This Week in Anime
The Incomparable Otaku no Video

by Steve Jones & Nicholas Dupree,

Long before Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! introduced the world to the creative forces of Mizusaki, Kawamori, and Asakusa, Gainax produced the one-of-a-kind mockumentary, Otaku no Video. One part animated story about a group of friends (designed by Gunsmith Cats and Bubblegum Crisis artist Kenichi Sonoda) indulging in their various hobbies and one part joke interviews with the staff of Gainax (including director Hideaki Anno), there really is nothing else like it.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet

Nick, today we're taking a deep dive into the far-flung past of anime fandom. All the way back to a time when there were these things called “conventions” that you could go to and meet other people in person. Sounds weird, I know, but it really happened! What a time to be alive.
Sounds fake and scary. The best way to meet fellow anime fans is the good old fashioned way: entirely through the computer and never personally interacting with them outside of an anime avatar on Twitter.
The times have indeed changed, but thankfully the fine folks at RetroCrush are there to remind us of the mistakes of our youth. Which is a fancy way of saying that we watched Otaku no Video this week, an anime that is only almost as old as I am.
This movie/OVA series is something I've heard referenced but had never tried to hunt down. But I'm always interested in checking out less remembered old anime, so I figured what the heck. And I'm glad to say this one delivered the exact fanservice I was hoping for:
I didn't bother saving screenshots of that scene because I knew you'd have it covered. Thanks for not disappointing me.
There's a button in my brain that releases endorphins when I think about Macross and this anime hit that one several times, okay?
Otaku no Video is also something I've known by reputation for a good while, but this is my first time sitting down with the whole thing. And my immediate reaction is what a weird project this must have been to conceive and create in the early '90s.
On the other hand, considering this was created by Gainax, I can totally understand how somebody would pitch tongue-in-cheek "biography" of the company's own history. Also props to Callum May's primer on Gainax for helping me understand that's what this is. Otherwise I'd have been very confused about the part where Hideaki Anno talks about jerking it to Cybernetic High School.
Yeah, like any historical artifact of note, it definitely benefits from knowledge of its context. Like, a mock interview with one of its star directors playing a porn game that Gainax themselves made is not exactly something you're going to pick up on unless you're educated in very specific and worrying ways. Similarly, I was very happy that I had taken the time to watch the original Mobile Suit Gundam several years back.
It pops up a bit.
So yeah, there are basically 2 halves of OnV, mixed together almost haphazardly. The first is the story of a college guy falling in with his otaku friend's dojinshi circle, and the second is a bunch of live-action fake interviews of various otaku who are almost certainly just Gainax employees taking the piss on themselves.

I'd either forgotten or just never been told that it's half live-action mockumentary, which threw me for a loop. But I gotta respect the commitment to its absurdity! The interviews are all extremely deadpan, with a horribly grating voice filter and amateurish face pixelation. It's quickly obvious that they're staged, but you can tell the writing is drawing from the real experiences of Gainax employees.
I do hope the guy trying to make de-censoring x-ray specs for porn is a bit more dramatized.
You have far more hope than I do there, my friend. Tho I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of these survey results were in fact genuine.
Judging by my Twitter mutuals, I can confirm cosplayers have a high rate of recidivism.
The truth is out there. But regardless, the entire production, both animated and acted, buries its tongue firmly in the proverbial cheek with its simultaneous roasting and exaltation of various facets of otaku culture.
There's even some interesting (if likely outdated) looks into less talked about subcultures. Anime figures in general is a blind spot for me, so it was neat to get even a parodical look into the world of garage kits.
And I think that's really interesting intersection that Otaku no Video rests on! It's satire, but it's also a valuable glimpse into the subculture as it was. The garage kit section in particular struck me with its surprisingly genuine admiration of the artisanry that goes into making your own figures. Tho of course it can't help but end on this note.
And I think that tone helps even out what could have felt like a rather (excuse the pun) masturbatory story in the animated half. Because OnV's anime portion is less a look at otaku culture at large and more a ton of in-jokes about the central/founding members of Gainax's history at the time.
It's a tenuous mix of self-deprecation and self-congratulation that, intentionally or not, does actually do a good job reflecting some of the fundamental contradictions of nerd culture.
They do at least recognize greatness where it's deserved.
That's all well and good, but I'm here for one thing and that's drawings of old VHS players

A true lost art, imo.
Really though, I do quite like the first half of the anime story. It hits the same notes as the good parts of Genshiken or the non-insane segments of Anime-Gataris, where it's just characters enjoying their various interests together. Like yeah I'd also freak out over seeing Do You Remember Love? leaks.
I think it's also neat to consider that this was produced at a time when anime about anime weren't a regular fixture in the medium. Otaku no Video walked so Eizouken could run.
For sure it was unique at the time, especially since the trend of meta-commentative media was still over a decade off.
Like you said, some things haven't changed over the years. Otaku no Video indirectly broaches the topic of bootleg VHS tapes being a major factor when it came to sharing shows among friends. You can draw a line from that to the way I used torrents to find shows back in the day, or the way streaming services have now legitimized this kind of widespread sharing.
Ah the salad days of VHS. When you could maybe hold 3 episodes of an anime on a tape, and anything you bought was at least 4 steps of recording removed from the original. These days the version of that is when Crunchyroll's subtitles on anohana don't have anti-aliasing.
And of course we can't forget that evergreen nerd practice: gatekeeping.

