There are plenty of anime about specific groups of people. We have anime about school students, people who do competitive sports, detectives and policemen. Recently we started to get more anime about young adults who start their careers, working in all sorts of industries: game development, restaurants, anime production, manga magazines, to name a few. And this makes perfect sense, hobbies and occupation are a large part of one’s life, and people seem to like to see the stuff they care about.
Right, then what about the hobby most anime viewers share. I mean, watching anime, it is sort of a hobby, and anime fans are a target audience for anime, obviously. So why not make anime about them, the anime fans, or even better, about the passionate okatu who are at the core of this social group?
Well, it is not as easy as it may sound. Think of any school anime. What does this anime spends its time on? Is it the particular classes the students take? Do you learn a lot about their curriculum? Do you see what kinds of problems they get for their homework, and how they solve them? How much time does the anime spend on listening to the teacher? My guess is, the anime you thought of would be more about school club activities, maybe sports, also very likely it would be about interactions between students, friendship, love, rivalry and what not. A lot of school anime I watched would have a plot that doesn’t even require the characters to be in a school, it is just a convenient setting.
So why is that? Well, cause listening to the teacher going through a class intended for middle school kids would be super boring, not to mention a single class should be longer than an entire episode. Same with the other real aspects of the school life. The anime needs to be exciting, so it only picks the cool parts of its setting. It is easy with schools and sports, there are plenty of exciting activities to show. Not so easy with quiet hobbies or professions that do not require interactions with other people or doing something physical. Notice how anime portray engineers or scientists. Engineers would always be drawing diagrams or assembling stuff, and scientists would always looks at fancy displays with flashing lights and play with equipment. Cause this is physical, that is easy to show and it is at least remotely exciting. The real science and engineering are much more than that through.
Now, being an anime fan doesn’t even have that. You just watch anime, talk with your friends about it, and this is it. How’d you make an interesting show about that? And since your audience has first hand experience with it you can’t just get away with diagrams and flashing lights, you need to be real. Well, Otaku no Video tried to do that, so let’s look at it.
The first episode of Otaku no Video is, in a way, a real story of an otaku, an obsessed anime fan. It shows a lot of possible aspects of being an obsessed fan, like literally studying the shows, looking at animation frame by frame to better appreciate its beauty, collecting figures and other merchandise, etc. The anime shows how a normal guy, Kubo, gets into it, and after a while ends up being a full fledged otaku. Following Kubo gave the anime a way to show off little bits of otaku’s lives. But that is not the only thing the anime showed. While becoming an otaku Kubo lost interest in playing tennis, something he was really good at before. He also lost his girlfriend, and in a weird way, his place in life. That is an interesting thing to show in an anime about anime fans. But it is also true. As any other hobby that takes a lot of time, being an otaku would affect your life in all sorts of ways, not always positive.
This is Kubo, by the way
But it is not all negative either, Kubo definitely was enjoying his time with other anime nerds, you can say he found good friends. Also, if you think of it, how is playing tennis better than watching anime? Both are just fun activities. Sports are better for your health, but other than that both are equivalent. The difference lies in how society treats the two. Well recognized activities, such as sports, playing chess and other popular intellectual games, tourism, photography, even just going out, all of that is recognized and accepted by people, so there are no problems if that is what you do. But smaller hobbies don’t get this treatment. Your family and friends will probably get worried about you if you start to invest too much time into something like being an otaku, which is what Otaku no Video shows in its first episode. And I think Otaku no Video contrasts Kubo’s previous hobby with his current one exactly so it could stress this point.
Alright, so this is cool, we got an anime about how otaku fall out of the society. Can we also get something positive about the anime culture? Yep we can, that is where the second episode comes in. In the second episode Kubo and his friends start a company that sells garage kits, basically plastic models of anime characters. The company becomes hugely successful, then it is being stolen from Kubo, then he founds a new company that produces animation and overtakes the old one. It is like a story of an otaku dream coming true. And I like this episode a lot, way more than the first one. Here is why.
So Kubo had set up to become an “Otaking”, the king of otaku, and he started by getting into the garage kits industry. Do you see a contradiction here? Being an anime fan is all about admiring the works the others put out, it is about expressing your feelings as a fan. The people who are not contempt with just consuming also create their own fan works, which closely related to what Kubo started, the garage kits industry. But wait, there had been people selling figures all along, and there had been people who were producing animation too. And those weren’t otaku, not in the way you would use the word normally. So what makes the Kubo’s project to be otaku-spirited? Is it his passion for the stuff he works on? Or his origin as an anime fan? This is an interesting question. In a way Otaku no Video suggest that the way to greatness for an otaku is to go into the industry that produces what you enjoy so much. But on the other hand the show also ridicules Kubo for his nonsensical perception of reality, for his belief in things like “Otaking”.
If you think that these questions are made up and aren’t related to the movie, take a look at Kubo’s employee, Fukuhara. Do you remember her? She is the one who carries Kubo towards his success. She is the one who makes him his anime that he needed to start the second company. Her role is silent, she never strikes theatrical poses and shouts about her passion. She just works, and works really well, producing exactly what an otaku such as Kubo likes. She is one of those people, people who make anime happen, who put in work without being noticed too much. She provides a huge contrast with Kubo and helps to appreciate the questions I’ve put above. Also, taking an aside, it is really fitting that Otaku no Video is made by Gainax, the studio that was founded by anime fans, and that (in my opinion) in some ways carried the spirit of anime fandom of its era. In a way Gainax is a prototype for Kubo’s GX (the name similarity is definitely accidental ^^/).
I like the ending of the second episode. At the end Kubo and his friend Tanaka, old men, search underwater for the ruins of their otakuland. They find a giant robot/spaceship, with all their old otaku pals as the ship crew. Once they remove their helmets they are their young selves once again, and they direct the ship to the stars in search of the otaku planet. It is so nice. The burning passion of those guys allowed them to overcome reality, overcome time and age, and pursue their dreams. They are passionate about pursuing things they are passionate about, that is a beautiful circular logic that allows them to enjoy the process that doesn’t lead anywhere. And the ridiculousness of this ending emphasizes the weirdness of an idea of achieving something as an otaku.
I guess you can get an impression that this OVA looks down on the anime fans, or otaku in particular. But that is not the case, I think. Otaku no Video is a faithful yet fun look at the otaku culture, or at least a few aspects of it. It is not a documentary, it is a story. I like it, hope you would find it enjoyable as well. See you next time!