Otaku Unite!
May 14, 2006

Billed as “the first documentary about anime fandom”, this DVD bookends lots of (mostly male, many overweight) talking heads with a visual onslaught. There’s a lot that’s eye-catching about anime fandom, especially the costumes and all the various gee-gaws and products and plush for sale, and that may be the reason the movie opens with Kaiju Big Battel footage that has little to do with what comes after. (The chapter opening bills it as a “short feature”, so this may be earlier work from the director, Eric Bresler, that he just felt like throwing in, similar to the way that thesis authors try to turn their earlier papers into chapters of the bigger work.)

The film proper opens with unidentified clips of quotes about the growing cultural importance of Japanese animation and definitions of “otaku” (ranging from moderate to negative impressions), interspersed with visual clips that give the impression “look at all these weirdos” with a mood alternating between “fun” and “freaky”.

Otaku Unite! cover
Otaku Unite!
Buy this DVD

Although there are many women and girls shown in costume and performing, all but one of the fan interviews are with men, many with the identifying caption “anime enthusiast” or “anime fan”. That lack of specificity makes me wonder about their background — are they people who were friends of the director? those who said what he wanted to present? well-known to people in the community? biased or unbiased? Without more official citations and authorities, and given the “by us for us” feel of the packaging and press, it’s hard to judge how much of the history is accurate. One guy (unidentified) pontificates from a hot tub, in which he’s wearing a t-shirt. Having people who call themselves “Thag” or “Ogre” presented as experts doesn’t help the casual observer take the movie seriously.

Those unfamiliar will find all the explanations of “anime” and “otaku” educational, but they might be put off by the lack of explanation. Many historical clips are included but without labels or other identification. (I was lucky to recognize Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion.) A lengthy section on the history of Robotech also didn’t keep my interest, although it’s an excellent case study.

Other topics include coverage of masquerade contests and the growth of anime conventions. It was a pleasure to see Frederik L. Schodt (Manga! Manga! author) included.

The worst part of the film, by far, was the footage involving a DJ who calls himself Johnny Otaku. For someone who has a radio show (where he plays selections from anime soundtracks), he is vocally boring and presents himself even more poorly visually, ducking his head and seeming uncomfortable in his skin. It was thus incredibly uncomfortable to see him return during the cosplay competition section, where he does a partial striptease and complains bitterly before and after about how the judging is always rigged (because he never wins). It’s embarrassing to watch, and the film would have been better off without his inclusion.

Overall, those who are the true target audience for this disc, those members of the audience who want to see how they’re presented and revel in the community they’re part of, will have to sit through a lot of material they already know, while those who want an introduction risk finding themselves confused, bored, or repulsed by certain of the sections.

Extra features include a director’s commentary, news coverage, the movie’s trailer, and photo galleries from Otakon 2005. (This forms the source of a tacky ad blurb on the back of the box: “Are you on this DVD? We took photos of hundreds of cosplayers… To see if you’re one of them, buy this DVD!”) Also included are previews of other CPM DVDs and manga titles. The graphic novel previews were interesting, with panel selections jazzed up through limited animation.

More information is available from IMDB.

2 Responses  
Lord Kelvin writes:  

First documentary about anime fandom? What about the old “Otaku no Video?” Sure, it’s got an anime storyline running through it, but it’s also got a lot of random interviews and discussion of fandom in general. It’s particularly interesting to watch the interview with an American fan living in Japan–he speaks in English, which is translated into Japanese subtitles, which the American release translated back into English, and the two English tracks disagree in very interesting ways (not just the usual babelfish issue).

Sesshomarusecretlove writes:  

I agree, this movie sends a negative impression of the American take on anime, mannga, and cosplay in general. The only part I really appreciated was the author interviews (the ‘ogre’ bit was pretty cute too :D)
(I’m scared of you, J.O.!!! DX)


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