Short and sweet
Your first anime is a magical experience. It opens your eyes to the wonders of the medium, lays the groundwork for what you’ll enjoy going forward, and remains a perennial favorite years after you’ve consumed hundreds more hours of series. It’s a fall down a rabbit hole in more ways than one, and Anime-Gataris turns that experience all the way up to 11.
Anime-Gataris—a spinoff of Toho Cinemas’ intermission short Anime-Gatari, played during their animated offerings from 2015-2016—looks from the front as though it will be the next Lucky Star or Hayate the Combat Butler: a weird, fun little show heavily injected with anime references but primarily resting on its own storyline. It would be fairer to say, though, that it’s a spiritual successor to Gainax’s Otaku no Video. It may not take its inspiration from real-world events, but it hits those same beats of a new fan finding their way in an ever-growing world of entertainment.
Our protagonist Minoa isn’t even a casual anime viewer, though. She’s seen one anime in her entire life, and she can’t even remember what it’s called. All she remembers is her first view of it, which plays out as a mash-up of Gunbuster, Macross, Creamy Mami, The Dog of Flanders, and a few other vintage titles for good measure. What begins as a desire to find the title of this elusive show turns into her inadvertently digging up the school’s stealth fan community and helping to reform its lapsed anime club.
The club’s roster, as one might expect, neatly outlines the personalities you can expect to see in modern anime fandom. Third-year student Erika is a deeply invested fan, cosplayer, and lover of magical girl series. The wealthy and elegant Arisu is secretly a highly knowledgeable, highly dedicated viewer of every season’s latest offerings, with a special focus on moe. Miko is a light novel fan and a writer in her own right. Kaikai, the requisite full-on chuuni of the group, absorbs himself in all things shonen, mecha, and military action. And school golden boy Nakano (nicknamed Aurora) finds inspiration in the world of idol anime.
The clubroom is home not only to the club itself and its vast collection of figures and DVDs, but also a tiny side room containing a mysterious beret and a talking cat. The beret flies off to parts unknown for most of the series, but Neko-Senpai stays close by, offering Minoa regular advice on how to interface with her new friends and hobby.
On that note, Anime-Gataris hits an unusual theme that tends to go unaddressed in shows of its kind: how to have a healthy relationship with your hobby and your fellow hobbyists. It’s not unusual to see club members at odds, such as Arisu and Miko fighting over whether one should read a light novel before or after its anime adaptation airs. However, these moments are only partially played for laughs, with the eventual resolution involving a call to respect your fellow fans and keep your hobby from eating your entire world.
How the show addresses the latter of those points is a wild ride and a massive spoiler. Suffice to say, once Anime-Gataris has its hooks in you, it takes you to some unexpected places. The show’s payoff in the last two episodes will likely inspire a second watch to see if you can pick out early signs of what’s to come.
As for the referential humor, it’s delightfully on point. Serial numbers are tidily scraped off by referring to real-world anime series under obvious names: PreFae for PreCure, for example, or The Fresh Prince of Tennis and Ru:ZERO for more obvious offerings. Half the fun is catching the one-off titles. Fans of older series will have plenty to enjoy, too, as the script is heavily tuned to 80s and 90s references. Your favorite show will have a presence in here somewhere, guaranteed.
Anime-Gataris is short and sweet (clocking in at one cour), nice to look at, and self-aware in a way that not only helps the plot, but also becomes weirdly essential to it. Best of all, it calls on us as anime fans to be our best selves.