Otaku USA Magazine
Anime About Anime: A Primer
otaku no video

There’s an old maxim in screenwriting that goes “write what you know.” The idea is that if you write about situations in which you have some personal experience, your stories will carry a certain sense of reality.

And what do anime creators know more than creating anime? Inspired by the recent anime about anime Shirobako, here’s a primer on other anime about the process of creating anime.

The original anime about anime, Otaku no Video was a two-part OVA series released in 1991. Animated by Gainax, Otaku no Video is a thinly-veiled autobiographical series about the studio’s early days as an anime and science-fiction fanclub. Just like the founders of Gainax themselves, the characters in Otaku no Video go from enthusiasts making fan films to owners of their own hobby shop and animation studio.

Otaku no Video was released by AnimEigo in the States and came with this great set of liner notes, essential for decoding the myriad inside jokes and references in the series.

As a nice companion piece, the now-defunct ADV Manga translated and released The Notenki Memoirs, the real-life account of the founding of Gainax by one of its founders, Yasuhiro Takeda. The book is now out of print and goes for a pretty penny on Amazon, but you’d be amazed the things one can find with a little googling.

Fans of Shirobako will see a lot of parallels in the early 00s OVA Animation Runner Kuromi. Like Aoi in Shirobako, Kuromi is a new graduate whose first job in the anime industry is as an animation runner and like Aoi, faces challenges like late key frames and impossible deadlines.

Kuromi was released in two parts in 2001 and 2004, both directed by Akitaro Daichi (Sexy Commando, Jubei-chan).

Episode 10 of Paranoia Agent, a series by the ever self-referential Satoshi Kon, takes place in an anime studio scrambling to make airdate.

Unlike the generally upbeat titles mentioned so far, this episode doesn’t have a lot of good to say about the pressures of the industry – though like Shirobako’s Tarou, this episode’s main character brings a lot of problems on himself.

Golden Boy, the 90s comedy series about a traveling pervert named Kintaro, is another series that features one episode about making anime. The final episode of the OVA, entitled “Animation is Fun!” features Kintaro working as an errand boy for an animation studio – and, you guessed it, production doesn’t exactly go off without a hitch.

“Animation is Fun!” also features Golden Boy’s creator, Tetsuya Egawa, in a cameo as himself.

Moving from the desk to the voice acting side of production, we come to Koe de Oshigoto!, another two-episode anime OVA about a young girl who gets a job as a voice actress at an eroge company. Though Koe de Oshigoto! isn’t about making anime, strictly speaking, it’s a nice extended look at the world of voice acting if those were your favorite parts of Shirobako.

Koe de Oshigoto! does take place in the erotic games industry, so take this as our “not kids’ stuff” warning.

Delving into the world of anime about manga, the list expands very quickly, so we’ll just run down some quick titles:

Bakuman, the manga and anime about two high school students who aspire to become manga pros. As the series progresses, anime production becomes a part of the story, bringing up interesting issues of adapting manga to anime much like the latter half of Shirobako.

Comic Party, the dating sim-turned-anime from the early 00s about creating doujinshi for Comic Market.

Geshiken, the manga and anime about manga and anime otaku.

Which have these series have you seen? What did we miss? Sound off!

Matt Schley

Matt Schley (rhymes with "guy") lives in Tokyo, and has been OUSA's "man in Japan" since 2012. He's also written about anime and Japanese film for the Japan Times, Screen Daily and more.