Graffiti of Otaku Generation

Otaku no Video
1991 / 96m - Japan
Comedy - Animation
Graffiti of Otaku Generation poster

One of the lesser-known anime classics, probably because of its very unusual setup. Graffiti of Otaku Generation [Otaku no Video] is equal parts documentary and mockumentary. The film loves taking a stab at otaku culture, but for those unfamiliar with the breadth and dedication of Japanese fandom it's also just a pretty interesting introduction into the world of the otaku. It's been ages since I last watched the film and I was a little apprehensive as I'm far more aware of the culture now, but I must say that it is still an absolute charmer.

screencap of Graffiti of Otaku Generation [Otaku no Video]

An otaku is basically a big nerd or fanboy. In the West, the term is often linked to manga and anime fandom, but it's certainly not restricted to those hobbies. Back when Graffiti of Otaku Generation was made it was a much more marginalized culture, though looking at the extremities of the dedication shown in the film, it probably still is if you're at that very level. Broader nerd culture has become a lot more acceptable in the past few decades though, so the film hits a little differently nowadays. Still, I feel the core remains relevant, and so is the film's somewhat dual message.

Apart from allowing us a peek into otaku culture, the film also functions as a fictional account of Gainax's origin story. For those who don't know, Gainax is Hideaki Anno's animation studio, responsible for some of the bigger anime hits of the 90s (Evangelion being its most prominent success). While clearly fictionalized, the film does reference Anno's own past and his dedication to creating his own studio. It's never explicitly advertised in the film (only the Daicon IV references are a clear nod for those in the know), but it adds an extra layer of interest.

Kubo is an average kid who is living an average life. He misses his college days, and when he runs into an old pal of his, they reconnect. He introduces Kubo into his little club of otaku which takes him back to the days he could still get really excited about things. He starts to neglect his current job and girlfriend and hangs out more and more with his otaku pals. Wanting to turn their passion into their jobs, Kubo and his gang look into producing garage kits on a larger scale. Before they realize it their product is a big hit, the start of a turbulent time in the spotlights.

screencap of Graffiti of Otaku Generation [Otaku no Video]

This is a Gainax production, so you can be assured the animation is solid. The art style isn't my favorite, it's sometimes a bit too generic in its designs, but it looks considerably better than most OAVs of its time. The attention to detail described in the film can be found in the animation, which is a neat meta-detail. As for the live-action footage, this perfectly mimics the TV doc aesthetic, including scrambled voices, pixelated faces, and colored texts plastered across the screen. It's very well done, to the point where at first I wasn't entirely sure whether this actually was a mockumentary. As long as you don't expect this film to compete with the best anime features of its time, you won't be disappointed.

The soundtrack isn't half as interesting and most of it feels like an afterthought. It's somewhat functional during the live-action interviews, as its cheesy tunes help to recreate that TV show feel, but the music that goes with the animated sequences is highly generic and is seemingly made to deflect attention while making sure there is always some noise to prevent overly quiet moments. It is effective in doing so because I was forced to go back to actually check on the music. I simply had no recollection of it whatsoever. The dub on the other hand is first-class and what's even better, they never redubbed it in another language, so there's no chance of ending up with French or American voice casts. For a film this Japanese, it was the sane thing to do.

screencap of Graffiti of Otaku Generation [Otaku no Video]

While the film is based on Gainax's origin story, it's clearly a fictionalized tale, so don't be surprised if some parts come off a bit fantastical. The docu inserts have little to do with the plot, but merely give extra context about the various types of otaku that exist. It sounds like a pretty weird setup, but it is a smart one as it ties the different goals and stretches of the film together. The interviews will give the audience a better understanding of the culture, adding a bit of dark comedy in the process, while the animation offers a softer, more gentle take on the phenomenon. Put together they form a pretty solid and balanced conclusion.

Graffiti of Otaku Generation represents a 90s take on the otaku culture and things have evolved quite a bit since then, but at its core, I don't believe not that much has changed. The film offers a fun and creative peek into one of Japan's most acclaimed popular exports, never too loving or too damning, finished off in typical Gainax fashion. It's a relatively obscure classic but despite its topic, it is a pretty accessible film. Fans of anime and Japanese fandom in general should really seek it out if they haven't already, for others it might be a good introduction to a very particular niche.