One does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth

Here is a fair warning; if you have issues with self-loathing, save yourself the agony and don’t watch Otaku no Video. It will depress you.

‘Mockumentary’ Otaku no Video is one of those anime that, even within the anime community itself, is fairly obscure, but every now and then, someone will reference it, often as a comparison to nu-otaku champion Genshiken; for example, the first time I heard about it was when Anime World Order posted a review back in 2006, and considering it was created by animation studio Gainax in 1991, that fans are still talking about it some 15+ years later is surely a good sign, right? Indeed. Here is a fair warning; if you have issues with self-loathing, save yourself the agony and don’t watch Otaku no Video. It will depress you.

As alluded to above, Otaku no Video is a mockumentary of otaku culture. Pasted inside a Genshiken-style anime about a bunch of geeks coming together through their passions for all things, well, geeky is a series of painfully realistic (live action) interviews with real Japanese otaku, all of whom are middle-aged men. Its Wikipedia article suggests that while the anime segment was intended to emphasize the more positive aspects of Japan’s geek fandom (like comradery and friendship), the live action interviews depict the otaku’s lonely reality; several of the interviewees were Gainax employees at the time (though, to protect their identities, their names and voices are changed, while their faces are either unseen or blurred), and because this whole production was helmed by Gainax themselves, their deft, autobiographical understanding of “the truth” cuts right to the bone, so much so this isn’t as much a satirical comedy as a scientific study of the otaku sub-species. They even interview an American anime fan. It’s all in good fun, but a touch evocative too.

One interview in-particular struck me as incredibly depressing; this otaku, sitting in a darkened room, specialises in pornography, and to work around the Japanese government’s censorship of genitalia (they pixelate those areas), he has adapted a pair of glasses to decode the image. It’s just shocking to see that this guy has such talent for electronics, yet uses it in pursuit of… masturbation. They actually show him ‘pulling one off’ by the way! Another interviewee is hunched over his small computer screen, drawing nude images of a character that looks a lot like Noriko from Gunbuster. Again, the art itself is technically brilliant, but it remains a self-fellating fantasy. They ask him “how do you take care of your sexual needs?” Otaku responds “Well, I like computer games.”

The anime itself is up-beat and fun in a style that’s very reminiscent of the likes of Genshiken. One scene I really liked involves fans queuing up for the late-night theatrical premiere of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. A drunk guy, probably just kicked out of a local bar, passes by them in the street and tries to work out why they are all so excited about seeing a “cartoon”, they respond that they aren’t waiting for a “cartoon”, but “animation” (Hayao Miyazaki‘s big break-through, no less). And I agree – there is totally a difference between cartoons and anime.

You know, Otaku no Video is surely worth watching, just don’t be expecting a romanticisation of otaku culture. It swings from pathetic to funny to nostalgic in a matter of minutes and as long as you’re prepared for some soul-destroying satire, it’s a really ‘interesting’ watch.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

17 thoughts on “One does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth”

  1. It’s an open secret: Gainax hates otaku right from the start.

    They hate themselves, and they hate the whole thing. The only reason why they are in it is because it’s very profitable milking these people. You can mock them openly all they want and they’ll still bite. I mean, if they could hire some prick like Hideako Anno to make Eva and then let him go off to spout utlranationalist nonsense years later…

    If the whole Gurren Lagann scandal hasn’t opened your eyes, well… don’t blame me for being the messenger of bad news.

  2. Otaku no video… it’s been a while since I saw it, but this was the one where they interviewed an American guy and wildly exaggerated in the subtitles, putting words he never said into his mouth, right? Makes one wonder about the authencity of all the other interviews (though obviously there are people like that and so on). But then, this is Gainax we’re talking about…

  3. @Hige: Got a source for that? I’m just interested is all. I do remember Miyazaki saying something like “I don’t care if you watch my movies in Japanese or English” but can’t recall this “not anime” comment.

    @kuromitsu: Yup, spot on. That’s kind of why I’m tagging this as a mockumentary, because I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s faked or exaggerated to a point.

    @DrmChsr0: They didn’t hire Hideako Anno; he helped to create Gainax along with a few others, so he was in since the start. I’ve read “The Notenki Memoirs” by Yasuhiro Takeda, which is basically a biographical look back on the early days of Gainax, right up to Evangelion and to say they are all about the money is a complete lie. All of them are hardcore nerds in love with science fiction and anime, they all met at university, sat around reading books and went on to do all these amazing things together. Just look at Daicon III/IV, they all worked on that as amateur artists (including Anno) just because they loved doing it. Their talent and passion was (and still is) inspiring. And the only reason they react to other otaku is because THEY ARE otaku themselves.

