Genshiken 2 is the 12-episode second season of the anime adaption of the manga by Shimoku Kio which follows the lives of a group of college students who belong to the fictional Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyuukai, the "Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture," a club at the fictional Shiiou University (with settings and buildings based loosely upon the real Chou University "Central University" in Tokyo). The club focuses its attention on manga, anime, and games. The first season originally ran in 2004, followed by a series of three Original Video Animation episodes that were released with the television adaptation of the originally fictional Kujibiki Unbalance anime which is referenced heavily in Genshiken. This second season ran in 2007 and has just finished its release here from Media Blasters this month. The third and final volume of this season contains a bonus radio drama based upon the fictional adult visual novel referenced in the show, Ramen Angel Pretty Menma, and Media Blasters has been good enough to have an English version made of this bonus feature. I shall discuss it separately at the end of the review.
Dubbed by Headline Studios, NY
ADR Dir: Joe Digiorgi
Script: Bill Timoney
Released by Media Blasters
Voice Fit: A-
Emotional Feel: A-
Delivery Flow: B
Key and Minor Roles:
While I will talk to some extent about the season, and show, as a whole, I plan to focus my attention more on the final volume which has just seen its slightly delayed release. I do not plan to go into depth about every character as this is not, strictly speaking, a new dub. Also, certain characters that were central to the earlier parts of the show hardly appear at all in this volume.
From the start of the show, the character who has been the stand-in for the audience has been Kanji Sasahara, who is voiced by Michael Perreca. Sasahara is a character who is incredibly laid back. So laid back, you often wonder if he is about to fall over into a coma. Mr. Perreca matches that character very well with his voice, providing a great sense of soothing relief with his delivery and tone. At times, it can be a little too soothing, as one begins to tire a little of Sasahara's easy-going nature. It is, however, exactly what is called for by the character.
Though she is a relatively late addition to the main members of Genshiken, the latter part of the series has focused itself increasingly on one of the newest members of the club, the self-loathing otaku-hater Chika Ogiue, who is played by Michele Knotz. In her earlier appearances back in the OVA, she was rather short and curt with her speech, so it was somewhat hard to get a read on both the character and the performance. In this season, and especially in the final volume of the show, however, she begins to open up far more than she had before and Ms. Knotz is given the chance to show much greater range and emotional depth beyond simply expressing her disdain for anime/manga/gaming fans. In episode 11, she is especially good in her scenes with Sasahara, where Ogiue begins to show a certain vulnerability and a softer side. While Mr. Perreca maintains Sasahara's generally serene composure while the two of them are chatting at the Comic Festival (a fictional version of the real Comiket, the large semi-annual convention where creators of fan-made manga (doujinshi) gather to sell their wares), Ms. Knotz does a very good job of softening her tone and delivery. While Ogiue usually is very abrasive and condescending, here her voice takes on a much more feminine tone. One of sweetness and tenderness. It is a very good performance that highlights her versatility, as we would not generally expect to hear this kind of voice from Ogiue from what we have seen of her earlier in the show.
Not quite as central as they were earlier, important secondary roles are still played by Saki Kasukabe (Carol Jacobanis), Harunobu Madarame (Billy Regan) and Kanako Ohno (Rachael Lillis). Ms. Jacobanis continues with her sexy and sultry, yet sometimes devilish and mischievous tone. The only fault is that at times her line reads sounded a little stiff, something that I noticed with other characters at times as well. It might be the result of the script, which sometimes reads a little dryly. Mr. Regan's Madarame is still in fine form, one of the better performances in the dub from the very start of the show. His frantic fear is conveyed quite well in Episode 10 where he freaks out in response to the exceedingly over-familiar greeting (a stereotyping of Americans in anime that is quite common) that he gets from Kanako's American friend Angela Burton when she comes to visit the clubroom. Regarding Kanako Ohno, Ms. Lillis continues to voice Ohno as a very sweet girl, though much of the original shyness that was in her voice back when Ohno was first introduced at the beginning of the first season has long since been displaced by a more assertive and confident Ohno, a transition that Ms. Lillis has accomplished well during the run of this show. The only shortcoming seems to be that she sometimes has, it sounds to me, a little trouble maintaining her pitch level. At times, there are indications of strain, a slight wavering of her voice that shows that it is not easy to maintain such a high pitch for extended durations.
Speaking of Ohno's American friends, I will have more to say about them in the next section.
