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Genshiken 1

This was one of those titles I'd promised a friend I'd watch before the end of time. It's actually a good contrast to watch with N.H.K. ni Youkoso, as they both study otaku and anime/manga/game-related fandom in different directions. Genshiken's approach is more light-hearted than N.H.K., with by far less enigmatic drama or people whinging like civillization was about to end. Apart from the contrast, I'm finding it a relief to watch just to escape the latter title's suicidal angst. There's also a wider fandom angle that Genshiken takes I'm appreciating, as it is interested in showing us a range within the culture rather than a concentrated segment, as the aforementioned title provides.

In the opening moments of Genshiken though, I was left wondering if I'd actually downloaded the wrong show off AniDB. Not only did the opening credits squeak something about "Kujibiki Unbalance" (Unbalanced Lots), there were these kids running around like they crawled right out of Digimon. When I paused to doublecheck, AniDB listed Kujibiki Unbalance as its own title. Thinking I might as well watch it anyway, I went ahead, and eventually came to the actual start of Genshiken. Turns out Kujibiki Unbalance, the "play within the play", was taken out of Genshiken and turned into its own set of OVAs and a TV series due out in October 2006. Scared the bejeezus out of me for all of a minute and a half, I tell you.

It starts with the first day of university for our main characters. We first see breakfast being made and a boy calling out to his sister. The screen pans out to show us Kanji is watching all this on Kujibiki Unbalance. We later see him walking down the corridors of his university. All the clubs are out in force to recruit new members. He's stopped by a member of the Mahjong Club, who tells him it's a faster way to make a quick buck than part-timing. After rejecting the offer, he heads off. The recruiter spies a stylish girl sitting on a bench, and approaches her instead. She tells him to bugger off. The girl spots a cute boy in a suit (listening to music) walking down the hall and calls out to him, asking if he's a new student. He asks her if she's Saki-chan. It's then that she realizes he's an old schoolmate from elementary school called Kohsaka. Embarrased, she switches topic to the music he had in his player. Kohsaka tells her it's by Matsuzawa Sumire, a seiyuu (voice actress).

The camera pans over a banner for the Anime Club. The recruiters there are arguing over the quality of some recent titles, which Kanji overhears. When the recruiters notice him, Kanji walks off. However, he changes his mind halfway through and goes back to them. Saki asks Kohsaka if he really intends to join the Manga Club. She tries to dissuade him from joining, but he has his heart set on it. Kanji is mustering up the courage to approach the Anime Club. He's still afraid to talking to them. The table next door is run by the Manga Club. Figuring he might talk to them first instead, he's beaten by Kohsaka, who asks after the Manga Club's (the table next door's) activities. Kanji walks off again, and sees the table for the Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyuu Kai (the Genshiken -- Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture), where the recruiters are discussing cosplay, and the physics of a commander's helmet. He flips through a guidebook to all the clubs, and reads the listing for the Genshiken, which carries a simple hand-drawn character saying, "Come here."

A few days later, Kanji follows the address to the Genshiken's meeting spot in an abandoned building. The structure is filled with quite intriguing (and artistic) graffiti and a large amount of posters. It looks like abandoned portion of the university. He climbs up to the third floor, where lit exit signs clearly show that power is still available, past a furnished, albeit dilapidated lobby (with everything neatly arranged), and a poster that says, "Iraq Palestine". Very lovely background scenery here. At the end of a dark hallway, he hears music, and finds the classroom labeled, "Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture" (with the abbreviation, Genshiken - lit. Presently Viewing Society or the Society of Viewing the Present). The sign for classroom behind him is labeled, "Fishing Club". Maybe the university shoves all the unpopular clubs into derelict buildings on purpose? Kanji is joined by Kohsaka, who's just joined the club. They go inside.

