So before I start digging even further into this post, I would like to give a massive thank you to Ospreyshire for bringing this weird little thing to my attention. I’ve been wanting to watch this for a while, but I wasn’t sure there was any legal avenues for me to do that until he brought this up in my announcement post, so thank you so much.
With that, onto some more anime history. After the stabilization of studio Gainax’s existence after the massive success of Gunbuster and its PC-98 games, Gainax produced Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (which I have a review for here) and this thing, Otaku No Video, a few years later around the same time (1991). Hideaki Anno wasn’t as heavily involved in Otaku no Video’s production, because he was heavily involved in Nadia, he does have an on-camera appearance in this film thing that more than warrants it being a part of this month’s event. The easiest description that comes to mind when describing this film to anyone is that it’s the hardest self-own in anime history. At the same time, it’s also the most massive self-pat on the back possible from all the Gainax references in it. It’s Gainax looking at it’s almost ten-year history at that point and deciding that making fun of their own Otaku roots was the way to go here.
The reason why this exists? I think it’s to give a moderate and balanced point of view about how Otaku are, because Otaku were looked at horrifically back then. I think Otaku still are now, but that bad phase started around 1990. Gainax, being the otaku animation company that they are, wanted to create this film to bring in their own point of view on it. The result is this incredibly original product that you can’t find in many places. The anime Genshiken is close in these regards, but it doesn’t hit as hard at Otaku no Video because of how it comes from a more personal place of multiple people.
Otaku no Video approaches it’s parodying self in two ways.
The Animated Portion of Otaku no Video
The first part is the animated and over exaggerated parody of where Gainax came from. It starts with character by the name of Ken Kubo who doesn’t find joy in his college tennis club anymore. He still takes part in its events and everything and his girlfriend is proud of him for doing so, but it’s more out of obligation than anything else. After running into his former high school friend Tanaka who is apart of a science fiction and anime fandom group at their local college. At first, Ken feels like he is a stranger in a foreign land, but he feels a passion in that group that he can’t feel anywhere else in his life. Eventually, he dives in all the way and becomes an otaku. Of course, his girlfriend sees all the changes that has occurred to him because of that decision and immediately dumps him. Not that he seems upset by it.
Part one of Otaku no Video shows where the positives and negatives of being an Otaku are explored appropriately and in a relatable way. Ken is introduced by Tanaka and his group about the very particulars of Otaku culture. The passion everyone has for their favorite media, the happiness one feels going to a convention for the first time and maybe cosplaying, and just completely indulging themselves in the different aspects and specializations of otaku culture in general. It’s incredibly relatable to anyone who has ever been swept away by anime culture ever. It also covers the negative side of over obsession through people like Ken Kubo’s girlfriend and people on the streets react to these nerds waiting to see an anime film. I feel like I know what it’s like to be on both sides of this equation.
In its second part, Otaku no Video only became more wild and unrealistic in a lot of ways. Maybe because it’s supposed to be an Otaku fantasy taken form? Following Ken’s declaration of becoming the Otaking and building Otaku Land, so he was completely absorbed by otaku culture more then everyone else, he and his friends quickly establish a business from garage model kits, somehow become that becomes, then the company taken from him by his former girl friend, and then works alongside Tanaka again (because he was also let go) to establish an animation studio that gains an even larger height then the garage modeling kit company. Otaku Land, a theme park that inhabits so many elements of anime otaku’s interests from the early 90’s downward is as large as can be and so full of happy and merriment. Of course, this leads to a Gainax ending. I’ll leave what that to your imagination. I can’t help but admit that this partially last me because of how far it stretches it’s grounded and realistic first part.
Otaku no Videos animated portion is out of this world in how beautiful its artwork is and how great its animation moves. Especially since its character look like they came out of Bubblegum Crisis. It has beautiful cosplay from many series from too many anime series for me to count, had cleaned up segments of the Daicon opening sequences so Gainax can pat their history on the back, and good character animation. Still, I feel like Otaku no Video lost something when it left the grounded side of its fandom to suddenly people in business suits making huge business deals. It was no longer about the otaku themselves, but about generic business strategies and how they can exploit otaku for more money so they can grow bigger. The otaku members from their group were in business suits just there to remind the viewer of where Ken came from. It just wasn’t as funny anymore and I felt like I didn’t know why I was watching it anymore. Otaku no Video should have stayed grounded or at least ended with Ken and his crew having their first business success. That way, it would have been a much more believable piece of comedy. Instead, most of character depth was thrown out the window for just a decent story.
The Live Action Portion of Otaku no Video: Portrait of an Otaku
The real draw for where the short live action segment of this film called Portrait of an Otaku, because this is clearly Gainax making fun of themselves again. These were short segments at different transition points in the animated parts narrative that featured different types of Otaku (though once again, each person was either from Gainax or was friends with Gainax). What kinds of Otaku you may ask? All of them? From the simple “former cosplay otaku” to people who stole animation cells from studios for money to military otaku to a computer gaming otaku playing porn games (Hideaki Anno), so all bases were covered in this very self-aware look at how otaku are.
Each segment is in interview format. Someone off camera asks the otaku or person trying not to be an otaku on screen, they answer each question, and they some results of a survey that came from asking fans showed up. They were very general survey questions like “have you ever cosplayed”, so nothing major really. Nothing that added or took away from the comedy of each seen in question. I know that over exaggerating elements and types of people can be wrong sometimes depending on the subject matter, but I think that Gainax knew. Aiming comedy at themselves helps alleviate a lot of those issues because it makes it makes the jokes so much more self-aware.
In general, Otaku no Video is a pretty decent watch. When the animated portions lose steam, I think the Portrait of an Otaku short segments easily make up for all those misgivings. Also, like most Gainax products, the amount of heart and self-awareness at display, like everything else they’ve ever done, is there here. This is something that every anime fan should at least once in their life. You can find it on a legal streaming service called Midnight Pulp. Once again, I would like to thank Ospreyshire for bringing this one up to my attention again. It was fun.