by Kio Shimoku; adapted by Ysabet Reinhart MacFarlane
published by Del Rey Manga; $14.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Let’s just get to the point. Genshiken Official Book is Del Rey’s attempt to get one more sale from Genshiken fans now that the series has ended. The book also claims to be an introduction and guide for those who haven’t read the series yet. However, there is isn’t much to recommend the book to either fan or newcomer.
The first four chapters are meant to serve as a series introduction. The first chapter does a good job of summing up the philosophy, history, and most memorable events of the Genshiken club, but the second chapter is the worst chapter in the book. We’re introduced to each character through panels from the original manga featuring that particular character. Each panel has an accompanying caption. The problem is that the captions usually just restate, sometimes verbatim, what is said in the panel. For example, on page 38, in the Madarame section, there is a panel showing Madarame saying, “There’s no way that you could really have a little sister.” The caption under the panel says, “No way you could have a little sister: When Madarame learned that Sasahara had a younger sister, he insisted that it was impossible.” The repetition is maddening. I found myself ignoring the panels completely and just skimming the captions. Occasionally, there is a caption that actually conveys a needed explanation not available in the panel or has a joke about the personality of the featured character. If you’ve read the manga, it’s best to just skip this chapter all together.
The third chapter talks about a few of the relationships within the group. I found the explanations a little overdramatic and simplistic. Odder still is the lack of any mention of Sasahara’s romantic relationship in the last two volumes or so of the series. I got the impression that this official book originally was published in Japan before the series concluded, and so the author didn’t want to spoil the upcoming events.
The final introductory chapter is Madarame’s Ten Commandments for Otaku. The first couple are actually funny, but the rest are too specific to situations within the manga to be of any general use. This specificity caused the humor to fail for most of the chapter.
I’m going to skip ahead to the last chapter for a moment. Here, Shimoku explains all the references found in the character sheets spread throughout the original manga. Only the most diehard Genshiken fan will find this chapter interesting, or even readable. For everyone else, it’s too much minutia to wade through. It’s best to skip this chapter also.
Chapters five through eight are original material and the best part of the book. As fun as these chapters are, they don’t justify the need for an entire book. Instead, it would have been better to include this material as bonus content at the end of the manga volumes.
Chapter five is a brief introduction to the fictional anime Kujibiki Unbalance. The chapter contains a short description of the series’ main characters as well as a script for the first half of episode one. It’s nice to have this information organized and to get a better peek at the anime that all the Genshiken members love deeply. Shimoku is smart enough to keep this chapter just as vague as the original manga. This allows the reader to create their own version of what this anime must be like. Since most, if not all readers, will imagine a series that incorporates their own favorite anime elements, this allows them to feel like they have a common bond with the Genshiken members.
Chapter six is a reproduction of the first issue of the Genshiken club’s fanzine from 1987. The chapter also includes an interview with Ken Akamatsu (A.I. Love You, Love Hina, Negi!). The fanzine is a fun, nostalgic trip for those knowledgeable about 80s anime. The Akamatsu interview is the real highlight of the chapter. He talks about his own involvement in his college’s anime, manga, and movie clubs. This leads to a discussion of his participation in the biannual Comiket convention and his becoming a professional manga artist. The interview really focuses on the economics of selling books at Comiket and the kind of money a successful manga group can make. Akamatsu claims that it’s possible to sell 20,000 books in one day. If you do the math, a successful group can make a good living just from Comiket book sales. It was amazing to find out Akamatsu still participates in Comiket to this day. Currently, he just sells storyboards or character portfolios for about a dollar.
The seventh chapter contains two short stories, each by a different novelist, featuring members of the Genshiken shopping. The stories are quick, light reads.
The eighth chapter breaks down the basics of the otaku life. There are brief explanations of Akihabara, fanzines, fight games, porn games, anime, etc. The chapter ends with a story of Sasahara and Madarame buying porn games. The story, and accompanying footnotes, will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the porn game industry in Japan. The chapter as a whole contains a lot of interesting information about otaku culture in Japan. The Akihabara section is especially useful to first-time visitors.
At its heart, Genshiken was a series about learning to accept yourself and a group of people who accept and support each other, even after knowing each other’s dark secrets. It’s not surprising that fans of the series would like one last chance to visit this lovable rogues’ gallery of otaku. Genshiken Official Book won’t scratch anybody’s itch. The book is focused on dispensing information, and you don’t get to spend any real time with the characters themselves. As I said earlier, I just don’t see the need for this book, and I certainly can’t justify paying almost $15 for it. Fans would best spend their money finding a new series to follow or buying a new volume of a series they’re currently reading.
(A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher for this review.)