by Michelle “Ms. Geek” Klein-Hass
Shirobako just recently wrapped. I’m actually catching up on it through Crunchyroll now, and enjoying it immensely. The series is set in the world of Anime production. Never mind that the anime industry is kind of a grim place unless you are a key creative or an executive: Shirobako character Erika Yano is based on a real person director Tsutomo Mizushima knew, and she’s no longer in the business because it’s just a brutal slog for scary low wages.
The picture of the industry in Shirobako is by necessity a rosier one than reality. If you really portrayed the industry as it is, you’d have a story that would probably more resemble a Dickens novel than a cute tale featuring pretty girls determined to meet crazy deadlines. In spite of the cuteness, it’s got elements of reality, and captures a great deal of the tension between creativity and shipping the product that is so much a part of animation production worldwide.
Shirobako is full of characters based on real life figures in the anime industry, and our friends at Otaku USA magazine created a guide to all the cameos in the series.
But Shirobako is not the first time that anime, manga and Otaku culture got placed under the microscope by the anime Industry. Let’s set the Wayback Machine for 1991, when fan favorite studio Gainax told a fanciful version of its real history in the OAV Otaku no Video. (The Fanboy Video.)
Otaku no Video chronicles a college student, Kubo, who is well on his way to the corporate life. Then his high school buddy Tanaka, 100% pure Otaku, pops back into his life, purely by chance. Tanaka introduces Kubo to his rag-tag bunch of friends, each as dedicated to their own Otaku interests as he is. Kubo’s “real life” goes to...well, pieces, but his restored commitment to geeky pursuits goes forward by leaps and bounds.
Segments of animation are interspersed with interviews with “real Otaku.” Actually most of the “real Otaku” in the segments are people who worked at Gainax at the time, but the characters they play in the live-action bits are definitely LOL-worthy. A porn fan (this is not an anime for kiddies) who invents goggles to de-pixelize naughty bits that by law have to be pixelated in Japan, an obsessive video collector who has amassed a video collection so big he cannot watch it all back, a cel thief, and an American anime geek who has moved to Japan (unfortunately the Japanese audio dubbing makes what he’s actually saying in English almost impossible to understand) are among the “Portraits Of Otaku” you see in these segments.
While the term Otaku has waxed and waned as an acceptable way of referring to fans of anime and manga in Japan, the term has been adopted in other parts of the world to identify fans of Asian Pop Culture. And part of the reason is this hilarious OAV. Yes, it’s still available through AnimEigo, and furthermore the company has put out its incredibly detailed culture notes for the video up on the Web so you can read about all the references to golden-age anime, manga and tokusatsu (live-action special effects movies) that have been crammed in by the obsessives at Gainax.
Here’s an AMV which includes clips from the OAVs, plus the Opening Theme, Tatakae! (Fight!) Otaking!
The folks at AnimEigo are now in the process of readying a Kickstarter for a deluxe, even more detailed Blu-Ray re-release of Otaku no Video. AnimEigo have already successfully used Kickstarter to fund the production of a Bubblegum Crisis BD, so it's not like they don't have a track record doing this. The HD transfer was already done in Japan, and a Japanese release of the BD has already happened. If the Kickstarter is successful, they will have access to the restored, high-res files to make the BD. Tatakae, guys! Ganbatte, kudasai! And support this Kickstarter...Otaku no Video is a sufficiently historic document by now to where an HD version would be an important addition to the video libraries of modern-day anime fans!