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Otaku No Video
Reviewer: Guy Wheatley 02/15/2002

Kubo is just your average college student trying to find a niche for himself -- participating on the tennis team, tentatively dating fellow student Yoshiko... A chance encounter with his old high school friend Tanaka blossoms into an impromptu reunion, and Tanaka introduces Kubo to the inner circle of "Otaku" culture. Tanaka immerses Kubo in the rituals of watching anime, reading manga, painting garage-kit models, swapping cels, and engaging in cosplay with a cadre of like-minded obsessives and eccentrics. Once he's gone Otaku, Kubo finds himself unable to go back. He sacrifices his old life and girlfriend all for the sake of his anime obsession. Eventually Kubo and Tanaka go on to form Grand Prix Studios for the developing and merchandising of their own anime productions and paraphernalia, as self-proclaimed "Otaking" with one singular goal: To conquer the world! Or at least corner the anime market in Tokyo...
The buzzword I'd heard describing Otaku No Video's milieu was "Mock-u-mentary," which seemed about as complimentary as that other meshing of two genres -- the "Dramedy". But Otaku No Video struck me as a love letter to Gainax's roots as an animation company, the same way Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" was a tribute to his days touring as an amateur rock critic with Led Zeppelin.
Otaku No Video is part documentary of anime culture in the 80s, part adapted grassroots history of Gainax, part candid Otaku interview, and part self-parody. But its mélange of genres never smacks of an identity crisis; it all comes together in a hilarious and wistful account. Actually two projects in one, Otaku No Video's animated story segment, subtitled "Graffiti of the Otaku Generation," is interspersed with candid real-life interviews with current or former anime nuts, dubbed the "Portrait of an Otaku."
The main story opens in 1991 with Kubo snoozing at his desk in a nameless regional office. He answers a phone request for some action figures that were supposed to be in retail. Kubo snarls that it's New Years' Eve and to call back when the offices re-open. Hanging up and trying to return to sleep, Kubo seethes, "God, I hate Otaku!". This sour-toned portent then rewinds to 1982 where we see Kubo just starting out in this path in life. Kubo, going home early from an afterhours drinking session with his tennis crew, fortuitously shares a lift with old high school pal Tanaka. Tanaka and his crew have just returned from an anime convention, swapping inside jokes, convention oddities, and dates on upcoming anime premiers. Tanaka recognizes him they do some catching up; Tanaka is an aspiring animator and collaborates with his fellow "Otaku." The stage is set.
I found Kobe's story very striking because of the accurate way it captures an anime neophyte lapsing into otaku fandom. Though the anime culture has changed somewhat in 20 years, mostly through advent of the internet, VCDs, LDs, and DVDs, a lot of it has remained the same -- especially the ethos and obsession. I swear I know these guys from the monthly University of Utah anime showings in Salt Lake City... and Kubo can't help but get rapidly sucked into it, like I did. Sure, at first he seems overwhelmed, stumbling disconcertingly around the otaku den remarking "This place looks like your lives revolve completely around manga!", but before you know it Kubo is standing in line for Macross movie premieres, dressing up in cosplay, and swapping cels with the best of the otaku he's come to befriend.
The pacing is sharp and demands more attention of the viewer than the typical anime. When Tanaka and Kubo brainstorm ideas for Grand Prix Studios, images are superimposed at a rapid rate -- cosplay costumes of characters from "Lupin", "Galaxy Express 999", and even perennial favorite Lum from "Urusei Yatsura" are identified, and references to hip and obscure anime series abound. Though the main story has a bewilderingly sappy ending, "Graffiti of the Otaku Generation" is a nostalgic and empowering ride that has you rooting for Kubo all the way. The "Portrait of an Otaku" segment, which injects from time to time to break up the main story, is a slightly more melancholy and bittersweet affair than the hilarious antics of Tanaka and Kubo. An interviewer speaks to a bunch of anime fans of differing predilection, their voices altered and at times, faces blurred, as if they were informants for the bust of a drug boss. You will likely see yourself mirrored in one or more of these fellows to a certain degree, sometimes in a painfully embarrassing fashion.
Probably the most poignant Otaku "portrait" is the guy striving for the ultimate VHS anime collection, so he is probably the most ubiquitous. This portly, piggy-faced fellow, with rolls of fat seeping from under his shirt, speaks to the camera about the composition of a successful collection. "Actually I don't collect all that much," he says, every inch of his room clogged with tapes and manga. When asked how often he watches what he records, his answer belies the tragic raison d'être of the true Otaku: "I really don't have time to watch any anime I tape. There's so much anime being released all the time it's all I can do to keep on top of the newest OVAs and TV series. I merely record the shows for the sake of the perfect collection.” When I look over at my own stack of anime on VHS, languishing since their inaugural viewing, I can, fearfully, see what he means.
Throughout the course of the video we're also peppered with blurbs of noteworthy incidents, both in the real world and the anime world.

Otaku No Video
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Review Title:
Otaku No Video
100 Minutes
General Rating:
5 out of 5 stars
Suitable For:
Comedy, Historical, Magic,
Mecha, Sci-Fi
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