Ken Kubo was just your ordinary Japanese college student. He had a beautiful girlfriend, a passion for a sport he was genuinely talented at, and a satisfying life with little to no problems to worry about. Everything was going just fine for young Ken, when he ran into an old friend from high school who’s dedicated his life to a surprising hobby. Tanaka, having put on a generous portion of weight since their last meeting, has fallen into otaku culture, a certified never never land where adults turn their backs on conventional society to pursue every possible facet of an underground counter-pop-culture revolving around obscure, esoteric subjects such as animation, idol singers, special effects movies and even military paraphernalia. He initially raises his eyebrow at such juvenile fare, but soon finds himself slowly being sucked in, and before he knows it, he gets in way over his head and begins to change on a drastic level, losing both the respect and affection of his girlfriend along with any hint of his old social life.
Having left everything behind, Ken quickly realizes that the only direction he can move is now forward, so that his newfound passion doesn’t have to be a dead end. Instead, he dedicates his life not only to experiencing otaku culture, but changing it, and becoming one with it, so that he may one day become one of the greatest otaku the world has ever known. With the help Tanaka and the rest of his nerdy, passionate friends, Ken Kubo begins to climb the ladder of success as a content creator, overseeing the production of model kits in both Japan and China, all of which is a part of his grand plan to unite all of the otaku of the world in harmony under his rule as the Otaking, leading up to his grand ambition, a future theme park called Otakuland! But when his best friend turns his back on him and sells him out to hand the company over to the least expected person imaginable, will Ken be able to land on his feet, and will the otaku of the world ever live to see the day where they’ll be respected by society?
One of the first things you’ll want to know about Otaku no video is that, unlike most anime, it’s not entirely animated. A good chunk of it’s running time consists of live action interviews conducted in mockumentary style with different kinds of otakus, and these segments are spliced throughout the ova. I’ll talk more about those later, but more importantly, with only two 40 minute episodes and large portions of film that didn’t need to be animated, you might think it would be really simple to set aside a decent budget for the animation portions. And come on, this is Gainax, even a lot of their earlier works are more or less impressive in the visual department. this is unfortunately not the case, as the animation in this OVA is bare bones at best. It can be unbelievably distracting when there are tons of motionless people in the background, which is sadly all too common, and the best looking scenes are the ones where the only things happening are conversations. The opening video was decently animated, but the rest of the product just looks cheap.
Well, I say it looks cheap, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it looks bad. There really isn’t much going on in the animated sections in terms of action, so there really isn’t any content that can feel short-changed over their shortage of change. Yeah, the backgrounds full of frozen people can be distracting, but most of the content is serviceable enough, with no excess funds needed. It doesn’t really look like Gainax style animation, but at the very least, it does look like Gainax style artwork. The characters have an aesthetic that’s very much of it’s time, but is still pretty easy on the eyes. People are more or less realistically proportioned, at least from the neck down, with your typical anime facial constructs being really the only thing keeping them from looking real. Characters also cosplay in several scenes, with the costumes they’re wearing being of incredibly detailed quality, more than accurate enough to satisfy any purists sitting at the table. It’s not a great looking anime, but it looks fine.
So, we’re all otaku, right? I know I am, and obviously you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have some level of interest in the anime medium. We all love watching animation from a certain bow-shaped archipelago, and as long as we all have that in common, we can more or less live in harmony together. There may be some truth to this, but where people tend to differ is where it comes to their otaku origin stories. We all discovered and embraced anime differently, from people who watched kids anime from a young age to people who just so happened to have their imaginations sparked by that one anime film they saw at a friends’ house. In Otaku no video, the main character was a normal, average person, and he was drawn into otaku culture from his old life because… Well, they’re not clear about what exactly started it, but it was either his friends’ level of passion, the fact that he could watch and out of print TV show on taped cassettes, or seeing that one girl in a fur bikini cosplay. Whatever it was, he came into the fandom as an adult, and was drawn in from the outside world. I don’t know about you, but this couldn’t be more different from my story.
Unlike Ken Kubo, I was born to be an otaku. If you follow the original Japanese definition of the word, someone who’s obsessed with something to the point of over-indulgence, that’s pretty much always described me. As a child I was an otaku for Power Rangers and Xmen, then I moved onto Star Wars, and later on in life I’d have similar experiences with RWBY, MLP Friendship is Magic, and the WWE. I would focus on these things so tightly that I would scare my friends and family away from the same properties. To this day, my brother still feels an aversion towards anything I get into. Seriously, after I got my PS4, his drive to buy one himself instantly died out, and he never touched mine in the year that I’ve had it. I have a tendency to approach things cautiously and skeptically, but then to dive in head first as soon as my toe’s in the water. I’ve had numerous otaku-like obsessions throughout my life, but looking back, none of them hit me as hard as Pokemon did. That franchise landed me like a prize bass, and it ultimately worked as my gateway anime as a result, just like it has for a lot of people.