The club is a handful of people strong. The room is covered in posters of cute girls (including a poster of Kujibiki Unbalance next to the TV), and though small, is very clean. Kujibiki Unbalance is playing. A very large man offers Kanji his chair. Another member (they're all men) asks Kohsaka if Saki is coming today, to which Kohsaka says no. It's not as if she's joined anyway. Everyone launches into a discussion on "Kujian", especially about recent posts to its BBS. The large man comments that the script writer, Yokotani, likes to go against the original story (Kujian appears to be manga adapation). The members wonder if the new direction will work against the series. Kohsaka asks Kanji if he watches this show, but Kanji is too shy to respond properly. He continues observing the club. A thin, bespectacled man at the end of the table is reading the latest issue of Shounen Magazine, which Kanji hasn't seen yet. He looks away when the bespectacled man notices him. The same man gets up to go to the bathroom. On the TV, they've begun a cooking contest. The members think it's a quick pace to start the first episode with. Views differ on whether the producers want it to be a romantic, comedy or competitive show, and disgruntled voices are heard when the producer himself is said to have wanted it as competitive. A ponytailed member's cell phone rings. Kanji recognizes it as an FF theme, but doesn't know which one it comes from. The large man's cell phone has a ringtone from Laputa. We get the idea he seems to be impressed and extremely uncertain of himself faced with all these experienced fans. All the members except Kohsaka leave for an unexplained emergency. Before he can settle down to talk with Kanji, he has to leave as well however, as Saki called him out.

Left alone, Kanji explores the room. The club has back issues of industry magazines, all the major consoles, and a shelf of figurines, which grabs his attention. Gundams are on the top shelf. Schoolgirls on the second. He blushes at the second, bending down to stare up a girl's skirt. Kanji is hit with a revelation. In a room like this, there must be some smutty material somewhere! (Hey, I'd think that.) He opens a cupboard filled with doujinshi. The first page alone has a naked girl (the one from the club's sign, in fact). The guys return as he flips through more naked girls. Kanji immediately puts the book back and shuts the doors. However, as the guys filter past him from behind, the cupboard creaks open. Bespectacled guy comes over to tell Kanji they saw everything from across the block. They do this to newbies every year. It turns out Kanji's shyness was really that he was too proud to admit he was an otaku, and this exercise was designed to break him down. (Bespectacled guy accurately notes that Kanji probably has only seen figurines in hobbyist's magazines, and that must've been the first time he saw real panties on one.) Since Kanji is now proven to be one of them, he can join them. (So Genshiken is the society of perverted anime/manga/game fans?)

Saki arrives. Kanji asks her if she's also a member of the club. She punches him for thinking she might be like these guys. Kanji actually says, "Ore", during his puffy faced moments. (Just like Kenshin!)

Some time later, Kanji bumps into the large man between classes, but seems keen to avoid him. In the cafeteria, he tries to sit alone, but is joined by Kohsaka, who noticed that Kanji hasn't been attending Genshiken meetings lately. Kanji still thinks he might not fight in, but Kohsaka thinks he fits in just fine. (Kohsaka must also be this show's designated pretty boy. My urge to steal clothes and try them on myself is rising.) Kanji notes that Kohsaka may not be the best fit either, since he has a real girlfriend (a real girl! For an otaku! See: N.H.K. ni Youkoso). Kohsaka is confused, as he isn't seeing anyone, but Kanji asks about the girl (who punched him). Kohsaka explains Saki does follow him around, but he isn't dating her. He wonders if she likes him. Kanji just can't believe this guy.

Saki is discussing Kohsaka in a boutique. She points out their university is close to Tokyo, but up in the mountains. There's only one thing the male and female students there can do, but all these guys are interested in is watching anime. Kohsaka invites Kanji to his place. He asks if he wants to play an eroge (*sweatdrop* - Hamp), and seeing Kanji's face, asks if he'd prefer a fighting game. Kohsaka beats the stuffing out of Kanji at fighting games. (As he turns to ask Kanji what he wants to do next, his wall has a trellis full of limited edition cell phone straps.) Kohsaka gets the idea they should call the senpai over, since they'd all be about Kanji's level at games. Before Kanji can blink, the rest of the Genshiken arrive, with food. Bespectacled guy (he's such a creepy twig, I like him already; I just wished they'd get around to introducing everyone at some point -- I can't keep calling him bespectacled guy) wants to play a King of Fighters parody. Because Kohsaka doesn't have this game, everyone decides to play a tag team-style thing instead, and bespectacled guy gets around to writing out a score sheet.

Kanji tells himself he should decide whether he wants to mingle with these people properly, since they're being so nice to him. At the same time, Saki calls up Kohsaka, saying she's coming over with cake. Kohsaka, being the easygoing chap he is, invites her over, much to everyone else's horror. When she hears the Genshiken are there though, she quickly rethinks her plan. However, Kanji suddenly grabs the phone from Kohsaka and tells Saki that it's alright if she comes over. They're all going to leave now. Kohsaka asks if he's sure about that, to which Kanji says yes. On the other end of the line, Saki barely remembers who Kanji is, and still feels disgust rather than appreciation for his efforts.

