OTAKU UNITE! (a J!-ENT DVD REVIEW)
June 22, 2008 by Dennis Amith
“An informative and enjoyable documentary that does a good job covering anime fandom via the earlier anime convention years to the present, cosplay and English dub voice actors. Director Eric Bressler did fans a great service by interviewing important names who contributed so much to promoting anime in America and where so many could have gone have-assed, very smart in his interview selections and also covering the different ranges of otakuness!”
DVD TITLE: OTAKU UNITE
DURATION: Approx. 70 minutes
DVD INFORMATION: COLOR/NTSC / English and Japanese audio, Dolby Digital Stereo
CATALOG #: CPMD 2514
COMPANY: Central Park Media
DIRECTOR: Eric Bresler
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Charles Smith III, Kelly Cain
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: John O’Donnel
PRODUCER OF DVD: Stephanie Shalofsk
CAST: Steve Bennett, Carl Macek, Johnny Otaku, Fred Patten, Frederik Schodt, Scott Frazier and Dave Merrill
Explore the world of otaku, the devoted fans of Japanese animation. Since the introduction of Speed Racer to the U.S., these men, women and children hav built a community based on their common love for this uniquely imaginative medium. Through conventions, fan clubs, online forums and more, they have expanded out of otaku fandom into a highly popular cultural phenomenon. “Otaku Unite!” is the first documentary to follow the evolution of its phenomenon from its humble beginnings as a few isolated fan groups to its current stage as a major influence of pop culture today.
I’ve heard of this documentary for years and as much as we have covered the anime scene since 1993 with our anime BBS (neo-tokyo 2099 and where J!-ENT was born), I’ve grown a bit crotchety to the point of only taking so much of otaku fanboys and fangirls that even our interest in covering the anime scene on J!-ENT has fluctuated like a rollercoaster in its highs and lows.
But as I see the anime and even manga industry really taking a severe hit right now in North America, even us old timers do not want to see the bubble burst and realize that we really need to support the industry.
For me, I suppose the reason why I wanted to check this DVD out is because I know a lot of people interviewed and featured on this documentary from the past with my involvement through a BBS, the anime cons or even now as a consultant.
Reasons why I didn’t want to see this documentary, is that people who know me, know that I have very little patience for certain otaku. Even moreso for otaku that produces their lingering body funk that epitomizes stank at a hallway at an anime convention. Gross!
Of course, this DVD is not about complaining of otakus, it’s celebration of otaku and anime culture.
The DVD is the first documentary about anime fandom and I have to give director Eric Bressler some props for his coverage of the fandom but most of all, the most important thing of a documentary, doing the research and getting the people on camera. So, I’m happy that everything worked out because he managed to capture major key people for this documentary.
I suppose when watching this, I took the approach of putting myself in the shoes of an anime fan. To cover otaku anime fandom, you would have to cover so many different types of otaku at these conventions and they managed to do it well. And although I have never met Mr. Bresler and I’m not sure if he’s an otaku or more of a filmmaker.
But for the people he had to cover, I don’t know if I could do what he and the staff had to do and covering various types of otaku.
Of course, I cringe when I see men crossplaying and in Sailor Moon outfits. Nothing scares me to see a hairy, overweight man sporting a dress or some female outfit but I realize that some people find that entertaining. So, I digress.
But let’s take a moment to go outside of the fandom and talk about those involved in the promotion of anime in the US.
One of the well-known promoters of anime in the US especially in the earlier years are interviewed on this documentary and for me, it was a blast in the past to see these folks who I have not seen for many, many years.
Fred Patten, known for his written work, working for Streamline Pictures and the founding Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (C/FO) and his work in the sci-fi fandom scene (and of course, he’s contributed much more than that).
Carl Macek. Wow! This man has been at the top and been at the bottom in terms of his attention by anime fans. He has received so many praises and even death threats (mainly because of his splicing of three episodes to create “Robotech”) and I could imagine how the mid-90’s was a tumultuous time for him. But in the end, Macek has meant well and his goal was to bring Japanese animation to American television and he succeeded. Not just that but he has been involved in bringing so much anime to the US that he’s such an important figurehead that I’m glad he was covered and to hear him talk about that crazy time in his past.
Trish Ledoux, another important person who helped popularize anime in the US. Similar to Carl, she also was a person that had attracted positive and negative attention by the anime fandom. As the former editor-in-chief of Animerica and her involvement with Viz, back then both she and Carl would have anti-posters at anime conventions and for her, the criticism against her was mainly fans reacting to Viz making a presence in America and taking the first step to stop fansub groups from covering their properties This was never featured on this DVD but just needed to add that little bit. I’m glad that Eric Bresler covered her more as an anime industry historian but there is so much, similar to Carl Macek that could have been touched upon in terms of her involvement in the industry.
