Well, the New Year has come, here’s to another! I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and such. Hope everyone liked my list page that’s now up on the site, check that out when you get the chance. Anyway, with the New Year comes new reviews though I am starting out with a revisit at my first ever anime I have reviewed….
Otaku no Video Revisited
Director: Takeshi Mori
Writers: Toshio Okada, Hiroyuki Yamaga (uncredited)
Studio: Gainax and Studio Fantasia
Now while I would usually do a summary of the title in question, I have already covered this way back in August 2011 (Otaku no Video Review (AR Archive, August 8 2011)). But essentially it’s about Ken Kubo a young college student who ends stumbling into the world of otaku by a chance encounter with an old school friend named Tanaka. In the process, he winds up living the otaku/nerd life, with all its successes and failures, and ends up achieving his wildest dreams. Now instead of covering ground that I have already done with my first review, this will be more a series of ruminations on the stuff I found upon watching Otaku no Video recently.
First off, Otaku no Video is both timeless and yet not. In many ways it’s an animated time capsule. References abound from anime in the late 1970s and early 1980s because of course that is what the Gainax founders grew up on. In the midst of the fiction there are some sharp moments of reality. Be it Tanaka showing Kubo a test reel of animation (really footage from the Daicon shorts) or Kubo and his buddies staying in line at night for the premiere of Nausicaa (likely a seminal event for the Gainax founders), I see an appreciation of the past, to show how far they have come and what to expect. Keep in mind this is 1990 Gainax-Honneamise and Gunbuster had come out some time ago and Nadia was in production so the piece is nearly optimistic in its outlook. In that way, it’s all the more fascinating when seen in retrospective to most of the Gainax catalogue and yet it is here that the groundwork for future productions lay. It as is seminal as it is foundational in that regard.
There is also a mockumentary format and framing that Otaku no Video utilizes, adding some context to the animated segments as well providing some morals regarding nerd culture and life. The segments are somewhat extra, you can just watch the animated OVA and not miss much, but I find them a delight. Yes they are clearly staged and made-up; in fact one of the segments feature a guy who is clearly speaking English and yet they choose to put a Japanese voiceover and subtitles over him, which is quite humorous despite being a slight controversy (yeah look it up). The morals are quite pertinent to nerds, sentiments like ‘its hard to admit someone’s part, much less letting go of it’, ‘obsessions can overtake you if you’re not careful’ and ‘enjoy what you like’. That being said, it’s not all sunshine and roses, as it covers the negative aspects of otaku culture, be it the slightly cringe-worthy porn/hentai dude or the fully admitted animated cel thief, which is a criminal act, despite him stating that he only goes after cel works that have already been animated-there’s some honor among thieves I suppose. Now, some of those segments are quite outdated (the guy who records shows on TV with VHS tapes) the sentiment can still be applied to the otaku culture and fandom to the present day.
This leads to how Otaku no Video views the notion of fandom, as both exclusive and inclusive. No surprise here considering the people behind this are the founders of Gainax, who are themselves otaku and so provide an interesting insight into a culture they are part of. Kubo joins in when he sees that Tanaka’s group contains otaku with a variety of interests (model kits, cosplay, manga, animation, etc) but at the same time being an otaku excludes you from being a member of ‘regular’ society-Kubo’s girlfriend ends up breaking with him, he loses interest in his tennis hobby and he gains weight and beard stubble. To me, that struck me as subtle but poignant commentary on how enticing the otaku life can be, and yet once you’re in, that’s it mostly. Nowadays, though, nerds aren’t as stigmatized as they have been, but that’s more due to society being more understanding and accepting of them.
Otaku No Video is an artifact of a simpler time, a better time. But the insights and commentary Gainax explores in this feature is something worth revisiting as some of it applies to the present day. It looks to the past with a nostalgic fondness and then looks to future with hopeful determination that yes we can make greatness, if we put our minds to it. I highly recommend tracking this down, if only to gain a historic appreciation for not just Japanese animation but otaku culture as well.
Well next time, I am covering another anime classic…….
‘Til next time, dear readers.