Top 20 Anime of 2014 – #11. Denki-gai no Honya-san

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#13. Hanamonogatari:
#12. Is the Order a Rabbit?:

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Denki-gai no Honya-san, which roughly translates to The Bookstore in Electric Town, exceeded my early expectations to become one of my favorite romantic comedies of the year. (It’s certainly a lot easier to recommend than the last few items on this list.)

Denki-gai centers on seven employees working at a doujin store in Akihabara. If you don’t know what a doujin is, this show will teach you, and while I think it’s the kind of show that you’re bound to get a lot more out of if you know otaku culture, there are more than enough reasons to enjoy it outside of the otaku humor that I think anyone could get into it. That said, if you watch or read all of Genshiken first, it might make the whole thing easier to understand; which you should do, because Genshiken is a classic.

For the most part, Denki-gai isn’t anything you haven’t seen before if you’ve watched enough anime love comedies. Each of the characters is in love with another character, and is trying their damndest to come to terms with those feelings and finally confess, but since they’re a bunch of silly comedy characters, they’re bound to fail at the last minute each time. The series strikes a very clean balance between purely comedic scenarios, romantic comedy scenarios, and a surprising amount of straightforwardly romantic scenes; and if anything sets this series above a lot of its ilk, it’s those last ones.

Whereas a lot of these shows focus on love triangles, or bigger love polygons, Denki-gai focuses on three pretty definitive pairings. First there’s Hio-tan, the non-otaku girl trying to acclimate herself to otaku culture, and Kantoku, the group’s supervisor, who slowly find themselves falling in love with one-another; then there’s the struggling manga artist known as Sensei who falls for the completely oblivious hardcore otaku Umio; and then there’s the aggressively adorable Fu-girl, whose love with the tall and silent Sommelier would be reciprocated if only either of them knew how to communicate. Each of these pairings gets no shortage of will-they-finally-confess moments. and unlike most shows of this nature, it feels like they might actually do it every time, and the relationships actually feel like they’re making progress across the series.

Whenever a show like this has a more complex love polygon, it’s pretty much impossible for any of the couples to hook up because this would disrupt the cycle of everyone being in love with someone else, effectively killing the joke. This in turn creates incredibly frustrating shows that go on forever without anything changing (I’m looking at you, Working). However, because the relationships in this show are so well laid-out, it feels like it can easily keep going after all of the characters have hooked up. Of course, it’s possible that I’m getting my hopes up for nothing, and that if the still-running manga receives a second season, I’ll be disappointed to see that all the progress the characters made in season one still didn’t bring them any closer together; but we’ll wait until that actually happens to bother getting disappointed by it.

Another big part of what makes this show refreshing is that the characters are all adults. As someone who’s been out of high school long enough to not really remember what it was like to be there, it’s always easier to connect with characters who spend an entire episode getting shit-faced drunk and flirting with all of their friends–especially when they’re a bunch of awkward, idiotic otaku.

I also find it interesting that more than half of the main characters in this show are women, and I think this happened for deeper reasons than just because there needed to be enough cute girls. While Hio-tan is a new convert into this culture, the other girls are all pretty tried-and-true fujoshi, and the show makes a point of how women contribute to a huge portion of the store’s sales, as well as the overall doujin culture. I plan to make a video about this at some point, but there’s been a huge trend over the last few years of anime culture becoming less male-dominated, with more and more female-oriented shows coming out and a quickly growing culture surrounding stuff like yaoi. Genshiken also made a point to focus on this with the second series being female-dominated in contrast with the original, and I think that Denki-gai is also consciously commenting on this trend with the way that it’s set up.

While Denki-gai was not the outright best comedy that I saw this year, I was surprised at parts by how funny it could actually get, with Umio training Sensei on how to draw panties standing out as a high point in the show. On the whole, I think that the sweeter and more romantic scenes are what ultimately made the series endearing and memorable, but even if it wasn’t riding high in every single scene, I wouldn’t say that any aspect of the show was weak.

The character designs have a cute and fluffy aesthetic, and the entire show uses lots of bright colors to put the viewer in a good mood. Fu Girl was definitely the cutest goddamn anime character of 2014, and I’ll hear no arguments to the contrary. Other than her though, I liked how all of the characters felt down to earth and realistic, which sold the comedy in a way that something like GochiUsa can’t really do with its moe girls. All of the voice performances and all of the side characters were solid as well.

I can’t say that Denki-gai is for everyone, because it is, after all, a show about a store that sells porn manga, so you can expect a lot of risque humor. I would argue however that there isn’t really any fanservice in the show, beyond what is diegetic and immersive in the narrative, as per the delineations that I made in my K-On thesis. If you’re an adult though, and you like comedy and cute romantic subplots, then this may be the show for you. You can watch it legally for free over on Crunchyroll.

So, what did you think of Denki-gai? Let me know in the comments below, and in case you missed them, check out my videos on #13, Hanamonogatari, and #12, GochiUsa, and stick around on my channel to see what my tenth-favorite anime of the year is tomorrow!

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