“Just on the border of your waking dreams…there lies another time, where darkness and light are one. And as you tread the halls of sanity you feel so glad to be unable to go beyond. I have a message from another time…”
                 -    Electric Light Orchestra-Prologue (From the 1981 Album, Time)

It’s August, 1983, and you’re at DAICON IV, the fourth convention held by the Nihon SF Taikai in Osaka. You, together with around 2000 fellow tokusatsu, science-fiction, anime and manga fans are packed into a reasonably sized room, and you are about to witness history being made. A group, calling themselves DAICON Films, have put together a short film, on minimal budget, in order to act as a short introduction to the convention. They did the same last time the convention was held in Osaka (DAICON III), and whilst that short film was good, it was a little on the messy side in places. Thus, rumors abound that this is going to be something on an altogether bigger scale. The lights go down, a projector clatters into life. For the next six minutes, an explosion of sound, colour, and pop-culture references erupt across the screen. In the words of Japanese artist, Takeshi Murakami, this is the moment the otaku subculture is born. The short film is simply entitled DAICON IV Opening, but the group behind it will soon take on a more (in)famous name; GAINAX.

To understand DAICON’s impact, we need to cast our minds back over thirty years to a point at which the anime genre was largely devoid of the cultural figures, and indeed the otaku-pandering (typified by shows such as Sword Art Online) we know well today -this is a world where Miyazaki, Anno, Orobochi, and others were either only beginning as animators or manga-ka, or were still at university, where Studios Ghibli, SHAFT and Gainax were yet to form. The first two milestones on the way to the creation of the otaku subculture were, however, in place -firstly, the first truly otaku-centric anime aired, being an adaption of Rumio Takahashi’s “Alien girl is bested in combat by loser boy, and prompty falls in love with him” story Urusei Tatsura. Given the series’s vital role in developing the otaku culture, it’s hardly surprising Urusei’s love interest, Lum Invader, is often regarded as the “Otaku dream girl”.

Secondly, Animage, begun in 1978, largely to cover the sudden popularity of Space Battleship Yamato, became the rallying point for the otaku culture, explaining the way in which anime was created-as Murakami notes, “the magazine’s readers soon began making their own animated shorts, critiquing works…and producing parodies”-DAICON IV, and Gainax in general is this “DIY anime” taken to its logical extreme.

But, to an extent, this culture was still disparate, with multiple names; whilst series like Yamato and Urusei can be seen as watershed moments, it’s clear from the panoply of references in DAICON IV that the anime subculture is only one part of the otaku puzzle. As essayist Nakamori Akio notes in his seminal 1983 essay This City is Full of Otaku, otaku were everything from computer and audio geeks to sci-fi fans and idol obsessives -whilst many names, from “nekura-zoku” (literally “the gloomy tribe”) to maniacs, were attached to this group, it is Akio who coins one word to describe them: Otaku. Whilst it literally translates as “you”, it’s important to note two misconceptions about the word-firstly, Akio uses the word as an extremely negative term, with none of the positivity that “geek” or “nerd” has in English, and secondly, It is not restricted to fans of anime, science fiction or the like, but to describe people who have an inability to relate with the real world. To an extent, it’s a word that’s been reclaimed by the community, but this is something I’ll focus upon more in my review of Gainax’s later mockumentary, Otaku no Video.


Thus, DAICON IV represents three things at its first screening-firstly, it’s a otaku-centric work, made by otaku, for otaku. Secondly, it represents the ultimate example of Animage’s effect in developing the otaku community. Finally, it’s a crystallization of everything the otaku subculture stands for. But, before we dive into DAICON IV, first a little detour. Two years previous to DAICON IV, three animators made DAICON III-animated by just three people, (Hideaki Anno, Hiroyuki Yamagi and Takami Akai), it covers many of the same themes as DAICON IV (a single girl against an army of monsters, mechs and characters from across anime, manga, sci-fi, tokusatsu). However, it’s an altogether rougher beast-the animation is in places rough, some of the effects look a little dated, even when compared to its sequel, and there’s a generally amateurish quality to the whole thing.  Nevertheless, it’s entertaining-the mech that acts as our protagonist’s adversary for the majority of the short is a well animated and characterful foil, the fights are well animated. Hey, anything that has Godzilla, The Enterprise, Star Destroyers and Gundam trying to stop a little girl with a rocket firing backpack is worth a watch, and without the success of DAICON III, there would be no IV. The film ends with a radish turning into a rocket ship before taking off with our protagonist.

