Otaku Counter-Protest Against a Hate Speech Demonstration in Akihabara

I’ve written about a bit off recent news involving an anti-foreigner demonstration in Japan, and the way that otaku mobilized to counter it. You can check it out at the Waku Waku +NYC blog.

 

Advertisements

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Otaku Culture, and the Specter of Censorship

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are considered to be one of the most significant moments in Japanese history in terms of symbolism. Having lost World War II a couple of decades prior, and having experienced military occupation by the US as a result, the Olympics were an opportunity to show the world that Japan had gotten back on its feet and climbed out of poverty. One of symbols of this transformation is the famous bullet train, which came into service in time for the Tokyo Olympics.

It’s no surprise then that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are kind of a big deal. While Japan no longer has issues with proving itself to be a first-world country even in a decades-long economic recession, the government still wants to further its integration in international economy, culture, and politics. The subject of 3.11 will also still be relevant, and if Japan has not “proven” to the world that they have managed to overcome that disaster by 2020, they will certainly assert it by then. However, one particularly large and visible target for cleanup is Japan’s otaku culture, and they’ve already begun their move.

As I’ve learned from a series of public lectures at Temple University’s Japan Campus (thanks to Veef for the link), one of their targets is anime and manga, given their focus on using Japanese pop culture as a form of “soft power” over the past decade. As the Tokyo Olympics get closer, just the fact that the image of Japan as a haven for illegal pornography still persists to some degree means that the Japanese government, or perhaps groups trying to influence the government, will be pushing for lasting change on what can and cannot be depicted in anime and manga. This has a very likely chance of affecting otaku culture in Japan, though the degree to which these changes will last depends on how much creators and supporters of anime and manga can push back.

Any government will naturally want to present itself and what it represents in the best light possible, though keep in mind this does not automatically mean censorship; it is possible for such behavior to only affect media that comes from the government itself. However, because Cool Japan is government-backed, this can create a contradiction. Namely, what has attracted people to anime and manga culture in the first place has been its willingness to be subversive, degenerative, and controversial, both in the context of other cultures and in Japan. Concerns over anime being not just pornography but child pornography in the US and Canada are nothing new at this point, and more recently in Japan has passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths.

I think one possible scenario is that the worlds of doujinshi and industry works will separate a bit more, maybe regress back to how it was a few decades ago. These days Comic Market is a big deal for both amateurs and professionals, with fan parodies being sold right next to videos displaying promos for the latest upcoming anime. A lot of names working professionally, including Satou Shouji (Highschool of the Dead, Triage X) and Naruco Hanaharu (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Kamichu!) are artists who not only work in the (relatively) mainstream industry but also still produce both professional erotic manga and erotic doujinshi. While I don’t think many creators will go away, they might very well have to pick what side of the die they fall on.

Censorship levels tend to ebb and flow, and are even a bit hard to control even as laws exist in the books. While artist Suwa Yuuji got in serious trouble in the early 2000s for publishing Misshitsu, an erotic manga that was deemed insufficiently censored, Frederik Schodt, in his classic book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, explains how Japanese artists in the 1970s and 80s got around the censorship of genitalia through the use of creative visual metaphors through very “trains going through tunnels”-type affairs. Even the use of mosaics in Japanese pornography has changed over the years to be less prominent. Artists find ways. As somewhat of an aside I do think it’s interesting that the series Denkigai no Honya-san features a government censor as a character who is also a fujoshi.

However, although I believe that manga creators are imaginative enough to find loopholes, I think what we’ll see is a serious effort to keep things from reaching this level on the part of the industry itself and otaku as well. In many ways, this situation goes well beyond the subjects of anime, manga, games, and otaku because Japan has a very real history with censorship.

Leading up to and during World War II, dissenters could get arrested or even killed for publishing material that was seen as unfavorable to the Japanese government. This has of course changed, but just as the memory of the war continues to be an influence on the 2020 Olympics due to the connection to the 1964 Olympics and the role it had in showing how Japan had “moved on,” so too does has the danger of censorship remained in the culture of Japan.

