Genshiken – 1-3
A big part of why it works so well is that, when you peer past the surface of their insanely geeky obsessions, the Genshiken characters are pretty normal people. Sasahara is nervous about getting to know people in college. Madarame, crazy as he is, is at heart a romantic. Tanaka loves the art of costuming and photography. Kugayama loves to draw. Kasukabe doesn’t really get these guys, but after hitting some rough patches, she makes a genuine effort to befriend them. Kousaka is maybe the most unrelatable of the group, just because he’s so out there, but he is generally a kind person. The people who show up down the road — Ohno in ep4 and Ogiue in the OVA — are also perfectly normal, despite some hang-ups of their own. (Well, maybe Kuchiki falls just a bit short of normal …)
Sure, they can be socially awkward and obsessed with their passions to the exclusion of the outside world, but there’s something endearing about it. You can admire how much they truly love what they love. They are not closed off in their shells to the point of being dysfunctional idiots like you might see in other series (in anime, and Stateside). I appreciate that. The passions of the characters in Genshiken have both their good and bad points. If Sasahara never met the Genshiken group, he might never have emerged from the awkward shell he had built for himself before entering college. (Imagine if he had joined the Manga Club! What a disaster that would have been!) Cosplay and drawing give Tanaka and Kugayama, respectively, an outlet for their creativity. They get a little too involved at times (to say the least), but in all, their fandom is depicted positively.
The first three episodes just ease the viewer into the daily routine of Genshiken. In ep1, Sasahara tentatively searches for a club to join — any place he is welcome will probably do, but ideally he would like to join one that reflects his general interests (anime, manga, gaming, etc.). One of the best parts of this first episode is Sasahara’s initial journey to the dark den of Genshiken. The club is located in a remote part of the campus, hidden in a place where normal students dare not venture. Sasahara making this trip down the corridor much scarier than it has any right to be is funny, of course, but what really makes it work are all the mundane details that bring the scene to life. Every college campus has some place like that, doesn’t it? Kind of dark, random postings by the art students littered about, graffiti adorning the outside walls, etc. It reminds me instantly of the art building at my college, haha.
This episode’s other big happening is the light hazing ritual where the Genshiken members leave Sasahara alone to see if he will peruse their figures and their porn collection. (Of course he does.) They catch him in the act, and while Sasahara is mortified, he also becomes much closer to the Genshiken members as a result of it. The whole experience is kind of sweet and charming in a way. They rib the n00b a bit as a show of affection, but they don’t do it in a cruel or malicious way. Sasahara feels embarrassed about the whole thing; however, the reaction of the club members shows that he has nothing to fear. He is one of them, after all.
The main thrust of ep2 is the first of Kasukabe’s many, many attempts to get Kousaka to relate to her on a romantic level. She doesn’t understand Genshiken’s obsessions, and even outwardly dislikes them, but you can’t really hate her because her efforts to get through to Kousaka are so futile. It’s like the whole situation as it’s “supposed” to be has been dumped on its head — Kasukabe, the cute woman, completely fails at courting the (albeit handsome) total geek. This story could very easily smack of being overly patronizing (the otaku get their revenge on the beautiful woman), but it’s handled in such a gentle, funny way that it escapes that fate. Kasukabe is kind of bullheaded about the whole anime thing at this moment, but she is just weirded out because she has been presented with something totally outside her experience.
But, really, who cares about that when you have Madarame making speeches about how men have been getting off on 2D and 3D women since the dawn of time. <3
Ep3 is the famous first journey to Comifes, Genshiken‘s Comiket expy. Again, Madarame is the star. For him, Comifes is Serious Business. He is not there to mess around — he’ll get the doujinshi he wants even if he has to kill himself in the process. And, uh, he gets kind of close to that by spraining (or possibly breaking) his right hand on the way in to the convention. Now that is dedication. The sheer size of Comifes really struck me the first time I saw Genshiken. I’ve been going to Anime Expo for six years now and have seen it grow from around 28,000 attendees to 44,000+. And that still seems like a drop in the bucket compared to Comifes! I wouldn’t even know where to start there, haha.
Also, Sasahara gets to know better the pure evil that is Haraguchi. He pretty much represents the very worst of anime fans — he’s a big, annoying, pushy jerk who lives to belittle those he sees as below him. Total asshole. You can tell from the start that the Manga Club members are completely miserable just being around him. It would take a special kind of person to not be miserable around that horrible bastard. But everyone probably knows someone like him. Hell, the Internet is littered with ‘em just about everywhere you go.
The most obvious thing you can get from Genshiken in these first few episode is that it is content to hang back and let the characters do their thing. And why not? These are an entertaining bunch of people. They are open about the passions and wonderful when talking about them. The viewer isn’t just living vicariously through their passions — it’s assumed you identify with them on a more fundamental level. They are you, and you are them. But Genshiken isn’t about shameless pandering to otaku. The Genshiken crew are just real people coasting through life and college and having a bit of fun along the way before reality rears its ugly head.