Thoughts on America’s Greatest Otaku: Episode #1

I wasn't too into this show, but then there was a lady dressed as Sailor Venus with wings and it was all good. Anybody can dress as Sailor Moon with wings, but it's rare for Minako to get the angel wings she deserves.

Just so you know, the last reality show I watched was an episode of Top Chef where Cookie Monster, Elmo and Telly showed up to judge a baking Quickfire, and Padma totally talked to the Muppets like they were real people. For me, this was the pinnacle of reality television; they can stop making it now.

Nevertheless, I decided to give Tokyopop’s new reality show (or whatever it is) a shot, and while it certainly wasn’t stellar- five minutes in, I was considering turning it off out of boredom- it was better than I expected. I decided that I wouldn’t blog about it if it was really bad, because then all I’d end up doing is mocking the show, and that’s kind of a horrible thing to do when real people are involved. It turned out that it’s good enough that I can talk about it without mocking it, but not good enough that I’m not tempted to at points.

Otaku Who?

Right now, the biggest problem with the show is that the so-called “Otaku 6” have no personality, other than perhaps Stephan. That’s not to say they don’t actually have good personalities; maybe if I knew them, I would think they were the most charming, sparklingly effervescent otaku shut-in con-goers I knew, but that’s the problem- I don’t know them. At all.

I used to snobbily avoid all reality TV, but lately I’ve softened to some of the shows that have actual content other than “watch these people live in a house.” After watching many episodes of Top Chef, Cake Boss, and Next Great Baker (notice a theme?), I know that the one thing you can usually say about reality shows is that you get a strong feeling of the personalities of the various contestants- sometimes, you hate their guts, but you definitely know who they are, even after only an episode or two. The main thing the Otaku 6 did in this episode was stand around and try not to look too awkward when host (and Tpop founder) Stu Levy asked their guests questions. What’s the point of having them, if we’re not getting to know them?

Of course, the Otaku 6 aren’t the contestants- the four people in this episode who are in contention for the “Greatest Otaku” title are, and the interviews with them were actually interesting. Supposedly, the Otaku 6 are going to come into their own next episode and start doing more interviews, but I don’t know- as of right now, I would be having pretty much the same experience if Levy were just walking around and interviewing people single-handedly.

Also, the five or ten minutes at the beginning of the show spent introducing the 6 were by far the most boring part- I almost turned it off in a until they started interviewing the guy with the massive toy collection. Speaking of which…

I want this Sailor Moon figure this guy has so badly...and thanks to this show, I now KNOW WHERE HE LIVES.

A Definition of Otaku After My Own Heart

They seem to be using a rather inclusive definition of otaku- one contestant’s American comics collection is counted as part of his otaku swag, and some of the venues aren’t strictly Japanese or J-culture related; I couldn’t figure out what the otaku connection with that game company was, other than the fact that the art in their games was MAYBE a little anime-inspired.

This doesn’t bother me- the girl who puts Tomb Raider analysis on her otaku blog- but expect J-culture snobs to bitch and moan about this like there’s no tomorrow. At the very least, I promise that if I stop watching it, it will be for a much less stupid reason.

Chance of anyone watching this not knowing what "Jpop" means: .0000000001%. It's like the Oni system (and I bet you're such an otaku you got that reference too.)

Split Focus

The last thing of note is the fact that the show seems to be somewhat ambivalent about whom it’s targeted at. Every otaku-related term is described in an on-screen post it, which I suppose is nice for people who don’t know squat about otaku culture, but how many of them are actually watching this? Furthermore, how many people who know about this show really need WoW explained as “a popular online role-playing game”?

If it was just the post-its I could let it slide, but it seems like everything is over-explained just on the off chance that someone grew up in some wasteland where even Pickachu’s adorable face never graced their TV screens, and it’s annoying. I thought this was supposed to be a show by-otaku, for otaku, at least in theory- why are they catering to the 1% who discovered this site through something other than an enthusiast website?

Best: -The interviews with all four of the Greatest Otaku hopefuls. Not only was it fun seeing those massive collections, but they seem to have tried to pick people who have some kind of talent in addition to just buying everything under the sun.

-That little moment when Levy picked up that girl’s Nia dolfie, and though she was smiling you could tell she was thinking “if he breaks my $700 doll I will absolutely set the Tokyopop offices on fire.”

Part of me is almost sorry that he didn't just drop it, just to see what would have happened. Does that make me a terrible person?

Worst: The really poor play-acting Levy and the guys did a few times. If you’re going to do an obviously rehearsed “hey, what are THESE doing here?” sort of bit, you have to go so far over the top that it’s hilariously cheesy, not just kind of throw it out there and hope for the best. Those were perhaps the only moments when the show started to cross the line into “I can’t believe I’m watching this” territory.

Overall, it was definitely not a total waste of 40 minutes of my life. But would I bother if I didn’t have a blog called Otakusphere? I’m really not sure at this point, but I’ll give it another episode or two at least.

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