If DAICON III is the small independent movie, then DAICON IV is, without doubt, a blockbuster. It begins…with a recap. An incredibly well animated recap, that boils DAICON III down to 90 seconds, whilst showing just how far the team had come in two years. Everything is slicker animated, the detail better, the motion more fluid, and everything far more professional looking, particularly in the fight scenes and explosions. Even the spaceship, DAICON, already the highlight of DAICON III, is better animated, better detailed. 

But the best is yet to come, as the opening strains of Electric Light Orchestra’s Prologue play over a star-field. A robotic voice reads those lines I’ve quoted up at the top of the review, as a silhouette of the DAICON moves through shot -though many of the people watching DAICON IV may not have been able to understand English, the message is clear-this is the otaku message of escapism, of visiting other worlds in manga, anime and the like. And, for a few short minutes, the people behind this film invite you, the watcher -you, the fellow otaku -into their own escapist fantasy. The track begins to transition into Twilight, the next track on Time, as we’re once more shown our protagonist, before the drums kick in and we’re introduced to our older and far more curvaceous protagonist, via a series of closeups, dressed in a bunny girl outfit. If Lum Invader is the otaku dream girl, then the red-headed girl of DAICON IV is undoubtedly the Gainax attempt to create one, and her impact on the culture is astonishing -if you ever wondered why Gainax, and anime in general, seemed to enjoy putting female characters in bunny girl outfits, this is your answer. Her iconic bunny suit, together with the use of the two ELO tracks is also why DAICON III and IV have never seen a commercial release -not asking Hugh Heffner and Electric Light Orchestra for permission in using their copyrighted property has made a release (apart from a very limited and now hilariously expensive laserdisc release) of the two shorts nigh impossible).

She’s at once sexy and cool, strong and fearless, but identifiable -certainly, DAICON IV is created with a male audience, and this character’s characterization is paper-thin, but she can be seen to echo the independent and tough women that fill GAINAX’s work. There’s a clear lineage between her and Asuka Langley Soryu, Yoko Littner, Panty and Stocking Anarchy, and even Trigger (a group of former GAINAX employees)’s Ryuko Matoi. From her fanservice-heavy introduction, it’s straight into action, and man is this thing action-packed, the fast-cutting style perfectly suited to the pace of Twilight. And...the next five minutes is pretty much the visual equivalent of a child on a sugar high playing make-believe in the world's largest toybox.

From a group of mecha, dispatched quickly, our heroine cuts a path through pretty much every Godzilla monster around, (including a pair of heels to the stomach of  before engaging  a lightsaber fight with Darth Vader, and taking on the unlikely team-up of a Xenomorph and a Gundam, the latter of which is picked up via its foot and tossed away. A quick fanservicey smile to the camera, and she leaps aboard a flying sword (Stormbringer from the work of English fantasy author, Michael Morcock), before a cut-away to random monsters from anime, manga and…Yoda? 

She’s joined by a formation of jets which proceed to wreak miniature havoc across a café, joined by a few Robotech mecha. She flies over a selection of B-movie monsters, including Harryhausen’s infamous stop-motion beasts, through a line-up of Marvel and DC characters, and dodges everything from the Millennium Falcon and the War of the Worlds tripods to Thunderbird-3. From here, she catches air (this sword-surfing is not only beautifully animated, but moves as you’d expect a flying sword to do), flies through a selection of anime characters, including Nausicaa, and many Go Nagai characters , before leaping off Stormbringer, as it splits into seven swords, which proceed to arc and fly out of control, over Lynne’s piano-solo, before plummeting to earth, as our protagonist watches. Another cut-away, to several anime, manga and sci-fi spaceships colliding with each other.

