Genshiken: Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, July 18, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, July 26, 2005



What They Say
It is Sasahara's first day of college, and a fateful choice awaits him. Which college clubs will he choose to join? But Sasahara is no ordinary young man; a dark secret lurks within his soul. For one thing, he knows what "cosplay" is, and he'd like to know more. He knows how to unlock all the secret characters in "Guilty Gear X", and he'd like to know more. He knows what the plot twist is in episode twenty-five of "Kujibiki Unbalance" because he's read the manga, and he'd like to know more. He's heard of Doujinshi, and he... NEEDS to know more. Enter Genshiken, the barely legitimized Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, home to all subspecies of Otaku!

Includes one episode of "Kujibiki Unbalance"

The Review!
A love letter to fandom, Genshiken takes a look at a group of people with similar but diverse tastes and paints a loving portrait of them while showing just how similar everyone else really is.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. The shows stereo mix has some good moments to it overall as it mixes in a number of areas, from the show within the show that's a bit more dynamic in range to some well placed dialogue and massive crowd scenes that fill the forward soundstage nicely. We had no problem with dropouts or distortions during regular playback of either language track and overall had a solid experience.

Video:
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is done in anamorphic widescreen. All told, this is a very good looking transfer that's very clean across the board with really no issues at all. The series has such a range of detail to it and moves between a couple of very distinct styles that it handles both beautifully, be it looking at the crowded shelves full of manga, toys and video games that are very detailed or the much smoother and softer lines used for the in-show Kujibiki material. Colors are well represented for each of their sections and the show overall is very easy on the eyes and just shines.

Packaging:
The appeal of the sideways cover is used once again with this series and Media Blasters has one of their most creative uses of it by combining not only the model kit factor but a music reference as well with the cast of characters walking across the street. The front cover looks like many Japanese model kits and has a lot of little details, such as calling it an "Action Otaku Kit", getting the scale done perfectly and so forth. It's really just spot on. The back cover is more standard in nature with a number of screenshots from the show, large text showing clearly the neat extras on the disc and a good summary paragraph of the shows premise. I loved the little "Skill Level 1" graphic included on it as well. The rest of the cover is rounded out by the usual production information and the technical grid. No insert was included with this release.

Menu:
The main menu is a decent piece that has a shot of several of the cast members through a blue/purple filter as they stand around the club room and showcase all the materials that they have in there. The artwork is fairly minimal compared to the massive logo along the bottom half (which is hard to read some parts of that are in yellow). It just feels like so much more could have been done with this menu as to what was done, but it's functional and usable, including a quick access to the Kujikibi episode. Access times are nice and fast and the navigation quick and easy to use. Unfortunately the disc did not read our player's language presets and played English without any subtitles.

Extras:
The opening volume has a number of good extras to it that will entice some hardcore fans of the show. There's a section of commercial and promotional video pieces that show of the series and we get the standard clean opening and closing sequences. One really good extra is the Character Show 2004 event that has some of the voice actors out on stage talking about their characters and the show, which looks like it was followed by the other extra, a live performance on the same stage by Under 17. Both extras show how interesting these kinds of events are in Japan and make you wonder why some studios in the US haven't tried to replicate this (and tape it) at conventions and use it as promotion.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When watching Genshiken, one thing kept sticking in my mind when I was thinking about the right angle from which to write the review. This show really is something of a love letter to fandom and it will likely become this generation's version of Otaku no Video. Taking the two shows together works out even better I think since it shows two things: fandom has evolved quite a bit since the "old" days and as much as things change, many things stay the same. While fans are more vocal and command a larger presence than ever, they are still very much the same thing we've seen for many years now.

The series is focused, albeit lightly, around a freshman at Suioh University named Sasahara. One of the usual events on the first day is to go around and see all the various clubs that are showing off at their booths as they try to attract new members. Sasahara is the really shy quiet type and he's intent on checking out the manga and anime clubs but has a hard time even getting close before being spooked. While there are people checking out those booths, nobody seems to be at one strange one called Genshiken. According to the book, it's a club about the study of modern visual culture but it looks like it's sort of stigmatized. Sasahara is so thrown by all this newness that he doesn't actually join anything at first.

