The 2nd Dimension

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Viewing Journal: Genshiken 2 (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= B-
Story = B-
Video = B
Audio = C+


The members of Genshiken are accepted as participants in the upcoming ComiFes, and Sasahara must adjust to his new role as club president. Meanwhile, Ogiue continues to struggle to fit in to her new surroundings. (Source: ANN)

And the seventh and final title in my list of anime/manga/books that I watched/read months ago but am only getting to review now — the Genshiken 2 OAV series. Actually, I watched this one relatively recently, being that I finished it in May 2010 or there about. Even so, it's been a while and I still have to wring my brain for details so I'll lump this in with the rest of my backlog reviews. Not that that designation matters to you, but...whatever. On with the review...

Genshiken is a title that especially close to my heart because I've watched the first series and read all of the manga, and at the end of both I felt a tinge of regret that they were over. So when I heard that they were creating more animation, I was really excited to get a chance to visit with the Genshiken crew again. Unfortunately, this new series fails to capture much of the magic that made the first series so great.

Now, just as a bit of warning, most of this review is going to draw comparisons between this series and the first one as well as the original manga. And even though I'd say that it's fair to compare this sequel series to the first — since if you are watching this then you most likely watched the original — I think some people would say that it's not as fair to compare it to the original manga. After all, many if not most people may have not read the manga and wouldn't understand the comparison; and even for those who have read the manga, you could argue that the anime should have the freedom to develop its own voice without having to strictly follow the source material. Despite that, I'm going to draw the comparisons anyway. For one thing, personally, I am often interested in how closely an anime follows its original manga, even if I have not read said manga; so I'm guessing that others may be equally curious. In the case of Genshiken in particular, the first anime series followed the manga very closely, so I think it's fair to inform audiences if the second series was the same way.

So before I get into the review proper, I want to take a step back and talk a little bit about what made the original anime and manga so great. Genshiken is about a college anime/manga club consisting of members who hang out and chat about their favorite TV show or comic. It's a fun comedy because even if you are not an anime fan, you can laugh at the character interactions and how the different personalities bounce off of one another in a casual, Seinfeld-like dynamic. Even if you can't relate to their love of their specific hobby, you can relate to the way that the friends hanging out and talking about goofy stuff. The key to the show's success is that the talk about anime is used as a way to build the characters' personality and their relationships. So when Madarame is at Comiket standing in the rain in quiet pain from some accidental injuries, but refusing to seek medical attention for fear of missing out on the start of the event, it's not just funny, it's showing his personality through his fanatical devotion. The constant debates between the club and the non-otaku Saki are not just there as an excuse to discuss anime, it's there to develop the relationship between those characters through that conflict. The talk about anime is a narrative and comedic tool as much as it is a lesson in anime esoterica. In short, it's funny, it's relatable, and you don't need to be an anime fan to enjoy it any more than you'd need to be, say, a race car fan to enjoy Initial D (assuming you like Initial D).

And that brings us to Genshiken 2...

On the positive side, we do get to see more of the old gang from the first series — Sasahara, Madarame, Kousaka, Saki, and the rest — along with the new members. Of the new characters, the most significant is Ogiue, who hates all otaku even though she is an one herself. She loves yaoi and loves to draw boy-love doujinshi (ie, fan comic). In fact, one of the most entertaining and somewhat disturbing episodes in this new series involves her fantasizing about making a doujinshi about two of the boys in the club. The other new characters are okay and have their occasional moments to shine, but Ogiue is really the driving force behind this new series. There is also an episode or two about Ohno's friends from America coming to visit, which is pretty funny too. These new characters definitely bring something new to the show that makes it fun to watch and funny in its own way.

But there is still something missing here that made the original series and manga so much better and — for me personally — cathartic to watch; and I think it has to do with how they treat the subject of anime/manga fandom in relation to the characters. In this sequel, the focus is more on the anime and manga itself and showing how silly if not downright depraved the medium and fandom are. Instead of using anime fandom to define and develop the characters and their relationships, it's using the characters to define anime fandom. There's less interaction between the characters where they debate the positive and negative aspects of the medium. Gone are the arguments with between Saki and Madarame over what makes an otaku an otaku, which made the show more accessible to non-fans. In fact, Saki and Kousaka are noticeably absent in this series. Kousaka's bright — if oblivious — attitude and Saki's struggle to change-him-or-adapt added a lot of comedic energy to the first series. Here, their relationship seems more hopeless than comedic.