Adaptation and Localization:
Genshiken is not an easy show to adapt and localize for the American market. There are a great number of anime, manga, and gaming references to be dealt with. In the past, liner notes were occasionally provided to help deal with the references, but Media Blasters has since ceased to do that. The references are in general left in exactly as they were, which is probably the best course of action. With the internet, those with questions can find out what it is they have missed.
The dub script in general is fairly close to the subtitle script. Not a guarantee of accuracy, but in the whole it seems that this is a fairly literal adaptation. On occasion, words are rearranged to make them more palatable to a native English speaker, but by and large the meaning of the dialogue is not changed.
We come now to what might be considered the most contentious issue to this dub: how the dub production staff chose to deal with the problem of the American friends of Kanako Ohno who come to visit in episodes 10 and 11. In the original language track, the seiyuu for Angela, Yuki Kaida, speaks in relatively passable English (while it is obvious that she is not a native speaker, her pronunciation of English is quite clear and understandable). On these occasions, Ohno's seiyuu, Ayako Kawasumi, replies to her in English (of a not-quite-as-good quality. I can understand what she is saying without a problem, but the cadence and rhythm of her delivery demonstrates that she is not as comfortable speaking in English as Ms. Kaida seems to be). This, of course, presents a conundrum for any English language adaptation. The staff here decided that they would simply have Rebecca Soler, the voice actress for Angela, speak her lines normally in English, without any indication at a ll that she is speaking an entirely different language from those around her. The problem with this "solution" is that the localization team has made no attempt to let the viewer know that Angela is speaking English while everyone else around her is speaking in Japanese. It is not the best way to adapt the material here.
The awkwardness of this decision is most apparent in episode 10, where there is a long scene involving Madarame and Angela. In the original track, Madarame's discomfort and lack of understanding is completely apparent, since you can hear, without mistake, that Angela is speaking in English, a language that Madarame does not know beyond a certain number of phrases that have worked their way into the knowledge of most Japanese under 30 (such as "coming soon"). The spinning question marks over his head do help visually to show that he does not understand what she is saying, but since we hear English coming from both of their mouths, we are not ourselves, if we listen to the English dub alone, aware of the source of Madarame's distress. I grant that this is a very difficult situation to address. If Angela had been put into a foreign language, perhaps that might have helped to get across the "feeling" of what a Japanese viewer would be hearing, but would, of course, alter the fact that this woman is an American speaking English.
If I might put forward my own suggestion, perhaps the only thing that might have given us some sense of the difference would have been if they had had Angela voiced in a very distinct regional accent, something that would sound almost foreign in comparison to the "accent neutral" English that most of the characters speak (I am well aware that neutrality of accent is a relative thing, but most Americans would consider the prevailing "accent" heard in most anime dubs to be "neutral"). It would not be the same, and would, of course, open up other potential problems of conveying the meaning without introducing elements which are not present, but short of simply shifting back to the original language track and hearing for oneself exactly what was happening, there is no elegant solution to this matter of adaptation. The choice made here, however, creates confusion where there should be none.
Finally, after some delays, we have the end to Genshiken. In the current dubbing scene, where a certain town in Texas looms large over a much reduced field of dubs, Genshiken serves as a reminder that quality dubs come from other regions as well. Taken as a whole, Headline Studio's dub to Genshiken is quite good, with only the occasional rough patch here and there. Sometimes the line reads felt a little bit stilted, but overall it is a very good effort. A highlight, certainly, of these last few volumes of the entire show has been the character of Chika Ogiue, whom Michele Knotz has voiced with a good amount of emotional range and depth. The casting was fairly solid from the start, even though adjustments were made in bringing the characters into English. The final volume is slightly marred by a localization decision that leads to some confusion on the part of the viewer in two episodes, but the overall dub is still one that I would recommend quite strongly to those in search of a good dub.
The Pretty Menma Radio Drama:
As a bonus to the final disc, there is included an English version of the Pretty Menma radio drama that was included with Genshiken 2 in Japan. This is an unusual feature to include, as many other shows never see their radio dramas brought over, let alone given an English version (Code Geass being one of the other rare exceptions in recent memory).
The voice acting, done by a group of well known names such as Dan Green, Rebecca Soler, and Carol Jacobanis, as well as a group of well known voices who apparently do not wish to be named, is of a fairly high quality. The problem with Menma is that it is such a cliche-ridden hodgepodge of recycled characters, story elements and situations that it is not really all that pleasant to listen to. The actors tackle the material gamely and give it a good effort, but not even good voice acting can rescue total crap like this. It is perhaps more meant for aficionados, who can listen to it and test their knowledge by picking out exactly from where they have borrowed every idea that appears in it.