1990’s Otaku No Video is a mockumentary on the life of otaku, you know, those sad little souls that Americans believe are addicted exclusively to anime and manga. But wait! Maybe there is a little more diversity to these weirdoes than what most people relegate them as collectors of cutesy (or not so cute depending on what they are based on) figures, model-kit builders, and wall scroll hangers. And do not forget about those body pillows. Let’s see how “real” otaku live their lives. .
Our story begins with Kubo (no one is ever given a last name), a perfectly normal guy in his first year of college who loves tennis, who is about as informed/interested in anime as your typical hermit, living in the Rocky Mountains, is of the outside world. Until an encounter with Tanaka, an old friend from high school who is a fully realized Otaku and the leader of a doujinshi circle (a fan group) who invites Kubo into the world of the Otaku with its anime, cosplay, trivia, gun replicas, and general Science Fiction. Thus changing Kubo’s interests and very life
Fascinated by this new world, Kubo is completely seduced by the dark side and does not realize how his old life is breaking down as he adopts more and more stereotypical Otaku behavior. For instance: he lets his appearance fly out the window, fills up his room with merchandise, and gains weight. Kubo begins to feel alienated as an Otaku when his girlfriend dumps him. By this point, Kubo has had enough and the once ordinary man pledges to become the Otaku of Otaku, the Otaking. Kubo evolves into a capitalist fueled man fixated by his own ambitions as an Otaku; successfully forming not one but companies as he builds Otakuland, a land for Otaku to forget about reality for a few hours and become a part of what they admire the most. Japan will perhaps never be the same again.
Breaking up the story arcs are interview segments containing real-life Otaku, entitled portrait of an Otaku focusing on their past and what has become of their either pre or post Otaku lives. Being an Otaku myself, I admit that they did a good job of appearing impartial on their portrayal, but just how impartial someone who makes a living out these people can be, is anyone’s guess. I am not sure how I feel about their bite-sized format, considering that this did not give the interviewer enough time to dig deeper. The Otaku featured are not always success stories, though most of them are at least well adapted human beings. I do wonder what they were expecting to accomplish by stalking and essentially ambushing someone they dubbed as a “true Otaku” managing only to freak out the guy leaving with no information, of any sort, obtained. To their credit they do address the general loneliness (despite their often impressive network of connections), high intensity of their beliefs, lack of romantic options, as well as disinterest in daily life that affects so many Otaku.
One of the most interesting aspects of this OVA is the contrasting depictions of Otaku. Often they are estranged and socially awkward individuals who passionately dedicate their personal lives to fragments of fiction and often become success stories through something they love. Otaku’s are not all that different from writers, comic book artists, game designers, etc.; but just like those listed, only a few manage to make it to the top.
Pros: An amusing and generally objective commentary on the lives of Otaku that most Otaku will be too busy laughing over to ever feel insulted by it. A pretty good introduction to what it means to become an Otaku and their community. I had nearly forgotten what hand-drawn animation looked like, but Otaku No Video reminded me that while technology is awesome, people could still do impressive things before it ever came into being.
Cons: Some Otaku will feel offended by the film and its commentary more so than my personal reflection. I felt that some parts where not portrayed completely accurately. The music, excluding the hilarious opening and endings, is not very memorable.
Otaku No Video was released by AnimEigo and is a nearly timeless picture of Otaku life, as many issues present in 1990 still exist today. Otaku will laugh in self-deprecation and newbies will discover what they are getting into; for Otaku No Video will continue to remind us many years down the line. It stems from GAINAX’s own raw nerdy insanity; one of the most controversial studios ever in my opinion, a truly godly studio for me, yet a source of much hatred for others. I cannot recommend it more.