    That’s not to say they don’t have issues (no doubt Anno had some!), but at least that makes them more interesting than 90% of all other anime studios. Better to be Gainax than some faceless corporate office with no opinions one way or the other.

  4. From memory, Miyazaki claims that his films don’t have the ballistic, bullet-like forward-forcing visual drive of normal anime, making them not anime but moving manga, or something. Whether or not he’s right I don’t know (though I feel he’s wrong) – it crops up in one of the articles in the first volume of Mechademia. I think. Hige might know more about this than me.

  5. This makes me think of ‘Welcome to the NHK’ since it has a similarly uncompromising view of Otaku life (although it isn’t limited to it). Sounds interesting anyway I’d certainly like to track it down, though I imagine it would make for depressing viewing as you say.

    The bit where you say about the hentai images the guy is drawing, how it is “itself is technically brilliant, but it remains a self-fellating fantasy”. That’s something that’s always struck me as severely ironic about hentai animations and comics. The creators doubtlessly take painstaking amounts of time to draw these images, and yet they’re devoted entirely to basic sexual gratification. Everytime I see something like that I can’t help but think it’s an enormous waste of talent and effort.

  6. Yeahm Welcome to the NHK came to my mind along with genshiken. Both great mangas/animes that do give some insight on the lives of our otaku friends (and ours too).

    I agree with bateszi that anime shouldn’t be called cartoons. I have a few friends who think they can lump superman together with ghost in the shell (and a few others to name). I think they’re sadly mistaken though =)

    I also personally feel that using anime/manga for sexual gratification is pretty much dumbing down its potential. Comics were the medium that drove the visual industry to what is is today and I’m glad to see that anime is doing the same thing in todays generation.

  7. @IKnight: Yeah, I wouldn’t agree with that statement either. Miyazaki’s work is most definitely anime, but at the same time, he doesn’t seem to conform to the usual story-telling devices we see in a lot of anime TV series, so I can kind of see what he means from that perspective. He is most definitely a cinematic auteur like Satoshi Kon (and Hideki Anno, Mamoru Oshii etc); a totally separate breed from the industry directors.

    Also, I’ve got the first three volumes of Mechademia. Haven’t read any of them (yet). May be I’m not yet ready for such esoteric articles about anime? It’s one of those times where I’m wondering whether it’s worth the effort to wrap my head around something that’s supposed to be fun, but feels like a lot of work too.

    @Wildcard/Ez: When I was writing this article, I was thinking about Welcome to the NHK but totally forgot to include it (ironically I was worrying whether or not I’d mentioned Genshiken too much, WttNHK would have been perfect.) Thanks for reminding me of that, as Otaku no Video is totally like Welcome to the NHK, right down to how there is this pervasive sense of self-loathing bubbling under the surface of the otaku interviews (that sounds horrible, but I think there’s a lot of value in that kind of self-criticism too). I wouldn’t mind watching WttNHK again, thinking back on it, it was a really great series, especially compared to what we’re dealing with at the moment. *Listens to Youkoso! Hitori Bocchi*

  8. Part of me wants to watch this, (I enjoyed Genshiken after all) the rest of me realizes that watching the negative sides of anime doesn’t really help overcoming them as much as working against them does. So instead I’m gonna go play ddr (at least that’s exercise with my otaku)

  9. Hrm.. I’m not sure about the whole anime/cartoons thing. I mean it really depends on how you define anime and how you define cartoons. But that is neither here nor there.

    As far as it goes, I haven’t really watched any of these type of shows, but I’ve heard a lot about them, mostly good, and one of these days I do plan on getting Genshiken and Welcome to the NHK (right after I finish buying Zipang). But for the most part I’m kind of torn on it. I mean I don’t think being an Otaku is a bad thing (especially not in America), but I also wonder how well that really translates past the culture that created it. But that’s just me.

  10. You make it seem very bad, baetszi. Reading your article makes me want to avoid Otaku no Video, but if it is only a little bit more self-critisizing than Welcome to the NHK, I’d have no problem.

    Haha, now Youkoso! Hitori Bocchi is depressing. It hit me almost as hard as the entire series. Amazing song, I can only listen to it once or twice per month.

    And if you are going to re-watch it, I suggest you take a look at the dub.

  11. I rented it a while back. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure if they were interviewing actual people or it was just setup to seem that way. Although, I’m sure they wouldn’t have had a very difficult time finding “otaku” to fit the mold they were portraying.

