“I have six months to live,” exclaims Danny Choo.
The audience at his Sunday Anime Expo panel, shaken from their early-morning bleariness, gasps. Someone screams, “No, Danny!”
“Wait,” Choo explains, “I live life as if I only have six months to live.” He grins. As readers of his site know, this kind of inspirational, live-your-dream rhetoric is standard Choo fare. And he certainly seems to be taking his own advice.
Choo, son of shoe designer Jimmy Choo, became best known for a series of YouTube videos in which he dances on the streets of Akihabara, Tokyo’s otaku mecca, dressed as a Stormtrooper. Choo has parlayed his Internet celebrity into a kind of mini-media empire with a series of books, a TV show about Japanese culture, and an upcoming moe anime series called Chinka.
It was his TV series, Culture:Japan, that Choo was on-hand to promote Sunday, previewing the first episode which aired last month in Tokyo. The hour-long show is comprised of a series of segments revolving around Choo’s explorations of Japanese and otaku culture. The segments are bookended by an interview with voice actress Satomi Sato, known for her turn on Ritsu on K-ON!
The first segment is basically an extension of Choo’s book series, Otacool, in which fans submit photos of their figurine collections and otherwise otakuized bedrooms. Here they’ve done the same thing, but with video.
In another segment, Choo visits a Japanese high school. He’s ostensibly there to compare real school life to shows like K-ON! (an overexcited fan next to me gasped, “they’re the same in anime and real life!”), though for most of the time Choo simply performs antics in his Stormstooper uniform.
Finally, Choo visits Good Smile Company, a figurine manufacturer and distributor who produced a figurine of Choo’s own mascot, as well as the figurine-turned-anime Black Rock Shooter. With a look at what goes into creating one of these figurines, this was by far the most interesting piece.
If it isn’t yet clear, Culture:Japan is essentially an extended commercial for Danny Choo’s business ventures. For over an hour, he plugs his website, Chinka (Satomi Sato did the voices for the preview version), his friends at Good Smile, and everything else Choo-related.
Bits and pieces are interesting, but at one hour, Culture:Japan really drags; wisely, Tokyo MX aired a 30-minute cut. And with a tour of a Japanese high school and segments largely in English, it’s also unclear how this is supposed to appeal to a Japanese audience (likely Choo is using the Tokyo airing a springboard for selling the show internationally). It’s also troubling that an entire segment is made up of fan-submitted (i.e. free labor) content.
But the oddest part of Culture:Japan is the feeling one gets from watching Choo himself.
It’s easy to understand the appeal of Danny Choo among American fans. He’s got the British accent, the hipster glasses, the boyish grin. He’s good on stage. In a world of introverts, he’s an extrovert. And, ostensibly, he’s living the dream. But something about him, both on stage and on screen, feels off-putting.
For one thing, there are the dolls. Choo collects a series of ball-jointed, anatomically correct female dolls called Dollfies. He had one such doll on display at his panel, referring to it as his “lovely daughter.”
There’s also the fact that everyone Choo interviews in Culture:Japan seems uneasy in his presence. Even Satomi Sato, professionally-trained voice actress, can’t hide an occasional grimace, to say nothing of the high school girls, who look downright uncomfortable next to the man in the Star Wars costume.
No such problem at Anime Expo, though, where a throng of worshippers, male and female alike, clamored for a chance to sit next to their idol as he descended, Christ-like, into the crowd after the end of his panel. These are the true faithful, whose adoration (and wallets) ensure that Danny Choo is a brand that isn’t going away any time soon.