Sunday, March 16, 2014

What is an "Otaku"?

For as long as I can remember, I've always loved Anime. Maybe it was the fact that it made me feel like an adult watching shows like Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon. Or maybe it was the stories themselves; cartoons didn't continue from episode to episode, and you could jump in anytime. This usually isn't the case for Anime. Whatever the reason, when I came to realization that these shows weren't actually cartoons but Anime, it made me want more. What started off as innocent curiosity eventually became an obsession.

And that's exactly what an Otaku is. Someone with an obsessive interest. It's commonly associated with anime and manga, but it could be anything. Crazy about cars? You might be a Car Otaku. Always posting about the dishes you've created, sharing recipes? You could call yourself a Food Otaku. But what exactly does it mean to be an Otaku?

The Japanese word otaku literally translates to "your home/house", or when used in a formal way, "you". Toshio Okada, co-founder/former president of Gainax and the foremost authority on otaku culture, linked the term to Shoji Kawamori and Haruhiko Mikimoto, the creators of Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, who used the honorific second-person pronoun among themselves. Fans of the their work began using the term to show respect toward Macross' creators; fans who gathered at conventions, meetings, and parties began to use it among each other, possibly mimicking Macross' main character, Hikaru Ichijoe, who frequently uses the extremely polite “otaku” when talking to other characters.

Otaku can also be used as a derogatory term, comparable to the western terms "geek" or "nerd". Akio Nakamori is frequently credited as being the individual who first publicly wrote about Otaku in the his 1983 series An Investigation of "Otaku". In this series, printed in the lolicon hentai magazine Manga Burikko, Nakamori applied the term to unpleasant fans who referred to each other using the word "otaku". In 1989, a murder case covered by the media fueled a panic against otaku, accusing anime and horror films as making the person into a murderer. Despite these reports being disputed, this gave a further negative overtone to the fandom from which it has not fully recovered. The term became popularized later that year after the contemporary knowledge magazine Bessatsu Takarajima dedicated its 104th issue to the topic of otaku. It was called The Book of Otaku, and examined the subculture of otaku with 19 articles by otaku insiders, Akio Nakamori among them. English exposure of the term came in 1988 with the release of Gunbuster (created by Gainax), which referred to anime fans as otaku.

When it comes to Japan, many American anime fans seem all too eager to accept the negative stereotyping of otaku by mainstream Japanese culture--something they may have accepted too easily, according to some. Common theories are that American anime fans who call themselves "otaku" are either ignorant of the original Japanese meaning of the term (which many consider to be a bad thing), or are deliberately ignoring that meaning in favor of their own. I believe that being an otaku is the same as being a nerd; it comes with the territory. People who don't understand or accept the lifestyle are going to react negatively. It's with this post that I hope to make people a little bit wiser.

~ Kuro Sakura,
Video Game Otaku

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