I've struggled with what to write regarding Genshiken: Second Generation. It's an otaku comedy that takes shots at the very people its marketing to at times, but it's also more than just that. Before you know it, Second Generation starts to deal with sexuality's confusing gray area, and it does so very well.
Genshiken 2nd Generation is the story of, for lack of a better term, an otaku club. Where the first season focused on Madarame Harunobu, his story takes a backseat to those of several newcomers this time around. 2nd Generation centers around the story of Hato Kenjiro, a fudanshi—that's the male version of a fujoshi, which itself is a female fan of yaoi—who cross-dresses in order to be more accepted for his hobby.
With a cast consisting mainly of fujoshi this season, 2nd Generation uses their quirky idiosyncrasies to good effect, placing the characters in situations that make their discomfort entertaining. Typically it's Hato wrestling with how self-conscious his lifestyle makes him feel, or Madarame's repressed emotions that bring the laughter, but it's enough to keep you watching.
Early on in the series, Hato's cross-dressing secret is revealed to Madarame, who allows him to use his room to change, so as not to be seen on campus. Before long, both Madarame and Hato feel a mutual attraction, though neither seems to know what to make of it. Though he cross-dresses and enjoys yaoi, Hato still believes himself to be straight. Madarame, on the other hand, doesn't enjoy yaoi, doesn't understand fujoshi, but finds himself enjoying Hato's company and showing telltale signs of a romantic connection.
Throughout 2nd Generation the romantic subplot happening between these two is deeply engaging, and kept me hooked watching if only to find out what happened between them.
If there's a recurring theme outside of fujoshi, yaoi and otaku comedy in 2nd Generation, it would be one of acceptance. It's an easy theme to miss, but I wouldn't have it any other way. In many anime where a character has issues with their sexuality or body image, it becomes a defining characteristic of the narrative. 2nd Generation, on the other hand, introduces Hato to a group of accepting characters that see no issue with him—boy or girl—for the most part.
Those that do often only take issue with how well he portrays a female, or their attraction to him. It's refreshing to see such an unconventional approach to dealing with issues of gender and body image in anime. I wish more series would follow in 2nd Generation's footsteps.
Genshiken 2nd Generation is home to a host of interesting characters. Both returners and the new fujoshi-centric cast, however, take a backseat to Hato for the first half of the season. The result is a feeling that your'e watching a series filled with generic otaku supporting one character's story.
In the second half, 2nd Generation makes an attempt at telling the stories of the rest of the crew, but it feels like a rushed effort. Time could have been better spent sharing the backgrounds of what turn out to be interesting characters earlier on. If these stories had been told earlier, this section would be written very differently.
Let me be clear, Genshiken: 2nd Generation isn't one of the greats. They can't all be, though, right? That said, it's a fun, lighthearted comedy that will wrap you up if you let it. Despite its issues with pacing and using fujoshi as an easy, and somewhat cheap, source of comedy, 2nd Generation is thorougly enjoyable and worth your time.