I didn’t want to write about Anime-Gataris for most of its run because I really had no idea where it was going. I had ideas, but nothing really worth writing about save for the pure pleasure of waxing theoretical. It was playing things relatively conventionally– anime club does anime club things and talks about the otaku “lifestyle.”
There were bits of self-awareness and references that “felt” a little off. Some things felt out-of-place. We had ominous hints of something taking place in the background the student council and the principal. There’s a bipedal talking cat who only the main girl can hear, except we slowly discover that the other club members can understand him. There’s the out-of-place bits with the main girl’s athlete friend where, right before the intro credits of each episode, we focus in on various parts of her physicality in a fan service sort of way that’s never used on any other character. Then there’s how each episode incrementally adds in anime-like details with each episode, to the point that robots, jet boots, and super power drills are popping up in episodes 9 and 10.
The series appears to be breaking down before out eyes. It’s doing so metaphorically, as plot structure is commented upon then said developments rejected. It’s also doing so literally, as the further it proceeds the more genre elements appear that “shouldn’t” be there, yet no one seems to be aware of just how strange this is for “reality” to be intruded upon like this.
My initial theory was that the “unknown” anime seen in the first episode wasn’t an anime. I figured she was peeking into some alternate dimension, and the anime world and “real” world would bleed together or something like that. I gave up on that one after a few episodes, since there were no real hints of things going that way.
Another idea (I think a friend of mine came up with this one) was that the dude who picks up the hat in the first episode was the creator of Anime-Gataris. The series was failing audience/purchase-wise and he was looking for ways to punch things up and keep it from getting canceled. Things would become more “anime” as the series went along, as he tried to jump on trends, etc, and being in the background was him “inserting” himself to observe things. I don’t think that’s what’s going on either, but things did kinda go in the “become more anime-like” direction. So we were kinda on track there.
Once the “we must shut down the anime club” plot popped up, I got another idea in my head. This world is “reality.” It exists by its own rules independent from what you’d expect from an “anime” world. One of the rules of “reality” is that it’s ongoing. There is no beginning and end of the world outside of, like, the Big Bang or whatever actually created the universe. “Anime” functions differently. The world is birthed when the creator puts it to paper, so to speak, and ends when the story ends. Plot resolution is something of an apocalyptic moment, but the characters don’t have that level of self-awareness to know they’ll cease to exist if the series isn’t renewed and ends permanently. The anime club would be introducing anime elements into the world, and that would transfer the Anime-Gataris universe into one that plays by “anime” rules rather than “reality” rules, and therefore would cease to be at the end of episode 12 or whatever. The student council and everyone above them would be aware of this and are trying to stop this from happening. Again, this probably isn’t what’s going down, but then we had that twist with idol dude at the end of the episode, so I still consider this one in play.
And about that twist at the end. We found out that the principal was a part of the school’s old anime club, and we also found out that he was the director of the “lost” anime series main girl saw as a kid. For whatever reason it was canceled after one episode, and that led the principal to hate anime and all that. Thing is, we found out that idol dude (or at least someone who looks like him, but I’m pretty sure that’s him) was also a part of that previous anime club. He’s always been the “I know what’s up here” sort of character, so it could be a case where history is repeating.
Maybe that’s what’s going down here? There’s some sort of time loop, and he’s trying to guide events to break that loop? Or maybe he wants the loop to persist, because that’s the only way to make sure this world continues to exist? Am I too hung up on the end of the world stuff? Maybe, but that one little line of text in the preview whatever has fueled my imagination more than anything else with this show. It leads to contextualization that’d like not be there otherwise, and that’s awesome.
Or maybe this is just some sort of Dada-like breaking down of meaning in anime. At the very least this week’s intro credits were just that, taking all those bits with athlete girl and having them pay off with a credit sequence that pretty much shows just how silly and meaningless they are outside of context. If anything, the series was worth it just for them to turn around and do that. Anime does kinda speak its own language in terms of how it contextualizes certain character types and plot beats, and breaking it down like this kinda shows just how meaningless it all is (outside of the meaning it has for the fan). Maybe it’s showing that said meaning for the otaku is all anime needs to justify itself.
But then the world doesn’t end with that, and that isn’t fun.