(adapted from a review I posted on Anime Grapevine on 1/27/04)
Star Trek fans have Trekkies and Star Wars fans have The Phandom Menace, and now anime fans have Otaku Unite!. There have been a few anime fan documentaries that predate Otaku Unite!, but those have tended to be limited in scope and/or production value. Otaku Unite! is probably the most ambitious American anime fan documentary project to date, and I happen to like it a lot.
Please note: I am not exactly a neutral reviewer. Before the film was finished, I happened upon its official website, and I submitted some of my otaku-related essays for publication on that site. I was excited by the project, and it looked like the makers were taking it seriously, so I offered to help out in any way I could. During the making of the film, Eric Bresler (the director) contacted me, and I did some research for him and provided some historical materials (from the early days of fandom) for inclusion in the film.
That said, I was only indirectly involved with the making of Otaku Unite! When it debuted at Anime Weekend Atlanta 9, it was my first time seeing it. I thought it was excellent, and the audience appeared to get a big kick out of it as well. I was proud to have my name appear (ever so briefly) in the credits.
So what's it about? Here's what the official website has to say about it:
Otaku Unite! is an independent, feature-length documentary on the history of Japanese animation fandom in the United States. The title refers to the anime fans ("otaku") whose combined efforts have enabled fandom to thrive for over 25 years. This sense of unity is apparent at any given anime convention, at any of the multitude of anime fan clubs and organizations, at any online forum. Otaku Unite! illustrates this sense of unity by covering the evolution of fandom from its former state of scattered pockets of avid fans to the current high in both the visibility and popularity of anime in the United States. Whether you're a die-hard anime fan, a casual cartoon-viewer, or an unknowing movie-goer, Otaku Unite! will be sure to both entertain and inform.
I think that's a pretty decent summary, but let me paint a more detailed picture of what the movie is like.
Otaku Unite! relies heavily on interview footage. The makers of OU! traveled all over the place, including 9 conventions, to interview con-going anime fans, celebrity fans, artists, anime experts, and members of the American anime industry. There is no director's voiceover; Eric allowed the otaku community to speak for itself. I was pleased to see anime fans being portrayed respectfully--all the interviewees were intelligent, articulate, and interesting people--and with a sense of humor, making it clear that anime fans are fun and irreverent people who do not take things over-seriously.
OU! addresses several issues, including (but not limited to):
- What do different people think of the term "otaku"?
- What makes anime interesting to fans?
- What do fans get out of conventions?
- What is the appeal of cosplay?
- How did anime fandom evolve in the United States?