Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, AKA Genshiken, has gotten itself a new chairman, and with him a new goal. Sasahara wants to enter an original doujinshi in the next Comic Market. He manages to reserve a spot at the Market and enlists overweight slacker Kugayama and icy Genshiken newbie Oguie to pen the art, but naturally his plan falls to pieces almost immediately—small, acrimonious pieces. After Kasukabe (who else?) salvages his operation and the Comic Market has come and gone, Genshiken suffers yet another rift in its ranks, this time from the romantic tensions between cosplay buddies Tanaka and Ohno. What will Sasahara and the rest of his club-mates do to bridge the divide? Why nothing of course.
There are few series that are as character-centered as Genshiken. Even if its second season had no other redeeming qualities whatsoever, it would still be worth watching just to spend a little extra time with the Gen>shiken crowd. The geeks, misfits and outcasts of the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture are possibly the single most genuinely real group ever assembled for an anime series. They ring so painfully true that any otaku will see not only a bit of themselves, but a bit of nearly every fan in them. The guy who gives up before he starts anything, the otaku in self-denial, the self-aggrandizing blowhard nerd, the uber-geek who has achieved a sort of Zen acceptance of his own deviance and through it a strange sort of dignity: these aren't characters, they're people you could meet at a comic book store or midnight showing of The Evil Dead 2. They're an honest slice of fringe culture, and—with the conspicuous exception of the volcanically over-the-top Kuchiki—they're a pleasure simply to watch. Listening to Sasahara, Madarame, Ohno and the rest talk is like slipping back into a group of old friends; easy, comfortable and darned fun.
And there's plenty to listen to. There are enough frank discussions of pornographic computer games, doujin culture, and the place of cosplay sex in relationships to make the show not just amusing for the initiated but highly educational for the interested outsider. Just don't expect them to look at you the same afterwards. This is warts-and-all stuff, filled with the kind of deluded illogic, withering social ineptitude, and un-PC lust that marks many a fringe-dweller's life—suitably exaggerated of course. Particularly discomfiting is the graphic kiss in episode four, during which one character puts to practical use his hentai-watching experience, with mixed results.
But it isn't all uncomfortable laughs. There's also a sweetly realistic otaku romance between Ohno and Tanaka, a step-by-step examination of how to (or perhaps more accurately, how not to) make and distribute a doujinshi, and a hilariously dead-on deconstruction of an artistic collaboration gone horribly awry. And for those anxious to see the series progress, there's Sasahara's growth into the role of chairman, which sees him for the first time acting enough like a main character to wrest the narrative reins from the immaculately manicured hands of chronic scene-stealer Kasukabe. Not that she doesn't occasionally wrest them back. As ever, one of the series' great joys is watching the club's resident anti-otaku being forced to step in and save Gen>shiken from itself.
Despite a wholesale shift in staff and three-year gap between volumes, the only major change in Genshiken's look is the loss of season one's sharp character designs. Yoshiaki Yanagida's take on the characters is noticeably sloppier than Hirotaka Kinoshita's, simplifying some to the point of caricature (Kugayama) and leaving others decidedly potato-faced (Sasahara). The rooms, roads and conventions that house them, on the other hand, are as crisp and anally accurate as ever. The Gen>shiken clubroom in particular retains the comfortable aura of pop-culture decay that marked it in both of the series' previous incarnations. It's a junkyard for the detritus of the anime culture; both an endless source of tongue-in-cheek anime references (Gungal Bleed, indeed) and an exacting pastiche of real club rooms.
Given the static nature of the show, its animation isn't a draw or a drawback; it merely does what must be done, no more, no less. Static means no (or few) mistakes, no (or few) obvious shortcuts, and no (or few) chances to impress. Veteran hentai director Kinji Yoshimoto's background betrays itself in the occasional touch of unabashed fan-service and the aforementioned kiss scene, and his comic timing isn't as flawless as that of Takashi Ikehata (season one) or Tsutomu Mizushima (the OAV), but the series' subtle (and not-so-subtle) humor shines through regardless.
The humor has a harder time shining through Media Blasters' dub. The English script it far too faithful for its own good (though it has its occasional flights of humor-enhancing fancy), sticking close enough to the subtitle script to throw the series' subtle timing all off. It lacks the easy flow of the Japanese, as well as its quiet wit, and unfortunately the cast isn't good enough to compensate. Some, like Billy Regan's startlingly accurate Madarame, are excellent, but others—particularly the listless Michael Perreca in the pivotal role of Sasahara—are mediocre at best. Regardless of their raw skill, however, all of the actors are cast with impressive accuracy. At its very best—when the actors are in the groove and the script is cranking smoothly—the English version could almost be mistaken for the Japanese. At its worst, though, it is but a pale imitation.
Nothing exciting is happening in extras land. There's a short promo video and clean versions of both the opening and ending. The ending, in the usual Genshiken tradition, is a quiet acoustic number played over a slowly changing shot of the Gen>shiken club room, while the opening is a rousing—and drop-dead funny—lampooning of Gundam Seed. The two complement nicely the uncomfortably long stretches of silence, pleasant and varied (though sometimes odd) themes and occasional bursts of parody of Masaya Koike and Shun Okazaki's in-show music.
Watch the series for its easy character byplay. Watch it for its squirm-inducing humor. Watch it for its informative take on doujinshi publication and otaku culture in general. Or just watch to see Sasahara get mad (imagine an enraged bunny). Whatever the reason, watch it. This isn't just a comedy or a slice-of-life drama. Like the seminal Otaku no Video, it's an indispensible snapshot of the otaku zeitgeist, a chronicle for the ages of a time and a place that will eventually be no more.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Everything you liked about season one plus real progress for previously short-shrifted characters like Tanaka, Ohno and Sasahara.
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