I went HARD into Pokemon. It dominated my life to the point that I could see myself being one of the people interviewed in Otaku no video, were it made today. I don’t feel comfortable going into relevant experiences without a mosaic covering my face, but trust me, it wasn’t healthy. Thankfully, it’s proximity to Cardcaptors on Kids WB set me on the beginning of a much better path. Cardcaptors(No, not Cardcaptor Sakura, and I’m not proud of this) soon took over for it in my heart, and managed to get me into fanfic writing, which got me into writing in general. I would eventually move onto other TV anime, such as Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon, before titles like Azumanga Daioh, Excel Saga and Chobits took me deeper into the medium, seeking out titles that weren’t immediately available at the time. Getting a full-time job also really helped, as it’s allowed me to pour money into the medium, often to my own detriment, and I eventually wound up giving back to the community through a blog that I’ve been running for four years strong. My obsessive tendencies haven’t gone away, as I still feel the need to buy merchandise and become a part of everything I get into, but I doubt I’ll ever grow out of that.
Now, why did I go out of my way to tell you all about my journey as an otaku? Well, first of all, because Otaku no Video doesn’t really offer a lot of discussion points of it’s own. That may sound harsh of me, but second of all, I can’t really relate to any of it, as my story is so obviously different from theirs. I don’t doubt that there’s a lot of people out there who can watch this anime, point to the screen at various moments and proclaim “Yeah, that’s how it was for me,” but I really can’t. Maybe I’m not the target audience, because I didn’t come up the way they did, I’m not well versed in classic anime(I mean come on, most old shows are at least one hundred episodes long), and I don’t feel so attached to the sanctity of otaku lifestyle that I need to see it given a blowjob just to feel more contented with my own life choices. I didn’t catch most of the references, I don’t feel compelled to look them up, and while I’ve been able to acknowledge the existence of passion as a positive life lesson before, it doesn’t feel as important here.
Part of it has to do with the fact that this anime wasn’t really intended to have a great story attached to it. One of the over-all themes I picked up on was one of nostalgia, and sure enough, I’ve been told by a few sources that Otaku no video is a semi-autobiographical tale about the founding of Gainax, through the love, passion, tragedy and triumph that got it where it is today… As well as 18 years in the still-distant future, because hey why not be optimistic? I don’t know how much of “Giant X’s” history accurately represents Gainax’s own tale, but it does offer a strong argument for no compelling story or plot being needed. After all, if you’re telling someone’s real life story, there’s no call to embellish the facts for the sake of entertainment. Well, you can say that, but when you’re telling your life story in 1991, and you’re patting yourself on the back for events that take place in 1999 and 2035, maybe throwing in a little spice to keep the viewer entertained isn’t the worst thing you can possibly do. I’m just saying.
Because as it is, I certainly didn’t hate this anime, but I also found it really difficult to get invested in it. Rather than an actual story, it felt like footnotes, only giving us about one brief scene from each year of the fictitious company’s history, and who the hell knows what happened inbetween? For all we know, the guy with the weird sleeping habits had a drinking problem. For all we know, Ken and Tanaka were almost turned against each other by a love triangle with the cute cosplaying lady. For all we know, somebody’s parents died, affecting their attitude and convictions. All we ever get is “This happened, then this happened, then this happened…” And while all of it is relevant in some way to the over-all plot, I felt so little attachment to the stakes and characters that I found myself dozing off multiple times during the much more fast-paced second episode. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing, because from what I hear, one of the things I missed was seeing a porn enthusiast who’s trying to find a way to circumvent Japan’s decency laws jerk off on camera. I’m kind of glad I didn’t get to see that.
And speaking of the live action segments, they are pretty interesting. They act as a counterbalance to the anime’s shameless trumpeting of otaku pride by showing off the other side of the coin, how these types of obsessions can dominate and potentially ruin a person’s life. It’s not entirely negative, of course, and offers a fair and honest look at the real human faces behind otaku culture. It introduces us to people who are obviously deviating from social norms, but to them, what they’re doing is completely normal, even if it results in perpetual virginity. Everybody they show us is fascinating in their own way, from a military geek who’d fit in quite well with America’s paintball culture, a gashapon enthusiast who likes to disassemble merchandise he gets and construct his own parts for them if they’re not to his liking, somebody who records rare video(I’d like to imagine he, or a close relative, is now making a killing off of youtube), and even a few criminals who buy and sell animation cells from anime production companies. This alone would make up for a lot of the anime’s failings, if it wasn’t for the overwhelming evidence that all of these interviews were staged, and starred Gainax employees under false names.
Otaku no Video is available from Animeigo in both video cassette and DVD, which despite being out of print for respectively twenty-four and fourteen years, is still pretty easy to find online at an affordable price. There’s no English dub, but honestly, I don’t really find that surprising.
If you can’t tell by the length of this review, I had a very difficult time writing a piece on this particular OVA. It almost defies review, because by it’s very nature, the story it’s telling doesn’t need to be fleshed out or well written. It had a very specific goal, to cater to a very specific group of fans, which just happen to be the same kinds of fans that Gainax is made of. Even 26 years later, modern day otaku who grew up on the anime of the seventies and eighties can still find a fulfilling experience in it. I guess that’s why, at the end of the day, the word that I think best describes Otaku no Video would be esoteric, and that’s ultimately why it’s so hard to place a rating on it. I haven’t watched a lot of older anime, and with my time now being eaten up by a full time job and a blog that I need to constantly be writing reviews for, I probably never will, once again considering just how long a lot of those shows ran. I feel bad giving it a negative score when I’m so very explicitly not part of it’s target audience, especially seeing how beloved it is to people from it’s intended crowd, so I guess in the end there’s nothing I can do but take it on faith and shoot for the middle ground. I give Otaku no video a 6/10.