Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 3rd 2006
Otaku life continues for the members of the Genshiken. Ogiue still refuses to submit to her fangirl nature, but the others have some sneaky plans for coercing her into cosplay. The winter ComicFest is also just around the corner, and the call of yaoi is too strong for Ogiue to resist—so strong, in fact, that she considers creating her own doujinshi. However, using the male Genshiken members as the basis for her characters can only mean trouble. Meanwhile, Madarame's graduation is coming up, but his job search has left him frustrated—and conflicted about leaving the Genshiken behind. For club president Kanji Sasahara, the end of the school year also means a change in personnel, but nothing can prepare him for the arrival of his capricious little sister, who plans on getting into the university ... and making Kanji's life hell.
Can poking fun at anime fans be considered a subtle art? Genshiken certainly makes it look that way, with wry observational humor and a kooky but nuanced cast of characters. In fact, the series' portrayal of hardcore fandom is so dead-on that some readers might turn away, thinking: "Why do I need to read a comic about the lives of obsessive social misfits when I'm living that life already?" But this is exactly why it must be read. Anyone who's an obsessive fan, friends with an obsessive fan, or considering the lifestyle will see shades of themselves in each chapter. Volume 6 is especially diverse in presenting the various sides of fandom, even offering career advice for recent graduates. More than just an "otaku comedy," Genshiken is something even rarer: an otaku slice-of-life.
Although anime, manga and gaming have long been associated with young males, the girls of Genshiken are the stars in Volume 6, with irritable Ogiue at the center of the story. It's odd to think of character development in a satirical series, but that's exactly what happens: Ogiue overcomes her self-consciousness and dresses up in cosplay after some psychological massaging. Her funniest (and darkest) moment, however, comes when she sketches a boy's love scenario involving club members Sasahara and Madarame—and Saki steps in at just the wrong time. The situation is, of course, funny in itself, but the characters' well-developed personalities add depth as well. It's not just funny because of what happened: it's funny because of the people that it happened to! Even new characters like Sasahara's social-butterfly sister are thoroughly fleshed out so that they can contribute to the comedy.
But the guys in the series do get a turn in the spotlight too. Madarame hovers constantly in the background, leading a graduation/job-search arc that comes to the forefront in the final chapter. Ever the slacker, he offers some terrific advice for filling out a resume: list your hobbies as "literature" for manga, "film" for anime, "computer science" for video games, and "music appreciation" for theme songs. It isn't all about goofing one's way into the workforce, though; the graduation scene at the end is genuinely touching, with a reflection on the briefness of college life and how it can be hard to move on while keeping in touch. The characters aren't just riffs on fandom, but friends who hang out and grow up together. What could be more slice-of-life than that?
Aside from hanging out with geeky friends, though, the subculture is also about memorizing and collecting just about everything, and the artwork in the series is a visual metaphor for that state of mind. Best described as "controlled clutter," Genshiken's visuals are a tribute to this lifestyle of sensory overload: piles of comics in the clubroom, massive crowds at ComicFest, racks of merchandise at a goods store. So obsessive is the level of background detail that a random doujinshi dropped on the ground features tiny silhouettes of Edward Elric and Roy Mustang on the cover. The characters themselves are rendered with equal care; physical quirks like Ogiue's upright ponytail and Madarame's snaggletooth provide easy cues to go with the diverse character designs. The visual pacing achieves an ideal balance between concentrated clutter and more widely spaced panels, while dialogue balloons—although packed with text—stay unobtrusive.
The talkative characters of Genshiken make for a challenging script, if only because of sheer word count—but Del Rey translator David Ury takes care of the job, maintaining good conversational flow and catching cultural references in the appendix. Sound effects remain intact, with small translations superimposed on or next to them. Also look for the "Project G" doujinshi collection in the back, which features Genshiken fan tributes by other manga-ka. As usual, Del Rey's production standards are top-notch; bright paper and solid inks guarantee that there's nothing to complain about in terms of print quality.
Strange as the otaku life may be, this volume of Genshiken provides a slice of it that's packed with compelling flavors and layers. The closeted fan coming to terms with herself ... the recent graduate trying to balance old hobbies with new responsibilities ... a college club changing along with its members. This is more than just poking fun at obsessive geeks—it's a warm portrayal of the friendships and experiences that come from this unifying obsession. Like the fandom itself, Genshiken may seem obscure and impenetrable at first, but open it up and you'll find a rich, character-driven story with both humor and heart.
Overall : A-
Story : B
Art : A
+ A dead-on satire of the lives of crazy anime fans, with genuine story and characters.
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