While this might seem to contradict the fact that Japanese pornography is indeed censored, that sort of thing is often just lip-service that some take more seriously than others. After all, unlike other countries where pornography is banned, this is an adjustment to the work itself and assumes that making things less visible also draws less attention to them. There’s a strange relationship between forbidding ideas and forbidding images, because at some point one transforms into the other, and with anime and manga we’re seeing one arena in which this ambiguity comes to the forefront. This is why people from manga creators Takemiya Keiko (Toward the Terra) and Akamatsu Ken (UQ Holder) to the maids at the maid cafe Schatzkiste have discussed the subject of censorship and what it can mean.

In the end I can’t predict what will become of otaku culture, but I think that we’ll see that it’s not as passive as is often assumed. People will fight for their right to consume and create the anime and manga that they want, and it will certainly not be a sad joke.

Hey I’m Grump: Genshiken II, Chapter 109

The vacation has turned into a house party. As Keiko and Angela try to butter up Madarame with alcohol and sex appeal, Yoshitake and Ohno give Kuchiki somewhat similar “VIP” treatment. Kuchiki asks Ohno if he can touch her breasts, who unsurprisingly refuses, especially when Kuchiki references Ohno’s tendency to avoid getting a job. Hato gets tired of Angela and Keiko and tries to make Madarame jealous by appealing to Kuchiki, but accidentally makes him pass out from too much alcohol. After some arguing where Keiko and Angela try to use this as an opportunity to be alone with Madarame, Hato and Madarame are tasked with bringing Kuchiki back to the hotel.

This chapter has made me realize that breast-touching, or the prospect of it, has been a recurring theme of sorts in Genshiken Nidaime. I know that might sound kind of absurd, but hear me out.

Between Kuchiki futilely requesting Ohno, Madarame’s risque evening with Keiko, and even the fact that Kuchiki has already indeed crossed this threshold (albeit unconsciously), the “value of boobs” has been present for many chapters. At first glance, this might very well appear to be the descent of Genshiken into something cliche and unrecognizable, but I think that there’s a certain critical or observant eye towards the division between guys and girls that still exists to a certain degree in Genshiken, otaku culture, and perhaps even culture at large.

The reason I believe this to be the case, though for the most part it’s probably just an opportunity for jokes, is that one of the notable differences about the second series compared to the first is the mostly female main cast. It’s a point I and others have brought up again and again, to the extent that it’s arguably not even necessary to repeat, but Genshiken currently consists of this very candid, almost unglamorous look into the lives of these female otaku. Even in this very chapter, you have Kuchiki talking about how every guy in Genshiken secretly wanted to feel up Ohno juxtaposed with three girls in the bath, casually nude, talking casually, while none of them are the “targets” of this desire. On the one hand, breasts are almost a holy grail of manhood, a reflection of the mentality of the Genshiken old guard. On the other hand, girls are letting it all hang out and breasts aren’t a big deal, an indicator of how things are now.

All of this is further contrasted by Angela and Keiko. There’s a certain chasteness among the other characters and even the idea that the boob grab is this life-changing event, and then there are these two characters who are so far beyond the borders of whether or not a guy has touched a breast before, so distant from even the question of virginity, that I can imagine the other people on this vacation seem almost quaint to them. In fact, they’re utilizing their breasts for the exact reason of appealing to Madarame’s innocent awkward otaku mindset, and even the Madarame Harem itself consists of two characters who are highly experienced when it comes to sex and relationships, and two who are absolute beginners. In a way, it reminds me of the image and existence of otaku culture itself, which is in a way childish (this is not a bad thing) but also filled with adult concerns (also not a bad thing), and I don’t even mean that in an “otaku suffer from arrested development” sort of way.