But a few days later he finds himself going to the Genshiken club room and seeing what it's all about. He's able to be smoothed into things by the groups other new freshman, a pretty boy that's all smiles named Kohsaka. Kohsaka's an interesting character in that he's the type that doesn't fit the otaku stereotypes and it throws people off that he's like he is. From adult games to fighting games, anime and manga, he's all over a lot of it. The person this really frustrates is Saki Kusakabe, a childhood friend of his who goes to the same college. The two had just reunited as friends on the first day when they met again after so many years only Saki finds herself really attracted to Kohsaka. But he's completely oblivious to it or just so easygoing about the entire thing that it's hard to read how he really feels about it. She can't understand his otaku-ness though and it's something that she's just creeped out by.

That's only accentuated when she deals with members of Genshiken as each of them is creepy in their own way. Sasahara's brought in easily and his love of doujinshi and the adult nature of things combined with his quiet nature does make him seem odd but he's also the most normal of the group. Add in a cosplay fan, a self-stylized military otaku, a chairman whose been there for far too many years and a couple of others and it's a pretty varied group but one that has a real camaraderie around it. Their initiation of Sasahara is highly amusing as is the first time they take him down to a doujinshi store in Akihabara and teach him the ways of shopping. It's amusing watching the reverence given to some of it and the way they actually talk about the art. Even more amusing is the constant blushing as Sasahara finally experiences the adult versions of things.

While the show does focus fairly well on Sasahara and his indoctrination into adulthood as an otaku, we get some glimpses of the other characters but a lot of time is spent with the relationship between Kohsaka and Saki. The fact that he seems oblivious to her intent is amusing since it frustrates her, especially when she internalizes everything and you can see how she is about it, especially when she contemplates getting him to a hotel but he reveals his plans for a late-night purchase of a new release. Saki ends up trying to understand Kohsaka more by understanding the other guys but it sort of creeps her out a bit but it shows a lot of effort on her part. There are a few really fun scenes, obvious that they are of course, where they show how things she does as part of her every day "mundane" life that are just the same as the otaku she despises. It's akin to pointing out how some football fans dress up in uniforms, face paint, act wild at games and so forth.

The group evolves nicely and we get to know each of the characters in some limited form and see a bit beyond the archetypes that we're presented. The interactions of the group and the way they all treat each other as normal is really nice but it's also great when they go to the "extremes" since a lot of it just internal, such as Madarame's bits when they go to a big doujinshi show and he likens it to achieving entry into heaven. The camaraderie is what's really focused on throughout a lot of this and it's very well done. Watching these folks interact, you just keep coming back to moments where you smile warmly about how they all are. The pacing is a bit slow in the first episode since it's a slightly awkward set up piece, particularly since the manga drew it out just a touch longer and could get away with it more easily, but once past that it's just fun and pretty heartwarming at the same time.

Also included in this release, though it didn't have the same appeal for me, is one episode of the OVA series release of Kujibiki Unbalance, the anime series that's shown within the series. The inclusion of these episodes across all of the DVD releases really means that we're getting five episodes as opposed to four with it and it's definitely a huge value, one that I'm surprised got included as it did but not too surprised considering that they'd probably sell less than one volume of the show since people wouldn't know about it. Those who get into Kujibiki will really love it but it was something that just didn't click entirely with me.

In Summary:
Genshiken is the kind of show that in a sense should be considered one of the bibles of anime fandom. It displays an idealized version of fans (and it's amusing that online fans are mostly ignored, at least here) who are in harmony with their passion. Watching the evolution of the new characters when mixed in with the previous members is a lot of fun as is watching how Saki copes with all of it and slowly becomes something more than she thought, especially when a woman joins the group with her own oddities. From the manga to the cosplay and to the events all around, Genshiken had us either smiling or laughing outright for all four episodes. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Promotional Reel,Character Show Event,Under 17 Live Performance

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 29.95/34.95
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphice Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Genshiken: Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture