Mar 21, 2011

Pride and Obliviousness: An America's Greatest Otaku Recap

Editor's Note: This article was co-written by Nathan Evers and Rezz. A special thanks to guest contributers J. Bena and William F. Fox V. 

As I sat at my desk, cursor trembling over the "play" button, and coma-inducing sugar snacks and cyanide pills strewn across my desk, I quickly re-examined my life decisions that lead me to this lowest point of my life. Was I really going to do this? Wasn't one episode enough? No -- these people deserve better; I must remain valiant and strong, and spread the word about this sham of a show. Hit the jump and join me as I examine the second episode of America's Greatest Otaku.

I'm just surprised he's not wearing socks with those sandals.
Prep Meeting: Welcome to Winnemucca, Nevada, almost a stone's throw away from where Jake Gyllenhaal and the late Heath Ledger's naughty bits touched in Brokeback Mountain. Stu Levy has called for an emergency prep meeting in order to "bestow one of the virtues of otakuism" upon his six interns. However, I don't see a single sheep anywhere in the scene, so I suppose this is where the Brokeback Mountain allegory ends. That's not to say that the thought never crossed Stu's mind. After all, Ang Lee was the director of that movie, and as we know from the show, anything even remotely related to Asia must be otaku.

Standing in front of the Six, dressed like a middle-aged dad, Stu's tired, dead eyes and valium-induced demeanor does little to prescribe faith in the upcoming series of events. His challenge: randomly pick the city their team is headed to from his hat, without touching any of the lice. As the camera pans for close-ups on each of the interns, I notice a couple peculiarities:

Take that out of your mouth. Ladybugs have probably been fucking on that straw.
Somebody thought it'd be a good idea to get Sully and Stephan to put straw in their mouths. Why? One's from Seattle, and the other is from New York. In what bizarro universe would it make sense for either of them to do this? Was standing around in some Nevadan rest stop so restless that you both couldn't keep from orally fixating yourself on the local shrubbery? Perhaps they're going for the banchou look, which from what I understand refers to any kind of juvenile delinquent or gang-leader in Japan. Unfortunately, this is America. The only people who stick weeds in their mouths are hobos and hillbillies. They chose Dallas.

Andre "Dre" JeanJacques is also quite the character. Aside from having a sporadic and indecipherable accent, Dre is also the proud owner of a bottomless menagerie of goggles and glasses. So much so, that in my mind, he's the Dennis Rodman of tragically hip eyewear. His partner, Diana, ends up picking Salt Lake City.

And we're only on episode 2.
That leaves Denver to Team Mangaloid (which sounds like some kind of venereal disease). In the midst of all the excitement, Meera and Dom whiff their double high-five, which is completely understandable. Colorado is a couple states over, so this wouldn't be the first time a woman was thrilled to get far away from Stu Levy.

With that completely unnecessary time filler out of the way, Stu gets down to business. It's time for the Otaku 6 to learn one of the first of six "core essences" of being an otaku. To my surprise, it's actually not blowjobs, as I had predicted previously. It's pride. Please, hold your laughter until the punchline.

Stu even has an ancient Japanese proverb all ready and memorized for immediate deployment. He proudly recites, "Bushi wa kuwanedo takayoji" which Babel Fish told him means "The samurai holds his toothpick high, even when hungry." (Laughter commence.)

Taking it contextually, this has absolutely nothing to do with "pride" at all. In fact, it has more to do with how samurai are fucking badasses, which the stock otaku clearly is not. I think I have a better phrase for Stu: "Baishun-fu shafuto ga me ni mieru." It translates to: "The whore holds the shaft firm, and looks into the eyes of her suitor." It's more fitting than that prideful toothpick bullshit, and in more ways than one to boot.

Before we continue, I'd like to express a little pet peeve of mine of the show:

A cavalcade of information.
The sticky notes. Why do the sticky notes require push-pins? What kind of rip-off dollar store pieces of trash are they using that they don't stay in place on their own? Perhaps if they spent less money on vfx and fancy transition titles, they could afford some working goddamn Post-it notes.

