I know that I haven’t done this column for a long time now. The reason for this is that it was dominating the website, and given that OTB is a site covering all aspects of TV and film, it was a bit too niche. However, now that we have much more to offer you dear readers I can at least pop back to the column every so often.
This time, I’ve picked a series about the anime fandom itself. Otaku no Video is a two-part Original Video Anime (OVA) which was released in 1991 by the studio Gainax. This spoof is semi-autobiographical, partly drawing on the experiences of the team behind the series. It is also the first anime covered in this column to feature extensive use of live-action footage (a trend that seems to be catching on in Hollywood).
The story begins in 1982 and follows Kubo Takeshi, a successful guy with a girlfriend, whose skilful at tennis, and who after taking a year off is about to go to university. While out on the town one night he gets stuck in a lift with a group of otakus – a group of geeky obsessives with a deep passion for anime among other things. One of the people in the group is Kubo’s old high school friend Tanaka Naeo, and later Kubo finds him at his new college: in cosplay, dressed up as the character Char Aznable from Mobile Suit Gundam (No. 2). After some pressure Kubo begins to take an interest in anime and manga, and Tanaka introduces him again to the guys he met in the lift, who are Tanaka’s closest friends.
Over the coming months, Kubo develops a passion for otaku culture. He drops out of the college, gives up on tennis, ends up having no job, and is eventually dumped by his girlfriend. However, he doesn’t give up wishing to know more about the otaku way of life. What frustrates him is people’s prejudices about otakus. This leads him to starting his own business with Tanaka to overturn these views, with his ultimate ambition being to be the greatest otaku of all, the “otaking”. These events are covered in the second episode which starts in 1985, with Kubo creating and losing a successful multi-million yen business, leading to his plan to create an otaku-themed amusement park, before strangely ending in a flooded, ruined Tokyo in 2035, with Kubo, Tanaka and friends planning to take otaku culture into space.
However, this is only half the story. While this jolly, anime story is played along, throughout both episodes there are cut-in life-action scenes from a mockumentary called Portrait of an Otaku. It “features” current and former otakus with pixelated faces and distorted voices talking about their love of otaku culture. They include an office worker who is embarrassed to talk about his love of cosplay, a criminal who steals animation cels and sells them on, a man who travelled to America to assemble the world’s greatest video collection, and a porn obsessive who claims to have invented glasses to remove the pixels from censored porn and is seen masturbating in his interview. All of these people are actually Gainax staff acting.
Otaku no Video thus contains a mixture of different styles. The animated sequences tell the story of an otaku who becomes successful and makes the culture accepted, while the Portrait of an Otaku segments mock all the negative aspects of the fandom. Not everyone saw the funny side of it however, with many otaku at the time complaining that it misrepresented them, although it was a parody.
One of the best things about Otaku no Video however is enjoying the way so many anime series get referenced and spoofed. Not only is the Gundam cosplay, but there are similar moments involving Space Pirate Captain Harlock (No. 107) and Lupin III (No. 90). The period storytelling features scenes such as Kubo and his friends spending the night outside a cinema waiting to see the 1984 premier of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38). There are also references to other Gainax works: there is mention of the studio’s first work, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (No. 105); when Kubo and Tanaka design their character for their own OVA, the character’s mascots look like King, the pet lion cub of the title character in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (No. 112); and in one of the Portrait of an Otaku sequences there is a man playing an adult video game featuring a character from Gunbuster (No. 24).
However, I think that not only does Otaku no Video reference anime of the past, but there are other anime that are partly influenced by it. In the final scene, when Kubo and his friends go to space, their rocket is shaped like a huge conical drill. Years later, Gainax’s over-the-top mecha series Gurren Lagann (No. 50) feature mecha armed with such drills. Some people even claim that parts of Gurren Lagann’s main character, Simon, are influenced by Kubo, partly because both stories take a gap of several years in which the characters develop.
Otaku no Video is a short collection, with each of the two episodes lasting 50 minutes, but it is a wonderful anime to watch because it mixes so many things. It is not that surprising that it is so popular, to the extent that when a region-free Blu-Ray release of the series was proposed on Kickstarter it more than doubled its target.
Otaku no Video is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by AnimeEigo.