There have been numerous anime about anime and anime fandom – from Otaku no Video and Genshiken on the fandom side, and Shirobako and Animation Runner Kuromi on the production side. This last year had Anime-Gataris, an anime series spun-off from a series of shorts that aired in a specific movie theater in Tokyo, a series that does a little bit of both – and then some.

The series follows Minoa Asagaya, a new student at Sakaneko High School. While looking to make friends, she bonds with a couple classmates over a discussion of an anime she saw when she was younger, but doesn’t remember very well. She and her friends, from various walks of life and stripes of fandom, attempt to restart the school’s old anime club, only to run into an ever-escalating series of obstacles, going from the mundane to the absurd to the metatextually crazy.

The show’s greatest strength is also unfortunately related to how it disappoints. The first 9 episodes of the series are pretty conventional – the club forms, and we get an exploration of the various aspects of anime and anime fandom (from doujinshi, to cosplay, to light novels, to anime tourism, and so on), after which the Student Council starts throwing various obstacles in their way. These obstacles are also fairly conventional and mundane – do a presentation defending the existence of the club to the student body, and produce a work for the school fair.

And then from episodes 10 to 12, things go absolutely nuts. Episode 10 has various other clubs turning to the Anime Club for recommendations on how they can improve their club through anime – better living through anime if you will, before the final two episodes almost literally lead to anime bleeding into the real world. The only reason I say “almost” is for it to get into actual literal reality would involve shifting into live-action, and who has that kind of budget?

These last 2 episodes are the point where the show becomes the most visually creative, with characters shifting art styles, making references to the change in aspect ratio from older series to the present day, and even a gag where a character becomes aware that their day is passing in the form of a montage. The change is incredibly abrupt – something which is called attention to in the narrative – but it’s also incredibly late in the series.

The presentation is wonderfully done too. The art style goes from modern to 90s early digi-cels, to references to black and white anime from the 60s, and some of the more risque comedies of the 70s and 80s. The timing is also perfect – the style changes stay on screen long enough that you can let them sink in, while stuff like the aspect ratio change goes just long enough for you to stop and go, “Did they just do that?” before moving on.

Consequently, there’s a very real chance that most viewers of the show wouldn’t get far enough into the show to see it kick into high gear. Plus, once it gets there, it doesn’t stick around enough to quite feel satisfying. It’s like a multi-course meal with a lot of appetisers of a kind and variety that you’re familiar with, and of a quality that fine, but not mind blowing – and then you reach the main course. The main course is something with delicious, complex flavors, presented beautifully, and with a very portion that leaves you craving more.

As of this writing, Anime-Gataris hasn’t been licensed for a DVD release – but it has been licensed for sub-only streaming by Crunchyroll, and received a simuldub from Funimation, so presumably it will get a Funimation home video release. I’ll update this review with a referral link when that goes live.

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