Geek Squad: “Otaku No Video” cleverly combines comedy & satire, anime and faked-up mockumentary footage

By on April 5, 2017

Takeshi Mori’s cleverly directed Otaku No Video — now streaming over on Night Flight Plus — combines comedy, satire, anime and faked-up mockumentary footage, poking fun at the life and culture of rabid, obsessed anime fans, called otaku.

This original video animation (OVA), which is a format mostly supported by fans, is partially based in the personal life of Ken Kubo, one of the original creators of Gainax, one of Japan’s best-loved animation studios.

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Otaku No Video — translated into English, it means “Fan’s Video” or maybe even “Geeks Video” — also features inserted live-action faked-up mockumentary footage, from a segment titled Portrait of an Otaku, which features some truly strange interviews with “real animation fans,” self-proclaimed anime-obsessed otakus, fanboys and fangirls who have “otakunized” themselves.

Not only are anime and manga fans included in these funny interviews — they’re all filmed with their faces blurred by digital pixilation and their voices digitally altered, and given psuedonyms — but we also meet a cosplay-ing computer programmer, and a shut-in who videorecords television programs for trade, but has not actually watched anything he’s recorded.

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Oh, and one otaku interviewee is a porn fan who can’t stop watching porn, and anime (or both), and he tells us he’s attempting to manufacture glasses to defeat the mosaic censorship common in Japanese porn videos.

He even masturbates to a naked anime chick during his interview, so you should prepare yourself for that (actually, it’s mostly safe-for-work, not to worry).

The controversial interviews are deliberately meant to look fictional (the acting is an over-the-top ham-fest), and were likely to have actually been some of the real members of the Gainax team or some of their actual otaku friends.

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In 1982, clean-cut and relatively “normal” Kubo is presented as a typical college kid who would rather play tennis (he’s the college team’s hotshot player, in fact) than watch anime.

Then he comes across a former high school friend named Tanaka, who introduces his friend to an anime-crazed cartoon circle jerk of otaku friends he calls the “Manga Research Group,” comprised of a foxy female illustrator, an metadata geek, a martial artist and a weapons collector.

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Kubo gradually finds himself becoming so obsessed with anime that he starts to change his physical appearance. He stops playing tennis and begins to gain weight, and after he gives up caring about how he looks, his girlfriend dumps him.

None of this matters, as Kubo, by the end of that year, has set a goal for himself to become the ultimate fan: “I’m gonna become a total otaku! I’m gonna be not just an Otaku but the Otaku of otaku… Otaking!”

He declares that he will conquer Japan, and then the entire human race, with otaku culture.

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This causes some concern for his family because, in Japan, calling someone an otaku is more of an insult, and certainly not something that every anime fan would say about themselves (it’s practically an obscene term if someone calls you an otaku and you don’t think you are one).

A young person who had become obsessed with computers or anime or manga, to the detriment of developing their social skills, was seen as someone who cannot be trusted, and so calling someone an otaku is usually seen as a pejorative, while a person who calls themselves an otaku is usually proud to do so.

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Originally a Japanese slang term, otaku — a Japanese term for another person’s house or family (お宅) — has come to represent a person who is wasting their free time, money and energy on a silly hobby and they’re not to be trusted.

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Just to clarify, the intermixed usage of otaku has both positive and negative aspects. Geeky American anime fans usually and quite proudly self-apply the loanword otaku to themselves as way to show how others how enthusiastic they are about anime.

However, in Japan, an otaku is actually treated like a person with a mental illness, someone who won’t leave his home and assimilate with the rest of society anymore, a person unable to relate to reality.

The first usage of otaku, in fact, likely came to public’s attention in the most horrific way, when Tsutomu Miyazaki, a reclusive and socially awkward otaku collector who was arrested in 1989 for molesting, murdering and mutilating four young girls.

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A search of his two-room bungalow produced a collection of 5,763 videotapes, some containing anime and slasher films, along with video footage and pictures of his victims.

The media gave Tsutomu — in addition to being a serial killer, he was also a cannibal and necrophile — the nickname The Otaku Murderer,” and his highly-publicized trial led to what amounted to a moral panic against the otaku lifestyle, many believing that his interest in anime, in particular, had led to all the killing and cannabalizing and molesting and what-not.

Based on the way otaku was originally depicted in these Tsutomu Miyazaki news reports, it was (or is, since the moniker continues to be misunderstood) actually something that caused quite a lot of concern. It also accounts for some of the surprisingly serious tone of the film, every now and then, which is mostly a comedy/satire lampooning the lives of otaku.

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If you’re still confused, and you’re of a certain age, you may perhaps remember what it was like when the Dungeons & Dragons phenomenon first hit America like a tidal wave in the early ’70s, although the wave didn’t really hit our shores until the later part of the decade, or possibly the early 1980s.

“D&D,” as it is commonly abbreviated, is, of course, the fantasy tabletop role-playing board game where players create characters and backstories, solve problems, engage in wars and battles and other fantasy-type adventures, and by the 1980s, there were a reported three million players worldwide.

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The game had become so popular that it pretty much took over the lives of many young adults (mostly boys) who stayed indoors and secluded themselves and played the role-playing game for hours on end, which led to them being teased for being geeks who likely were never going to have sex.

In fact, the boardgame Dungeons and Dragons was even part of the plot in an episode (“Discos and Dragons“) of the short-lived but hysterical TV show, “Freaks and Geeks,” which is set in the year 1981.

Perhaps if you’re a fan of the show, you remember the scene where James Franco’s cool dude freak character Daniel decides to play the board game with the younger kids in the A.V. geek squad on the show.

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This example illustrates, we hope, how many considered D&D “uncool.”

Not only that, but there were also mostly-Christian groups who tried to get the game banned by raving hysterically about the game’s fantastical aspects which sometimes included spells and witchcraft, Satanism, devil or god worship, suicide and murder, and occasionally the depiction of nudity (there were those naughty drawings of female humanoids in the original Advanced D&D manuals which showed breasts on characters that were harpies, or succubi).

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Now, imagine that same sort of social circle outrage over anime, and you can imagine how the usage of the word otaku became a source of contention among some of the young people it was describing, owing to its negative connotations and stereotyping of the fandom.

Add to this a despised Japanese serial killer who was an obsessed otaku, and, well, you pretty much get the idea. Otaku = not cool.

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Today, there are probably thousands — millions? — of otaku, and there’s even an anime convention, Otakon, which got its name from this film; each year at the convention, Otaku No Video is shown twice, at the beginning and the end of the festivities.

Since Otaku No Video (1991) is about one of the Gainax founders, as you might expect, the movie has dozens of recognizable references to almost every pre-1980s anime, including many of Gainax anime titles from the ’70s and ’80s, which are shown as footage or referenced in other ways (costumes, cosplay or other related material) that a sharp-eyed fan will be able to spot.

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The film is divided into two episodes, “1982” (which we’ve told you about above) and “1985,” during which Kubo and Tanaka form a company, called Grand Prix, and start selling their own garage kit models of anime characters by mail order. They open up shops and eventually build a factory in China.

There’s much more to this second half of the story, but we’ll let you discover for yourself what happens.

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Watch Otaku No Video over on Night Flight Plus, where you can geek out to your heart’s content.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Francesco Romani

    Grande opera, divertente e riflessiva. Certo, ora “reperto storico” visto che l’ immaginario otaku per quanto riguarda le serie animate era dato da quelle per tutti e non da schifezze ignobili fatte apposta per loro! Sic!