Otaku no Video (lit. Nerd’s Video) is a two-part OVA released by GAINAX in cooperation with Studio Fantasia, a defunct studio that also gave us the anime adaptations of Nozoki Ana and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, on September 27 and December 20, 1991, under the TOSHIBA Visual Software label and both parts on August 5, 1992, under the Youmex label on both VHS and LaserDisc.
This was at a time when GAINAX was struggling financially due to the deficit that they were in during the production of Nadia so they have to produce OVAs to keep it afloat at the same time, with Heisei-era Japan under a spell of bad luck, the otaku community still reeling at the backlash they received after the Tsutomu Miyazaki incident so they decided to give the world an image of what the community is all about.
The reason why I decided to review this is that I watched this back in college and with how the way things are going with the community, I decided to watch this again to remind me of what I liked about the community.
The series is formatted like The Apologetics Group’s Hells Bells series of Christian educational films wherein each part of the series is constructed like this: part-anime wherein we follow the life of Ken Kubo, a tennis player being influenced by his super otaku friend, Naeo Tanaka into joining the weeb life until such time both guys, with a little bit of help by their weeb friends, form Giant X (GAINAX, amrite? Hahaha) and be “otakings”. The other part, “Portrait of an Otaku”, consisted of live-action interviews with ex-otaku and people who are still part of the underground otaku culture of the early 1990s and late 1980s.
Side A – The Ken Kubo plot
The OVA has two parts: 1982 which chronicles Kubo’s descent into the late ‘80s – early ‘90s anime fandom that was brewing in Japan back then, kinda more like an underground movement than what it had become today, inside and outside of Japan, and 1985 which chronicled the start of GP to Giant X and into the distant future wherein Kubo and Tanaka finally made “Otakuland”, an 80s anime themed memorial ground/amusement park.
I liked how the setting is patterned after the dying days of the Showa era and into the Heisei era, the glory days of otaku culture in Japan.
I also liked how references to real-life events such as Comiket, the premiere of Nausicaa to even small details like Newtype magazine and Animage and cosplayers decked in Gundam, Macross, Kamen Rider, Star Wars, Lupin III, Dr. Slump (sadly no Dragon Ball as DB was seen as for normies in JP otaku circles).
Even not so subtle references to DAICON III and IV (anime shorts that GAINAX produced before working on The Wings of Honneamise) were used as examples when Tanaka showed Kubo the intricacies of animation by making him view tapes of DAICON III which had Anno, Yamaga, and Akai, the founding fathers of GAINAX.
Even the little details on the character’s outfits, such as the Amuro Ray-inspired wardrobe for Kubo can make you laugh a bit if you’re into the 70s and 80s anime like I am although some of them can be a bit lost to any other person who will watch this as the Eagle, Shark, Panther sequence, for instance, is a reference to Sun Vulcan’s transformation sequence and if you’re not into Super Sentai or tokusatsu in general, he or she won’t get the joke.
The art gives off traces of what GAINAX was post Gunbuster and what GAINAX will become once Nadia and Evangelion came into play as traces of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s trademark faces appear on this OVA even though he never worked on this OVA.
Kohei Tanaka’s soundtrack, while not that memorable, has some great pieces on it like that instrumental piece to Tatakae! Otaking reworked into some orchestral accompaniment with a bit of a Gundam 0079-esque opener to a scene where Kubo gives up job hunting and becomes a full-blown otaku and the stuff that he composed during the underwater Otakuland segments.
While 1982’s story is grounded in reality, 1985’s is bordering on the absurd territory for me as the mere this is where Kubo and Tanaka became grandiose in their ambitions to be otakings and build Otakuland, weeaboos’ answer to Tokyo Disneyland and don’t even get me started on the ending.
While most of 1985 is still mostly grounded in reality, the ending to this whole love letter to otaku culture starts in the year 2035 wherein Tokyo sinks underwater due to some catastrophe (Third Impact, anyone?), and then Kubo and Tanaka, as old geezers, visit what was once Tokyo Otakuland and then they see the ghosts of their comrades as they fly into space in search of a planet to colonize and make it Otaku Planet.
First off, is this how Kubo and Tanaka died? Being the seniles that they are, they went inside an abandoned amusement park and relieved the past as the launch not-Gunbuster into space? If that’s the case, then that’s a sad way to end your life mate.
Second, how did the rest of the crew even come inside the ship? I mean they are obviously ghosts at this point but with the way GAINAX and Studio Fantasia showed it, they might as well be living bodies and they have found the secret to eternal youth as they retain their youthful bodies, either that or this is just the otakings’ minds playing tricks on them.
As much as soooo far out of this world the ending is, this is the one that stuck out the best in my memory because of its sheer absurdity. Bravo, GAINAX.
The animated part, in all of its early 90’s glory, is great. It may not have the all-star voice cast of Dragon Ball Z or the budget to pull off animation as great as those of Gundam 0083, which is also another OVA, but it gave us some great GAINAX artwork, memorable main characters, and even the absurd but satisfying way to end the series makes the animated portion a great experience even if the subtle downgrade of the plot from 1982 to 1985 doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment you’ll get from watching this.
Side B – Portrait of an otaku
The “portrait of an otaku” portions of the OVA seemed to look real unlike other anime-based OVAs before or since it incorporates live-action bits every time the anime part ends.