Salt Lake City: The first stop on their search to find other people who tuck their shirts into their underpants is the great state of Utah, otherwise known as the Mormon's Mecca. Upon arrival, one member of team D&D (their designation, not mine) is already on the outs with the territory, so Diana takes a moment to express her concerns about their destination. To paraphrase, she says: "There ain't shit here, yo." Who knew Utah would be so bereft of otaku culture? But you know where we can find otakus...

What could go wrong?
A Buddhist temple? Unfortunately for Diana and Goggles Rodman Dre, the temple is closed. Odd considering it's mid-day, not odd considering it's in fucking Utah. So the token black guy does what I suppose Stu Levy hired him for -- attempt to break in. Afterall, as Dre so eloquently states, "They're Buddhist, they don't care about breaking and entering!" Perhaps in the wicked projects of San Antonio that line would work, but in Mormon Country, Utah, I think law enforcement may see otherwise. Unless of course your follow-up line is: "No, it's totally cool. I saw this in an anime before: breaking and entering is just the first challenge of Buddhism!"

While we're on the topic of Buddhism, why choose a Buddhist temple in the first place? With the exception of most people considering Buddhism to be ambiguously Asian-related, I fail to see how it concretely ties in with Japanese or otaku culture. If you were going for the Japanese element, Shintoism would be the more obvious and traditional choice. And even then, Professor Robert Kisala would disagree and tell you that less than a third of the population of Japan identifies themselves with any religion at all. (Further reading: Buddhism may be dying out, Religion in Japan.) But I suppose if you're going to forego modern cultural sensibilities in favor of ancient, medieval beliefs (which explains where that toothpick quote came from), Utah may in fact be the perfect fit.

And yet, Dre remains stalwart in his optimism to find anything vaguely otaku-related in Salt Lake City. Turns out the manga and vampires (read: young adult) section of the local Borders is prime real estate for that kind of stuff. We're introduced to an exuberant quintet who absolutely reek "otaku."

That other smell is B.O.
The fun doesn't stop there as the gang takes a trip to the local library in attempt to bore their audience as much as humanly possible. Unless it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer or two people are banging one out behind the geography section, there's absolutely no reason for a television show to take place in a library. It would be like Gordon Ramsay spending an entire episode of Hell's Kitchen in a grocery store, berating random customers for their purchasing habits. Editor's note: In retrospect, this would actually be pretty rad.

Mary Anne Heider is the head honcho in charge of selecting which graphic novels the Salt Lake City Public Library will carry. The selection offered is quite extensive, boasting over 5,000 titles, a quarter of which are manga related. For context, our University of Washington libraries contain just over 1,200 graphic novels. In both cases, it's still not nearly as impressive as Ryan Tumaliaun's manga collection, which claims over a quarter of a million books, the majority being worn-out volumes of Ah My Goddess and Love Hina. (Although, we've received word he's recently gotten rid of a significant portion of them to make room for his lolicon busts.)

I loved your work on Glee.
Mary alleges that even people in business suits rush to the library to check out manga by the armful. Good to know, Mary, because otherwise it would have been embarrassing.

Previously in the episode, Stu Levy issued the first of many tests for the Otaku 6. In all his grand wisdom, he challenged his interns to go out into public dressed in cosplay, and without showing any signs of shame or embarrassment. Essentially, Stu's ideology for otaku acceptance includes forcing your subculture onto unwilling participants with prideful obliviousness and martyrdom. In a way, that makes Stu Levy like some kind of otaku terrorist.

Let's check up on this week's first Greatest Otaku contestant, shall we?

Sheik cosplay?
Oh my... Yeah, I'm not touching that one with a ten foot kama yari. I will say, however, that despite Shireen Al-Zahawi's completely bewildering online manga (which revolves around a Japanese student being told he used to be the prince of Scotland by a cat), she remains my favorite to win, if only for sheer underdog potential.

