The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 174 – Otaku no Video


First, some bad news. As might come across as obvious due to the fact that this post is not just a simple link to On The Box, OTB has told me to stop my column, “The Beginner’s Guide to Anime” because it is too niche for them. However, that doesn’t mean I have to stop the column entirely. Thus “The Beginner’s Guide to Anime” will continue here, on my own personal blog.

Appropriately enough, this anime I’ve picked to restart things looks at the anime fandom itself. Otaku no Video is a two-part Original Video Anime (OVA) which was released in 1991 by Gainax. This spoof is semi-autobiographical, partly drawing on the experiences of the team behind the series. It is also the first anime covered in this column to feature extensive use of live-action footage.

The story begins in 1982 and follows Kubo Takeshi, a successful guy with a girlfriend, whose skilful at tennis, and who after taking a year off is about to go to university. While out on the town one night he gets stuck in a lift with a group of otakus – a group of geeky obsessives with a deep passion for anime among other things. One of the people in the group is Kubo’s old high school friend Tanaka Naeo, and later Kubo finds him at his new college: in cosplay, dressed up as Char Aznable from Mobile Suit Gundam (No. 2). After some pressure Kubo begins to take an interest in anime and manga, and Tanaka introduces again to the guys he met in the lift, who are Tanaka’s closest friends.

Over the coming months, Kubo develops a passion for otaku culture. He drops out of the college, gives up on tennis, ends up having no job, and is eventually dumped by his girlfriend. However, he doesn’t give up wishing to know more about the otaku way of life. What frustrates him is people’s prejudices about otakus. This leads him to decide to start his own business with Tanaka to overturn these views, with his ultimate ambition to become the greatest otaku of all, the “otaking”. These events are covered in the second episode which starts in 1985, with Kubo creating and losing successful multi-million yen business, leading to his plan to create an otaku-themed amusement park, before strangely ending in a flooded, ruined Tokyo in 2035, with Kubo, Tanaka and friends planning to take otaku culture into space.

However, this is only half the story. While this jolly, anime story is played along, throughout both episodes there are cut-in life-action scenes from a mockumentary called Portrait of an Otaku. It “features” current and former otakus with pixelated faces and distorted voices talking about their love of otaku culture. They include an office worker who is embarrassed to talk about his love of cosplay, a criminal who steals animation cels and sells them on, a man who travelled to America to assemble the greatest video collection, and a porn obsessive who claims to have invented glasses to remove the pixels from censored porn and is seen masturbating in his interview. All of these people are actually Gainax staff acting.

Otaku no Video thus contains a mixture of different styles and emotions. The animated sequences tell the story of an otaku who becomes successful and makes the culture accepted, while the Portrait of an Otaku segments mock all the negative aspects of the fandom. Not everyone saw the funny side of it however, with many otaku at the time complaining that it misrepresented them, although it was a parody.

One of the best things about Otaku no Video is enjoying the way so many anime series get referenced and spoofed. Not only is the Gundam cosplay, but there are similar moments involving Space Pirate Captain Harlock (No. 107) and Lupin III (No. 90). The period storytelling feature segments feature scenes such as Kubo and his friends spending the night outside a cinema waiting to see the 1984 premier of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38). There are also references to other Gainax works: there is mention of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (No. 105); when Kubo and Tanaka design their character for their own OVA, the character’s mascots look like King, the pet lion cub of the title character in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (No. 112); and in one of the Portrait of an Otaku sequences there is a man playing an adult video game featuring one of the characters from Gunbuster (No. 24).

However, I think that not only does Otaku no Video reference anime of the past, but there are other anime that are partly influenced by it. In the final scene, when Kubo and his friends go to space, their rocket is shaped like a huge conical drill. Years later, Gainax’s over-the-top mecha series Gurren Lagann (No. 50) feature mecha armed with such drills. Some people even claim that part of Gurren Lagann’s main character, Simon, are influenced by Kubo, partly because both stories take a gap of several years in which the characters develop.

Otaku no Video is a short collection, with each of the two episodes lasting 50 minutes, but it is a wonderful anime to watch because it mixes so many things. It is not that surprising that it is so popular, to the extent that when a region-free Blu-Ray release of the series was proposed on Kickstarter it more than doubled its target.

