Every now and then, the anime industry loves to poke fun at itself. Sometimes, this self-awareness from the industry is like Watamote (the real name is way too long to type), where it makes us uncomfortable with how accurate it is to our own awkward lives, basking in our memories of awkward situations and episodes, completely departing from realism to the chagrin of those around us. However, other times, the industry uses a softer approach, taking our wonderful memories of reveling in our nerd culture and both poking fun and celebrating their importance to us. Genshiken and Genshiken Nidaime are anime of this latter approach. Genshiken or, as it’s subtext defines it, The Study of Modern Visual Culture is a manga/anime about a college club of the same name and their experiences loving, hating, and discussing all of the merits of otaku culture. The series takes all of the games, anime, manga, etc. that we know (as well as some fakes ones it invented so wonderfully that they were spun off as their own anime) and takes pride in using their likeness for comedic and celebratory effect. In fact, a surprising thing from this series is that it doesn’t just parody other anime, games, manga, etc. with alternative names or other ways to get around copyright. For most references, the series straight up calls out the names of the anime and shows actual gameplay of certain games. Genshiken was always very upfront about what it referenced and used each name or character from a different series as a badge of honor, showing how the creators, like their readers, were also otaku of a high pedigree.
The creators knew what to do artistically to parody games, series, etc. and more importantly, the people who enjoy them. Recently, when I looked through the volumes I have up on my shelf, I had forgotten how interesting the art style is. Each character looks very different and no two have the same body type. Certain characters are skinny with nerdy glasses, like Madarame, but you also have more heavyset and quiet characters like Kugayama. Their bodies, faces, style of eyes, and dress all vary and show a diverse group of female and male otaku individuals, as well as non-otakus who actually had some fashion sense like Kasukabe. This is something I’ve come to appreciate as for many more modern anime, certain similar styles seem to ring true throughout a lot of popular shows. Many studios have their own art style and characteristics that prevail through all of their shows and many popular shows start looking very similar with trends in the anime industry asking for more “edgy” or more “moe” material across the board. Genshiken even parodies the idea of industry trends with its own fictional show Kujibiki Unbalance!, which has an entirely different art style than Genshiken that directly parodies a popular style of the time of its release, with big doe eyes and squishy faces adorned by shiny, clichéd anime hair for all of its characters. I appreciated this parody and Genshiken’s own uniqueness in the face of popular trends, something that Trigger and a few other studios like to carry on in their own works.
It was also a personal series for me. As I read Genshiken, it was one of the first times that I started to understand my love of anime and other Japanese cultural exports. I starting reading the Genshiken manga in high school, around the same time that I finally moved out of my introductory stages of Dragon Ball and Pokemon from my childhood to more mature series like Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, and Getbackers. Inside of the pages of those volumes I found a group of like-minded individuals, commenting on the anime of the time and enjoying their nerdiness for the things they love. It was a great experience and the characters were hilarious, each one an archetype for a certain type of otaku many people may know. One character, Ohno, was all about cosplay, whether it was dressing up or forcing others to do the same. Another, Kousaka, was a hardcore gamer that would be so into a game his eyes would just stop moving. There were characters who loved Gundam and model building as well as some who loved to draw and make their own fan creations. And yes, there were many who enjoyed the more adult aspects of otaku culture, with plenty of discussion and jokes surrounding the character’s tastes in hentai, games, and doujinshi and the adult doujin market at large. There was even Kasukabe, who brought the perspective of someone from the outside looking in at these otaku and having a hard time understanding any of these people or why they loved things they did. Each character brought something to the table and each one evolved with the story and their changing interests, becoming well-rounded as the series went on. It was a great adventure and a wonderful introduction into a deeper world of otaku culture for me. When I read my last chapter and put the book down, I thought that it was an end to a chapter of my own life. The series meant a lot to me as it followed me through my years of high school and during my times of escapism from some harder times in my personal life.
To my surprise, I apparently was not the only one that read the manga. Even though I had never heard of anyone else buying and enjoying this series at the time, an anime was adapted and made its way over to my side of the Pacific, though it varied in quality and was passed around to several different studios to work on. Even though it was rough at times, and some of the studios made weird decisions on how to adapt it, it was wonderful to hear the voices of these characters as well as see how the anime incredibly got past the copyright censor just like the manga did, calling out each different series, game, and manga for parody and celebration. (I recommend giving it a look. Just please, please ignore the dub and stick to the sub. The English voice cast is almost 4Kids bad.) After the series wrapped up with two seasons and an OVA in between, I thought that this would be the end of a great story. But oh how I was wonderfully wrong when I found out not just a few months ago that in 2009, the story continued with a second series and even a new anime that came out last year (2013 of this writing). How I missed something for so many years that would have had me celebrating in the streets, I have no idea. As I’m still reading through the manga, this next part is mostly a discussion on the anime.
