Genshiken – An anime ahead of its time

An anime that perfectly sums up otaku culture. Genshiken is a 2004 anime that tackles the struggles of those who are overly passionate about anime, manga, gaming and everything in between. This article will contain very mild spoilers.

Genshiken is a slice-of-life comedy anime that centres around an otaku college club. Despite being made nearly two decades ago, the show captures the life of an otaku to perfection. It proves that either otaku culture has not changed nearly as much in the past 15 years, or Genshiken has truly mastered the awkward lifestyle of those passionate in anime, manga and everything else in between must embrace. The show focuses on a group of anime lovers and their hardships with catching up on the latest episodes, doujinshis, figurines and how they deal with the general public regarding their rather niche circle. 

More than meets the eye

Sasahara, a first-year university student appears to be your normal 18, 19 year old freshman. He looks average, is a bit shy and has no other noticeable feature. Surprisingly enough, this average-looking fellow is indeed the main protagonist of Genshiken. A fitting choice considering that anime lovers do, in fact, look like everybody else — completely normal.

He creeps around the rest of the club, trying actively not to look like he’s even remotely interested in anime. His hesitant nature of revealing a somewhat nerdy activity is all too familiar to those who enjoy anime. Even way back then, anime lovers and fans were reluctant to show the world their passion for otaku culture. There was a nasty stigma attached to those who enjoyed anime and manga, and people, much like Sasahara, would never in a million years be willing to publicly proclaim their love for it.

It’s absolutely a shame that someone would feel the need to hide a personal interest of theirs just to appeal to society’s set of long-winded standards. It was presumably much rougher back in the early 2000’s and late 90’s to be an anime fan, but otaku culture has grown significantly since then and so the present generation doesn’t get as much of the slack as their precursors. Sasahara puts his foot down and accepts his true calling as an otaku. He joins Genshiken and miraculously seems like the only sane person in the room.

Sasahara’s overall average build is a testament to those who enjoy anime culture but do not exhibit any physical traits that would suggest it. His mannerism is generally polite and reserved, and is not openly willing to talk about anime unless he himself is asked about it. People like Sasahara do exist. You can absolutely engross yourself in anime but not show a hint of that side in person — not through your choice of clothes, speech, hair or personality. They are a growing bunch and many people still surprisingly are not open to admitting their passion for anime unless they are asked about it directly. 

The irregulars

Kosaka, on the other hand, is someone who has the best of both worlds. On the outside, Kosaka looks like a teenage heartthrob, with wavy blonde hair and a killer smile. He is what you’d imagine someone to look like if they were the protagonist of a high school romance show. Many people in the anime take notice of his cool style and, of course, his handsome look. On the inside, however, Kosaka is a die-hard otaku who spends most of his time gaming in Akihabara.

His girlfriend, Kasukabe, is initially repulsed by Kosaka’s unusual hobbies, but eventually starts to grow on her. In the first season of the show, Kosaka does not, at all, seem all too interested in his girlfriend. He accepts her as a personal love interest but doesn’t show his affection to her at all. Most of the time they are on screen together, Kosaka is quick to depart to some other city to cop the latest poster or compete in a fighter tournament. He is easily one of the most engrossed members of Genshiken but he conceals his geekiness almost too well. Kosaka dresses with style and speaks elegantly to just about everyone. He is most certainly an anomaly that can seamlessly fit in with the cool crowd as well as the geeky bunch. 

The die-hards

Now that we’ve taken a look at two common archetypes found in anime culture, let us venture into the extreme cases that promote the otaku stereotypes. Madarame, a senior in the Genshiken club and a traditional otaku from head to toe, is the backbone of Genshiken and second only to the president.

His skinny frame, sunken cheeks, circle glasses and fangy tooth shouts otaku. If his image doesn’t convince you, maybe his personality might clue you in on the type of guy he is. Madarame is the maximum amount of geekiness an anime and manga lover can be. Whenever he is put in a troublesome situation, Madarame envisions it as if it were a dating simulator, with multiple answers and even more concerning reactions. He is overly defensive of the things he loves and brings up anime or manga whenever possible. As a result, Madarame is in a league of his own when it comes to being socially awkward but tries his best to solve problems using his heightened knowledge of anime culture. Does it always work? Not really, but it does provide hilarious moments that wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the inner mechanisms of his otaku-driven mind.

He can be overbearing at times, talking non-stop about Kujibiki Unbalance, or another fandom of anime culture, but he is the backbone of Genshiken and a day without Madarame in the club simply would not be the same.

The elitists

Lastly, an anime about otaku culture would not be complete without bringing up the unfortunate elitism that comes with it. A setback that most hobbies or activities are burdened with is the self-righteous bunch who can’t help but put themselves in the spotlight and shun away those who don’t share the same ideals. They set themselves on the highest horse possible and walk down a path with shut ears and blurred vision. Yes, elitism, for whatever reason, was still prevalent back in the early 2000’s and Genshiken did not hesitate to include that in their show.

Despite having the same niche passion, some people can’t help but compare themselves to others and look down upon those who don’t hold up to their standards. It truly is gutless, but that is the case in any fandom where opinions are regarded so heavily. Haraguchi, a heavyset otaku who is involved with the anime and manga society seems like a genuine guy at first, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, he’s a judgemental two-face who tells Sasahara in secret that the Genshiken club is just a bunch of useless people who take up space and have no talent to give back to the community.

It just goes to show that no matter what interest you might share with others, there will always be a method to devalue a person’s worth or meaning. Fortunately, he very rarely appears in the anime, so viewers don’t have to endure his despicable self for too long.  

To you, 20 years from now

Genshiken has proven the difficulties that otakus in the past had to deal with, and for the most part, what modern anime lovers must continue to deal with today. Regardless, those who enjoy a niche hobby will always find a way to form some sort of connection, or in this case a club.

It may be awkward at first, but if everyone enjoys it, then it will certainly only be a matter of time before unforgettable memories begin to form. Genshiken is a show that embraces a side that routinely gets shunned from a standardized society. It displays the genuine emotion that comes from anime fandom and the bonds it enables among people. Not much has changed in the ways of otaku culture. For sure, you’ll be made fun of by others for enjoying an unusual activity, but that is just a part of accepting a side you don’t need to hide from. It is a part of who you are, so you might as well embrace it!   

Genshiken has two additional seasons after its first, Genshiken 2 and Genshiken Nidaime.

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Wrence

Wrence Trinidad is a current Bachelor of Journalism student at Toronto's Humber College. His favourite genre is slice-of-life and comedy but is willing to watch anything that even remotely resembles Japanese animation. He hopes to provide different perspectives on certain shows and to spark friendly discussions amongst fans of all geek culture. His username on MAL, AniList and Kitsu is surprisingly just his first name, Wrence.

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