Then comes the stand-out sequence. Animated entirely by Hideaki Anno, and described by Murakami as “almost painful to watch his pathological obsession with it”, it shows a city being destroyed in a sakura-petalled explosion that darkly echoes both Otomo’s Akira, and the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, as debris fills the air. Anno would later use similar imagery in a far darker way in End of Evangelion, to depict Third Impact Next, the earth itself begins to heave, rivers to rise, and, from space, blue and green covers the arid desert. Sakura petals fly across our protagonist’s face, before, with a truly massive laser beam, the DAICON fires, spreading trees and greenery across the world. Another three cut-away shots. Then, a truly jawdropping moment of animation, as the camera pans across a sea of characters, from Metropolis’s Maria, Superman, Doremon, Ming the Merciless, at least three Kamen Riders, the Aliens from Godzilla, Snake Plisken, Venom, the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Twilight reaches its coda, and we cut to space, as the sun rises. The camera pulls back to reveal the solar system, the DAICON logo comes up, and we cut to black.

DAICON IV is nothing less than a triumph of animation, and to consider its alleged production largely in a garage owned by one of the twelve-strong team is astounding. Rarely has anime from the 1980s looked so energy filled-our heroine storms through explosions, takes to the skies, and never once does it feel tired, or laid-back. If this was intended to get the crowds excited for the convention, then it succeeds with flying colours. In fact, even with the cuts to random vignettes involving monsters, characters and spaceships, there's not a wasted second anywhere in this film. Whilst I've already spoken about the explosion sequence and the final crowd shot, there's a few more sequences I want to talk about. Firstly, the planets and the logo-though this sequence is less than 20 seconds long, it's arguably the most cutting edge shot of the lot, with a computer used to create the models upon which the animation is based-it's a truly stunning final flourish. It's hardly surprising that this shot, along with many others, is paid homage to in the OP for Densha Otoko, (an anime retelling a famous 2chan thread about an otaku rescuing a woman on a train and his clumsy romance with her). Another superbly realized sequence is the coffee shop fight-the mecha move fluidly around the fighter planes, the explosions bloom spectacularly, and all this whilst people drink their coffee.  Even the asides are perfect little sequences in which one or two actions may happen, but the comic timing for each is superb.

Even thirty two years on, DAICON IV is an astonishing work. Fluid and fast moving, with animation that rivals animation departments even today, it represents not only a snapshot of a period at which anime was about to change drastically (heck, I regard myself as a huge anime fan, and I barely recognised  one-tenth of the characters in the crowd shots), but, at parts, an otaku creation myth. Its creation is mythologised, its impact is mythologised, and its final minute, with the world reborn, filled with greenery, and full of characters brought together from across multiple mediums, sure feels like one. This, after all, is where GAINAX are born-without DAICON, simply put, there is no Evangelion, no Gunbuster, no FLCL, no Gurren Lagaan. Its impact upon those shows, and everything GAINAX have ever produced is here, from the fanservice, the giant robots, the kinetic fights, and above all, the action of many of their shows, to the very message DAICON brings across-of never giving up, of fighting against the odds, of renewal and rebirth. It’s DAICON’s spirit that arguably exists in every GAINAX show. But DAICON is so much more than that.
It’s, simply put, a homage to those two thousand people who watched it on that August day, and to anyone who has watched it since. “This is who we are” it says. “This is what you and I, dear watchers, hold dear. This is our passion.” And, truly put, there’s few homages to what it means to be a fan of anime and manga, science-fiction and other “geeky” past-times more heartfelt than DAICON IV.

It's truly something every anime fan needs to experience at least once.


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