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Genshiken Vols. 5-9
Distributor Del Rey
Author/Artist Kio Shimoku
Genshiken is, as Ross put so well in his previous review of the first four volumes, about you. It's about nerds acting nerdy and talking in enthusiastic, breathless tones about crazy nonsense. It's about people brought together by their common interests as they grow, change and learn. Now, in this second half of the series, with the setting, characters and art already prepared for you, Genshiken feels like a comfortable, well made blanket you can snuggle into the moment you open the fifth volume. Of particular note is the art, which combines marvellous character body language and expressions with well designed backgrounds. As you probably know, otaku rooms tend to get cluttered and untidy with very little effort - as I type this I can see across my room to an overflowing set of bookshelves. Kio Shimoku is a master of showing you how cluttered rooms are without the art itself becoming untidy or stifling, a great achievement in scene setting. Genshiken is a series all about the characters, and the main compliment I can lavish upon it is that I wish there was a way to spend more time with them. There is great chemistry in every interaction, be they otaku or not. Even the quieter moments alone with a character stand out - in particular Maderame is a treasure trove of wonder and delight and is most certainly the most "moe" member of the cast. The main shame of Genshiken is that there is not, well... more of it, especially in regards to the elder characters and those who spend the majority of the time in the background; in particular Kugayama, Haraguchi and Tanaka. While you can of course have too much of a good thing I would gladly welcome any material that adds more breadth to Genshiken taken from the time covered in the series. What is present, however, is a nice mixture of comedy and character development that is great to read. One particularly great aspect of Genshiken is the way that the characters develop at markedly different rates - some even fight or sabotage their own growth just like regular human beings, giving the cast a great deal of realism and weight.
In particular, one new character is introduced at the end of volume five who displays a great deal of this growth: Oguie Chika. I love Oguie Chika. She is one of my favourite manga characters out of any series I have read due to her deep personality, complex development, and the fact that she is just plain cute. I also hate Oguie Chika with a burning passion because she utterly monopolises Genshiken with her personal storyline for three solid volumes with barely any respite while this is ongoing. In a series that has, up until this point, been amazingly even-handed in the way it spotlights its different characters this sudden switch into Oguie-only mode is frustrating.
Its not that Oguie's storyline is badly told - in fact it is surprisingly effecting and very astutely presented, but when it takes over a solid three volumes it does wear you out. My main annoyance is that not only does Oguie’s personal development and relationship with Sasahara take up all the space, but the other characters also spend their "screen time" helping to facilitate this plot line - they are robbed of any time to develop themselves. Hell, at one point the scene cuts to Tanaka and Ohno, who have their own relationship and the development has been left somewhat hanging. Does their own relationship develop while they are together, doing the things they love? No! They talk about Oguie and Sasahara. Agh! Without other members of the cast to dilute the sheer bulk of this storyline the effect is suffocating. For a series that, as mentioned above, is all about the development of all members of the cast the sudden tightening of focus onto a single character is frankly irritating. Genshiken turns from “the stories of a group of people like you” into an otaku romance story. The neglect of the rest of the cast feels like such an injustice that it is almost criminal.
On the more dry, technical side, some of the translation and editing is not quite up to par - quite often lines may end up in the wrong speech bubble, causing some confusion, or the translator will switch between printing currency directly in yen or translating it into dollars and getting the numbers mixed up between the two. More damning is the rather clunky failure to properly communicate changes in speech pattern/accent in characters. Oguie is especially a victim of this as she tries to hide her accent - it comes out during stressful moments, but you wouldn’t know unless a footnote explicitly pointed it out.
Genshiken is still a marvellously written, heartfelt series with wonderful characters (as if I have not mentioned this point enough already!), but is sadly marred by the monopolisation of the storyline by a single character for an extended stretch of the series. Your mileage may vary in regards to how heinous a crime this is, but for me it was almost a deal breaker when it came to picking up volume nine! Would I still recommend the series? Absolutely, but be aware that your favourite characters may not get the screen time you feel they deserve when going in. It will still give you a warm fuzzy feeling though, and may teach you a few valuable things about being a nerd, like Madarame's doujinshi shopping method - something I have employed myself in real life to great effect!
As a whole the series deserves an 8 out of 10, but the shift in focus for the majority of these 5 volumes can make this second half a chore to enjoy.