Later, the Genshiken sans Kohsaka are eating outside a konbini, by the roadside. The guys discuss Saki, wondering why Kohsaka brings her along to their meetings, since she's not an otaku. Kanji tells them what he knows, that Saki isn't dating Kohsaka. The guys are surprised, but think it's likely only Kohsaka is the one who believes that. Bespectacled guy wonders where they could go next. Kanji asks if anyone has eroge. He's never played one before, so he'd like to see what it's like (NOOOOOOOO! That's what corrupted Tatsuhiro too!). Bespectacled guy starts doing this evil laugh and says they should therefore head to Kugayama's (the large man's) place, as that has the most room. Post end-credits, we see Saki and Kohsaka in his room. Saki tells him she's about to change into one of her new outfits, so he shouldn't peek. Kohsaka is busy playing videogames, but nods along. Saki tells him again he shouldn't look back. Kohsaka nods again. This guy...

I must say I found this episode intriguing. It's shaping up to be an interesting character-driven story. I'm not entirely sure as yet how far into the anime/manga/game culture they're planning to dive into, but it is apparent they're taking a wide approach, and I like all the inside references that have been dropped so far. I know that's a weird thing to say, since this is a show about an otaku society, being otaku, of all things. By way of explanation, N.H.K. ni Youkoso, the other show about otaku that I'm currently watching quite religiously, has a narrower approach in comparison, being specifically about game creation, and is in fact more focused on the psychological hikikomori studying-aspect of the main character, rather than the otaku aspect per se. I'm still not sure what the focus of Genshiken intends to be, whether they're going with studying the characters and revolving random aspects of otaku life around them, or if the otaku culture is going to be the focus, approached from the view of the characters. It is an interesting mix of characters thus far, though the large cast has meant we've only really been able to focus on Kanji, Kohsaka and Saki really well thus far. I like Bespectacled Guy, of course. Kugayama is passable. Don't know what to make of the ponytailed guy at all, since he really hasn't said very much. I don't particularly like Kanji as a main protagonist. He's too limpid, and while I can appreciate the story will be about him developing a spine, he doesn't have enough internal conflict to warrant making that development interesting. Saki, as the token non-otaku in the crowd, provides an interesting balance to the rest of the crew, as she will likely be the first character with the ability to provide criticism, if any. Otherwise, in spite of the fancy, longwinded episode titles (this one is: The Study of Modern Visually-Oriented Culture), I'm afraid I haven't seen very much of the studying part as yet.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 1st, 2006 08:58 am (UTC)
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Sep. 2nd, 2006 06:56 am (UTC)
The big debate about the development of the show-within-a-show is the focus of the 'study' in the title, I think. Might as easily have called it "Geeks Overanalyzing Crap." ;)

Though he does develop as a character, I don't think the point of the anime was ever really to have Kanji grow a pair. He's more like a token, as are all the characters, of some facet of otakuness (or, in Saki's case, total non-otakuness). He is the "embarrased to admit he's otaku" otaku.

I think he's used as a way to conveniently introduce the club, but he's not really the protagonist; ultimately the show is an ensemble sort of thing.
Sep. 2nd, 2006 07:19 am (UTC)
Might as easily have called it "Geeks Overanalyzing Crap." ;) - Heeeey! ;P

It would make sense to have Kanji, the reluctant otaku, as our introduction to the club. I'm still kind of wondering why the show hasn't made it a point to really mention names of people as yet -- I'm basically struggling with trying to figure out who everyone is, though I recognize basic personality differences by now. *nods*

Finally finished downloading 2-3 as well, so I'll be watching that!
Sep. 8th, 2006 02:56 am (UTC)
The names thing frustrated the hell out of me, yep. I suspected a realism thing--resisting the urge to go out of their way to obviously introduce characters or something, doing it more the way you'd actually meet people, by bumping into them a bit here and there.

Alternately, they enjoy being bastards. :D
Sep. 8th, 2006 01:18 pm (UTC)
*nods* I dig the realism in narrative there also. Of course, this, coupled with my extreme inability to retain people's names in my head for longer than 30 seconds, results in serious shape-identification during watches. Skinny Bespectacled Dude. Fat Sumo Wrestler Dude. Etc. :D
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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