit the main crevices on otakudom—whether it be compulsively watching midnight screenings, purchasing doujinshi, cosplaying, or even building models. Genshiken intends neither to glorify nor criticize the underlying culture; what merely exists is prevalent, and Genshiken deftly and unbiasedly documents it.
What’s also admirable is how forward Genshiken is in its storytelling, particularly with not dodging borderline controversial material. Saki, for instance, constantly berates others with her sexually frustrated problems, and admits that one of the main reasons she dates Kohsaka is because of his looks. Frankness with sexual content is to be expected of in western shows, but is fairly commendable for one within an otaku-glorified medium. Even holding hands may take an anime multiple seasons! (Yes, Japan may not be so forward as in western cultures, but “purity” is nowhere even close to what’s perceived in pandering anime versus real-life Japan.)
Genshiken‘s unparalleled persistence to realism almost becomes one of its few flaws, as the show is practically uneventful—even for slice of life standards. This is where you have to wonder when the mundane is pulled too far. One episode could be so briefly summarized as, “Saki reads manga in the clubroom while Madarame tries to strike up a conversation.” The work is almost Hyouka-esque in its banality, but fortunately, Genshiken is told in such a charming way that you often forget that nothing even happened in the episodes (and it’s also not spoiled by silly “mystery” antics like Hyouka‘s first half).
The “new guy in the group” manages to be an archetype served well here, as it grants viewers the insight into what would otherwise be a closeted (and hence alienable) culture. To divy the variety, the role is often placed among different members of the group (particularly with Sasahara and Saki) depending on the situation. However, Genshiken‘s cast performance is not all as great as the concept bears to mind. Certain characters are unfortunately pivoted towards the sidelines while the few with inherently more interesting premises take up the primary spotlight. Saki becomes the de facto main lead (while already the poster girl), and Sasahara is more or less forgettable during most of his screentime. He spends his idle time blending in and never doing anything that stands out, offering comedic reactions in uniform with the rest of the group. What makes this truly unfortunate is that given the ensemble’s individual premises, each character offers a certain flavor of comedy to enhance every scene. Instead, we’re served the same glops of behaviors and comedic variety each episode, which quickly diminishes one’s entertainment via pure redundancy. Sure, the topics change and the group slowly mingles more and more, but the character dynamics and per-character screentimes remain relatively the same.
The animation and artwork is dated and quickly shows its age from a cursory glance. A most noticeable resemblance would be to the often compared work, Welcome to the NHK!. In both, the visuals are frankly quite terrible, but this is mostly forgivable due to their comedy subgenre anyways. Works like Genshiken don’t necessarily rely on compelling production values to ample its enjoyment, and there are never situations where you feel more detailed visuals would have benefited a particular scene. On the audio side, the soundtrack is practically nonexistent, which complements the laidback, relatable atmosphere of the show (especially with all the awkward scenes). Production-wise as a whole, things here are cheap as Mexican candy, but so what? It works.
Genshiken is a fantastic, homey slice of life that places itself in a genre difficult to come across these days. The ensemble has its flaws, but overall the casual storytelling really takes center stage and makes up for this. The cast slowly yet noticeably grows with each other, and the uneventfulness of Genshiken really grows on you. This is certainly not a show to miss, and I look forward to its newest season. Hopefully it’ll retain the same charm that makes the show so endearing.