Let's just move on to the cosplaying bit. Now, I'm no anime savant, but I'll try my best to describe what Team D&D dressed as. Dre took it upon himself to dress like if Mikaeel Jackson fucked a necromancer. Diana I'm pretty sure went as Lady Gaga, though I'm told it's from something called Chobits (whatever that is).

Smiling through the shame.
The master plan they've concocted is to hang out at a deserted light rail station where nobody can see them, in hopes that the technicality of it being a public space means Stu Levy won't fire them for insubordination. While waiting at the station, the duo run into a totally-not-planted-or-staged anime and manga blogger, Anna Neatrour. How convenient! Anna suggests that in wake of their utter disappointment in Utah as a whole, they should go crash a Mormon temple, because one of the guys who wrote the 1978 Battlestar Gallactica series had a Mormon background. I suppose that's as much of a reason to do anything on this show, so off they go.

They arrive at the temple square, where Dre proceeds to jump into the flowerbeds and trample all over the floral arrangements. This gets the attention of a couple of the resident sisters who "give them a tour" right out the front gate.

The last stop on the Salt Lake City disappointment tour is the Salt Lake Art Center, which brings them into my home court. They meet Adam Price, the executive director of the art museum who begins to talk about the engaging and interactive contemporary art pieces that they're meant to think provocatively about. In order to hide the fact that Dre's eyes are glazing over from behind his aviators and that Diana's persocom ears are actually headphones that are piping in the latest Stephanie Yanez ditty, we are treated to a montage of some truly hideous mini golf play and shower cap booties.

If Tiger Woods wasn't so busy getting his infidelity on, he'd be rolling the shit out of Bobby Locke's bones right now.
One of the courses they play on was created by Spencer Douglass, which is explained by Adam Price as a "recreation of the room where Jimmy Carter negotiated the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt in 1977." And to my surprise, all Dre wants to talk about is the Donkey Kong hole (shown above) which "really brought home the otaku culture in the entire art museum."

Really? I must have missed out on the gratuitous amounts of otakuism between the junk sculpture and Jimmy Carter's desk. To be fair, Price's explanation of the Donkey Kong piece was much more insightful: "[it's] an opportunity to explore a number of Buddhist themes about the meaning of life and striving and desire."

This is actually quite interesting. The legacy of Donkey Kong continues to be captivating, even in contemporary times (see also: The King of Kong). The game's design is confined to performing as best as possible given your capacities and limited cycle of lives. Striving for the high score or accumulation of otherwise superfluous points continues to be hallmarks of modern game design (be it downloadable mini-games, experience points in an RPG, or kills in an FPS). So too can be said for the desensitized and dispensable nature of life and death in our interactive media. The conventions persist in the core designs of our Call of Duties and MMO's, and are defied by games by the likes of Braid. How can you extrapolate and learn from the medium's tropes and articulate how they inform your perspective on life, whether it be Buddhist, American, agnostic, or what have you?

What's becoming increasingly apparent as this series continues is its refusal to offer up any rational defense for their passionate dispositions when it comes to art, anime, video games or manga; much less any explanation behind what they find appealing about them in the first place. More often than not, I hear justification of otakuism as being nothing more than spending unscrupulous amounts of time and money, like consumerist sheep (Adam Smith's wet dream). Where is that relatable "Darkon" moment where the hobbyist explains how their obsession is rather a mechanism for coping with their social deficiencies, or a catalyst for self-improvement?

Maybe those will be on the blooper reel of the DVD.

Denver: Meera and Dominique decide to do the sensible thing for their field trip and travel to an Aikido dojo to meet with Sensei Homma, a certified ass-kicker.

