Japanese Title: Genshiken
Related: Genshiken 2 (included in review)
Similar: Welcome to the NHK
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 27 episodes (2 seasons with 3 OVA in between)
- A few good jokes.
- The dub.
- Low effort art.
- Dull most of the time.
- Shallow characters.
When college girl Saki discovers her boyfriend’s hentai stash, she consults his friend Madarame at their clubhouse and asks if his fetish for hardcore material of the 2D variety is normal. “I would not be caught dead with any regular porn,” replies Madarame. Welcome to Genshiken, the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture.
This decorative name is just another way of saying “Otaku Club”, where they play games and read doujinshi (fan made manga, usually hentai) about the characters, watch anime accompanied by more doujinshi, read manga with more – you guessed it – doujinshi on the series, and finish off the day with an eroge or two. This club is all about unfiltered otaku fandom. It is unashamed of its appreciation of naked 2D culture. Well, Madarame more so than the rest – new kid Sasahara hasn’t fully accepted his fandom.
The main theme of Genshiken is learning acceptance of you hobby and not being ashamed of what makes you happy. It captures the awkwardness of being embarrassed of by niche interest. An admirable theme, sure. It’s a shame Genshiken does so through narcosis inducing characters.
I like the general concept of a slice of life focused on discussing anime and game related media, comparing manga versus adaptations. It’s one of the many things I do after all! Where Genshiken fails for me is in the blandness of the characters and how nothing they say is interesting. It needed more critical analysis. You have two approaches for storifying analysis of a topic: You can go the abstract route, like The Tatami Galaxy where everything is metaphor and allusion, or you can straight up have characters discuss it in relation to their daily lives, as Genshiken attempted. With the latter, you must make sure that the discussions have depth. It’s the difference between a Half in the Bag review by Red Letter Media and the tripe that WatchMojo vomits out. If the audience were likely to hear what everyone thought of already, why should they attend?
I’ll use the secondary couple of Saki and her boyfriend as an example. He is an omega otaku despite his outward “handsome” appearance, spending every waking moment playing games or beating it to eroge, even with Saki around. Her arc as a non-otaku is a desire to make him normal, though of course she will come to accept him and his friends before the end. Sounds fine, right? Sure, if he weren’t a nothing character. They have no conflict. She gets angry at him for ignoring her or not satisfying her needs, but nothing comes of it. He sits there, all pleasant and boring, and we move on to the next scene. She wouldn’t be interested in him once over the lust. Their relationship has nothing to say.
The one couple that does work is the cosplay designer guy and the cosplay girl. He’s an awkward guy that thinks she’s out of his league, not realising that she’s just as awkward as he is. They help each other grow together both in public and in private (nice detail of showing how awful he is at kissing). Certainly, hearing people talk about their fetishes in an intimate moment will likely make you feel uncomfortable, yet people do that. They get a few episodes of attention.
Genshiken, like most club-based anime, ends with graduation and moving onto the next stage in life – the workforce, in this case. I appreciate that it shows the reality of how difficult it is to get a meaningful position in the creative industry (Sasahara wants to be a manga editor, just like a million other otaku), which once more like the discussions, only states the obvious.
Throwaway – that’s the word I’m looking for. Sasahara’s struggle in the finale feels throwaway, just like every piece of commentary in Genshiken.
By contrast, Welcome to the NHK covers many of the same scenarios and themes, does them better, and has content to engage people outside of otaku culture. (The one scenario Genshiken does better is the experience of selling your self-published work at a convention.) Watching Genshiken after NHK is unfortunate for the former’s chances of engaging me.
On top of the dull characters, we have the art. Recorded at what feels like four frames per second, Genshiken is ugly, with bland backgrounds and unfinished character art. Remember Saki’s boyfriend? Yeah, he’s supposed the handsome otaku – hence why a “normie” like her would be interested in him – but he looks just as ugly as the rest. I know Genshiken comes from the early years of digital animation, yet this is abominable. The stills look bad. The animation makes it even worse. If you can call that twitching animation.
Now, if you want to see Genshiken at its worst, go into the dub. This is a prime example of what we mean by a bad dub “back in the day”. Where to begin? Lifeless acting, miscast voices, and flat dialogue are just a few of the dub’s transgressions. One character has a stutter, but the English actor has no idea how to stutter, so instead we hear what sounds like an outtake of him fumbling the read. No one – no one – does a good job in the dub. Switching from English to Japanese makes Genshiken feel like a new anime. It can’t fix the art, mind you, but wow does it make a difference. This is a good case study on how performances can affect everything about a series. I am so glad the dub industry outlived that era.
Art – Very Low
Genshiken has recurring segments on an anime the club members are a fan of and it looks better than Genshiken itself. Where’s the animation? Why are the characters distorted and inconsistent? Why is this so ugly?
Sound – Medium
The dub is awful in every way. One of the worst of all time. Stick with the Japanese if you venture into Genshiken. It’s weird and amusing to hear Tomokazu Seki (Sagara from Full Metal Panic) play a depraved otaku.
Story – Low
Genshiken follows the daily life of the members of an otaku club. Otaku pandering and good intentions replaced interesting characters and good story.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: For hardcore otaku culture fans only. Genshiken is otaku pandering, no question, and little more. You won’t find much of interest if you aren’t part of that culture or have a fascination with it. Welcome to the NHK is better.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)