Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 23rd 2010
Vampires have crosses, Superman has kryptonite and otaku have...job hunts? The Genshiken crew is readying itself to enter the workforce, and the fallout ain't pretty. Madarame has already found "gainful" employment near enough that he can still store his stuff in the clubroom and Kugayama has long since departed for a job that he really, really hates. As three more Genshiken alumni prepare for the rat race, they can only pray that theirs is a happier fate. Kohsaka is aiming for the gaming industry, Kasukabe wants to start her own business, and Sasahara wants to contribute to the art of manga any way he can. Can you guess which is in for the job-interview tortures of hell? In the meantime Sasahara tries in his own laissez-faire way to nourish painfully self-conscious Oguie's doujinshi-writing habit. And maybe, just maybe spark a little romance.
After a first volume that passed in a fog of reunion bliss and a second that took discomfiting humor so far that it was just plain discomfort, Genshiken 2's third and final volume manages to reclaim some of its charm—if only by cutting back on the faux porn. Too bad it can't quite shake the sense that the series' new animators are less interested in the lives of otaku than their sex lives. Where previous incarnations of the series were satisfied to discuss and slyly imply otaku sexual proclivities, Genshiken 2 hits you in the face with them. And it isn't a pleasant experience. This volume's "sex" sequence—a bit of lolicon eroge footage that develops into a just-plain-wrong fantasy involving Oguie—sits amongst the quietly real slice-of-life proceedings like a softcore turd, and the cosplay jiggle-cams aren't doing anyone any favors. If this volume improves on the last, it's in hitting us less often. The sequence is relatively brief, as are the other sundry fan-service shots, and blessedly alone. Compared to the previous volume's episode-long yaoi fantasy, that's kiddy stuff. Though seriously disruptive kiddy stuff.
That said, even without the grindingly out-of-place explicitness, Genshiken 2 is still a far cruder affair than its quietly incisive predecessor. Sasahara's job-hunt is played for raging sad-sack angst, which sits uncomfortably next to the sweet understatement of his budding attraction to Oguie, which in turn sits ill with the sub-hentai of the aforementioned fantasy. That unbalance is a far cry from the nuance, subtlety and wry humor that marked the series previously. Nevertheless, lumps and all, this is still one of the better otaku-life comedies currently in play. The mists of nostalgia may have lifted and the sexual obsessions come home to roost, but few comedies can match it for unflinching honesty or insight into the inner workings of nerdy obsessives. Oguie's self-loathing has a potent familiarity, and those job interview scenes...they're so painfully true that they're barely funny (and indeed probably weren't intended to be). As warnings about the real-world effects of social withdrawal they have few peers outside of Welcome to the NHK.
But more important than all of that are the flashes of quiet sensitivity that flare up at unpredictable intervals. There's Sasahara and Oguie's almost unconscious courtship of course, but also a fine little scene in which a brassy American otaku divines Madarame's hidden affections without so much as a word exchanged. Those two alone are enough to make this volume. The scene with the American Amazon is particularly notable given that her previous function was pure cross-cultural joke.
The Americans (there are two, Angela and Sue) also present Media Blasters with their stickiest translation issue. Several of the disc's funniest moments come thanks to the language barrier between the two otaku pilgrims and Madarame in particular, a language barrier that disappears once everyone is speaking English. What to do, what to do? In Media Blasters' case, pretend the language barrier never existed. This leads to some exceedingly awkward scenes, where many actions makes no sense (e.g. Ohno, originally Angela's translator, repeating everything that Angela says) and most of the humor disappears like fog put to the flame. The decision to keep Sue's dialogue—which consists entirely of inappropriate anime quotes—in Japanese was a good one, but in the English Genshiken world she apparently understands everything everyone is saying, which completely destroys at least one scene, in which a flustered Oguie tries unsuccessfully to give her a doujinshi. The invisible language barrier isn't the dub's only flaw, but the generalized lack of enthusiasm and subtitle-parroting script have become par over the course of the series, so it is the most aggravating one. By the by, Bill Timoney's Madarame still kicks butt, and the translated eroge dialogue is absolutely unlistenable.
The lonely extra: a lengthy stills-and-audio video for the awful in-show eroge Menma.
When the heady joy of being reunited with the Genshiken crew reigned supreme it really seemed that ARMS' artificial, highlight-happy animation and Yoshiaki Yanagida's potato-faced character designs were the only real differences between season one and two (discounting, perhaps, the lively score). Though all have remained consistent and consistently different, time has proved them far from alone. Season two is kind of like the first season's inelegant, hormonal little brother. Spirited, but lacking in the social graces. Nevertheless, so long as it is armed with its formidably real ensemble and those occasional glimpses of its elder sibling's charms, it'll remain atop of the otaku comedy heap. Or at least near it.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Still in possession of one of anime's finest ensemble casts; funnier, more sensitive and less libido-obsessed than the disappointing middle installment.
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