Otaku Unite!

Created by Eric Bresler
Distributed by Central Park Media
Genre: Anime Documentary
Rated 13 and Up
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99

Reviewed by Jon Minners

There are fans and then there are those who take their love for something one step too far.  I would be considered a fan of wrestling, a fan of basketball, a fan of Star Wars, a fan of Star Trek, a fan of video games and a fan of anime and manga.  I watch wrestling, which is the closest thing I guess you would call my obsession; I enjoy a good basketball game, as well as any film dealing with the subject; I have all the Star Wars DVDs and the entire seven-season run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I have an X-Box and a PS 2 and I have an extensive anime and manga collection that consists of Golgo 13, PatLabor, Ninja Scroll, Armored Trooper Votoms and Battle Royale, Tag Ė Youíre It!, Dragon Head and Juror 13.  However, I have never painted my body to enjoy a basketball game or wrestling match, I didnít wait in line for an X Box 360 and still do not have one and I do not dress like my favorite characters from anime.  That would be just strange and yet this DVD tells the tale of those who enjoy things just a little more than I do. 

It is part of my job to cover the industry that features many a fan-to-the-next-level and as I head off to ICON 25, a convention that, hopefully, like last yearís convention, will feature the best in sci-fi, including anime and manga, I know for a fact I will see someone dressed up like Inuyasha and thatís cool.  I mean, while I may laugh about them, it does take an extreme set of balls to be an Otaku, which is translated in Japan to mean an obsessed geek/loser, but in America is simply just an extreme fan.  So, while the guy sitting next to you on the train is dressed up in a suit and on his way to work during the weekday, there is a chance that on any given weekend, good old Jack dresses up like Sailor Moon.  These are the kinds of people that are given a voice on Otaku Unite, the first documentary solely dedicated to anime fandom in the United States

The 70 minute film was created by Eric Bresler, who is extremely well-known within the anime industry as host of Let Me Crazy!, a three hour block of Japanese craziness on Philadelphia's WKDU 91.7 FM. Bresler interviewed major industry figures, academic experts and dedicated fans in what he originally wanted to be a 15-minute short feature that was turned into a full-length documentary at the behest of those who participated.  The film contains two years of interviews conducted around the country at various conventions and features such luminaries as the voices of Speed Racer, owners of major companies, writers of industry publications and fans in full regalia for what turned out to be a very in-depth look into a highly popular cultural phenomenon. 

The breadth of the subject matter in the film was expansive, highlighting the many varied faces of anime, from the stereotypical geeks to the regular guy who just enjoys the art form.  The DVD also focuses on the beginnings of anime fandom in the country, when fans first saw shows like Speed Racer and then desperately sought out other material that was not yet released without the use of the Internet or conventions at the time.  The film contains interesting stories about how such shows finally came to the U.S., how the Internet played a major role in the explosion of anime that we have experienced today and how the culture has expanded from people sitting in their living rooms watching films without subtitles to 100ís of people of all ages attending conventions dressed up like their favorite character (a very intricate, detailed, almost Hollywood style art form known as Cosplay, which has become a very lucrative business in the United States), even taking part in masquerade competitions complete with one fan who reminded me so much of a castoff from American Idol who swears he or she did better than the judges thought.  There is even a discussion on how anime would be featured at conventions and then be the focal point of their own conventions, actually expanding to hold genre-specific conventions like the Yaoi convention focusing on homosexual anime and manga. 

The DVD also features an extensive photo gallery with hundreds of photographs taken of cosplayers at Otakon 2005, previews of other Central Park Media material, the highly exciting look at Kaiju Big Battle wrestling/monster hybrid that is slowly sweeping the nation and much more, making this DVD definitely worth purchasing. 

And as I look at the many faces this weekend, which will include some very hot girls wearing scantily clad outfits; something that makes me happy that there are people who take the genre so seriously, I must admit to admire how a group of people created a sub-culture all its own and watched it grow to unheard of levels.  Otaku Unite is a groundbreaking look into this new culture many are only discovering today.  Otaku Ė they may seem strange at first, but after watching this DVD; you realize the people who take part are only slightly different from you and me, and thatís kind of the way they want it. 

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