In fact, all of the relationships in the show suffer from that same sense of pessimism. In the first series and manga, the characters romantic relationships are like a glimmer of proof that there is hope for these characters after all — they can find happiness and love if they can find someone with a common passion to bond over. In this series, the relationships are either underplayed or come off as downright grim. Saki seems hopeless in her relationship with Kousaka, and Takana and Ohno's relationship is hardly mentioned. And the hesitant relationship between Ogiue and Sasahara, which was such a huge — if subtle — driving force in the manga, is barely noticeable here. And a big chunk of the manga which focused almost exclusively on developing their relationship was totally left out of this anime.

In essence, although the show is a comedy, it's comedy relies less on character-driven, situational comedy than on a sort of awkward if not totally dry humor that relies more on emphasizing otaku depravity. As a result, a lot of the fun and energy is sucked out of this sequel and the characters seem more pitiful than lovable. In the first series and manga, you laugh at because you recognize yourself in the characters. In this series, you cringe because you recognize yourself in the characters. In the first series, I wished I could hang out with the characters due to a common bond which made that series so cathartic. In this series, I want to distance myself from them as much as possible.

Also, in the first series, the characters were embarrassed about their hobby, but for the most part they emphasized pride in their passion. Madarame was constantly coming up with his own logic for why he was into anime and manga and Kousaka had no shame for playing porn video games. This made for ironic, but light-hearted, self-deprecating humor . But here there is more focus on shamefulness than on pride. Part of that is that Kousaka and his cheery attitude are almost completely missing. You could say that Ogiue and her hatred for otaku are to blame for that sense of pessimism, but that same personality is there in the manga. But in the manga you can always see beneath the surface that her hatred is just a farce and, like Sasahara in the first series, she comes to accept her love for it more and more. In this anime, that side of her isn't as apparent or is gone altogether.

As for the animation quality, I don't think it's necessarily any better or worse than the original series, but it is different. It's a bit more realistic and detailed. For me, that somehow contributed to the fact that it's not quite as energetic as the original series.

In the end, I hesitate to say that this is a bad show, it's just that it's not nearly as enjoyable or effective as the original. I enjoyed another look at the Genshiken gang, but I didn't get that same connection that hit me with the original anime and the manga. It was funny at times, but was also kind of a downer. What I was really hoping for was to have an animated version of the second half of the manga, much how the original anime adapted the manga so closely. At the series conclusion, I didn't feel nearly the sense of loss that I felt at the end of the first anime or manga. Fans will probably watch this series regardless of how it compares to the other iterations of the story, especially if they never read the manga; but I'd say to those people to not expect to feel the same kind of connection to the characters that you may be used to.

Related Reviews

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Viewing Journal: Michiko to Hatchin (complete)

Series Overview
Bittorrent Download
(not yet licensed in US)

Overall= C
Story = C-
Video = B+
Audio = B-


Hatchin is a girl raised by strict foster parents who has long given up her dreams of freedom. Michiko is a sexy criminal who escapes from a supposedly inescapable prison. When she suddenly enters Hana's life, these two very different women set off on a journey across a lawless land in search of a missing man from both their pasts. (Source: ANN)

And here is number six in my list of anime reviews for shows that I completed months ago but am only writing about now. This time it's Michiko to Hatchin. (Or is it Michiko e Hatchin?) I have seen a lot of reviewers say that this is similiar to Cowboy Bebop, so I'm going to spend the majority of this review comparing the two. I don't usually like reviewing shows by comparing it to another show, but since a lot of people seem to insist that the two are so alike and are confused why this anime isn't more popular or license for US release, I think it might be worthwhile. Basically, I think the Bebop comparison doesn't go any further than the art style and any comparisons related to the story, themes, or mood don't last much past the first few episodes.

The beginning of the series is actually very promising. Hana -- aka Hatchin -- is a girl who was adopted by a well-respected religious family. But the family only took her in to collect the government grants, and they take pleasure in treating her as a slave and abusing her at every opportunity. Michiko -- a woman who recently escaped prison -- crashes into the family's home and kidnaps Hana. As it turns out, Michiko is Hana's mother and they both end up on a journey to find Hatchin's father, Hiroshi. But they have to stay on the move in order to avoid the police, especially the afro-sporting lady-cop Atsuko who seems to be connected to Michiko's past. This plot is mostly a set-up for Michiko and Hatchin to roam around, meet people, and get into trouble. Most episodes are stand-alone stories that don't have anything to do with finding Hiroshi.