These aren't the hosts you're looking for.
We can cut them some slack because Aikido is in fact a Japanese martial art, which is a welcome change of pace from the Mormon temple and putt putt golf nonsense that had preceded. As an added bonus, Sensei Homma is a native Japanese speaker, so much so that even when he's speaking English, he requires subtitles. It's actually refreshing to hear in contrast to all the other memorized catchphrases and basic parlance that has plagued the show thus far.

So far it's all sounding good, at least until we learn what Aikido really is.

From the brief clips they show of the class in action, it seems like Aikido is just the martial art in which you throw old ladies around. That sounds like the perfect sport for these guys. But Sensei Homma is quick to correct this assumption. He states, "[There's] no competitions. You may win today, but you may lose tomorrow." Did I say correct? I meant confirm.

Then Meera and Dom get thrown into the mix to participate (i.e. flop around). They kind of end up looking like those kids in gym class who were absent the day that everybody learned the Electric Slide, and who end up trying to watch and mimic the moves of those around them at a three second delay. Replace funky line dance moves with what you can imagine a Tae Bo class taught by Richard Simmons would look like, and you've pretty much got what Aikido is. On the scale of McDojo martial arts, this puts it just slightly above Tae Kwon Do and whatever the hell this is.

Then we're going to macramé decorative coffee cozies.
To break from the incessant sissiness of the dojo's activities, Dom asks about the philanthropic volunteer work that Sensei Homma is engaged in. He's happy to answer, and speaks about his charity work serving meals to the homeless not just in Denver, but around the world. I only mention all of this because seconds later (and seemingly every time thereafter) Meera, as adorable as she is, calls him "Homeless Sensei." A Freudian slip if I ever heard one.

The next morning we meet our two hostesses in a Domo restaurant, where Meera looks particularly hung over. Or roofied. Or both. It's here where we run into a familiar face:

Surprise!
In a stunning twist, Sensei Homma comes out of the woodwork carrying two trays of delicious assorted Japanese cuisine. Turns out, he's also a chef at the restaurant conveniently conjoined with the Aikido dojo next door. What an entrepreneur! Sensei Homma also uses this short bonding time with the girls to brandish his samurai sword, which I can only imagine he regretted not having the previous day.

Start running.
One more "Homeless Sensei" slip (this time by Dom), and then we're off to the next candidate.

Di Tran is one hell of a character, and in some respects is like a walking, talking Tim and Eric sketch. I'll just gloss over his other credentials for now and get to the one most worth talking about: his singing.

The trepidatious stare of coming regrets.
Di, the master performer that he is, decides against an impromptu musical number to showcase his natural talent. Instead, he whips out his headphones, laptop and lyrics sheet, leaving poor ol' Dom in what I imagine is just one of many cringingly awkward moments she will encounter in her stint on the show. She uncomfortably dances in her seat, in painful silence, still waiting for Di to begin singing.

In show business, this is sign language for "get me out of here."
But the silence is merely the calm before the (shit) storm. Because once he begins singing, dogs and cats will run for higher ground. The skies will turn black in anger. And volcanoes will explode, raining fiery death upon the earth in a vain attempt to silence the unholy screeching.

Di's singing sounds like if Rain decided to parody The Ultimate Battle of Ultimate Destiny after chain smoking a dozen cartons of cigarettes while his balls are being vice-gripped by Cristiane Cyborg's thighs. He makes William Hung sound like Whitney Houston. The Irish mob could use his high notes to break into bank vaults. He sounds like Mungo of the Catillac Cats getting blown by a vuvuzela. But we can just chalk these all up to nerves.

As he waxes poetic and lays down melodic grenades, it becomes apparent that the real atrocity is his Rebecca Blackian lyrics, which makes me believe he graduated from the Black Eyed Peas Academy of songwriting (of which he should seek a refund). His song, to be fair, speaks about his disgust of yaoi (homosexual) relationships in anime, a mutual frustration of fans and outsiders alike. It's not an issue of homosexual relationships (in the broad sense) being bad, but the fact that this kind of titillation is shoehorned in for mere fan service (which shall further be referred to as "fangasms"). These fangasms belittle franchises and only serve to undermine the medium and narrative so that critics like me can bitch and moan about their lack of artistic integrity and insight.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into this and Di Tran is actually just a prejudiced bigot who voted "Hell No" on Prop 8 (or whatever the Denver equivalent is). In any case, it certainly is odd that Di is so affluent in his knowledge of yaoi material, despite his claims to be wholeheartedly against it.

