Who are actually the Otaku?

If you are not into reading long ass articles, here! Check out the video I made about the Otaku.

First and foremost, what is an Otaku? According to Azuma, it refers to a general term referring to those who indulge in forms of a subculture that are strongly linked to anime, video games, computers, science fiction, special-effects films, anime figurines, and etc. The unique characteristics of the otaku culture have often been discussed in comparison with other traditional Japanese culture. In a work published in 1989, the Theory of Narrative Consumption (Monogatari Shōhiron), by a Japanese cultural critic Ōtsuka Eiji who analysed the significance of derivative works by drawing on concepts found in kabuki (picture) and old -school bunraku puppet theatre, found that each work conforms to a determined “world” and “idea.” kabuki-008


Basically, Otaku(s) are people who express their thoughts or ideas about something through the work of art. In another study by a different Japanese researcher Okada Toshio titled Introduction to Otaku Studies, he implicitly incorporates his argument which he asserts that, in placing the importance of a piece of work on its “idea” above its message, otaku sensibilities are directly linked to iki or the “urbanity” of Edo culture. The final chapter of Okada’s book is titled “Otaku Are the True Heirs of Japanese Culture.” These idea(s) that Otaku has are often expressed in a form of visual products such as anime(s), manga(s) or video games. Some of the ideas can be easily traced to productions of anime(s) such as Martian Successor Nadesico (Kidōsenkan Nadeshiko, Satō Tatsuo, 1996), and manga(s) such as Takahashi Rumiko’s Urusei Yatsura, where the Otaku’s affection for Japanese images continues to grow even until this very day to broadly determine otaku’s culture in a profound way. This very affection is now considered to be a necessary condition for being an otaku. In this way, otaku culture is connected in various ways to the problems of Japan where Otaku works often take Japan as the subject matter, use numerous Japanese expressions, and are consumed in a thoroughly Japanese fashion. That is why we could see that quite a number of anime has some very symptomatic meaning behind them. One of the good examples is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Studio Ghibli where the story is centred around a post-apocalyptic era brought about a nuclear war. Apparently, in the 1980’s Japan, fear grew among the people after an incident where 59 workers were exposed to radiation during repairs of a nuclear power plant in Tsuruga. Thus, the fear towards nuclear power can be seen carried into anime or manga in the 1980’s. Another good example is a movie called Akira by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, in the movie we could see bike gangs running rampant in the streets of Neo-Tokyo representing the late 1980’s of Japan, where a biker gang called Bōsōzoku(picture) in fact, existed.


The Bōsōzoku Bike Gang

That otaku culture, for better or for worse, is a subculture unique only to Japan. Really? Azuma(picture) seems to disagree and he actually argued and thinks that the Otaku culture is actually, one of the manifestation in Japan of a grand trend towards post-modernization of a culture that began in the middle of the twentieth century. He does not see the emergence of otaku culture as a uniquely Japanese phenomenon.p22-sunda-azuma-a-20150628

Hiroki Azuma

Although the Otaku(s) culture are often associated with the young (often when Otaku is mentioned, we would usually imagine stereotypically a man in his 20(s), obese, glasses and wears a shirt with anime characters printed on them) but it is in fact, the Japanese people who were born between the late 1950s and the early 1960s were its initial core consumer. Today, these people are no longer considered to be youth (well that’s because they would already be in their late 60’s or 70’s), however, they actually form the very first otaku culture in the Japanese history and is one of the 3 first generations of Otaku. Wait, 3 generations of Otaku? So… what are they? The first generation is said to be centred around those who were born around the year 1960 and saw the Space Battleship Yamato (Uchūsenkan Yamato, Matsumoto Reiji,1974) and Mobile Suit Gundam (Kidōsenshi Gandamu, Tomino Yoshiyuki, 1979) during their teen years where these group of people showed immense interest in science fiction and B-grade movies.


Space Battleship Yamato

The second generation is made up of those who were born around the year 1970 and, during their teens, enjoyed the diversified and matured otaku culture produced by the preceding generation. The third generation consists of those who were born around 1980 and were junior high school students at the time of the rise of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion(picture)  where this group of people was exposed to the spread of the Internet during their teens, and, as a result, their main forum for general fan activities has moved to the Web sites. This had caused their interest to range from illustrations to computer graphics. It is also noted that the interests of each of these groups differ slightly where the distribution routes and forms of expression are greatly dissimilar. There could very well be a 4th generation of Otaku, with the latest invention brought about some very new changes to the environment such as the creation of Virtual Reality, I am sure that a new generation of Otaku exists today.


