I was sitting in the office today when my boss walked up and dropped a copy of this publication onto my desk. “They’re saying this is going to be the next Newtype”, he said. “Bigger than Newtype, maybe.” I flipped it open… and within thirty seconds knew I had to write this review. Note: the actual review starts roughly where the pictures end.

Otaku USA vol. 1

The cover of Otaku USA volume 1, complete with bonus DVD

So I open the magazine from the back, and the first thing I see is this:

Otaku USA vol. 1 - Mistakes of Youth

Mistakes of Youth!

The last page of the magazine is devoted to Mistakes of Youth, a fine comic by wildarmsheero. He is a very cool chap who hangs out in the HD IRC channel, and while I knew he was on assignment for this it still took me by surprise. Woah, I thought. It’s Mistakes of Youth! In print! How totally radical is that? Pretty fucking radical, that’s how.

The flippage continues…

Yume Miru Kusuri ad in Otaku USA vol. 1

Yume Miru Kusuri!

It’s an ad for Yume Miru Kusuri, the game that was my first pet project on the new job. I didn’t make this ad (though I did provide some input), and I think it turned out rather well. I don’t know about you, but I would certainly buy a magazine with an ad for Yume Miru in it!

Flip, flip, flip…

Brian Ashcraft's otaku top 5 from Otaku USA vol. 1

An oblique HD reference?

What’s this? Lurking at #4 on the Otaku Top 5 list of Kotaku‘s Brian Ashcraft is an item that seems awfully familiar… Coincidence? You be the judge.

In conclusion: these three clear and obvious references prove that Otaku USA is, in fact, HEISEI DEMOCRACY: THE MAGAZINE. It is the duty of all patriotic Americans to proceed to newsstands and bookshops on June 5th and procure every single copy you see, and for all patriotic Nonamericans to do the same (overseas subscriptions available!).

The Actual Review

Otaku USA bills itself as a magazine “by fans, for fans”, and while this particular bit of ad copy is to be expected from any publication with “otaku” in the title, in this case it seems to be largely true. If the fans represented here present a certain hard-boiled, mature perspective on the otaku scene, that influence can be laid at the feet of Editor in Chief Patrick Macias, whose quirky, incisive wit and sardonic awareness both of the subject matter and the modern fanboy zeitgeist pervade the issue’s pages.

Aside from Macias, other fans with solid credentials on the magazine’s staff roll include Daryl Surat and Clarissa Graffeo of Anime World Order, the aforementioned Brian Ashcraft of Kotaku, and Matt Alt of Alt Japan (apologies to others whose names I don’t immediately recognize).

In a wise editorial decision the magazine has chosen to be largely a smorgasbord of in-depth features instead of trying to cover all the latest news out of the anime and manga worlds, a prohibitive option given its’ bimonthly format and competition from internet news sites. That said there is still plenty of preview action to be found here, as well as reviews ranging from a feature on Tokikake, to GitS: Solid State Society, to Haruhi, to event reports on Japanese console launches, Wonder Festival, and the Tokyo International Anime Fair, to a trip inside Bandai’s Gundam manufacturing facility.

While the content is incredibly wide-ranging, the percentage ratio of burning spirit (燃え) to saccharin cuteness (萌え) is perhaps 98% to 2%. Those looking for an endless parade of kawaii are advised to seek elsewhere, but if it’s robots, soft vinyl monsters, superheroes, samurai, and more robots that you want, you’ve come to the right place. This is both a strength and a weakness of the publication: while it’s full of wonderful archival material, this tends to pull it away from the present immediacy of the serial magazine format and more toward a bookish sense of timelessness. I’ll be interested to see whether they strive to maintain this same content balance in future issues; personally I’d like to see greater representation from both female fans and devotees of that accursed moe thing. Dialog with us, people! On the reverse side, in the spirit of “Otaku USA” I’d like to see more exploration of the origins of American fandom – let’s hear from the Psychommu Gaijin guys and others who were fans before some of us were born.

All in all, while the magazine’s content doesn’t mesh with much of what you’ll find on HD, it’s a purchase I would recommend for any serious fan of Japanese popular culture. It’s fueled by the love of the writers, and unlike many of its competitors it has no corporate parent that it’s beholden to. This may make it more difficult to find exclusive media to pad its pages and make the $9.95 cover price seem more palatable, but it leaves them free to pursue what I believe has the potential to be a more authentic editorial agenda than the other options that are out there.

If the three free anime episodes on DVD, two manga chapters, and the centerfold poster don’t sell it for you (which they really shouldn’t, in my opinion), think of the magazine as an investment in fandom, an alternative to the big guy, and an authentically interesting read that you’re likely to come away from better informed than you were before. Oh – and there’s a great picture of Matt Alt (I think it’s him, at least – his face isn’t exactly visible) being crushed by a 1:350 scale Space Battleship Yamato, too. Highly recommended.