What I think this all leads to is an emphasis that there are many different perspectives at work, to the extent that the idea of the otaku is not as simple and monolithic as it once was. This is perhaps what Tamagomago was trying to get at when he said that the concept of “otaku” as we knew it no longer exists.

While I don’t want to put too much into author intent, it’s a fact that Kio Shimoku is married and has a kid now. He knows and has had the experience of touching a breast. In fact, I bet a lot of manga creators have had this experience, even the ones who draw the most fanservicey, harem-y series around. I have to wonder how much Kio has maintained this theme for the purpose of remembering that being an awkward, unsocial guy who can’t even talk to girls can make it seem as if breasts are attainable only in fantasy, only he’s tempered it by taking into account the point of view of girls as well, not as objects of desire, but as people. In the case of Angela and Keiko, and perhaps even Hato, they’re people actively working to present themselves as objects of desire. Hato himself might be the center of this storm, a male otaku who is also a fudanshi, who has to come to realize his own sexual orientation, and who actively works with symbols of the feminine both inside and outside of notions of romance. Even this chapter features male Hato in makeup for the first time, as if to say that the borders within himself are becoming nebulous. That’s not to say that guys can’t wear makeup, but for Hato makeup has a very specific function.

This chapter review has turned more into a small essay, it seems. I think I’ll cut it short here so I can mention a few other things. Yajima’s mom continues to show that she’s more Yoshitake than Yajima. Mimasaka continues to confirm that her attachment to Yajima is probably something bigger. In the extras of Genshiken Volume 17, Angela tried to send Madarame some dirty footage of herself for Valentine’s Day(whether it’s photos or video they never show or say) , but they got intercepted and destroyed by Ohno before reaching their destination. I have to wonder if Angela is operating under the assumption that he was able to see it.

As always, I prefer to end each review talking about or showing something Ogiue-related, and sadly I could not fit “on the title page Ogiue is wearing that boob window sweater that’s become a popular meme in Japan” into what I was talking about above. It’s the obvious joke, that Ogiue doesn’t have the size to properly fill out that sweater, an idea that fan artists have already leaped on with other similarly-proportioned characters. While I know that Genshiken is full of references to popular culture (Sue makes references to both Dragon Quest and Sakigake!! Otokojuku this month), it’s much rarer for a meme of this kind to reach the pages of Genshiken. At the same time, no one really draws Genshiken fanart, so I guess it’s up to the creator himself to undergo the task.

What’s funny is that, if not for the boob window, this is very much the kind of outfit that Ogiue would wear.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Translation: “Otaku are Hybridized, Genshiken Nidaime is Painful”

NOTE: This is a translation of a post by noted Japanese blogger Tamagomago, concerning the subject of “otaku” in current society and its portrayal in Genshiken. You can follow him on Twitter @tamagomago and check out his, Tamagomago Gohan.

All of the image links use Tamagomago’s original Amazon referrals.

As a final note, Tamagomago has a particular writing style that involves separating sentences by line, and separating general ideas by larger spaces. In the past I’ve consolidated these things into paragraphs both for readability and because WordPress used to have a hard time with multiple line breaks. This time around, I’ve tried to leave his general style intact.

61Swif41tPL

Genshiken is a manga that I love.

I love it, and that’s precisely why it’s…

 

Painful.

 

The current Madarame Harem arc is really quite interesting.

Personally speaking, I read Volume 17 and I’m on the side that thinks, “It has to be Sasahara’s sister, right?”

That’s the sort of fun I’m having with it.

 

However…

It isn’t about “otaku” anymore.

It’s interesting as a “romantic story about a pathetic guy.”

 

This isn’t a problem with the storytelling in Genshiken.

It’s because times have changed.

The existence we call “otaku” has ceased to be.

That’s all there is to it.

———————————————————————-

51V4C4lGPvL

Genshiken Volume 1 came out in 2002.

