Genshiken – A Secret Santa Series Review

My favorite annual anime blog tradition has now come back around in the Secret Santa Project that Reverse Thieves has hosted for almost a decade now. It’s a joy to discover a good series that I would have otherwise been passed over and it’s a joy to discover that the recipient of my picks enjoyed something I picked for them.

So far, my track record in receiving good picks has been very good. Will this year continue the string or did I receive a big lump of coal this year?

Story

Genshiken is a 12 episode series that follows the day-to-day activities of a college club dedicated to anime, manga, video games, and cosplay. With it’s broad, yet vague, focus on all facets of “otaku” culture the club is more of a dumping ground for the weirdos that don’t really fit in the clubs focused on a single topic like the anime club or the manga club.

Thoughts and Impressions

Genshiken was one of three choices I had for this year’s Secret Santa. To see why I picked this show let’s start from the beginning. The email I got with my picks went like this –

“Santa has broken into your home, consumed your sacrificial offering of milk and cookies, and deposited 3 boxes under your tree. Pick at least one of your boxes then watch and review that show.

Your picks are:

‘Gankutsuou – The Count of Monte Cristo in anime form is a show anyone who loves the novel, or enjoys intricate storytelling and suspense, should see. If you like works like From the New World, you’ll like this.

Genshiken – A classic that really should be watched by anyone who loves anime. If you do end up watching this, there’s also a sequel I recommend.

Macross F – My personal favorite Macross series with the best soundtrack. Delta felt very similar to Frontier, and it looks like you rated that series decently well.’ ”

I quickly discounted Macross F because I decided after watching the original series last month that I wanted to eventually watch the entire series in chronological airing order and I didn’t have the time to watch everything up to Macross F.

Back in early November, I initially hoped to get to both Gankutsuou and Genshiken but the abundant free time I’d hoped to have never materialized. Then I’d decided I’d just do Gankutsuou until I realized a week before Christmas I didn’t have the time for a two cour series and settled on Genshiken. I still want to get to Gankutsuou, it will just have to be later though.

I was aware of the Genshiken franchise from the airing of the later seasons without being real familiar with it. I knew I’d missed seeing the original season and didn’t want to jump in a later point. And I never felt a strong desire to start from the beginning because I got into anime after graduating college and did not have a nostalgic desire to return to the fondly remembered halcyon days of an anime/otaku club that my college probably didn’t even have.

So, due to it’s age and lack of a readily apparent angle to interest me, it’s probably safe to say that I’d probably never would have given Genshiken a chance without having it picked for me in this way. Which is the reason why I like to participate in this Secret Santa project because it forces me to try series I wouldn’t try otherwise and the success people have had with their recommendations is a nice reminder of the limits in my ability to judge things.

As a quick aside, I’ve often wondered how my view of anime would have changed if I’d been introduced to the medium at a younger age. Would I have felt the need proclaim “I’ve grown out of anime” to prove my adulthood as I’ve noticed so many teenage anime fans do upon reaching their 20’s and leave the fandom. Or would I have been less likely to experiment with a broad range of genres – because my teenage self was so smart and knew exactly what it wanted – and gotten bored with the medium after consuming a few years of the exact same type of series. I wonder.

Enough with trying to draw it out, I can hear someone saying, did I like Genshiken?

Well, let’s start off by saying that Genshiken is not a perfect series.

The lack of fair use and protections of parody in Japanese copyright law blunts the meta humor a series like Genshiken or the more recent Uchuu Patrol Luluco seems built to exploit. Watching the characters talk about actual anime and manga would have greatly increased how interesting these conversations played out. With it’s original airing in 2004, it would have been cool to hear the characters of Genshiken talk about the recent hits like Samurai Champloo, Monster, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Full Metal Alchemist or a classic like Evangelion, Macross, Gundam. Instead, the club fixates on a single imaginary anime.

It’s billed as a comedy, but, I found it only moderately entertaining and sparsely funny. I think I averaged maybe one solid laugh out loud moment per episode and a couple light snickers. Maybe if I’d been a member of a similar college club I would have found Genshiken to be more funny. Also, maybe if I more strongly identified as an “otaku” I would have enjoyed the humor more.

The saving grace to this series, for me, is that it’s a solid character focused slice-of-life series with it’s narrative backbone being the development of Saki Kasukabe as she slowly gets dragged from her “normal” life into someone who is not yet an otaku but is willing to be an active Genshiken club member. I realize that Kanji Sasahara is probably meant to be the central character of the series, however, for this first season he barely has much of a presence in the show and the most that is asked of him is if he can overcome his embarrassment of buying hentai doujinshi in person or not.

Saki Kasukabe is not presented as an easy person to like; she’s blunt, brash, and violent. As the shows plays out, the viewer realizes that she is also willing to own up to her mistakes and she’s honest and tries to act justly even when it goes against her own self-interest. It’s these two sides and how they play against each other that gave Saki real depth as a character and made the scenes she was in the most interesting ones of the series.

Another aside, I found her boyfriend, Makoto Kousaka, who is a member of Genshiken and the reason why she begins to hang out with the club to be a complete jerk 95% of the time. And the other 5% of the time he just seems to act in a way that he knows she’ll like to string her along. By the end of the series I was hoping that someone would punch that smug smile of Kousaka’s at least once.

