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Otaku is one of Japanese popular cultures. The term otaku is used in the Japanese environment to refer to someone who is an extremely obsessive fan of something. It is a person that is devoted to something - anime, manga, movies, music, computer gadgets, computer games, and other fields of interest. Literally, it means "your home" or "you" in formal terms. However, these meanings are from my point of view - not an otaku, nor an otaku expert - what is otaku really all about? In this research paper, many aspects of otaku will be discussed: Its history as well as the effect of otaku on the Japanese culture, economy and even around the world. Most importantly, the paper is also going to discuss the negative connotation of this term which was rampant in Japan in the late 80's. Even though negative image of the otaku still exist in the Japanese society today, the otaku has many positive effects in the Japanese culture, the economy and the promotion of Japanese art and culture around the world.
History of the Otaku
The Otaku is very rampant today in international countries like US and Taiwan. It is a term that has many different meanings, interpretations, positive and negative connotations for every society. In the "The Origins of "Otaku", it was discussed that many accounts have been "vaguely consistent" with how the term otaku was associated with anime and manga fans. Also, it was reported that Journalist Akio Nakamori was the first person to publicly write about otaku as related to strange and obsessive fans. Nakamori said that these fans called each other otaku - which he believes to be an extremely formal way of saying "you" (Eng). William Gibson calls otaku "passionate obsessive(s)". Volker Grassmuck describes them as "information fetishists". Lawrence Eng defined it to be "Self-defined cyborgs". All of the definitions fall down to the term "obssession".
Many authors tried to define Otaku more specifically. Here are some of the definitions, Rebecca Scudder reported that there are different otaku subcultures, ranging from people devoting themselves to anime, manga, computer games, movies, radio, and other fields of interest(1). The culture has however continued to spread wide within the country and even internationally. Also, she said that in the US, otaku means the popular subculture that is devoted to anime and manga (1). Lawrence Eng noted that there are some Otaku, who use the term as a reference to themselves or their friends in a humorous manner. This group makes effort to reclaim the term from negative association. Most Japanese would be reluctant to be referred to by this term especially in serious circumstances (Scudder, 2). Karl Taro Greenfield stated that for an otaku, information is the fuel that drives their "worshipped dissemination systems". Furthermore, for an otaku, the only thing that matters is the accuracy of the answer and not its relevance. He said that no tiny little piece is trivial for them. Also, the object is not important for them, but the information is the heart of the matter. These are some of the definitions of Otaku as from a researcher's point of view. However, there are also some views that define it in a larger point of view such as that of the society.
Otaku's negative image in the Japanese society
The Otaku exists as a negative element of the Japanese society, which is an unreasonable and unfair judgement to give them. Otaku was an underground market in the beginning. No one wanted to be associated with the otaku. In Japan, the otaku was treated with intense negativity. For years, it was associated with depressing and downbeat colors. Lawrence Eng suggested that this was due to the growing anxiety of the Japanese adult society - which thinks that the present young generation is growing more individualistic and isolated. Furthermore, that the young generation is not willing to fulfill mainstream duties and responsibilities for the country such as studying and working or finding a job(Eng). Also, the otaku has been associated with the alienation and isolation of the youth (Stenberg, 191). Media has also played a big role in building otaku's negative image. According to Rebecca Scudder who reported that in 1983, Japanese media portrayed otaku with varying degrees of mockery. Otaku was labeled as antisocial, overweight, and unpopular - the typical description of nerds and geeks in the US. Otaku was stereotyped as the persons who lived with a huge collection of their mania, unwilling to leave the house or get a job (2).