Well let's see what the producers have prepared for Dom and Meera to wear for their otaku challenge, shall we?

What a surprise. They made them cosplay as street walkers.
I say producers (*coughStuLevycough*) because I have this sneaking suspicion that neither Meera nor Dom had these cosplays particularly high on their list, much less the actual "dimensions" of the costumes. I say this because provocative costumes like these are just fine and dandy for conventions and expos where you're surrounded by like-minded fans and supportive individuals. There's a cultivated comfortability instilled in the atmosphere. However, relocate these girls to the downtown streets of a city they've never been to, into public space where people either think you're a doofus or a hooker, and we run into some potentially troublesome territory.

Case and point, one of the fine people they run into happens to be one of the patrons of Sensei Homma's soup kitchen. He proceeds to creepily follow them, like any drunken stereotype would do in the mid-afternoon, yelling degrading catwalk directions at them as they run away.

"Hold my hand, I saw this special on National Geographic once. You can scare off predators by making yourself look bigger."
As Sailor Mars and Princess Ai jiggled their way down the streets of Denver, they met other denizens of the city including a gay, a horse, some dirty looks and a mild case of hover hands. Also, they interviewed some chick with a pipe cleaner in her hair:

Dat cleaner.
Moving right along... Dare I ask what team S&S are doing?

Maybe the next otaku essence can be ironing your shirts.
Dallas: Sully and Stephan use their modest field trip budget to infiltrate the illustrious FUNimation studio in Dallas, Texas. You may recognize that name as one of the premiere (read: only one still in business) English dubbing houses for anime in America.

Also known in some Anime enthusiast circles as "The Slaughter House"
As interested as you all may be in the nuances of dubbing Anime into English, I'm going to take this time to point out some blatant and rather distracting product placement offenses. Two that seem to pop up regularly are Pocky and Fred water. Now Pocky is understandable, it's delicious and mind-numbingly stereotypical. Fred water on the other hand is an anomaly. I've never heard of it before. The closest my mind comes to this twerp. But why you would ever want to be associated with Fred Figglehorn, much less drink anything sponsored by him, is far beyond me.

Now, I understand that product placement is a necessary evil when it comes to financing entertainment, but is the Fred water money really so sweet that you can't help yourself from repeat trips back to the well? It also occurs to me that the show itself is just one huge TOKYOPOP advertisement meant to peddle more books to oblivious otakunauts, which means they're guilty of double-dipping. The bottom line is that it's distracting, and the more I have to think about Fred, the worse it reflects upon the show.

You can purchase Fred water here.
(Ka-ching!)
Sully uses his short time on the FUNimation premises to try his hand at dubbing Anime. It ends as predictably as you might think, with his voice acting coach looking in stoic disbelief as Sully stumbles over word after word.


But I'm sure voice acting is harder than it looks. After all, it does require both reading and talking simultaneously, which as we know from science takes both hemispheres of your brain to pull off. As far as his "audition" goes, I'm sure he left his indelible mark among the fine folks at FUNimation. But if he's waiting for a call-back, one piece of advice for our friend Sully: don't quit your day job.

"We're gonna dress you up like a box of Pocky with gremlin ears."
You know what? On second thought, I take that back; you should probably disregard that advice and run.

The other indelible mark happened to be upon his dignity.

You poor son of a bitch...