In terms of its similarity to Bebop, the first thing you'll notice in the initial episodes is the visuals, especially the character designs and the overall "coolness" of the style. I'm not saying that these things are exactly like Cowboy Bebop or that they need to be associated with that show to be considered good. But I think that when people see the show's style -- myself included -- it will spark that memory of Bebop's characters and tone and the hope that this show will provide the same kind of experience.

Mitchiko to Hatchin is not as eclectic as Bebop; but it's characters, setting, and overall visuals do have their own unique, stylish, and exotic idiosyncrasy to them. The story takes place in a fictional Brazil-like setting. The areas that the main characters travel to range from the slums to backwater areas to the big city. All of the character designs are unique and interesting. Mitchiko is especially fun to watch, since she wears something different every episode and it's always extremely stylish. (That's especially amazing considering that she has little to no luggage during her travels.) The characters are not extremely muscular, but they are tough and threatening none-the-less. Their intimidation is mainly implied through their personality or their callousness toward violence.

But if there is one thing that separates this show from Cowboy Bebop it is its harsh violence. Bebop could be moody at times, but it's gun play and general action scenes were mostly fun and exhilarating. Michiko to Hatchin takes its violence more seriously. It isn't especially physically graphic, but the characters are so hardened to the violence as a way-of-life, and are so matter-of-fact about its execution that the overall tone makes these scenes more sobering and surprising.

So I really did enjoy the first five or six episodes, although at the time I was not sure why. It was strange because I would watch an episode and be thinking how cool it was throughout the entire thing; but then once I turned it off and thought back, I would realize that nothing really happened. It was like it was trying to create a tone instead of develop a story or characters. And the more I watched, the more shallow and pretentious it seemed to be. Each episode ended much the same as it began, with no real lessons learned and no advancement to the story. And with no substance, much of it seemed pointless.

And, like the plot itself, the characters seem to have less and less substance the further you get into the story. In particular, one character whom I was confused about is the woman cop who is constantly chasing after Mitchiko: Atsuko. They appear to be childhood friends, but exactly what their relationship was beyond that I was never sure. There were times when Atsuko would catch Hatchin, or nearly catch her only to intentionally let her go. It seemed like there was supposed to be some internal struggle that Atsuko was going through relating to whether or not she really did want to arrest Mitchiko, but I was never sure what the source of that struggle was. Was it just their friendship versus her duty as a cop that she was conflicted over? Did she have some kind of romantic feelings for Mitchiko? Was there something from their past that was caused this inner turmoil? I still don't know, and I don't even think there were any subtle clues to pick up on. And it's impossible to empathize with someone when you don't understand the source of their emotional stress. Plus, since you know that she is going to let Mitchiko go every time, there's no tension over whether she is going to get caught. So in the end it just seemed like Atsuko's only purpose was to motivate Mitchiko to keep moving, while preventing the possibility that she would actually get caught, and using an obscure personal drama as the excuse.

The show's ending -- while not satisfying or climactic -- did help to clarify the theme. In the end, the show is about reality versus perception and how people can twist their memories to in to a kind of idealistic nostalgia, even if it doesn't reflect what actually happened. Michiko perceives things idealistically and Hatchin is more realistic. And as a result Hatchin is more subject to abuse and the harsh realities of the world, while Michiko ignores that and is more interested in chasing after a dream and believes that if they can just find Hatchin's father, then they can all live as one perfect family. Once I realized that, it redeemed the show a little bit in my eyes because it means that both Michiko and Hatchin were more complex than I had been giving them credit for. But even so, I don't think that knowing that makes the show much more entertaining.

So anyway, I think this is an interesting show, but I don't think it would have as much overall appeal in the US as a lot of people think it would. Despite it's attractive visuals, it lacks story and character development. The first few episodes may grab viewers' attention, but once you get further into it, it becomes apparent that the storyline is thin, the character development is shallow, and overall it becomes boring. I would recommend maybe checking out the first few episodes and see what you think, but after that I'm guessing that a lot of people would lose interest and move on to other things.