This week, I’ve got a review of an anime that’s a bit different from most of the anime I’ve reviewed previously, and probably most of the anime in general I’ve reviewed. It’s from Gainax, and it’s semi-biographical. It’s called Otaku No Video.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Kikuko Inoue as Misty May
Kouji Tsujitani as Kubo
Toshiharu Sakurai as Tanaka
Yuko Kobayashi as Misuzu Fukuhara
Yuri Amano as Yuri Sato
Akio Ohtsuka as Banker Kanda & the Narrator
Hideyuki Umezu as Shao Bai Lung & Yoshida
Jun’ichi Kanemaru as Inoue
Kikuko Inoue as Ueno Yoshiko
Kiyoyuki Yanada as Murata
Masami Kikuchi as Miyoshi
Nobuo Tobita as Yamaguchi
Rena Kurihara as Nakamaru Yooko

Directed by Takeshi Mori
Written by Hiroyuki Yamaga & Toshio Okada
Animated & Produced by GAINAX and Studio Fantasia

The Premise

The film consists of two chunks. The first is Otaku No Video proper, and is the story of Kubo, a college student who is introduced to otaku culture by his old High School friend, Tanaka. After he’s dumped by his girlfriend (he calls her house and her other boyfriend picks up), he decides to give up the old salaryman routine and start producing products for Otaku like himself, with the goal of becoming the otaku of otaku, the Otaking.

The second chunk is a semi-documentary (I’ll get into this later) called Portrait of an Otaku. This portion generally focuses on the not as fluffy side of Japanese Otaku (basically, in Japan what your hobbies are can actually lead to a lack of advancement and career stagnation in certain corporations – at least in the very early 90s, when this documentary was filmed – during the bubble.) This section tends to focus more on otaku who are shut-ins, or otaku who have to keep it in the closet if they like their job, or otaku who engage in unethical or illegal practices, such as Cel theft.

The two chunks are inter-cut together, so an interview with an otaku who is into Garage Kits (mold-it-yourself figurines), comes after a segment where Kubo is introduced to Garage Kits by Tanaka, as a start of their new business together. This leads to a bit of a feel that reminds me, to a limited extent, of the short film adaptations David MaCaulay’s construction series – Castle, Cathedral, Pyramid, etc. However, instead of focusing on the construction of something, it instead focuses on an aspect of culture.

The High Points

The animated portion of the film is definitely its best part. Yes, the story exaggerates for comedic effect, but it generally keeps itself grounded. In particular, the portions where Tanaka and Kubo start an animation studio after Kubo’s ex-girlfriend and her new husband overthrow them from their own company are taken from the history of Gainax itself, and some of the prior work of Gainax’s founding members, including Nausicaa, which Hideaki Anno worked on, and the Gainax’s famous (as far as US anime fans are concerned) short intros for the Japanese Science Fiction convention-within-a-convention (ala WorldCon) DaiCon*, specifically Daicon III and Daicon IV, which were, basically, Gainax’s first two projects, under the name of Studio DaiCon. I’ll put links to the DaiCon videos at the bottom of the review.

*Oh, and Daikon, by the way, is a Japanese radish. It’s a pun. Sort of like “KublaCon” in the US.

The Low Points

In short – the interview segments. At first glance, they seemed somewhat grounded, somewhat realistic, as I had heard some very negative things about Otaku culture in Japan, though admittedly – I didn’t hear much about Japanese otaku culture until the advent of the Hikkomori – basically the total shut-in. The totally socially inept nerd living in his parent’s basement taken to the maximum extreme. However, it’s not the thoroughly negative light that bothers me. Basically, they’re not asking ethical journalism. They ask the tough questions, they get interviews with people who are willing to discuss things which would be socially frowned upon (albeit with the promise of anonymity). We even get them confronting a former cosplayer who denies ever cosplaying with photographs and a doujinshi (fanzine) that he contributed to. It all seems on the up-and-up But then we get an interview with Craig York, who is interviewed under the name of Shon Hernandez, and is described as an American expatriate living in Japan. In the interview, Craig answers the questions in English and is over-dubbed, with the subtitles for the film using the dialog from the overdub, as Craig’s responses aren’t recognizable enough to fully subtitle.

However, they’re recognizable enough. Enough to know that what we’re getting from the Japanese overdubbing has no similarity to what he’s saying. The responses we get, basically, don’t make Craig and American (and general Western) anime fans look good. And it’s not like we need the help – the bluntness and directness that Westerners are characterized with in Japan is considered a strong negative, and Westerners on Japanese television, unless they’re a major celebrity, are almost a curiosity at best, and a caricature (at a minstrel show level) at worst. There are reasons that one of the slang terms for a blunt, rude, aggressive and violent person in Japan is “Yankee”.

Content Notes

Not a lot of violence here at all. However, there is some suggestive jiggle in the animated sections, and some frank discussion of sexual content and pornography in the interview segments, with, allegedly, one of the subjects self-gratifying during the interview.

The Scores

Originality: While there have been anime films and series focused on Otaku culture, both positive (Comic Party, Genshiken) and negative (Welcome to the NHK), since this came out, this is the first. 5 out of 6.

Animation: The animation quality is very solid. All said and done, the animation segments are pretty short, so it didn’t cost them as much to do a good job. It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s still pretty good. 4 out of 6.

Story: The animated segments have a very good story, with the rise-and-fall-and-rise again narrative being told well. 4 out of 6.

Voice Acting: The voice acting for the series is generally solid, with maybe a couple of the other members of Kubo and Tanaka’s circle at the beginning of the film being annoying, but they don’t appear for very long. 4 out of 6.

Emotional Response: The emotional response for the animated segments was excellent. I cared about Kubo and Tanaka, I wanted them to succeed, and when Kubo’s ex screwed him over, I wanted to see Kubo triumph over his old company. However, the interview segments interested me somewhat, though after encountering the changes with the interview with Craig, I’m finding that I need to question the veracity of some of the responses in some of the other interviews. Gainax has actually done some live-action stuff before, and I’m almost wondering if a couple of those sections might have been staged. 3 out of 6.

Production: The animated segements have good sound design, and the video segments are also pretty good. In particular, there was a shift in the production time between the first and second halves of the series, as the film was originally released as a 2-part OVA before being compiled later, and the video quality in the interview segments of the second half is better. The sound isn’t great, but they also massaged the audio to hide the identity of the interview subjects. 4 out of 6.

Overall: The animated section of this film is great. I can’t recommend it enough. The documentary section, I would recommend taking with a grain of salt, which is unfortunate, because the format of the film has potential, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a similar film being done about American Otaku, with more honest interview segments. 4 out of 6.

In Total, Otaku No Video gets 28 out of 42.

Notes

While the majority of this film isn’t science fiction, it does stray into science fiction territory towards the end (though their expectations for 1999 are rather high). In any case, we’ve previously covered films (Fanboys) and documentaries (Trekkies) covering genre fandom before.

DaiCon Opening Videos

Daicon III Opening

Daicon IV Opening