With all the negativity of otaku building during the eighties, one incident really highlighted the negative image of otaku. In 1989, a psychopath named Tsutomu Miyazaki kidnapped, assaulted and murdered 4 little children (Scudder, 2). Police labeled him as otaku because they found a huge collection of anime and manga in his apartment (Eng). Some of the manga were pornographic which added fuel in the fire. Rebecca Scudder stated that Miyazaki was popularized by the media as an "otaku murderer" (2). This was the start of the "otaku panic", as stated by Kinsella, that led to the association of the otaku to sociopaths like Miyazaki (qtd. by Lawrence Eng). The media accounted this deviant behavior on anime and manga, which led to the revulsion and panic (Eng). Since this incident, the "otaku" hit the mainstream with mostly derogatory remarks with strong hints of fear and loathing (Eng). Takashi Murakami, a self-confessed otaku and famous otaku/pop artist, acknowledged that the otaku culture is discriminated in against in Japan. This negative connotation has been generalized to all the otaku. Takashi Murakami said in an interview that when the police revealed Miyazaki's room, it was just like an exact replica of his room. What he means is that, manga and anime are not the ones that are responsible for the deviant behaviour of Miyazaki. Murakami suggested that Miyazaki is a loser who lacked the "critical ability of accumulating enormous information in order to survive and win at a debate among otaku."
Azuma suggested that to understand the structure of Japanese post-modernity, one must understand the factors that led to the neglect of the otaku culture (1).
These factors are:
1. The association of otaku to the famous serial killer, Miyazaki
2. The otaku has an existing strong collective hostility against those who do not share the same interests with them.
Azuma suggested that their introversive and defensive tendencies can be thought of as a kind of inevitable reaction against social pressures.
1. The "socio-psychological problem of Japanese post-war identity"
2. Azuma stated that the Japanese had an existing difficulty after the Second World War to be able to evaluate and be proud of its own culture (1).
These negative connotations affected the Otaku so much, but definitely, these ways of definition and seeing things is not proven. They do not have concrete arguments and proofs that Otaku is a negative culture.
Positive effects of the Otaku on the Japanese culture
There are many positive effects of the Otaku on the Japanese culture, as well as internationally. These positive effects are proven and are validated by concrete facts. First, looking at what Otaku means from their own perspective gives understanding on the real views of the Otaku. From a previous point, information is what is crucial for an otaku. But what does otaku really mean from an otaku's perspective? When and where did the otaku started? And how did it really shape the Japanese culture and society.
The Otaku is a misunderstood in most times because of the different changes in the history of Japan. To be able to understand the effects it has on the Japanese culture, one must understand first the history and definitions of the word from the otaku themselves. Hiroki Azuma stated that the otaku is a "new cultural group" that emerged in 1970's. It consists of "enthusiastic" consumers that were fascinated by different post-war Japanese subcultures, such as anime, manga, computer games, gadgets, music, movies, and so on (1). Hiroki Azuma discussed that otaku is one of the most important factors in the analysis of the Japanese Contemporary culture. He added that this was because the otaku's mentalities have greatly influenced the Japanese society. Murakami's superflat conceptualities are being accounted to the artistic quality of the otaku sensibilities.
Hiroki Azuma discussed that otaku culture is claimed to be a cultural successor of the pre-modern Japanese traditions, specifically the Edo tradition. This succession theory was emphasized by otaku critics, Toshio Okada and Eiji Otsuka. However, according to Azuma, the otaku culture should be accounted to the recent "domestication" of post-war American culture. Furthermore, Azuma claimed that the otaku culture is essentially "nationalistic", which was developing at the same time with the "Japanese rapid economical growth and the recovery of national self-confidence in 1950s and 1960s" (1). Therefore, the Otaku culture is positive, in the sense that it was made to promote nationalism. Examples of this nationalistic view are:
1. Spaceship Yamato (TV anime film - 1970's) which is claimed to be an imitation of the pre-war Japanese military (Azuma, 1).
2. Saber Marionette J (TV anime film) which was claimed to be an allegory abstracted from an actual otaku situation (Azuma, 1).
For an otaku, examination of the content is a very crucial task. Information is the heart of their goals. Azuma discussed further that the otaku culture has two layers of simulacra and database. This means that an otaku does not only appreciate the superficial design aesthetically. An otaku immediately decomposes the image into many elements and "feels zeal" to reassemble them up into another character (2). Promoting nationalism is a positive thing. From these facts and descriptions, we can say that the Otaku contributed to these nationalist views.
