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Genshiken 1: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture
Writer / Artist: Kio Shimoku

By Kellen Scrivens
03 October 2006 — I think it's pretty safe to say that a large number of people reading this are diehard fans of something geeky, be it comic books, video games, science fiction, whatever. I also think it's safe to say that when something is created specifically for the fans of whatever medium (or genre) we're talking about, it can be enjoyed on a much deeper level. In the case of anime / manga, Genshiken is a great example of this; it is a series created by diehard manga fans for diehard manga fans about diehard manga fans.

The manga follows our main character, Kanji Sasahara, a freshman in college who is something of a closet anime fan who plans to join one of his university's anime or manga clubs. He eventually decides to try The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, also known as Genshiken (Gendai Shikaku Bunka Kenkyukai is the full Japanese name of the group). In his first meeting he finds out just how diehard some anime fans can be, with people reading brand new manga, talking at length about small points about an anime... even their ringtones are from Final Fantasy, Gundam and the like. After awhile he starts to realize that a bunch of the members are leaving for various reasons. Left alone, he takes a quick look around. Past all of the posters, video games and figures is the proverbial H-Bomb — a giant stack of hentai. As almost any teenager would, he peruses a copy. However, it was a setup! The other members conspired to guilt Sasahara into joining — "One of us," and all that.

Makoto Kohsaka consumes the other main plotline. This clueless otaku just so happens to be the hottest guy on campus. Everyone wants him, even Saki Kasukabe — his childhood friend. Even though she despises anime and manga, she follows Kohsaka to the meetings, thus causing headaches for the other Genshiken members. As it is with male anime / manga characters, Kohsaka is too dimwitted to notice her obvious advances.

Over the course of the six chapters we meet each of the individual members and are treated to self-contained stories (i.e. Sasahara's initiation, the saga of Saki and Kohsaka, an excursion to Summer ComicFest, etc.), but, outside of the two aforementioned plots, there is very little story here.

The art is surprisingly lifelike and much less clichéd then what you expect to see in a manga. The actual in-manga anime and manga is rendered in the traditional style, thus doing an excellent job of setting the manga in the real world. Additionally, real anime, manga and video games are strewn about the Genshiken meeting room. And in the ComicFest scenes you can easily pick out people dressed as Sakura (Naruto), Robin (Witch Hunter Robin) and other anime characters. Coupling the art style with these subtle nods to the real world serves to get the abovementioned theme across: by, for and about fans.

The jokes can be very niche to say the least; there are many times when characters will reference an anime, sending the joke right over this otaku's head. All of the references are noted in the back, but it's so much more rewarding to get it right away. A lot of the jokes focus on the otaku lifestyle and clubs, and there were quite a few instances when I said to myself, "I've been through that!" Thankfully not all of the jokes are like that; if they were it would become overwhelming after a while and turnoff casual readers.

This first volume of Genshiken is a definite must-read for any diehard anime / manga fan, and it might be worth a look to casual manga readers. Just don't make this your first dip into the manga pool; it is definitely not beginner-friendly. To put it simply: the bigger otaku you are, the more you'll love this book.
Grade: 4 out of 5

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