Mike Tatsugawa (known primarily now as the head guy of Pacific Media Expo or PMX). Mike was the fanboy involved with the huge Cal Berkeley anime club, printing fan translations of anime through their books and for creating the anime convention “AnimeCon 1991” which later became known as the huge anime convention Anime Expo. Not sure how old the interview with him was done, since he has no involvement with Anime Expo and he’s wearing an AX2000 shirt but he has contributed a lot in making anime mainstream in the US. But also another figurehead that has been mired in anime fandom controversy.
Seeing Steve Bennett, of course, having him on this documentary is a must. Having known Steve for a long time and eventually meeting the family, I’m happy that Bresler chose to positively focus on Steve Bennett, the artist and con guest who has probably attended nearly every mid-size to large anime convention across the US. The footage was during a tumultuous time for Bennett’s Studio I.C. or Studio Iron Cat, so nevertheless, it was good to see him upbeat and featured numerous times throughout the documentary.
Even to see artist Robert DeJesus, who also has had his foot grounded in the earlier anime cons back then especially with his wedding at an anime con. Really good footage of his marriage at Otakon 1999. It’s so cool to see how well he has done over the years.
I remember when he was just starting out and at night at an anime con, playing video games with the guy. The last video game match I had with Robert was a game 3DO “Sailor Moon Super S” fighting game at Anime America. Nevertheless, I’ve seen him several time and he’s a good guy and his contribution to manga-style work by an American for over 15 years now, is always noted.
Also, had a blast watching an old friend, Helen McCarthy, featured on this documentary. She has done so much for promoting anime in the UK (and the founder of one of my favorite anime magazines back then “Anime UK”) and was surprised to see her on this documentary and also very proud that Bresler featured her.
Then you have other important figureheads such as Frederik Schodt, Carl Gustav Horn, Scott Frazier (pre-Jan Scott-Frazier) and many others. It was good to see interviews from staff from various anime cons throughout the country especially covering niche cons such as Yaoi Con. And last, also he cosplay scene and an interesting individual named Jonny Otaku who has scenes in the documentary that showcase the kind of otaku that you either like or dislike. Imagine if Bresler featured Man-Faye? Then again, I rather not.
There is a lot of older anime coverage and found it cool to see Bresler interview the voice actors from “Speed Racer”. That was cool to see!
So, all in all, the documentary was entertaining. I did find it a bit strange that before the documentary started, there was footage shown for “Kaiju Big Battel” which is a parody of professional wrestling entertainment and something I have no passion for. Not sure why it came up before the documentary, this should have been in the special features section or something.
Video was actually done pretty well. Shot digitally and edited well. Footage was clean on most of his footage and footage contributed to him by old school anime fans of anime convention past are of course outdated but still serve the purpose of showing the audience how things were then.
Audio was good and clear. Although some musical choices for the documentary I questioned a little but all in all, I’m glad to see that Audrey Kimura of Benten gave permission for music usage in the documentary.
As for special features, you get manga and anime trailers courtesy of what was released by Central Park Media at the time
All in all, on an informative and nostalgic trip to anime convention past and interviewing the major players at the time was what my main interest was on this DVD and I give Eric Bresler a thumbs up for doing his research.
If anything, I am still looking for a documentary that shows the positive and negative aspects of anime fandom, the conventions and so forth. “OTAKU UNITE!” is a very positive documentary showcasing the various levels of fandom and the people who contributed in making anime popular in the US.
But along comes the positivity, to get from point A to point B, there were a lot of things that had to happen. From the beginning of anime fandom, the anime con wars between Anime Expo and Anime America (suprised to not hear Anime America’s name brought up on the DVD), although I’m glad to hear Carl Macek talk about that past, would love to have heard more from Trish Ledoux on the challenges that Viz faced in getting into the market back then and also the introduction of Animerica (which although it’s not around like it was once before, the publication will be noted for helping contribute to the popularity of the anime at its time). I would love to have heard Scott Frazier (or Jan Scott-Frazier) discuss the challenges of an American working for Japanese anime companies.
Of course, with cosplayers and you had Jonny Otaku talk about his feelings of anime masquerade’s being rigged. The sad truth is that this has happened and there have been major scandals that affected anime conventions and cosplayers.
There is so much out there that I wish could be covered in a documentary but for what Eric Bressler and team were able to cover on their documentary, you still get one hell of an informative piece of work. A lot of interviews, a lot of research and showing things positively, you can’t go wrong.
So, if Eric Bresler and the folks at Movies of My Dreams Productions consider a second documentary and a DVD release, that would be cool!
So, “OTAKU UNITE!” is definitely an informative and nostalgic trip through anime fandom and anime convention past and I think fans who truly enjoy anime and its history will truly enjoy this documentary. It’s worth checking out!
+ Bresler did his homework and covered some major figureheads who contributed to the growth of anime in the US
+ Well-researched and ability to obtain classic anime convention footage was great to see!
+ A good balance of coverage of anime fandom in a variety of levels
– May be a bit too-dated for people who are expecting something modern
– If you have a disdain towards otaku (and I mean those that are in the far end of spectrum of otaku geekiness), you will cringe at certain parts of the documentary
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