I realized something this evening: I’d never seen Otaku no Video. I’d gone all of these years thinking it was one of those old OVAs I’d seen during my early days, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it. “Not knowing a damn thing about it” is a pretty good sign you’ve probably never seen something, so I went ahead and watched it.
It’s pretty cool stuff, but not for the reasons I was expecting.
Everything I’d heard about Otaku no Video made it sound like an old school Genshiken. It was supposed to be about the life of fanboys and all that shit. And yeah, the first episode was just that. We follow a “regular” dude as he descends into the madness that is fandom, much like how Sasahara discovers the Genshiken club and lets loose with his inner otaku. The main dude goes from an athlete with a girlfriend to making the sort of “I AM OTAKU AND PROUD” proclamation that any good fan likes to make when faced with all those problems that come with being into this sort of shit.
He has one of those moments where he wants to stick it to everyone out there who’s looked down upon him. He wants to rise up and show that his way of life isn’t just equal, it’s superior. Anyone that’s wrapped up in some aspect of fandom has had one of those moments, but most of us are all too aware that we’re just blowing off steam. It’s all a harmless delusion that lets you get worked up about something positive rather than getting bummed out over some shitty predicament.
Then the second episode takes that delusion and plays it out as some sort of manic otaku fever dream, and it’s some awesome stuff.
It all starts off in a relatively plausible manner. The main dude and his buddies start making models out of their apartment and sell them to other fans. They’re cashing in on the model craze. But all too quickly their “garage” hobby becomes a full-fledged business. Within a year their boast as turned into an industry.
But what’s strange about this is that they don’t “win.” In anyone else’s fantasy, that would be the end game. “Hey! Take that, drunk dude that mocked me for sitting in line to watch an animated movie! Now I’m raking in the moolah! Ahaha!” But we’re talking about otaku here. The fanboy, regardless of his object of admiration, is a strange creature. It isn’t satisfying to just “win.” It isn’t just about overcoming obstacles and making something out of nothing.
There has to be an antagonist. There has to be conflict on a personal, man-to-man level. You can’t just beat circumstances. You have to beat The Final Boss. Maybe it’s born out of the sort of persecution complex that many of us deal with to some degree. Or maybe we just watch too many cartoons and read too many comics. I know I get off on the concept of defeating the Big Bad. My ideal life would end with me facing off against some planet-threatening demon-alien-Nazi and blowing him up in an awesome, three episode long fight.
So that’s why Otaku no Video refuses to stop at “Hey, I just created a booming corporation.” That’s why an evil bank dude comes along, buys out the company, and forces out the main character and his buddies. His fantasy wouldn’t be complete if he fell from grace at the whims of an evil empire. That fall proves that he isn’t the same as his rivals. The otaku hero is pure of heart, and if he falls it’s only to rise back up all the more powerful. Every otaku wants to be Obi Wan in the end. It’s all about the force ghosting.
And that’s what goes down. The main dude loses his company, but he takes advantage of this to create an even more powerful corporation that rises to fame even faster than the previous one. And not only does he make even more money and gain even more fame, he crushes his rival and makes him lose his wife.
The fanboy needs that moment of triumph in his fantasies. Success can’t come gradually, it has to come when the final sliver of life is trimmed from the life bar of his perceived opponent. That fantasy makes the second episode of Otaku no Video so awesome. It isn’t just an underdog fantasy, it’s a “defeat the final boss” fantasy. That really speaks to my fanboy heart.