How the Otaku changed the Japanese culture
The Otaku has changed the Japanese culture in the most unthinkable ways. It started internationally, then eventually, was slowly accepted in the society. In 1991, some interesting modern approach to the Otaku culture has surfaced. The development - Otaku no Video (Studio Gainax animation production) - that has given rise to a profound interest on the otaku culture. It has also reduced the negative perception and even stereotypes previously associated with the culture thereby increasing the acceptability of the otaku culture and the associated hobbies. After that, the culture has been used by some political leaders to promote the state of Japan to the international community. Even the former Prime Minister of Japan Taro Aso claimed himself to be an otaku (Scudder, 2). After the worldwide release of the film in 1992, fans - US, Great Britain, France, Canada - began to use otaku as a term to describe themselves.
The Otaku sensation paved way for the creation of a hit novel, Train Man. This promoted self-confidence in one's culture. Everyone has a right to be proud of himself, be it an Otaku or not. In 2004, Train Man, a novel by Hitori Nakano, was popularized worldwide because of its unusual love theme. It has also been made into a TV and animation series. It focuses on the love complications of a computer geek (otaku). It portrays another side of the otaku that made the computer otaku popular. It showed that geeks also have hearts. They are capable of communicating, however there arises difficulties. The novel shows that even computer geeks can change for the better. Carlo Santos described it as a novel that pictures a young man's journey from self-deprecation to self-confidence. This gave the otaku culture a light to promote that they are nowhere near the negative connotations attached to them (1). Confidence in one's culture is another positive effect that the Otaku contributed in the Japanese society.
Effects of the Otaku in the International Scene
The otaku made a successful new market culture in the international scene. From US back to Asia, Otaku has become a craze, shaping the minds of other cultures. Anthony Chatfield reported that anime first appeared in the US market in the 60's in the form of Kimba the White Lion and Astroboy. However, these did not earn a favourable response. Only when Speed Racer arrived did the anime market was distinguished. This was the beginning of the consciousness that Japan was creating something new and exciting. Although the popularity of Speed Racer was not comparable to its American contemporaries, it paved a way to introduce more Japanese otaku to the international market. Different fanbases emerged - they were willing to consume the latest offerings such as Starblazers and Robotech. However, the results were mostly underground (1).
In 1989, Akira was released internationally and the effect was booming. The international audience was eagerly waiting for more new releases from Japan (Chatfield, 1). In Japan, this was a major business expansion. Shows like Gundam and Dragon Ball overgrew and made runway sensations. The manga industry also expanded along with the anime industry (Chatfield, 1). The international effects of the Otaku are worth mentioning and needs praise.
Effects of the otaku in the Japanese Economy
The international hit booming of the Otaku led to the advances and innovations in the Japanese economy. The Otaku industry is becoming more and more successful in the development of the economy through the international self-acclaimed Otakus. In 1990's, the anime became mainstream in Japan. Examples were the monumental runs of Dragonball, which had 156 episodes and Dragonball Z, which had 276 episodes. The Japanese otaku economy boomed, earning companies billions of yen, acquiring commercial sponsorships, and funding vast incredible projects that require sums of money to complete (Chatfield, 2).
In 1995, American producers saw the huge effect of the anime market happening in Japan. They tried marketing some of these anime - Dragonball Z and Sailormoon - in the air. Then, Neon Genesis Evangelion release in Japan and show releases in the US made the otaku interest roar abroad (Chatfield, 3).
In 1998, the Gameboy conquered the American market along with the enormously popular Pokemon anime. Films began to pour liberally in the US, at that time, the fansub scene was the only way to access some of the more obscure titles that are currently released in Japan. As the market boomed, so did the licensing of major companies. This was the beginning of the final and full assimilation of Japanese pop culture into American (Chatfield, 3).