    I agree on the literal here, “there is totally a difference between cartoons and anime.” However, the difference is totally subjective.

  12. @dengar: I don’t blame you for feeling like that, as I can definitely see why watching something like this could viewed as a needless exercise in negativity. It probably takes a certain kind of person to get something out of watching Otaku no Video, and you know yourself better than anyone else. For my part, I have to be in a certain kind of mood to watch something like this and not feel bummed out afterwards.

    @Cameron: If you don’t see being an otaku as a bad thing, at least in Japanese terms (the US definition mainly translates to ‘anime geek’, which isn’t nearly as bad as what we’re seeing here), I do recommend you try watching this. It will open your eyes. There are many different levels of ‘otaku’, but what I saw in this was mostly just an obsession that’s being amplified ten times over in compensation for certain other things that are lacking in that otaku’s life. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the one guy drawing naked girls in his one-man apartment is sexually deprived.

    @LWL: Well, I think the difference between this and something like Welcome to the NHK is that Otaku no Video depicts its otaku in live action, as in real, living people. I’d definitely find Welcome to the NHK a lot harder to watch if it was live action, so I guess the anime acts as a kind of safety net that prevents things from getting too depressing. Anyway, if you liked Welcome to the NHK, I’d recommend you take a look at this, because it isn’t all that hard to watch, it’s just that the low points are LOW.

    By the way, have you got English lyrics for Youkoso! Hitori Bocchi? I’ve never understood what the song was about, but it has such a melancholly sound.

    @j.valdez: Indeed, I suspect those interviews may have been exaggerated, but they are realistic to a point where, like you say, they wouldn’t exactly have a hard time finding real ‘specimens’ anyway. Kind of disappointing they didn’t interview a female otaku at all. Also, it would be interesting to see if much would change in Otaku no Video if it was made today rather than 1991.

  13. I imagine it would have a greater impact, it wouldn’t even be comedic anymore. Thanks.

    I had them saved from some reason:

    like my dreams are a tent I’m turning inside out
    the pattern made of happier times becomes plain and boring again
    just like paper rots and turns yellow

    knock knock knock
    embracing a silent space,
    hitting the walls uselessly,
    leaving everything unsaid

    knock knock knock
    embracing the pitch black night sky,
    traveling into the boundless universe…
    welcome to one all alone
    one all alone… one all alone

    at the city left at the bottom of the sea
    your smile disappears into a green shadow
    you speak to me only of regrets
    like othello, while breaking up light

    knock knock knock
    overflowing with the heartbreak of our fantasies
    a flood in my mouth and ears and eyes;
    the all-pervasive media is soaked up by my brain

    knock knock knock
    because of the loss of gravity
    I realize my empty uselessness…
    welcome to one all alone
    one all alone… one all alone

    Describes Tatsuhiro quite well, even throws in some conspiracy stuff.

  14. I,too, felt the fakery of the interviews. I think they were widely exaggerated, (and the American guy interview was so visible) and thus its credibility dropped to 0. Also, the research results seemed fishy and unprofesionally done. All in all,there was a sense of fraud all around. (the reason to exaggerate people’s otakuness is very much obscure to me – it’s not like the culture needs even more creepiness than it already has)

  15. “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the one guy drawing naked girls in his one-man apartment is sexually deprived.”

    What he needs is a woman to tend to his penis! Seriously, I’m not opposed to masturbation or mutually consensual sex (I am opposed to porn), but what exactly do you mean by sexually deprived, that he doesn’t have a living breathing depository for bodily fluids? Maybe, women don’t want to have sex with him, just ’cause, and no amount of steady job having or shower taking or culinary expertise or anything else is going to change this situation, and that he’s not having sex, doesn’t make him deprived (or a bad person). Anyways, I keep meaning to get around to seeing this, but never have, I’ve seen some of Genshiken though and think that that’s good.

  16. @RadFemHedonist: That’s more of an observation than anything else, so you don’t have to read any negative context into that statement, it depends on how you perceive the ‘otaku’ condition and whether or not it’s a bad thing. When I say deprived (maybe you were getting it confused with ‘depraved’?), I mean literally “lacking in advantage, opportunity, or experience”. Thinking back to this specific scene, it could be compared to the story of Pinocchio (sorry if that’s disturbing!); the guy is creating a girl on his computer, like how the woodcarver creates Pinocchio, as a replacement for something he’s lacking. Basically, he’s lonely.

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