Otaku no Video is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by AnimeEigo.

From the MyM Archive – Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Volume 1 – UNCUT

Mobile Suit Gundam

A little while ago I wrote a feature piece on the English release of Mobile Suit Gundam: THE ORIGIN by Vertical. I wrote it for MyM, but sadly my article had to be trimmed a bit. So, to coincide with the release of the second volume this week, for the first time ever I give the full, uncut version of the piece.

In 1979 Gundam, one of the most influential anime ever made, first aired. A manga adaptation of the original series has been created and is now available in English. Ian Wolf examines this new collection.

There are certain sci-fi series which are noted for their scope, impact and age. In Britain, Doctor Who is celebrating its celebrating its 50th anniversary and is still going. In the States they have TV series like Star Trek and film franchises such as Star Wars. In Japan however, there is, Gundam, which has had a huge impact both on their culture and on many sci-fi series since.

It is easy to see why. Since the very first TV anime series was broadcast way back in 1979 it has grown to become one of the biggest and longest running anime franchises ever made. Indeed, it is so big that anyone new to it could easily be intimidated by it. For one thing it is very complex and there have been many spin-offs from the original – seven in fact. Getting your head around all the various plots is therefore tricky enough. To make things worse for us in Britain, the original series, Mobile Suit Gundam (also known as both Gundam 0079 and First Gundam) has never been released here. The only way you could watch was to import the DVD or try and find episodes on YouTube.

This is a crying shame. For some reason the big UK anime distributors seem reluctant to want to release older titles such as Gundam or Astro Boy. However, there is now a version of the original series of Gundam than you can get without have to worry about hacking your DVD player. This is because it is available on an ancient, but tried and tested medium, paper.

In 2001 a new manga adaptation of the original series began, entitled Mobile Suit Gundam: THE ORIGIN (note the block capitals). It retells the story of the 1979 series, albeit with a few changes that add to the backstory, but the central themes and story remain true. This manga has now been translated into English and published by Vertical, who have taken great lengths to present the manga in all its splendour. The book itself is hardback, printed on glossy paper, frequently uses colour, and also comes with a selection of essays detailing the manga’s creation. It has been so successful in Japan, that this manga adaptation is itself getting an anime adaptation.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Mobile Suit Gundam is set in year Universal Century 0079. At this time humanity has spread into space and has several colonies. However, Side 3, the colony furthest from the Earth, has decided to make itself an independent nation called the “Principality of Zeon” thus breaking away from the “Earth Federation”. This results in a bloody war that wipes out half the human population within a month. Eight months later the two sides are at stalemate.

Another colony, Side 7, is home to a top-secret new project. The Federation space ship White Base collects this secret project but is followed by Zeon forces who attack the colony. While several residents of Side 7 board White Base and become refugees on it, one 15-year-old boy, Amuro Ray, discovers the new project, which coincidentally was designed by his father who died in the Zeon attack. Amuro decides to use the project to defend his people. This project is the RX-78 02 Gundam, a type of “mobile suit” that is effectively a robotic tank on legs that is armed to the teeth. Amuro defeats his enemies and thus is drafted into the Federation forces as the official Gundam pilot. The story follows his efforts and his own thoughts about the war, the conflict with the Zeon, and Amuro’s own personal conflict with Zeon’s most fearsome masked soldier, Lt. Commander Char Aznable.

It is hard when reading this book not to experience a feeling of awe. This is one of the most influential series ever created, and it is presented in such a wonderful way. You find yourself developing your own theories about what influenced the story. Mine is that the Zeon seem to have parallels to the Germans from World War One. Take the uniforms. Char’s helmet is spiked, rather like the German WWI “Pickelhaube” helmets. Also, as his “Zaku” mobile suit is red Char is nicknamed the “Red Comet” a possible reference fighter ace the “Red Baron” von Richthofen. Many fans of the later Gundam series compare Zeon to World War Two’s Nazi Germany. Despite being such a fearsome foe, Char Aznable is reportedly named after the famous French singer Charles Aznavour.