Nowadays, anime products and merchandise are rampant in the isle of supermarkets. The Anime Network also gained its growing success. Magazines such as Japanese trade magazines for the anime industry has now been translated and marketed in the US. Even American director James Cameron is fond of the manga named Battle Angel Alita (Chatfield, 4).
This is a clear picture that otaku has made a big step in advancing Japanese art and culture in the international market. Furthermore, the marketing volumes of the Japanese anime and manga proved to be a big advancement, as well as achievement, in the Japanese economy.
The otaku craze has also infected Taiwan and other neighboring countries. When compared with the Taiwan's Otaku, the perception to otaku is different from the tradition Japanese stereotyping. The Taiwanese otaku emerged in the 1990s. During this period, the computers and internet had gained acceptability and wide range of usage. The usage of this technology had gained unmatched popularity that was not there prior to this period. The otaku was basically viewed as a group of consumers who had preference for some given obsession. This group exhibited craze for anime, some games and manga.
People have created new things based on their common interest and obsession. They otaku have to spend money to meet their obsession. This had led to creativity as this people strive to satisfy their obsession and fantasies. The otaku have been found to be fewer prizes sensitive when comparison is made with other consumers. They have formed communities through online or using internet as medium of interaction. It has been evidenced that among the otaku, the information is exchanged rather fast.
Jack Hsu reported that the Taiwan otaku is at its consumption stage, meaning, they rather consume than produce their own anime or manga. Furthermore, he reported that the Taiwanese otaku show extremely high preferences towards Japanese Cultural commodities. Taiwanese otaku were found to consume Japanese productions such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Spreading Excitement All over the World with the Haruhi Suzumiya Brigade, Densha Otoko, Akihabara @ Deep and KERORO. Because of this success and popularity, the otaku was popularized as a huge market. And for a true otaku, a price does not matter. In other words, otaku was treated as a new group of mass consumers. Thus, this gives another boom for the Japanese marketing economy.
The generation gap associated with stereotypes and the otaku has been fading. The resistance toward the otaku culture also seems to have considerably weathered. This is because, some of the product that were originally associated with the otaku have become domesticated and publicly acceptable. The otaku have been considered as a general group of what can be referred to as mass consumers. Attention should also be paid to the potential for creativity that is likely to be derived from the otaku. To many, the otaku culture is associated with mystery. The otaku became obsessed with some hobbies, which became part of them. The otaku use the media and materials to craft a self and even space. The otaku emerged out of young people conviction that through animation, they could influence the next generation (Dave, 27). This was born out of frustration and boredom. A lot of people and especially the youth were displaced. The economic potential and the creativity of otaku only gained appreciation at the turn of the millennium. The otaku culture became appreciated in Japan. The otaku culture has many positive effects especially since the time it gained popularity in Japan and the world over (Flemming et al., 60). These were evident in the American otaku industry and the Taiwan otaku market industry. The otaku culture has also gone revolution associated with the modern and the post modernity period. There were fundamental conditions that changed culture associated with capitalism. This change was attributed to the late capitalist societies that included the Japan, the European countries and the American. The changes were consequently accompanied by the transformation of many areas of cultural production. (Azuma, 10). The Otaku culture is proven to effectively develop and advance the Japanese economy through the international fan scenes.
The Otaku in spite of the wrong negative connotations that are associated with it, grew to be the one promoting nationalism, international applause, and economic development. The otaku culture has therefore played a significant role, both as the consumers of the popular culture and also as producers of this culture. They are also consumers and producers of the mass media products (Steinberg et al, 191). Iles furthered the idea that the otaku are intimate
representatives of contemporary Japan. The Otaku is not of the mainstream. However, the otaku who stand as avatars of the Japanese consumer in fact play an important role in qualifying the nature of postmodern consumption. The otaku has proved to be effective representatives in the promotion, growth and expansion in the Japanese culture, the economy and the promotion of Japanese art and culture around the world.