That’s the same year as King Gainer, Ojamajo Doremi Dokkaan!, Sister Princess RePure, Haibane Renmei, She, the Ultimate Weapon, Mahoromatic, Tokyo Mew Mew, Asagiri no Miko, Abenobashi Shopping Arcade, Azumanga Daioh, and RahXephon.

I think that it’s easy to understand the atmosphere at this time.

 

It was the dawning of a new Internet era. It was a time when 2chan had barely come into prominence.

There was no Nico Nico Douga.

 

We were just beginning to find freedom from the Eva Shock. We were already free from Miyazaki Tsutomu.

We felt guilty using the word otaku, and it was kind of embarrassing to like anime.

Anime such as Haruhi were yet to debut, and while we could make friends with people who also like anime and manga, we weren’t that open about it.

Those were the times.

 

Sasahara found in the Society for Modern Visual Culture a place where he could lay bare his otaku self. That was the first step.

Ogiue’s story was about fighting the trauma towards manga she harbored within her heart. That was the second step.

 

In both cases, the on-looker, the non-otaku, was symbolized by Saki.

———————————————————————-

Now, things have changed completely.

In fact, Genshiken Nidaime has been different from the very beginning.

In the first part of Nidaime, the series depicts the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture as a space for a group of BL-loving girls to work together.

Also, it’s the story of Hato, a crossdressing boy troubled by his worries.

Characters like Ogiue and Hato already have their pasts resolved by this part of the story.

 

In this first part of Nidaime, the state of “otaku” reaches a turning point just as the first chapter in Madarame’s story concludes.

51ATNfxJ64L

In this volume, we see the demise of the image of the ’00s “otaku.”

 

“Otaku” as a status, “otaku” as a community we depend on, the fun of trying to co-exist as both a member of society and as an “otaku.”

This is where it all ends.

 

When I say it’s over, I don’t mean, “there are no longer any otaku.”

Rather, the very word “otaku” has become hybridized.

 

That’s why Madarame, as an old-type otaku, has lost his place.

———————————————————————-

Madarame is actually a ’90s-type otaku.

Sasahara is a ’00s-type.

What’s different, you ask? It’s that the period between ’95 and ’96 is the dividing line before more and more people could be considered anime viewers and not otaku.

Sasahara gives the impression that “Otaku are out there, huh…”

Madarame is among the group of otaku who had to seek out others like themselves.

In an era without online networks, fans used analog means to get together and have fun.

It wasn’t a match over a network, but rather two people getting together to play.

———————————————————————-

For Madarame, he no longer needs to identify himself as “otaku.”

He certainly doesn’t look quite so sour anymore.

 

To put it boldly, everyone has become Kousaka.

Kousaka, unlike the other members of Genshiken, does not look like an otaku at first glance.

This is not something to be depressed or troubled over. Quite the opposite, it’s become totally okay to express your otaku hobbies.

———————————————————————-

I think this is a good thing.

There’s no longer that feeling of suffering and turmoil, like what Ogiue experienced.

There’s no longer that feeling that you can only ever belong to this specific group of people, like Kuga-pii.

Actually, Kugapii is in a nice place, working as a company employee.

 

There also isn’t anyone in Saki’s position.

In fact, I think that, even if Saki were perhaps in the club now, she wouldn’t have to pull everyone along like she used to.

After all, there’s no one left like Madarame, who would hem and haw. Everyone would just say, “Okay, okay,” in response to Saki and that would be the end of it.

You can think of that final kick Saki-chan gives Madarame as the demise of the “’90s otaku.”

 

Let’s talk about Sasahara’s little sister, who has dived straight into the thick of things.

The cabaret club story was interesting, wasn’t it?

That’s the feeling I’m talking about.

51JocGkSxsLTheory on the Adaptive Hybridization of Otaku subculture and Yankii Fast Food/Scenery

This book also came out recently. It’s really interesting so you should check it out.