The rest of the cast is a pretty interesting bunch, though, it normally took Saki Kasukabe to draw them out of their default passive state. I wish more time had been spent on Souichiro Tanaka and the work he puts in creating the cosplay costumes he makes. And the show mentions the artisic ability of Mitsunori Kugayama but we never see him drawing.

Coming from 2004, the animation style and character designs of Genshiken are starting to look a bit dated, though, it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the series. The actual animation was an above average effort that still looks pretty decent nowadays. I liked the vocal work of the seiyuu. There was a real variation to be found which helped differentiate the cast and helped give character to the characters. Setting the club in college was a nice change of pace since it allowed the characters to do and act in ways not normally seen in anime following high school clubs.

And that’s about the end of my thoughts about the show itself. Genshiken follows a similar pattern of the many school club anime series I’ve seen and that makes it difficult to find much to talk about which is why I’ve focused on the areas were this series comes up short in comparison to other “good” school club anime series and the areas where it’s better. (Trying to write this while I’m also celebrating Christmas also seems to be crimping my ability to write.)

Looking over what I’ve written so far, it feels a touch too negative compared to my feelings of the show; so, I want to explicitly say that I enjoyed the series and am glad I watched it and definitely plan on watching the sequels. I have a feeling that the future seasons will show Kanji Sasahara being more narratively important and this will cause the story to go into a deeper and more interesting direction. At that point, I’ll probably look back to say this first season was really more of a warm-up to rest of the series. That said, at this moment, if I had to recommend a single series about college I’d first go with The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei). If I had to recommend a series about anime, I’d first recommend Shirobako. If I had to recommend a series about school clubs, I’d first recommend The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

On the meta side of things – since, though I’m not an otaku, I enjoy learning about the production side of anime – I found some interesting bits of trivia that I want to share. The writer of Genshiken was Tsutomu Mizushima. This name should sound familiar as he’s gone on to direct a number of popular anime like Girls und Panzer, Shirobako, Prison School, and Shinryaku! Ika Musume. The director of Genshiken was Takashi Ikehata. He went on to direct Potemayo, one of the funniest anime I’ve ever seen, and Taishou Yakyuu Musume.; I’d like to see more of his work but he hasn’t directed a series in a long while. The singer of the opening song was manzo who also sang the opening songs to both seasons of the criminally underappreciated Tentai Senshi Sunred.

I also found it interesting to see how the careers of the various seiyuu played out. The male character who always knew exactly the wrong thing to say to women, Harunobu Madarame, was brillantly voiced by Nobuyuki Hiyama whose career took off in 1992 when he voiced Hiei in Yu Yu Hakusho and is still actively voicing roles in 2017. His most memorial role, to me, was voicing Viral in Gurren Lagann. Saki Kasukabe was voiced by Satsuki Yukino who started work in the late 1990s with roles like Milly Thompson from Trigun and also continues to remain active. She voices Hiiragi in the Natsume Yuujinchou franchise and Izuko Gaen from the Monogatari franchise and will reprise her role as Chidori in the upcoming Full Metal Panic! series. Then there are cases like Takanori Ouyama who voiced Kanji Sasahara; he’s only voiced maybe a dozen other roles since Genshiken aired in 2004.

To conclude, thank you Secret Santa for your picks. I’m glad I watched Genshiken; it definitely was an above average school club anime series, but, I feel bad that I probably didn’t enjoy the series as much as you did.

Final Score: 10/12 A

Ending: 2/3 – Excellent
Production Values: 1/3 – Above Average
Rewatchablity: 0/3 – Average

Recommended? – Yes.

You Might Also Like: Shirobako, Kuragehime, The Tatami Galaxy, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Moyashimon, LuckyStar

This is the review card for Genshiken. I will get to an in-depth explanation someday. For now, in brief, each category at the top, is a way I measure the overall quality of the show. The scores range from -1: below average, 0: average, 1: above average, 2: excellent, to 3: exceptional. The bottom section contains specific items that can influence the overall score upwards. A check mark indicates that I felt the show accomplished a noteworthy effort for that item. A straight tally of points earned will only approximate a final score. I consider the score using my grading scale here at The Null Set to be the real score a show gets and only include the MAL score to help compare reviewed titles against the broader number of series I’ve graded over at MyAnimeList.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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3 thoughts on “Genshiken – A Secret Santa Series Review”

  1. I’m glad you were able to enjoy Genshiken despite its weaknesses, and that you, too, found Saki’s character interesting. The sequel does feature more Sasahara, though likely not in the capacity that you might imagine.

    I’ll be honest and say that as your Secret Santa, I had a hard time choosing anime for you because you had already seen so many of the shows I would normally recommend. Tatami Galaxy, Shirobako, and Suzumiya Haruhi are all excellent recommendations to make off of Genshiken, and many other series I love or consider niche were already on your watch list. Thank you for taking the time to watch and write about Genshiken, and I look forward to the day you review both Gankutsuou and Macross Frontier.

    Like

  2. @Marina: Sorry for the slow response. The holidays and helping my sister move caused me to neglect visiting my blog for awhile.

    I’m secretly pleased that you had trouble coming up with recommendations but I’m also glad you were able to come up with a good list of choices.

    Like

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