“There are only two types of people in the world–those who became otaku and those who didn’t–and the latter just can’t understand what the former is so excited about.”-Ono Norihiro”
I have a confession: I love Otaku characters. That shouldn’t be very surprising since it’s a character who shares the same passions that I hold dear. Shows like Genshiken and Yowamushi Pedal immediately give me something that I can identify with. But how well do these characters truly represent Otaku culture?
First, we’ll start off with what exactly an Otaku is. An Otaku is described as “an avid collector or enthusiast, especially one who is obsessed anime, videogames, or computer and rarely leaves home.” The word has negative context in Japan, much like how the word “Nerd” was considered an insult in western culture until recently. Identifying with “Otaku” is on the same level as being a “Trekkie.”
From 1980-2000, Otaku culture has suffered very negative connotation, especially in the home land of Japan. Manga artist and journalist Nakamori described that the general nature of Otaku as, “Unkempt, obsessive fans.” (Kinsella 2000: 128.) Similar generalization became a stigma for anime fans until the late 1990’s when the producer of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Okada Toshio, began to speak out.
At this time shows like Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and Power Rangers were being distributed to the West, marking an even larger consumer basis. This defined a large shift in Otaku culture, where it began making a lot more money and touching a lot more people. Graphic novels in the United States alone have increased from $75 million to $200 Million from 2000-2005. (Brenner, 2007)
Otaku culture is changing- the number of Convention attendances have spiked in recent years and the internet has made it easier to get in touch with other fans. Even in anime, Otakus have been appearing as regular characters. But do these appearances represent what it truly means to be a fan or do they fall into an aged stereotype?
I remember when I first watched an anime with Otakus in it. And not just that, they were the MAIN characters. Our Heroes. In Genshiken, an anime about college kids who enjoy anime and manga as a hobby, we see a variety of different types of characters giving this show the best representation of Otaku culture. To say all Otakus are the same is saying all fans are the same; which is strictly not true. There are characters that are more introverted than others and those who are attracted to different aspects of fandom (cosplay, video games, drawing); not one fan is the same.
While the cast does have characters that fit the general stereotype of an Otaku, those who are awkward and “unkempt,” there are also those that are a stark contrast to this idea. Kousaka is a “pretty boy” who joins the club, bringing with him his non-Otaku girlfriend Saki. Saki was initially fooled by Kousaka’s outer appearance, not believing him to be an Otaku. At times this miscommunication is played up for humor value but overall it is a constant reminder in the show that Saki’s idea of Otaku-ness is outdated. Throughout she begins to see the club as people rather than a stereotype.
The second season out does itself when they highlight the experience of female otakus. There are plenty of jokes about girls who like BL (Boys Love), Doujinshi, Manga, and how they interact with the opposite gender. I particularly like this season because not only does it highlight Geek Girl-dom but it has a great diverse group of Otakus who vary in body type and personalities.
Speaking of ladies, representation of female Otaku has been pretty steady in recent anime. Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai’s Kirino is another character who breaks the stereotypical “Otaku” mold. She’s smart, athletic, and fashionable. On the outside she seems to have life pretty much figured out, but even Kirino knows there is a stigma against Otaku’s and she hordes her obsession of anime in secret from her more popular friends.
With the assistance of her brother, she finally begins to make friends that share the same appreciation of anime as she does, Kuroneko and Saori. These two characters are both what one would think of an “Otaku.” For one, Kuroneko is a girl who always dresses up in gothic Lolita outfits in her free time and Saori often sports a book bag ready to wrangle new anime merchandise.
That’s as far as the stereotypes go. These girls first meet in a public Otaku Girl Outing which goes against the idea that anime fans are shut-in introverts. Some are, but in the age of the internet, it has become much easier to talk to those with the same interest in fandom. It’s great to see Oreimo recognize this change in how fans interact in present day society.
Even with all this nothing demolishes the old identity of Otaku as Yowamushi Pedal does. This sports anime features an Otaku as one of the newest members of a school Bicycle Team. Sakamichi Onoda gets recruited to join a school bike team because of his surprising stamina. The truth of the matter is he bikes miles nearly every day just for a trip to Akihabara- a popular anime location in Tokyo.
In Yowamushi Pedal, we see Onoda interact with people who don’t necessarily understand anime and still become a much valued team member. The show doesn’t stress Onoda’s passion as a main personality point, while he may mention an anime reference every now and then, his focus throughout the show is balanced between friends, sports, and anime- arguably the same as normal teenager.
Unfortunately, with so much positive representation of Otaku culture there are sure to be some shows that don’t quite hit the mark. Love Stage is one of those. We meet Izumi Sena, an introverted college student from a well-known (attractive) family of actors. Izumi is obsessed with an anime character named Lala-Lulu and wants to be a Manga artist. The problem? He’s terrible at drawing. His talent lies in acting, which adds to his family’s pressures of him getting his life together.
Izumi is a stereotypical Otaku in the fact that he’s a complete introvert who just wants to get lost in the world of Lala-Lulu. He gets high anxiety in most situations and Lulu is his coping mechanism for that. He often has day dreams involving her and will do anything for a piece of Lulu merchandise. His love interest of the show, another male, nearly doesn’t recognize him in his “normal clothes” because Izumi looks like a complete dork.
There aren’t a lot of redeeming factors of Izumi’s Otaku-ness. To say he’s obsessive is putting his fascination with Lala-Lulu mildly. He complains constantly, refuses to plan out his life, and it takes Lala-Lulu merchandise to bribe him into growing up. The show doesn’t delve much into the positive aspects of Otaku culture and instead uses his passion to emphasize just how “useless” he is.
There may still be a lot of debate over whether the label “Otaku” rises negative stereotypes or not, but it’s undeniable that as the years go on more and more fans are embracing this title and wearing it with pride. Like any other group, enjoying anime draws in a variety of people and it looks like that is being represented in the very media we love.
Brenner, Robin E. Understanding Manga and Anime. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007. Print
Goodman, Roger, Yuki Imoto, and Tuukka H. I. Toivonen. A Sociology of Japanese Youth: From Returnees to NEETs. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.
Senshi Study is where Cara Averna looks at anime, fanculture, and movies with squinty eyes and tries to gleam the deeper meaning. These articles are her own opinions based of self-research.