I think the combination of otaku and subculture is easy to understand.

But they’ve also put yankii in there.

These yankii treat being a yankii nonchalantly, and even if they come into contact with otaku or subculture, it doesn’t bother them.

Here, I think you have the basis for the back and forth between the younger Sasahara and Madarame.

———————————————————————-

At this point, it’s unnecessary to identity oneself as “otaku,” nor is there a need to move and hide in secrecy. The fence between men and women has come loose.

 

Is it still necessary to depict “otaku?”

 

Works about otaku have been increasing.

However, everyone essentially looks cheerful, don’t they? They certainly don’t appear to be all that gloomy.

I think that Kirino in Oreimo has times when she looks gloomy, downright sour even (“Erotic games aren’t just popular shlock anymore, they’re deep!!)

Comparing her appearance and actions, however, she possesses the spirit of a retro otaku.

How is the “maid café” genre doing in manga? They don’t really touch Akihabara culture anymore, so there’s no way to tell.

Characters who go to Comic Market have become a part of normal manga.

61l2t4xc-FL

I totally love this manga.

There’s a lack of refinement in all directions. That said, there’s a cute underclassman (I won’t allow this! Take a good look!!).

There’s a lack of refinement, but take a look at their fashion. They’re plenty cheerful.

 

51KaNULe6VL

This comes across more as fantasy, but Denki-Gai no Honya-san also has pure, proper otaku.

However, rather than being about otaku, I think that this work is actually more a story of “positive self-affirmation.”

It’s okay to read erotic manga! It’s okay to enjoy BL!

Along those lines, it even says, “It’s okay for you to fall in love!”

———————————————————————-

Genshiken is also similar to these manga. It’s a 2010s otaku… wait, the word otaku no longer exists. It’s changed direction to become a communication manga about a group of people who share a hobby.

The girls who appear in the story are, to put it differently, “reality.”

In terms of their fantastic elements, they would probably be ranked as:

 

Hato > Sue > Angela > Sasahara’s sister

 

The more to the right you go, the closer you get to reality.

In a way, Hato is a boy who acts out the role of the “ideal girl” (it’s not a gender identity disorder), so naturally I’m comfortable including him in this.

Angela is a little more likely to exist in Japan, even though she can be described as the girl who wants to date “OTAKU.” [Translator’s note: “OTAKU” here was originally written in English]

———————————————————————-

This Genshiken is a romance manga that’s cheerful and filled with happiness.

It’s fun.

 

It’s fun, but reading it is painful.

 

My own sense is that of Madarame’s generation, the ‘90s otaku.

 

It’s come to the point that I’ve said my farewells to that era, and I’m giving my regards to the younger generations.

 

I no longer build myself up into a kind of character.

———————————————————————-

51+y63MvznL

I have more empathy for this work.

It’s because he’s an adult otaku. More than that, I have a lot of friends who are just like this.

I understand this type, someone who’s no longer doing the otaku thing at full force, but still trudges along that path.

———————————————————————-

Perhaps Genshiken has at least made me into an “old boy,” who goes about saying, “Ah, youth!”

But that’s not quite right, is it?

There’s no gloom. There’s no anguish.

If it had become a completely different, unrelated world, I could say, “Wow! Look how this manga shines! How wonderful!” but that would only be a halfhearted, depressed reaction.

To grow up along with Genshiken wouldn’t in itself make me feel so awful.

“All of you, please move on.”

“You don’t belong here anymore.”

If you look at it that way, it’s painful.

———————————————————————-

However… it’s interesting so I keep reading.

It doesn’t matter that this is Genshiken. Manga is manga.

Yajima, Sue, Hato, all of them are cute. In particular, Yajima has gotten increasingly cute.

Ah, youngins!

 

Actually, on a personal level I find this girl to be the most amazing one of all.

“This alone makes Genshiken Volume 17 worth it.”

-Gogo Tamagomago of the Dead

 

Yoshitake is the character I like best in all of Nidaime.

