Reviewby Theron Martin,
When the Student Council does an audit of club activity, Genshiken is judged to merit dissolution due to an apparent lack of activities! While Saki is ecstatic about this turn of events, she is disturbed by the alternatives this could pose for Kohsaka and the Genshiken members' lack of will to fight for their club, so she takes it upon herself to confront the Student Council about it – only she's in for more of a battle than she bargained for. After that crisis has passed, Saki attempts to attract Kohsaka's attention by trying to play video games with him, while Sasahara must deal with a visit from his very different high school-aged sister, an occurrence which only piques the curiosity of the other Genshiken members. As spring rolls around, so does a time for new recruits and a changing of the guard (of sorts) within Genshiken. Spring also proves to be the perfect time for model-building, a pastime Ohno and Sasahara take to with great enthusiasm, though its charm is lost on Saki.
The ultimate anime series about fandom chugs along its merry way as it explores further aspects of the life and culture of otaku and those who love them. With its entire core cast now firmly established the focus shifts to Saki, who tries to remain the disaffected outsider even as she increasingly finds herself involved in the world of otaku. This was a wise move, as she is arguably the most interesting and dynamic character of the lot; while most of the rest just represent specific niches within otakudom, Saki is free to roam around and cast a sardonic eye on all of it. Genshiken's Chairman also finally becomes active in a couple of episodes, showing a musically-highlighted creepy side which turns such a seemingly laid-back, mild-mannered individual into a slightly scary figure.
Genshiken's otaku spotlight in this volume focuses on model-building in one episode, member recruitment in another, and establishing the club's status as a respectable and active club in a third. Notably brought up in this volume is the archetype nearly everyone in fandom knows: the otaku who's so socially inept that he's too far “out there” even for his fellow social misfits to feel comfortable around him. We are also introduced to the Utterly Different Sibling so common to an otaku's reality, and of course there's more Kujibiki Unbalance going on in the background. Though the writing isn't quite as fresh or funny as in the first volume, this is still a different type of comedy/slice-of-life series which should strike to the heart of any dedicated anime fan. A viewer also needs to continue to keep an eye out for bonus scenes after the Next Episode previews, which don't appear after all episodes but aren't to be missed when they do appear.
Artistry in this volume maintains the same high standards for detailed backgrounds and realistically-proportioned character designs seen in the previous volume. CG effects appear entirely in the form of clips of actual video games being played within the anime, this time including two different version of Guilty Gear and the unrelated game Puyo Puyo Fever. The animation doesn't get much of a chance to show off, since the need for complicated movements is few and far between, but it doesn't take many shortcuts and does a good job with what it has to do. The quality opener remains constant from the first volume, while the graphics for the closer continue to reflect events which happened in the episode. Musical scoring remains a nice, light complement to the events of each episode, but again no 5.1 audio tracks are available.
The English dub for the first volume slightly underachieved due to excessive script variances and some delivery issues. These problems continue, albeit unevenly, in the second volume. The wandering tendencies of the English script are less of an issue in episode 5 but it's back to its normal straying ways by episode 6, even if one accounts for use of equivalent phrasing and slang. (“Talk to the hand” at one point in an appropriate place, for instance.) Dub performances are at their best in the role of Kohsaka and any time characters are speaking without having to worry about lip-synching, such as when narrating Next Episode previews. Minor problems with stilted delivery still exist in several other characters at other times, though in most episodes this is a less distinct problem than it was in the first volume. The dramatically worse episode 6 is the exception, with leaden deliveries and stilted performances laid on so thick that the episode is nearly unwatchable dubbed. Amongst new roles, Dana Halstead's turn as new recurring character Kitigawa is much harsher and heavier than the original Japanese performance, though the attitude she projects isn't out of line for the role. Most other new characters are well-cast and adequately performed, especially the really annoying new recruit.
Normal extras this time around include a clean closer and an interview with the director and the seiyuu for a couple of the prominent roles. The special extra is episode 21 of Kujibiki Unbalance (reviewed separately below), clips of which appear throughout the four episodes in this volume. As with the first volume, Kujibiki has its own menu screen set-up which lists Genshiken as one of its extras. Also present are liner notes for both of the first two volumes, which provide some not-always-helpful notes on various points which come up throughout the first eight episodes and the second Kujibiki episode.
If you liked the first volume, the second one won't disappoint. Characters are obvious enough, and content is a straightforward enough reflection of real-life otaku habits and issues, that familiarity with the first volume is not required to appreciate this one. It is a series made by fans for fans, so this is probably one of the safest picks of the year for any who considers themselves a true otaku.
While watching this block of Genshiken episodes, one may come to wonder how all the varied clips of Kujibiki Unbalance could possibly be wrapped up into a single OVA episode. Simple explanation: it's a recap episode. By the time the main series completes its second volume the fictional Kujibiki Unbalance anime is on its 21st episode, which is primarily a brief rehashing of several of the silly contests the quartet of Chihiro, Tokino, Komaki, and Izumi have had to battle through so far, whether it's soccer, mahjong, war games, or a swimming relay against aliens with a peculiar weakness. By far the funniest clip of the lot is the karaoke contest, though the fantasy RPG-style dungeon crawl clip also has its moments. This approach provides little for plot or character development beyond Tokino's establishment as one of the more enjoyable ditz characters in quite some time, but that's beside the point; we are only meant to be seeing a sampling of a much longer series, after all.
The artistry in Kujibiki Unbalance is considerably less refined, and more laden with common anime stylistic elements, than it is in Genshiken, but that's partly because it is intended to capture the look of a stereotypical anime series. Unlike Genshiken, it does have a couple of bits of fan service, but its animation also uses more shortcuts and is less sharp. The opener is even better than Genshiken's, though, and the soundtrack is up to the task. The English dub is a considerable improvement over the ones for both Genshiken and the first episode of Kujibiki (included in the first volume of Genshiken), which is a surprise given that the same cast and production personnel are used. Performances are much smoother and better-delivered and the English script stays much tighter to the subtitles. Veronica Taylor even one-ups the original seiyuu in another stand-out performance as Tokino.
With its sharply contrasting look and silly, energetic plotting, Kujibiki forms a nice complement to the main Genshiken storyline. Whether or not it could stand on its own as an independent series is debatable, but that isn't something it's trying to do. It's best just to enjoy it as a special feature of Genshiken and leave it at that.
Kijibiki Unbalance Grade: Dub: B Sub: B Story: B- Art: B- Animation: B Music: B+
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
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