Genshiken Nidaime picks up from where the series left off, previously, with many of the characters graduated from college and off working on their careers, leaving the younger members in charge. Ohno, Oguie, and lovable, but possibly autistic, Kuchiki are left to try and recruit more members. Unlike previous attempts (which were squashed by Kuchiki’s absurd but hilarious outbreaks) this one succeeds with several members joining and all but one of them female. This plot point becomes the end all differing factor between Genshiken and Genshiken Nidaime, with all major differences stemming from this one decision by the creators. While the concept is the same, Nidaime is a parody of more modern anime and modern anime fans. So with that, they chose to have an almost all female cast. I felt while watching through the show that this was intentional for two reasons. One is for the obvious love of shows with all female casts now. In a similar vein to harems and “moe” shows, this show has a female cast that allows Genshiken to both parody and appeal to the people who enjoy shows from the harem and “cute girls doing cute things” variety. However, I also felt that given the respect toward the female characters and the variety of female cast members, this was also a decision to highlight a changing trend in otaku in which girls are also getting much more into the scene, if not over the same shows. Representation seemed to be very much on the writer’s mind while making this new series and becomes integral to the plot later on with a certain character.
Nidaime’s plot revolves around continuing a few of the unresolved bits from the original series, with Madarame coming to terms with his feelings of loneliness, being stuck in a rut with his job, and his crush over Kasukabe, as well as Ogiue attempting to become a more professional mangaka and leading the new Genshiken. The interesting thing is while these plots develop and help shape the story, they slowly become the “b” story to a new development in the story that is one of the most progressive things I’ve seen come from an anime/manga. While Ogiue and Madarame seem to hog the spotlight for several chapters throughout the new series, a new character, Hato, slowly becomes the protagonist that we see all of the events unfold through. Because of this, the audience is thrust into empathizing and understanding through a character that one doesn’t typical see treated well in a series: A transvestite.
While this aspect of Hato’s character may seem odd, the story actual explains the crossdressing aspect well. So much so, that I’d say that, instead of having a trap character around for jokes, the writer decided to do something much more progressive that leads to a much better story. Due to emotional scars and a problem with identity, Hato decided to join a primarily female Genshiken group as a girl in order to better fit in until he is rather humorously found out within the first meeting. Throughout the story, we get hints and small explanations to how this character’s psyche works and why they do all of the things that are so different from everyone else. Amazingly in the story, the characters, aside from a few jokes here and there, are incredibly supportive of Hato, with even the most conservative of the group eventually accepting this person and recognizing him as their friend. The cast even goes so far as to use pronouns pretty damn well when Hato is around or when they’re just talking about him to help Hato identify with which gender he’s sporting. This was not something I expected from this series and its treatment of a situation that is usually derisively regarded absolutely surprised me. Hato becomes the major focus from which we learn everything and because of this, we learn more and more about Hato and the struggles of someone who enjoys living as another gender, leading to apparently interesting discussions on the Internet about the transvestism and possibly transgender aspects of this character (seriously, some people have done some extensive analysis of this).
While this is a serious change from the first series, and there are so many changes in style, feel, and general plot, Genshiken Nidaime never gives up its roots or what made the original such a blast to enjoy. The characters are still explored and grow as the series continues, the humor is still spot on, and the references are so unapologetically in your face that I still don’t know how they got around copyright. I’m serious, they legit played five seconds of Bakemonogatari on the TV in the clubroom during one of the first few episodes. Like, that shit was basically just ripped and photoshopped right on there. They didn’t change a damn thing. I have no idea how they didn’t get sued. Not to mention they made so many references to Bakemonogatari that entire episode that I was laughing so hard.
Back to point, Genshiken Nidaime took what made the old series good and updated it with better art and animation (while keeping the same style), better story elements, and even funnier jokes. All of this drizzled with hundreds of references and comedic call outs of anime and manga series of the time. As much as I am nostalgic over the original series, I absolutely love the direction of the new series and the amount of care they took to updating the old, but keeping the heart of it intact. I wouldn’t say Nidaime was a perfect anime. Far from it, the anime tends to suffer from the often known problem of adapting a large series into thirteen episodes, causing problems with pacing and balancing the story against a large cast of characters all needing development. However, I greatly enjoyed everything else about the show, particularly the jokes and wonderful characters. Also, the manga (so far as I’ve read) gets through the problems of pacing and character development just fine. I recommend giving Nidaime a watch and definitely a read. Even if you haven’t seen the original, I feel Nidaime stands well on its own, but only more so if you feel adventurous enough to read through the original series. Partially taking off the rose colored glasses for second, neither series is groundbreaking nor would I define them as outstanding works, but they’re just the right amount of self-aware, satirical, and humor-filled exploit mixed with interesting characters and a fun time to have made me laugh, and thoroughly enjoy myself. I loved the series both back in high school when I read Genshiken for the first time and now, with Nidaime bringing me back to the same wonderfully geeky place filled with hilarious and heartfelt otaku.
Research and Inspiration for this Discussion:
Review of Nidaime by Miguel Douglas –
Review of Genshiken Nidaime by a Modern Josei –
Discussion on Hato’s possible sexuality –
And of course, wikipedia:
A small list of about a fourth of the references in Genshiken Nidaime –