The Otaku as Person and Stereotype

Hey, picture problem fixed! Well, except for the pretty part…

Much like many other Japanese words transposed into the English-speaking anime community’s subset of English, otaku has vastly different meanings based on who you talk to in which culture. In general, the term ‘otaku’ is a negative on within Japan, and one which covers more than simply those who have an obsession with anime – it covers any individual with an overly consuming hobby. It is a sign of denigration, even amongst those who can be defined as one – they might embrace the term, but they also embrace the notion that they are ‘losers’ and that they deserve the scorn of society (my personal feelings here are that a caring counselor could do them a hell of a lot of good). However, within the anime community abroad, the term ‘otaku’ is one of pride. To be an otaku within these communities is to be knowledgeable, to have the material sign of success as a fan – there are certainly those who are probably overly absorbed, but non-Japanese otaku are not inherently obsessive – these people only comprise one end of the spectrum.

To those we find overly crazed the label ‘weeaboo’ is sometimes affixed, or the term ‘Japanophile’ is used in condescending fashion. We have created our own set of terms to label them since the term ‘otaku’ has already taken on a definite meaning within our own subculture. However, its also important to realize that although these are the current connotations, it will not always remain as such – it used to be that ‘yaoi’ and ‘shounen-ai’ were somewhat interchangeable within the American anime community, which is no longer the case. ‘Yaoi’ as it is used now more closely resemble what the term originally meant in the Japanese anime community, while ‘shounen-ai’ has basically dropped out of usage and been replaced by BL (just for the record, ‘shounen-ai’ as used in Japan refers to what we would call gay shotacon). ‘Shoujo-ai’, another formerly common term, has also disappeared from the vernacular, and ‘yuri’ is used to refer to anything that shows two girls so much as standing close to each other.

But, I digress.

If we have the vague definitions of otakudom, we can move on to the next point – how otaku are stereotyped/perceived. I will limit myself to the American anime community, as it is what I am most familiar with. Even within this scope, though, we run into an interesting point – does one consider solely how the community perceives of otaku, or does one look at how it looks from the outside?

Within the American anime community, people gladly proclaim their status as otaku or actively seek it. Like previously stated, to be an otaku is to have a grand sort of knowledge that has been gained throughout the years, and to often have an accompanying and impressive collection of merchandise, from DVD’s to figurines. In a way, the more visible otakus are a sort of demi-god to those new to the fandom, older sister and brother types to which they aspire. This is also why younger fans tend to behave in ways which many of us older fans find somewhat repellent – the incessant sprinkling of random Japanese words (usually ‘kawaii’) into regular, every-day speech, the need to hold up their series of choice as the best thing since sliced bread. If you have a younger sibling, or even if you were the younger sibling, you can recognize this behavior. And while, yes, it is annoying, and, yes, we tend to attach somewhat unpleasant labels to these fans, it is important to realize that for most it is a passing phase, and that most of us also went through it (I know I sure did, at least with the obnoxious random Japanese).

So, if otaku are the elder siblings of the fandom, then what are they to those outside?

Uh, crazy.

If you don’t believe me, then try googling ‘anime crap’ or ‘stupid anime’, and you will find a raft of anti-anime articles and rants (perhaps most curious of all is that many of these come from sci-fi fans and gamers who have also experienced the unkind eye of society… although if you subscribe to the idea that everyone need someone lower than them, it isn’t shocking). One thing in particular I can recall is reading about Baltimore Orioles fans (baseball) running into people coming out of a con in Baltimore and being very rude to the con-goers – harassing them and tagging them with epithets such as ‘freak’ or ‘socially retarded’. Of course, the hostile outsider doesn’t know what ‘otaku’ means, but they can spot those that are more into the hobby than others. The hostile outsider also tends to lump in anime fans with sci-fi fans and gamers, usually under terms like ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’. To them, while maybe the anime fan might get “is into cartoon porn” added to the description, the hostile outsider views all these sorts of people as socially defective somehow.

But, even if the hostile outsider is unpleasant towards us, the non-hostile outsiders, while perhaps finding our hobby a bit peculiar, also treat the anime fan in general with respect, including the otaku. I do not consider myself an otaku, but I do own quite a few DVD’s and manga; I have had people (both friends and non) ask questions about it, and in general they are respectful questions and not of the “So, is that porn?” or “Isn’t that for little kids?” variety. I like answering them, even if they have no interest in plopping down with the latest volume of After School Nightmare or Peacemaker Kurogane – its enough that they have shown respectful interest in understanding why I like it so much or what could be appealing about it.

Anyway, like I said, I don’t consider myself to be an otaku, so this from the perception of a non-otaku anime fan. I would say anime is one of my chief interests, but it is far from the top – I’m actually a bit of a political junkie (haha, not that you’d guess from any of this, huh?), and I read a somewhat exhaustive amount of literature. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, I’m… an athlete. Yeah, we exist. I would listen to anime soundtracks to get me pumped up for races when I was more competitive – it was awesome.

So, there it is, from a non-otaku anime fan.

Other R-R Members’ Responses to Prompt:

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13 Responses to The Otaku as Person and Stereotype

  1. Pingback: [RR]: Otaku-ness and Madarame Lovin’ « Calamitous Intent

  2. Hoshi says:

    Considered from your point of view, I might not be an otaku either. Well, I have manga and dvds and such… Well, would you like to be considered otaku?

    I liked your post! Even without the pictures, it made me think. :]

  3. animemiz49 says:

    It’s good to be in other things as well.. not just anime…

  4. Pingback: Otaku thoughts or should I say fujoshi? « Fujoshi scribblings.

  5. FuyuMaiden says:

    Even though I’m kind of an otaku, I have other interests as well. The term otaku is really blurry in the American fandom anyway (which is great for the round-robin since we’re all giving such different answers). I’m a political junkie as well. 75% of my TV-watching time is spent on news shows, and about 10% of my time online is spent on political articles (it would be more…if I thought you could believe anything on the internet).

    You also brought up a point that made me feel a little guilty. Making fun of noob fans when now that I think of it, they really do act like little sisters or brothers. I know I like to display my knowledge of anything my brother likes, that I like too. And I usually fail. Now I feel all bad for the little noobs because I can identify with them again.

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  12. Volpeculus says:

    Nice post! I am also a non-otaku, politics- and literature-loving blogger (my, that was a horrifically constructed sentence). I’m fine with other fans as long as they’re not elitist about it, and fine with non-fans as long as they don’t have an aneurysm over a manga.

  13. Pingback: Are you “Otaku”? « Babble Bam

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