Because it's not really a hobby if you don't have to do homework for it.
Or the timeless hobby of Lum cosplays.
Tho I do like that Otaku no Video acknowledges that everyone in Tanaka's friend group has their own areas of expertise that they enjoy, and that this is a complementary thing, not something that divides them. Including the aforementioned Lum model and my own personal role model here.
Hand it to Gainax, they understood what made Gundam so big:

That said if there's one aspect of this that definitely hasn't aged gracefully, it's the gender spread. There's a total of 3 women with speaking roles in this thing and 1 is a cheating girlfriend who dumps the main guy for...liking anime.
Yeah, that's where the familiar otaku persecution complex rears its ugly head. Ken's motivating factor for the entire second half is in large part exacting revenge against an ex-girlfriend who he showed no signs of caring about in the first place. It's pretty bad! Like, don't get me wrong, I also think it's very funny for this dude to start a date by mumbling "Xabungle," but he's hardly the portrait of a blameless boyfriend.
It's helped by how ludicrous the whole 2nd half is - they go from a mail-order garage kit business to international conglomerate in like a year and it only gets more goofy from there. It's not meant to be taken too seriously, but also if you told me Ueno is based off of somebody's ex I would absolutely believe you.
Oh there's not a doubt in my mind lol. She's also blatantly "replaced" by Fukuhara, who has no discernable personality traits outside of drawing hot bunny girls and blushing at the thought of having her labor exploited.
She's just happy her job isn't being outsourced.
Because nothing communicates the personal touch of handmade garage kits quite like Chinese sweatshops! BTW that's a contradiction Otaku no Video is fully aware of, and the fundamental incompatibility of small-scale fan enthusiasm with profit-driven big business is the whole "joke" of the second half. But it's a dark joke that almost certainly belies a lot of Gainax's internal struggles as the company grew.
The degree of absolute fuckery that is Gainax's financial history is a bit outside the scope of this column, but boy does it make the supposedly absurd corporate scheming from the antagonists hit different.
Truth is stranger than fiction. Well, usually.
Oh right, there's also interstitials about certain historic (and later future) events in this and they are all, of course, equally important:

Only '90s kids will remember this nugget, amirite?
This of course happens during the speculative future parts of the story, where our heroes rebuild their media empire and create the smelliest amusement park ever.

Like imagine the con funk of AX, but everyone is always outside. I think that would register as a biohazard.
Obviously Otakuland isn't real, and we can all be thankful for that, but their prediction for what Tokyo will look like in 2035 might not be too far off.
Sadly I don't think real-world Water Tokyo will have any magical robots at the bottom to return us to our youth through cosplay.
And I think that ends up being an appropriate note for Otaku no Video to end on. Being an otaku of any kind involves some manner of arrested development, but that's not in and of itself a bad thing. We all gotta hold onto our youth—even the mistakes—in some way.
Though it does also carry the baggage of escaping into nostalgia. The less charitable way to read those last few minutes is their oxygen tanks ran out and this was their last hallucination before suffocating at the bottom of the ocean. But Anno didn't direct this so that's not the ending we got.
Like many things, I can only recommend being an otaku in moderation, but nonetheless I think there's some value to that! But I'd say what makes Otaku no Video's portrayal of nerd culture especially thorny (and therefore interesting!) to wrestle with today is the fact that nerd culture has in fact become the absurdly powerful conglomerate force lampooned in the second half of the OVA. Even anime and manga have become a lot more mainstream and widespread.
Yeah, the biggest disconnect is that, while the characters' level of obsession might still be niche today, anime and nerdy stuff in general isn't some unknown back corner of the landscape anymore.

Like actually my dude "normal" people are gonna be pretty into some anime before too long.
And that's pretty rad! Perhaps the real otaku utopia is the one where we no longer have to define ourselves as otaku.
I mean my utopia is being able to watch Macross legally, but yours is a good 2nd option.
Well, thankfully Harmony Gold do not hold the rights to Otaku no Video, so we can watch it legally, and if you're at all interested in the history of the subculture I highly suggest you do! It's very much of its time and of the people who made it, in all the good and bad ways, but that's what makes it such a fascinating relic.
All in all, it's a pretty fun cartoon.
Just don't forget the cardinal rule.

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