Otaku Unite!

"Good"

Otaku Unite! Review


Otaku Unite! follows the story of anime fandom in the U.S. from its subculture roots to a growing mainstream presence. Director Eric Bresler deftly culls opinions and facts from some of the foremost names in the industry to profile the Eastern animation phenomenon and the fans who've embraced it.

He begins by attempting to find a consensus on both the literal meaning and the connotation of "otaku." Some historians view it as a respectful version of the word "you" originally embraced by hardcore Japanese fans of the genre but now largely considered in that country as an insult. Some American aficionados regard it as a "badge of honor," turning a once derogatory term for "obsessive fan" into a compliment for being just that.

He also profiles radio personality and would-be voice actor Jonathan Cook, a.k.a. "D.J. Jonny Otaku," the self-proclaimed "hardest working anime fan in the Tennessee Valley." His story, which we come back to throughout the movie, is a warts-and-all nod to the geeky stereotype of the sci-fi/fantasy enthusiast. He counterbalances the more level-headed commentary of the other otaku in the film.

Bresler reveals the broad strokes as well. He tracks the progression of anime from its Disney-inspired roots in the Sixties to its network success in the States with the import of such shows as Speed Racer and Robotech. Carl Macek, who created Robotech from the found footage he brought in from Japan, recounts how he received death threats when fans realized he'd altered the original material, even if it was by necessity. Thus begins one of the central conflicts of this story: How far can one go to introduce an art form to a larger audience without compromising the purity of that form?

The film touches on several similarly interesting cultural aspects of the craze. It briefly explores the gender shift in convention attendance from a primarily male audience to an even split, highlighted by footage of a marriage ceremony actually performed at one of the conventions. It charts the impact of technology, and the Internet in particular, on fandom. We see the splintering of the movement into subgenres, including the gay erotic manga celebrated at Yaoi-con in San Francisco. None of these threads are deeply explored, but for 75 minutes, it covers a lot of bases in a well-structured effort.

Bresler tells his story quickly with repetition that's constructive rather than redundant. The thumping Japanese punk soundtrack keeps the narrative rolling while the articulate interviewees (including manga scholar Frederik L. Schodt, Anime Weekend Atlanta chairman Dave Merrill, and anime historian Fred Patten) provide insightful observations on the minutiae of the trend.

There's little effort made, however, to reach out to those who might have less than a passing interest in anime. Although some terms are explained, "manga" remains a mystery to the uninitiated (it's a Japanese term for "comic book"). The film's shortcoming tends to be its unswerving focus. A greater emphasis on the impact of Eastern influence on Western pop culture in general might create a context that conveys more clearly the significance of otaku. Bresler touches on this near the end as the question of whether or not anime has actually gone mainstream is raised, but by then if you're not already otaku, you might not see why you should care.

Otaku Unite! is a very comprehensive and compelling introduction to the world of anime fandom. If you've ever wondered who those crazy-looking people in the elaborate costumes on their way to your local convention center are, it's worth checking out. If you crossed to the other side of the street, it's probably not.

Reviewed at the 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival.



Otaku Unite!

Facts and Figures

Run time: 70 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 17th April 2004

Distributed by: Central Park Media

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

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