Otaku, fans of anime, manga and video games, are often ridiculed in Japanese (and American) culture. These geeky guys get no respect just because they have a deep affection for things that are often considered childish. Now there is an anime series that accurately portrays otaku, without making them into heroes or ridiculing them: Genshiken. This show is a lot of fun for anime fans. It contains a good amount of in-jokes, some hilarious moments, and it's easy to relate to the members of this small club. Media Blasters has released the entire 12 episode series (previously available in individual volumes and in an expensive set) in attractive affordably priced boxed set that includes as a bonus the three episode OVA series Kujibiki Unbalance which is equally enjoyable.
Kanji Sasahara has just started attending Suioh University, and he has a tough decision to make: which school club should he join? He likes manga, but the manga club seems a little too pushy for him, and the anime club just doesn't seem right either. Then he notices a bulletin for The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, Genshiken for short. This small club with the long, fancy sounding name is for otaku. They don't limit themselves to only video games or anime, they enjoy it all. From cosplay to model building they embrace all aspects of fandom. Sasahara is thinking about joining, but when he discovers the clubs large collection of Dojinshi (erotic manga books) he realizes that he's found the club for him.
Joining at the same time is Makoto Kousaka, an excellent videogame player, who specializes in fighting games. Kousaka's a bit different from the average otaku however; he's handsome and pleasant to be around. When he runs into a friend from elementary school, Saki Kasukabe, they start dating even though Saki has no interest in any aspect of fandom. Of course Makoto doesn't let his love life get in the way of his love for pop culture. When his favorite anime show comes on while having sex, he lets Saki get on top so he can still watch it. (This happens off camera of course.)
The other members of the club include Madarame, a hardcore otaku who spends all of his cash on dojinshi, Tanaka, who loves to create cosplay costumes, Kugayama, the artist, and Ono, the first female member.
The series is light hearted but never makes fun of the members of Genshiken. It shows what life is like for a fan, and examines a lot of aspects of otaku culture. A lot of the plots involve Saki, who reluctantly joins the club to spend time with her boyfriend but just doesn't get the otaku lifestyle. She's always around to ask what the big deal is about going to a comic convention or assembling a Gundam model.
This is a great show and accurately captures what it's like to be a fan. In the show Genshiken is shunned by the other clubs, especially the manga club. The members are socially awkward and a bit obsessive, but they are still nice guys who just don't fit into mainstream society. A good example of this is the episode where Madarame enters the club's room to discover Saki sitting by herself. It's one of the highlights of the series. The poor spends most of the episode trying desperately to come up with something to say to this attractive girl. Every time he comes up with something he imagines that he's in a dating video game and wonders what would happen in the game if he said what he was thinking. After several disastrous results, he bemoans the fact that in games there's only two or three choices (one of which is 'correct'), while in real life the choices are almost infinite.
There's also episodes involving going to a comic convention, with Sasahara feeling a little bit geeky and out of place until he realizes that everyone there is just like himself. Another strong episode has the student council shutting down Genshiken. When the male members of the group don't even want to protest the closure, Saki takes matters into her own hands.
This show has a lot of appeal for anime fans, but it's not really for the uninitiated. There are a lot of in jokes about anime in general, and if this is you're first series you will end up missing a lot. The other members of Genshiken get turned on when they find out that Kousaka and Saki are childhood friends that have been separated for years, for example, which is a common theme in anime. Their description of the perfect girl was also filled with anime themes; a childhood friend who is also a cat-girl, who wears a maid's uniform and a member of the student council, who is stern but also clumsy so she's often covered in bandages. That had me laughing out loud.
The entire series comes on three DVDs which are housed in three standard sized keepcases. These are packaged into a thin pressboard slipcase.
This series comes with both the original Japanese soundtrack and an English dub, both in stereo. I alternated between audio tracks and found them both very good. The English voice actors did a great job with their characters though I enjoyed the original track just a bit more. The audio quality was good and the dialog was easy to understand. There weren't any defects worth noting. There are optional subtitles in English for the dialog or signs only.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looked very good. There was a bit of aliasing in the background, but otherwise the show looked fine. The colors were bright and solid and the level of detail was good. This is a nice looking show.
There are a good number of extras included with this set. The most exciting of these are three episodes of Kujibiki Unbalance, an anime show that the Genshiken members are particularly fond of. This is a fictional, and 'anime within an anime' show that originated with Genshiken, and only these three were made (as OVAs). The 25 minute long shows include episode one, which introduces the characters, episode 21, the recap show that show the trials and tribulations the main characters have been going through, and episode 25, the penultimate installment where the team threatens to break up just before their final challenge. This show was a lot of fun and gently poked fun at anime conventions, but in a nice way. If you've seen even a moderate amount of anime, you'll be able to watch these three shows and understand exactly what's going on, even though they skip the bulk of the story. They are great fun.
In addition to that, these three discs also have some other goodies. Disc one has an interview with two of the Japanese voice actresses at a 2004 comic convention in Japan, a video of the duo Under 17 performing the opening song from Kujibiki Unbalance at the (presumably) same convention, and a textless opening and closing. There is an interview with the two directors on the second disc, and volume three has another interview with two of the Japanese actresses. Overall this set has a nice selection of bonus material.
This is a great show. It's funny but in a kind way to otaku.
It's about time someone created a show where the main characters revel
in their geeky fandom lifestyle. If you've seen a good amount of
anime, even if you don't consider yourself a hard core otaku, you owe it
to check this series out. Highly Recommended.