These “otaku no shouzou” interview segments were structured to be some kind of a documentary with interviews to the point that, sometimes, it kinda felt like ambush interviews to the point that on one of the interviews, they had to ask one of the interviewees if they ever had friends or even had sex.
At first, they censored part of their faces until they got to the military otaku part wherein they didn’t even bother putting up the façade of censoring their faces but at least they kept the voices altered to “protect anonymity”, we’ll get into that.
After such interviews, there are these “surveys” showing how many did cosplay, how many are these types of otaku, and more of that nature narrated by Akio Otsuka.
I, for one, am not sure where did GAINAX pull up those numbers. Maybe they really did some surveys or they just pulled up the numbers up their ass or GP did their own surveys and then GAINAX used those as materials. Who knows? They never cite their sources but knowing about the nature of this OVA, I think these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
Back then, I thought that GAINAX interviewed total strangers who happened to be otaku only to find out that the people they interviewed were mostly actually GAINAX employees, at least that’s what the internet believes or believed back then until such interviews came along 10 years after More Otaku no Video got released confirming that some of the interviews were, in fact, unscripted.
Such is the example of the “Shon Hernandez” interview wherein it was totally unscripted that years later, Lea Hernandez, told us that Craig York, the person who played “Shon”, together with Lea and Shon Howell (get it?) were the main core of General Products USA, one of Gainax’s failed ventures (and more of that will come their way post-Evangelion so much so that Anno cuts ties with GAINAX out of disappointment).
The “Shon” interview was so unscripted that what comes out of Craig York’s mouth is totally different from what the GAINAX production team used to dub over York’s voice and they did a sloppy job of covering it up.
The other interview that comes out as unscripted was the garage kit interview wherein Hiroki Sato, one of the aforementioned GAINAX members involved in this project, just let his colleagues go inside his house and record and Hiroki rambled away about how garage kits are superior to other branches of anime merchandise, especially plastic models.
Mr. Sato’s intentions were pure and noble but he kind of missed the mark when it comes to his predictions that garage kits will take over plamo in years that nobody will ever buy kits from the store because the inverse of that happened as people decided that nah, creating your own kits are a pain in the ass and so the majors decided to increase production rates to the point that nobody makes their own kits anymore.
Most of the interview segments were fine and all until the last one as it went from daytime talk show to Dateline NBC as they tracked down Hidehiko Uesaka who, according to the “journos”, was outed to be a true otaku (whatever that means) as a result of almost two months’ worth of investigation, so much so that it devolved into a chase sequence when Uesaka avoided cameras and pushed the journos down just to escape. Talk about the sudden change of pacing, man.
These interviews show, as the title says, the “portrait” of the then underground otaku scene in the late 80s to early 90s as being this odd, wild, mysterious underbelly of Japanese society to the point that even gaijins are coming to Japan just to get anime stuff and how much different it is from the Japanese mainstream media at the time wherein you’re bombarded with LINDBERG, B’z, Miho Nakayama, Dragon Ball Z, Music Station, Nintendo, Dragon Quest and the like 24/7 that it’s so inescapable and so that they, the otaku, had to stay away from those things just to be different.
It also showed how GAINAX was close to the community they are working with. Unlike people in major studios like Toei and Pierrot, they are unashamed to be otaku, so much so, that now, they used their connections with the fanbase to promote themselves and gain money while we’re at it.
However, it also showed why otaku, at the time and still today, are ashamed to reveal their “power level” to the rest of the society because of the negative image that was attributed to them thanks to some bad eggs in the community (cases in point: Mr. A, Osamu Akabori, and the cel thief Akira Muryama) plus the connections of the word “otaku” to one Tsutomu Miyazaki as the word “otaku” was always paired with the word “killer” because Miyazaki murdered four girls in an abandoned forest in Saitama in 1989. 1989 must have been a bad year in Japan in general with Hirohito dying, plus this and the Junko Furuta murder coming in to destroy Japanese society into the 90s plus the fact that the housing economy bubble busted heading into the Lost Decade.
With regards to the content, this didn’t stick with my college self when I watched this but as I rewatched this for the purposes of this review, I liked these segments more than the Ken Kubo anime plot and how, at the very least, grounded to reality the segments are as, even in the PH and US weeb circles, aren’t as glamorous as what the animated part shows.
In fact, it shows us the degeneracy and how disgusting otaku can be in real life that once you grew out of that phase, you don’t want to be associated with the community you once belonged to but at the same time, you reminisce those times of “innocence” and naivety of being a part of a community that shared for your love for anime, manga, idols, tokusatsu and the like. As Char Aznable said, “Nobody ever likes to admit to mistakes due to his own youth.”
My college self would say that the animated parts were better than the live-action parts but present me would argue about that because as great as the animated parts are, the live-action interviews are more entertaining to watch as I can identify more with the otaku on the interviews than I can be with Kubo’s circle.
I would give this a rating of 4/5 as both parts served as a compliment to each other and the production quality was handled really well, even with GAINAX’s little budget. I would recommend Otaku no Video only to people who are tired of watching modern anime though as the stuff presented here is dated as heck and they might not understand most of the in-jokes and references scattered to it as this is, loosely and even before Blue Blazes, GAINAX’s story and a snapshot of Japanese otaku culture in the early 90s.
If you wanted to give this a try, go ahead. See this for yourself.