It’s just, here’s a character that really positive, acting as the axis that influences both the suffering Hato and Yajima, all while Yoshitake herself doesn’t move one bit.

This face is the first time we get to see what’s underneath.

Ah.

She’s always cheerful, but doesn’t it seem like there’s something underneath the surface?

No matter what, I can’t take my eyes off of Yoshitake.

 

Speaking of which, someone (a woman) once said, “Yoshitake’s fashion is really female otaku-esque.”

Somehow, I can understand that at least a little.

Though, it’s more like, Yoshitake is the very image of the female otaku during the time when Nidaime first began.

———————————————————————-

I took a long time to write this.

 

Right now, I’m not an “otaku” nor am I part of a “subculture.”

I realize I’m now an adult who doesn’t “belong” to anything like that.

I think it’s a joyful thing. I can like what I like and then write about it.

 

And yet, why is it so painful?

Why do I feel such sadness when I read Genshiken?

 

It’s probably because the first part of Genshiken is a story of youth coming from the idea of “deviation,” but between Hato’s change of heart and Madarame’s situation being reset, there’s no need to be deviant.

It’s a sentiment I don’t understand, and it’s just not something I have in common with them.

Please give me the courage to continue along in this deviant subculture – Tamagomago Gohan

Even as I become an adult, I don’t feel like one – Tamagomago Gohan

Even re-reading the above articles, I really don’t understand after all.

Even though I understand that I’ve become an adult and moved on.

 

The depression that comes from Genshiken continues to grow.

It’s simply that I’ve reached a bothersome age.

 

Is it just that I’m still trying to find myself?

———————————————————————-

51uvEtLeceL

Actually, I feel like this title can give me a hint.

It’s a manga I absolutely cannot ignore.

That’s because, when I read it I feel relieved.

I feel like there’s a hint here.

———————————————————————-

Ah, could it be? Is it because they don’t really talk about their favorite things in Genshiken Volume 17?

They do for a little bit, but their words feel somehow unnatural.

However, I understand that these are “otaku.” They’re otaku who don’t depend on being anything.

———————————————————————-

And yet, I love Genshiken.

 

The End.

———————————————————————-

Notes:

I had a realization that this is like what happened to rock music.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Comparing Manga with the Otaku Guy + Popular Girl Theme: Otaku Riajuu vs. 3D Kanojo

Recently I read two manga with very similar conceptions, I’ll Make You into an Otaku, So Make Me into a Riajuu and 3D Kanojo (also known as “Real Girl.”) Both are based on the concept of an otaku guy and a fashionable girl forming a friendship (or something more), but the messages they convey, at least from what little I’ve read, are significantly different. In particular, the way Otaku Riajuu handles its female lead is pretty embarrassing, and highlights a lot of things wrong with whatever mindset produced the story, and for which 3D Kanojo provides a better alternative.

First things first, there are some differences in the setup of each. Unlike 3D Kanojo, which is about the budding romance between the otaku guy and the fashionable girl, Otaku Riajuu is similar to Toradora! in that the two leads are at least initially trying to help each other to get together with someone else. Other similarities include the fact that the girl is tiny and feisty, much like Taiga. Toradora! is pretty great, so that’s not so bad in and of itself, but there’s more to it.

In Otaku Riajuu, the girl, Momo, has a reputation for sleeping around a lot. The guy, Naoki, upon becoming aware of this, basically wants nothing to do with her. He thinks of her as a “bitch” (in Japanese context, the term veers closer to “slut,” see Panty in Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt for a prime example), and therefore wants nothing to do with her. A pretty messed up opinion to be sure, but then when he find out she’s actually uncomfortable around guys and clearly can’t be the bed crusader the rumors make her out to be, then he gets along with her a lot better.

