This episode certainly turned out differently from what I was anticipating. After the teaser from Episode #7 mentioned that the last episode was going to take place in Japan, I kind of assumed that Stu and the Otaku 6 were going to descend on the island nation, Team Mangaloids’ short-shorts and Dre’s unbelievable eyewear collection in tow. However, after saying a brief goodbye to the group early in the episode, we’re introduced the judges of the competition- whom I didn’t know existed until this point- and then it briefly became the Chris Wanamaker Show as America’s official Greatest Otaku toured Japan.
Chris was clearly a good choice (and he should totally host AGO Season 2 if they make one), but like everything else about this show, the final episode was split between the genuinely interesting and the baffling. Hit the jump for my final (sniff) AGO Season 1 rant.
Farewell, Sweet Co-Hosts
The saga of the Otaku 6 ended much as it began; with a bunch of people sitting in a field looking out of place. I think it’s become obvious over the course of these recaps that I have quite a bit of affection for these guys, so hopefully it will be clear that my irritation at how this part of the show played out has to do with how Tokyopop planned the show, not the cast.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but for Tpop to basically just drop them off at the airport after the tour seemed pretty cold after everything this group has put up with. Dre and Diana apparently won a meal out at a Japanese place for being the overall challenge winners- which I’m sure was tremendously exciting for them, considering they’ve all been eating in Japanese restaurants for the entire goddamn tour. Seriously, all that “eat your weight in yogurt” and “cosplay like a bitch in public” nonsense, and THAT’s what they win?
Why didn’t they have the challenge winners receive a trip to Japan along with the AGO winner? Sure, it might be a bit harsh if only two of them got to tag along, but considering that the way they did it entailed none of them getting to go, it would have at least been an improvement. Then Chris would have had some people to pal around with as he explored the maid and butler hotspots of Akihabara, and we would have had a vastly superior finale. Actually, now that I know that trio would have been Chris, Dre and Diana, that would have been like the best reality show ever:
Chris: I am enjoying this genuine Japanese cultural attraction; I can’t wait to spread news of this entity to all of my ten million club members!
Dre: Coo’, they got a color shades I ain’t got yet. Hold my sketchpad, WanaMario.
Chris: Nah I got my new Gothic-Loli Princess Peach Plushie in that hand, bro.
Diana: What part of ‘Let’s go to the butler cafe’ do you two not understand?
Now granted, it would have been more expensive to pay for two more people, but in my opinion, that’s the kind of stuff you sign up for when you decide to start making your own television shows. Whether you agree with me or not that some/all of the cohosts should have gone to Japan, abandoning the cast 90% of the way through any show is strange.
Judging: Criteria Existence Bonus
This finale tried to do too many things at once, because the segment where the judges discussed the candidates and what they were actually looking for in “America’s Greatest Otaku” was kind of short. I’m sure the candidates themselves would have preferred more insight into why they picked who they did (especially since not every contestant received a comment from the judges that we saw), and people have been asking what exactly Tpop was looking for in otaku ever since they announced this project a year ago.
I don’t really have any complaints with the judges- it’s impressive that they got an anime director (Hiroshi Nagahama) and a J-culture author (Roland Kelts) to participate. That said, I think these people would have been better utilized if we’d seen comments from the judges all along throughout the series- not only would that leave more time for commentary on the contestants, but it would have emphasized the fact that this was a competition. Sometimes, it was easy to forget the whole competition angle when watching this show- then an AGO candidate would show up and it would take you a minute to remember what this person was even there for.
It was interesting that we found out why Gina and Selene- the second-runner up and runner-up, respectively- didn’t win. According to Nagahama, Gina had the reverence for anime culture down pat, but didn’t have her own creative outlet, while according to Kelts, Selene lacked a specific “aesthetic” appreciation of otaku culture. While I understand both comments, I think (that aesthetic one is tricky), don’t they both apply to Chris as well? I guess he’s got the Mario style down pat, but I don’t think that was what Kelts meant.
Obviously the “judging” was just going to come down to the opinions of a small group, so I can’t really complain that it seemed random- opinions are like that. I was a little surprised dedicated cosplayer/singer Elizabeth didn’t make the top three, however.
While this show has gotten plenty of criticism, some of it deserved, let me say this right now: if you didn’t feel happy for Chris getting to geek out all over in Japan on Tokyopop’s dime, you might just be a terrible person.
I think it’s a nice touch that Tokyopop sent him to both a maid cafe and a butler cafe; I imagine they didn’t know the gender of the winner when they booked the dates, so they wanted to have their bets/fetishes covered. I liked the look of the butler cafe much better, and surprisingly, I think Chris did too; I got the distinct impression that the forced-cuteness of the maid cafe wasn’t much more appealing to him than it was to me, though he was far too nice to say so.
The butler cafe, on the other hand? Awesome. I want one of those so badly, and I wasn’t even on the whole butler train until this episode. Unlike the maids, who try so hard to prove that they care about you, the butlers are aloof; they don’t really care if you live or die, but they serve you with maximum politeness because they’re that damn professional. I get the whole butler thing now; they’re both highly convenient and alluringly unobtainable.
Of course like everything else in this episode the whole Japan trip was kind of rushed; I guess they didn’t have a good reason to devote a huge amount of screen time to Japan in a show focused specifically on American otaku culture, but ironically, this was probably the most interesting segment for more than a few viewers. In particular, I wish we’d gotten to see more of Toei Animation.
Post It Deluge
The post-its, which had actually calmed down in recent episodes, went into overdrive this time; they identified who Sailor Moon was no less than three times. Admittedly, some of the terms used- like Japanese fashion terminology in Harajuku- actually were relatively obscure, and defining them wasn’t such a bad thing. But most of the time, it was pointless. I get the impression the post-production guys just went post-it crazy because it was their last opportunity.
It’s hard to evaluate AGO now that its concluded, because it aired against the backdrop of the Tokyopop manga imprint’s ongoing death spiral, which couldn’t help but cast a shadow on it. Suddenly, instead of just being an unusual side-project, it became a symbol of everything that was wrong with the way Tokyopop was being managed, and even people who were fans of the guests and the venues felt duty-bound to hate it. I never had any strong emotional investment in Tokyopop to begin with- positive or negative- so I was never on the hate train, but the confused focus of the show makes it hard to recommend.
The show was trying to be a reality-type game show, hence the often pointless challenges. It was also trying to be a kind of travel guide to otaku hotspots in America, which it did better, but the desire to be all-inclusive hurt it; several cities could have been easily cut, while more relevant locations could have been expanded upon. The desire to treat Kansas City and Nashville as equal to the likes of NYC in terms of screentime was vaguely admirable, but doesn’t really work from an entertainment perspective.
Also, the actual competition was often left languishing in the background, leading to a strange feeling of genre whiplash when the judges were revealed at the eleventh hour and our otaku tour guides were sent home.
If the show is to be lauded for anything, it’s ambition; it tried to do too much and a lot of it didn’t really work, but when you think about it, that’s pretty much Tokyopop’s MO; at least, it has been until now.
This probably sounds awfully negative, but due to the Otaku 6 and the frequently interesting guests, I did enjoy the show more often than not, albeit on a casual level and not on a “OMG I can’t wait for the next episode!” level. Structurally, it was a train wreck, but who knows; maybe if there’s a second season, they’ll learn from this experience and make a thoroughly good show next time. It may not seem likely, but Levy just posted a blog on the AGO site referring to the finale as the end of “Season 1”, so you never know.