Anyways it's totally cool, because Sully redeems himself at the Super H Mart, where he and Stephan visit a sticker photo booth inside. They chose from a mighty selection of over-sized novelty glasses, Hawaiian kimonos and girly pastel backgrounds. And after all the fun of their photoshoot, they got to decorate the photos with an assortment of overlays, stickers, glitter and pussy kryptonite. They ended up with four photos resembling what I image a Ke$ha CD cover would look like if you let her design it on Blingee. And it was a totally slammin', good time.

I'm just kidding. It was completely embarrassing.
Maybe contender #3 for today can get me out of this funk?

If x = the circumference of the average cosplayer's thighs,
And y = the firmness of Stu Levy's hair after gelling,
Then x + y = Todd Haberkorn's biceps
Todd Haberkorn ended up being some guy they grabbed from FUNimation who was on his break. As such, he begins by talking about dubbing anime, and I pop a couple more pills of cyanide. But then he goes on about how his manga and anime fandom led to his pursuit of a career in the industry he so loved. And my attention was regained. Todd apparently had the motivation to get his foot in the door and assert his way through the ranks, to the point where he's traveling the country, going to conventions, and working in the very industry he covets. What do you know, being an otaku can actually lead to an end that doesn't consist of lavish misspending or blind fangasming. I'd like to know more about this Todd Haberkorn fellow. How much time is left in the episode?

Aaaaaaand credits.
Well, see you next week...

14 comments:

  1. You idiots better stop hating on us otaku, or you'll have another thing coming.

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  2. Oh Stu, you never fail to amuse with your awkward Otah-kew show.

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  3. These fucking girls. Why are they on the show? Obviously planted. They have nothing to do with Otaku culture.

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  4. Yes, otaku are a very dangerous group. We all remember the time that otaku marched into the California State Assembly with firearms. Certainly not a group to be messed with.
    Wait, that was the Black Panthers. Never Mind.

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  5. $20 says they picked the Princess Ai costume out for her since that's one of the few licenses they can throw around without paying too much.

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  6. Haha, I'd like to see what you can do, Anonymous #1. ~Ganbatte ne~

    I'm pretty sure they made that girl dress as Princess Ai because that's Stu Levy's personal little pet project. He writes it under the pen name "DJ Milky".

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  7. Elizabeth SchweizerMarch 23, 2011 at 3:24 AM

    I find it funny that you pretend not to know Chobits, then mention "persocom ears" hahaha. Also, I find it strange that, considering your whole "everyone is Asian" angle from the last review that you didn't jump on Todd Haberkorn for saying "I'm part Asian, that makes me super otaku." You really missed the boat on that one, it could've been hillarious.

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  8. This column should win a Pulitzer.

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  9. This half ass review is funnier than the half ass show XD

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  10. I know this is such a mean review and odd for me to probably comment on it. However, I couldn't stop laughing with my mom just now while we read it. Nathan Evers and Rezz you both have such a great writing style and voice that comes through in your article.

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  11. Pokai is still good as hell

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  12. Dom, I'm glad you have such a good sense of humor in such a cynical world. Ganbare!

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  13. This show is bad. To start off, I'm asian, I've grown up around a lot of this stuff, been to Japan 15-20 times, and while I understand the culture that has formed here in the States, I definitely don't classify myself as an otaku, I watch and like the Ghibli films, and the occasional video games.

    In the first episode, the asian dude mentions negative otaku stereotypes that he's hoping this show will help disprove. "We're social, we're not awkward, we're 'normal' (or feel like we have to prove it)" and several other comments here and on hulu seem to back that up. This show is only reinforcing those stereotypes. Several moments of the show were so awkward that I couldn't watch it without feeling embarrassed for a culture I had little attachment to. Perhaps I'm feeling embarrassment for the human race.

    The two recaps on this site are a little over the top but pretty much dead on, though I feel bashing aikido and the one person on the show (Homma) with redeeming qualities was unnecessary.

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  14. Aw, aren't you guys going to summarize the other episodes? I was really looking forward to the next one where they explore the core otaku quality of gluttony.

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