A bunch of college-aged Otakus, sitting around in a cramped study room doesn’t exactly make for compelling television. Then again, western film directors such as Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater have been making a boon out of twenty-something drop-outs, discussing the finer points of pop culture. I suppose sooner or later anime was bound to tackle the Fandom so often surrounding each of its products. The question of how it would tackle such a sensitive subject without offending its loyal audience would certainly prove a difficult feat to overcome.
Thankfully Genshiken manages to provide an all too knowing glimpse into a world rarely seen but often talked about. Telling the story of freshman Kanji Sasahara, as he attends the after school club known as “The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture” we are introduced to an assortment of weird and wonderful characters as they sit and talk about their shared hobbies for model collecting, Anime and Cosplay. That’s about it. Adapted from the eleven volume Manga and spread over two television series and an OVA; Genshiken has no qualms about digging into the world of dedicated Fandom. Everything from Hentai to the art of Doujinshi is addressed, as we witness each of the characters interact and grow from acquaintances with shared hobbies into a family.
That was probably the aspect of Genshiken that surprised me most, the fact that this was a show willing to inject some genuine pathos into its characters. Sure there are the standard Otaku tropes that we’ve seen a million times before, but the fact that the story was willing to delve beyond those initial stereotypes should be credited. Take for example the beautiful Saki Kasukabe, a girl that has little to know interest in anime but not only acts as the audience’s cipher, but also as someone whose situation we grow to empathise with. This is a girl mixed up in a relationship with the handsome yet irrevocably childish Makoto Kousaka, a dyed in the wool Otaku and connoisseur of Hentai and Eroge PC games. Or perhaps the hilariously beyond help Harunobu Madarame is more to your taste? A self proclaimed hardcore Otaku, with poor social skills and dwindling career prospects, Madarame provides a comic relief to the snobbish elite we all know to well. Each and every character in this ensemble is not only well thought out, but provides weight to that age old adage of “there’s more than meets the eye”.
There are a few inconsistencies along the way, such as season two’s second act lull or the poor introduction of a brand new character, but Genshiken is a show with some genuinely heartfelt moments, and some well timed humour, that not acts only a fantastic character study but an excellent document of a culture rarely witnessed in media.