Think about it: Naoki doesn’t like her when he thinks she’s a slut, but when he finds out otherwise everything’s “okay.” I’m not one to throw out the term “slut-shaming” liberally, and in fact this is the first time in the history of the blog that I’ve even used it, but it is literally the main character looking at a girl with disdain for being sexually active. The fact that we’re supposed to think Naoki the poor closet otaku is a Good Guy for changing his opinion of her after he learns the truth makes it even worse.

3D Kanojo on the other hand establishes that its female lead, Iroha, actually does sleep with a lot of guys, but doesn’t make the concept itself an inherent minus other than the fact that she has to deal with a lot of angry former lovers. Here, although the male character Hikari, being an awkward otaku virgin, is uncomfortable with the way Iroha is, the series seems to be more about their budding romance both in spite of and because of their differences. Hikari is also a nice guy in that he tries to save Iroha from a couple of angry suitors and gets so nervous when she invites him to have sex that he ends up avoiding it, but it’s clear he sees her as a person neither in spite of or because she’s sexually active.

I think a lot of the reason for this difference is just the intended demographic. Otaku Riajuu is based on a light novel, and aims for that male otaku market. Although not always the case (and not something exclusively otaku or Japanese), a valuing of virginity and purity by way of moe aesthetic is very clear and obvious here, and the strange idea the manga has about what it means for a guy to be “nice” likely stems from this. 3D Kanojo however is a shoujo manga, and this can be seen in the male lead who has a smattering of “gentle, ideal boyfriend” in him. He’s awkward around girls, but that’s what makes his attempts at heroics all the more charming. It also goes a long way in explaining why Iroha is written in a more well-rounded manner.

I’ve only read a bit of each, so I can’t say for sure if my opinions of either title would change down the road, but for now I’d have to say that 3D Kanojo is clearly the better title. The differing approaches to the popular girl character used by it and Otaku Riajuu do not form the entirety of my reasoning for recommending one over the other, but I think they give a good indication anyway.

How Much Does “Japanese-ness” Matter to Anime and Manga Fans?

The stereotypical image of the non-Japanese anime fan is someone who is in love with Japan. He goes by many names, mostly given by others but also self-referenced: otaku, wapanese, japanophile, weeaboo. This anime fan believes that at least part of what makes anime great is that it comes from Japan, and this imbues a certain degree of specialness or at least difference to it.

But I have to wonder, just how much is it even true that Japanese-ness is that vital component for so many anime and manga fans?

This is not to say that it definitely does not matter for people or that at the end of the day fans are better off judging things from some imagined objective stance of mighty neutrality, but rather is just me asking about where that desire for Japan may or may not exist.

Let’s talk about fans of dub voice actors, the kind who line up to get their autographs every time they appear at a convention and who vastly prefer them over their original Japanese counterparts. You can say something about how those are the voices they’re familiar with, and that they were exposed to those voices through a more accessible medium like television, but what I think is that, at the end of the day, even if Japanese-ness might be present in other areas of the anime they like, be it the character designs or the settings of the stories, “Japanese-ness of speech” itself is not as much of a factor. Having the comprehensibility and perhaps even understanding of nuance of English (or whatever language) is more important than having the characters speaking in Japanese.

Once I attended a cherry blossom festival in New York, where I saw a black girl dressed in a kimono. If it wasn’t clear that she was an anime fan, she was also surrounded by friends cosplaying Naruto characters. What was interesting about the way she wore her kimono though was that it clearly wasn’t the correct way to put one on nor the correct way to walk in one but it was obvious that she didn’t care. I got the impression that even if she knew, it wouldn’t really have mattered. While the coolness and I would even dare to say the Japanese-ness of the kimono itself was important, it was also important for her to assert her own attitude, to conform the kimono to herself rather than the other way around.

