America's Greatest Otaku Review

By | Thursday, February 24, 2011 Leave a Comment
Last summer, Tokyopop founder Stu Levy took a crew of six American otaku and a film crew in order to explore otaku culture in the continental U.S. and find "America's Greatest Otaku." Tonight, the first episode of the show debuted on Hulu.

The show is set up fairly linearly. They visit one city, check out some otaku location and/or event, interview some potential AGO candidates and then drive on to the next city of their tour. The events and locations are pretty radically different, so there's no sense (at least as of this first episode) of repetitiveness. Anime Expo obviously doesn't look/feel like the Cartoon Art Museum, which doesn't look/feel like Royal T, a "café/shop/art space" inspired by the maid cafés in Japan. The AGO contenders are also surprisingly varied, expressing themselves differently through collection, cosplay, illustration and song.

What I liked about the show overall was that it was very much set up for general audiences. There were generally good verbal explanations of different aspects of otaku culture, and the screen was annotated when a creator's or character's name was thrown out by anyone without a verbal frame of reference. That the show also highlighted very different aspects to otaku was also beneficial, I think, for anyone who might understand it to only be about anime or manga. So, speaking as someone whose familiarity with otaku is reasonably limited, I liked that aspect.

As a general rule, I'm not a fan of "reality" type shows, though. The contests and set-ups always seem to me to be forced and unnatural. This show isn't all about that, fortunately, but the parts that do delve into that area (namely, the tail end of interviews when Levy says something to the effect of, "Is this America's greatest otaku? What do you think?") feel uncomfortable. Though some of that is just my personal preference, I also think Levy's at his least comfortable during those bits as well. He definitely comes across much better when he's just chatting extemporaneously than when he's reciting memorized lines.

The first show centered around Levy, as his "Otaku Six" got their feet wet. At the end of this first episode, he promises to let them loose with the next episode, so I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of them in coming shows. By the time I caught up with them several weeks into their tour, Levy was indeed leaving them to their own devices, so I'm just not sure how their time will be divided on screen.

Overall, not a bad show so far. Personally, I prefer the more documentary portions of it, but it still works surprisingly well given the sort of split focus between that and the contest angle. The pace is a tad uneven, but not jarringly so; this also might smooth out as they get past the introductions and get into more of a rhythm. But it's definitely interesting and enticing enough that I'll continue watching the whole series.

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