Mobile Suit Gundam Volume 2

This debut volume covers the events in the first five episodes of the anime. Having seen both you do notice some changes. Some events in the series take place at different points for example, but nothing as previously mentioned, nothing major has been changed of the main plot.

The manga’s creator, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (originally the character designer on the anime) has, however, made changes that certainly make the manga more believable than the anime. For example, in the anime there are one or two sequences where the method of repairing external damage to the White Base’s hull is releasing several gooey balls that are sucked toward the gaping holes by the vacuum of space, and upon impact with the hull they just burst open and repair the hole by covering it in a sticky layer of gunk. This is not in the manga. In another sequence where the Gundam enters the Earth’s atmosphere the anime shows it protecting itself from burning up on re-entry by covering itself with some kind of clear-foil blanket. In the manga, it copes with the burn-up perfectly adequately without this.

For me, the most believable change occurs right at the beginning of the story regarding how Amuro learns how to operate the Gundam. In the manga, he appears to have an in-depth knowledge of the machine from reading his father’s computer files, so when he gets into it for his first battle he is pretty familiar with how to operate it. I find this much more credible than how he learns to do it in the 1979 anime where Amuro simply reads an instruction manual. Now call me a pedant, but we all know that no man, anywhere, has ever learnt how to operate anything correctly from reading the manual, whether it be in 1979, 2013, or far, far away in the future. Even today, men’s eyes gloss over as they try to decipher the instructions on how to put together a Billy bookcase from Ikea. To make this scenario even more unbelievable, Amuro reads the manual in the midst of battle having retrieved it from a Federation car which has just been destroyed by Zeon forces. In most dangerous situations you have the option of “fight” or “flight”. If you pick “fight”, the chances are you are going to fight with something you know how to operate already, and if you pick something that you do not how to work the chances are you would probably have to figure it out through guesswork. Even if you did find the manual and tried to read it, the chances are that it would be difficult to process all the information, what with people trying to kill you at the same time and having just witnessed lots of other people be killed a few moments earlier.

But let us put aside these pedantic points, all of which appear to have been handled more sensibly now. Instead, let us turn to the impact of Gundam. It is safe to say that every other “mecha” series after it has been influenced in at least some aspect. From Neon Genesis Evangelion to Macross, Code Geass to Lagrange, Nadesico to Gurren Lagann, every single one of these owes a debt to Gundam. You can clearly see recurring themes that flow from the original. Take for example, the age of the lead character. In Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro is fifteen when he becomes a pilot by circumstance. This idea of the pilot being an unwilling teenager recurs continuously. In the aforementioned series, every single main lead character is aged between 14 and 18 when they start. Of course they take their own themes in different directions. Evangelion is more psychological and apocalyptic; Code Geass has more fantasy elements to it including an alternative world history; Lagrange uses a mainly female crew; Macross features a plot that is highly unpredictable; Nadesico has an entirely different mecha anime series playing in its own universe, and Gurren Lagann is simply bombastic and over-the-top in every joyous way.

All of these series have their own unique charms and qualities, and all of them can trace their origins back to the great, and highly influential, Gundam. Now, finally we can relive this series. One of the most important anime that has ever been made, given a new lease of life. If you are new to Gundam, then this is a perfect place to start. Embrace it, enjoy it, learn from it, and begin to realise just how much it influenced all your other favourite mecha.

New MyM Out Today – Issue #14

MyM Issue 14

The latest edition of MyM Magazine is out in the shops now! Amongst the things that I’ve written for it this month are a feature on the manga adaptation of Mobile Suit Gundam, as well as reviews of the manga adaptation of Tiger & Bunny; the “death game” manga Doubt (death game is the name of genre that I’ve coined and hope to popularise); an omnibus edition of Zero’s Familar created by the late Noboru Yamaguchi; and a yuri collection called Kisses, Sighs and Cherry Blossom Pink.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime: No. 1-3

Last month I’ve started writing a series of anime articles aimed at non-anime fans, hoping that a quick look at a different series every week will spark some interest. So far I’ve written three articles which are linked below.

No. 1 Astro Boy

Astro Boy

No. 2. Mobile Suit Gundam

Mobile Suit Gundam

No. 3: Ouran High School Host Club

Ouran High School Host Club