A simple hypothesis would be that a fan prefers just enough Japanese-ness for their anime and manga to seem special or different, but not so much that it becomes utterly alien or unapproachable. However, I think that would be a flawed statement for a number of reasons. First, an appeal of Japanese-ness might not necessarily equate to exoticism or Orientalism (though in many cases it probably would), and second, there is a dynamic of what people do and don’t want to be, how much they expect things to conform to their own values rather than the other way around, and so “alien” for some may be preferable. Maybe I’ll think of something better eventually.

A Response to Geordie Tait, from an Otaku

In a recent article on Star City Games, Tait wrote an article to his future daughter explaining to her the prevalence of misogyny in the gamer community. He cites the recent buzz over Gizmodo intern Alyssa Bereznak and her own article detailing a failed date with Magic: The Gathering world champion Jon Finkel. In contrast to the cries of “shallow” and “whore,” Tait steps back to examine not just the disturbing ubiquity of such comments, but the combinations of elements that would result in such an environment, and points out that Bereznak’s main problem was that she should have known her tone in her article would have set off the primarily male geek community of Gizmodo.

Tait continues his article, talking about the self-delusion that is the “Nice Guy,” and even his own past where he himself was once one of the pack, decrying women for not looking past the gruff, hairy, overweight exterior of Magic players. There is a good deal of nuance in the article and I think it’s worth your time to read. That said, I have a minor problem with something Tait says.

Oh, Japan. Nearly every female character we encountered was designed by men, for men. Ridiculously proportioned, child-like in voice and temperament, they were calculated to attract the subway-groping attentions of the otaku.

My problem with the above statement has nothing to do with his accusation that female JRPG characters are infantile and designed for men. Despite my closesness to anime, manga, and Japanese video games, I simply haven’t played enough Japanese RPGs over the years to give a fair assessment of the overall picture. The source of my disagreement instead comes from his use of the phrase “subway-groping attentions of the otaku.”

At first when I read it, it seemed like Tait was trying to say that all otaku are the perverts on the train who victimize women by touching them on the train. “But,” you might say, “He doesn’t mean that all otaku are molesters, he’s just referring to the ones who are.”  That is still problematic however, as that qualifier treats “groper” as a subsection of “otaku,” when in reality the “otaku groper” is more the cross-section of a venn diagram. To imply that the primary reason that such things happen on Japanese mass transit is because they’re really into anime, manga, and video games with excessively cute girls is an unfair judgment.

Yes, there are plenty of examples of female characters who are explicitly sexualized in Japanese entertainment idea. Yes, there are characters who are designed to pander to an otaku market. Yes, you can go on the internet and find a whole world of fanart expressing the desire to see these characters as fetishized sex objects. And yes, this can be off-putting for women who see only examples of the “male gaze” where they would prefer personal identification, but all of the above elements do not say that otaku are going out there and waiting to violate women. It’s not a matter of whether or not such otaku are a minority. It’s not even about pointing out the number of female otaku or the amount of works in the “otaku mediums” like anime and manga that have managed to reach and strengthen women over the decades. After all, if a problem exists, it still exists, even in small numbers. But while Tait’s unkind descriptions of nerds are not limited to the otaku, they do not carry anywhere near the same (perhaps unintended) vitriol.

“Caucasian malcontent.”

“Warm, hairy male privilege.”

“Nice Guy™ Gamer.”

Only for the otaku does he define that category of nerd as not just sexually deviant, which is still fairly harmless if insulting, or simply as passive-aggressive misogynists, which is the Nice Guy in spades, but as purveyors of sexual violence. To have that stigma propagated by someone who should very well know better because he just spent an entire article reflecting intelligently on some of the problems among nerds and gamers is really a shame.

An important thing to note: While this is a flaw in Tait’s article, it does not invalidate the rest of the letter. I certainly did not just kick the corner of a house of cards, as his overall points and even many of his examples are still valid, including the realization that there was a good deal of discomfort showing those Japanese games to his girlfriend/now-wife. I think it just goes to show that developing understanding is a continuous path, and this is another area where Tait can continue to grow, just as we all should.