Neon Genesis Evangelion

The Otaku culture, however, is not as well-spread as the “J-pop” culture. The number of otaku(s) based on the number of specialist magazines, the size of the fanzine market, and the number of Web sites registered on the internet, is expected to be at least in several hundred thousand. That’s barely 0.001% of the Japanese population. (This also takes into account those who buy and sell derivative works or take part in cosplay). As we all know, the culture itself is not limited to Japan and has also made a great impact on other countries such as Korea, Taiwan and other Asian countries through Otaku’s very own platform such as manga(s), anime(s) and video games. This is evident as stacks of the translated version of Card Captor Sakura (Kādo kyaputā sakura, Asaka Morio, 2000) are displayed in Paris bookstores and modified Ayanami Rei(picture) figures made in Hong Kong are listed for a hefty price at Internet auction, today it is difficult to claim that otaku-like sensibilities are unique only to Japan as the culture can now be seen all around the world.creators-labo-ayanami-rei-yamashita-shunya-ver-005

Ayanami Rei Figurine

Shockingly (to me), in his book, Azuma said the “otaku culture, in reality, originated as a subculture imported from the United States after the World War II, from the 1950s to the 1970s.” He then went further and said “The history of otaku culture is one of the adaptations of how to “domesticate” the American culture.” The reason for Azuma to come up with such an idea is because he thinks that the existence of anime or special effects never actually existed in Japan prior to a few decades ago, thus, making the Otaku culture in his point of view to be somewhat convoluted. He then went on to say that while “Otaku may very well be heirs to Edo culture, the two are by no means connected by a continuous line. Between the otaku and Japan lies the United States.” For example, the method of animation used in the old days called the “full animation” where a rate of eight drawings per second, was a method that was originally invented by the Americans. A similar method called the “Limited animation” was then developed by Japan. This would mean that modern Anime would have never existed without the help of the US and it is this subculture brought by the US was what that gave birth to the Otaku culture that we all know today. Astonishingly Azuma also mentioned that the finding amounts to more than a mere account of a subculture and that “it involves reflection on the issues of Japan’s inability to come to terms with war defeat, of the American cultural invasion of Japan, and of the distorted conditions brought about through modernization and postmodernization.” He then stressed that the study has a deep connection to political and ideological issues that Japan faced at the time. Of course, many did not come to like what he said.apple-market-cap-japan-ntt-bubble-valuation

Westernisation of Japan

But, have you ever wondered why the term Otaku is often associated with negative meanings? In fact, the term was not branded as a negative term prior to late 1990(s). The society started to have a negative image of Otaku when an Otaku named Miyazaki Tsutomu(picture) carried out the kidnapping, rape, and murder of several young girls in Japan.


Miyazaki Tsutomu

After the incident, the term Otaku has been plagued. Originally, the term itself is used to refer to the supporters of a new subculture forming in Japan in the 1970s. However, the incident that took place between 1988 – 1989 by Miyazaki Tsutomu made the term Otaku to be widely known by the Japanese and therefore, the term Otaku is often associated with people being anti-social and people who possess perverted personality traits. The further degradation of the term is also caused by the media, where one magazine was quoted as saying Otaku(s) are people “without basic human communication skills who often withdraw into their own world.” Till this day, the general perception still remains. The Otaku(s) then came under heavy attack by the people and the mass media alike. But, the incident actually caused an opposite reaction from the Otaku themselves.


An Excerpt of a News Articles of the Miyazaki Incident

In 1990(s), with the widespread of negative connotations to the term Otaku, a particular generation of Otaku have come to use the term in a very positive light in a wake of being more conscious of their very own identity as an Otaku. However, in 1995, with the release of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion by Anno Hideaki, the Otaku culture started to gain wide attention. When the issues with Otaku started to become more and more widespread, Okada Toshio who published a study called An Introduction to Otaku Studies (Otakugaku nyūmon) came to question the way in which Otaku had become a derogatory term. He then redefined the term as “those who possessed an evolved vision” or a “new type” of person who is responsive to the cultural conditions of a highly consumerist society. The divide that formed out of the Miyazaki incident made it difficult for people to speak objectively and candidly about otaku culture until the end of the 1990s. Apart from that, the voices of authority within the mass media and public discussion still hold a strong loathing for otaku behaviour, and the debate on otaku culture often faces resistance, pre-empting any meaningful discussion. On the other hand, otaku, who usually display an air of anti-authoritarianism, distrust any method that is not otaku-like and does not welcome discussion on anime and video games initiated by anyone other than an otaku. There are people who refuse to even recognise otaku, while others believe only a designated group possesses the right to speak about them. Azuma also said that he came under heavy criticism for writing a book about the Otaku(s) and stated that “It has been extremely difficult to take a position that does not adhere to either of these stances.”

That’s about it! Hope you guys enjoy and gained some new insight about Otaku. Let me know what you think of this!

Source: Hiroki Azuma Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, MyAnimeList


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