One of the fundamental principles of Aristotle’s Poesis is the subject of mimesis, a term used to discuss one of the tensions of artistic representation. For the Greek philosopher, mimesis was the stylization of reality; in order to depict life, some elements have to be exaggerated, pushing less important features just out of focus. As such, the artist chooses characters and actions that the audience can identify with, and with an ample amount of skill- a sense of empathy emerges.
Undoubtedly, the concept is valuable in evaluating the effectiveness of Genshiken, a 2002 manga that’s spawned three seasons of anime adaptations, as well as a trio of OVAs. The inaugural season introduced viewers to The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, a college club whose dōjinshi-writing, anime-, manga-, and game-obsessed members are outcasts among the larger otaku community on campus. Audiences with an intimate knowledge of this subculture witnessed a candid representation of themselves across the first two seasons, with Genshiken’s pacing and predicaments adopting the feel of reality television. Unlike the episodic apexes and poignant payoffs which accompany most anime, the series had a flatter narrative trajectory, eschewing the heroes and villains that are ubiquitous across the medium.
Our escort through Genshiken’s day-to-day undertakings was Kanji Sasahara, a shy freshman at Shiiou University who decides to join the organization despite the club’s diminished social status. Over the course of two seasons, he gradually finds his place within the Society, eventually rising to the role of president. Conflict emanated not just from the deadline to finish a dōjinshi before the Comiket convention, but also in the small disagreements that erupt between people passionate about art. Given the first two season’s motley band of misfits, identifying with the introverted Sasahara came easily.
Genshiken Second Generation sees Sahahara and the majority of his classmates occupied with the duties of the working world, conferring the school club to a new band of students. Along with the shift from a male-dominated membership to one that’s predominately female, the third season has a few additional wrinkles to help offset any sensation of stagnancy.
Unquestionably, the most remarkable addition is the inclusion of Kenjiro Hato. Intrigued by the club’s recruitment efforts, the character ushers in bit of intrigue to Genshiken’s everyday undertakings. With the organization’s new membership mainly comprised of slightly self-conscious fujoshi, the cross-dressing Hato introduces ambiguity into the rank and file, as one member strives to learn his sexual orientation, while another is resentful of the amorous attraction he receives when wearing a dress, wig, and makeup.
Less courageous anime might have used Hato for comic relief, but Second Generation succeeds by showing the acceptance and affection of its club members, most of whom have experienced some type of discrimination. While Genshiken is too smart to harp on the subject, we witness the spark of open-mindedness, which we hope will spread throughout the University and subsequently- ignite a zeitgeist of progressiveness.
The sole blemish on the representation of Hato is the use of ambiguity to push the plot along, with the equivocality potentially impeding identification for some viewers. Fortunately, Second Generation also provides another character capable of producing identification, Harunobu Madarame. Once one of the most fanatical otaku, Madarame graduated last season, and reeling from an unrealized affection, trudges toward adulthood with the ambition of being a salaryman. When we first reunite with the character, he has lost his passion, contented to spend his evening hours drinking. A friendship emerges when Madarame generously gives Hato a key to his place, permitting a change of clothes without burden. Naturally, this bond creates a catalyst that revives Madarame’s mislaid zeal, resulting in the character comes to terms with his fears.
If there’s a setback to Second Generation, it’s that beyond Hato and Madarame, we don’t grasp much backstory on Genshiken’s other members. Between Rika Yoshitake serving as the requisite reki-jo, Mirei Yajima’s role as a dominating, conflict-inducing character, and Susanna Hopkins’ irreverent anime adages that are used for wit, secondaries too often feel like plot devices. Although it’s reasonable to think they’ll be developed in any future seasons, a bit more insight into each character would have helped Genshiken’s ethnographic approach.
Visually, Second Generation makes a notable improvement over previous seasons. While Production I.G aims to preserve the oft-simplistic character design inherited from Palm Studio, Ajia-do, and Arms, enhancements have been to backdrops. As such, viewers can perceive the dinge around the hallway outside the clubroom, as well as the meticulous Gunpla modeling that adorns the venue. For the Premium Edition release, the image quality exhibited by NIS America’s transfer is immaculate, with the two Blu-ray disks flaunting 1080p fidelity as well as dual-language LPCM 2.0 audio.
Inside the sturdy, art-adorned case which houses the media in full-size cases, viewers will also find the Genshiken Second Generation Ultimate Fan Book– a hardcover, 65 page supplement. It’s one of the larger ancillaries that the publisher has put out, and filled with an episode guide, glossary, character art, as well as interviews with director Tsutomu Mizushima and the two seiyū who helped bring Hato to life.
During the past decade and a half, otaku went from being a dismissive term to one that carries the connotation of being a part of something that’s very special. Genshiken Second Generation works by documenting an era where the expression has been repossessed by a group of intrepid- yet incongruently introverted individuals. Given the current state of doxing, swatting, shaming, and humiliation, Genshiken Second Generation’s message of acceptance is remarkably relevant.