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.

Otakumonogatari

Today it occurred to me that there is more to Bakemonogatari than what’s on the surface. No, I’m not talking about the occult subject matter or the Nisio Isin writing which can give even Japanese people pause, or even that Shinbo touch that the director puts into most of his works. Instead, what I’m referring to is the way Bakemonogatari treats otaku, or more broadly, anime and manga fans.

Now I want to ask, who in Bakemonogatari is an anime fan? The answer is no one and everyone. In this story, everyone is able to just mention obscure manga titles and make equally esoteric references with the assumption that somebody else out there will get them, almost like how everyone in Beyblade knows about tops.

Within the confines of its own story, Bakemonogatari normalizes the otaku, something that is exceedingly rare. In titles about otaku such as Genshiken and Mousou Shoujo Otakukei, the otaku is still seen as something special or at least different. Other works take aspects of reality and soften them through layers of otaku filters. Bakemonogatari on the other hand assumes otaku to be the starting point and moves the story forward from there, adding in all of those supernatural elements.

It’s kind of like how superhero comics are traditionally a power fantasy, taking the real world and making it a little more fantastic, but titles like Watchmen take the fantasy and inject reality back in. Not that I’m comparing Alan Moore to Nisio Isin, mind you.

My Academic Personal Interest in the Portrayal of Otaku and Fujoshi

You may have noticed that I avidly pursue manga and anime about otaku, and enjoy writing about the topic. Ever since Genshiken and the Densha Otoko boom (and arguably before that with Comic Party), I have been trying to expose myself to as many similarly themed works as possible. You might ask, “Do you think that stories about otaku are a superior genre compared to others?” or even, “Do you have a fetish for fujoshi?” I will tell you that I do not, and that furthermore, these questions are irrelevant.

There are those who will watch a show and desire more of the same. They will become fans of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and be disappointed when every anime they see does not turn out to be like SAC. I have no such illusions. I may love Genshiken, and may even compare other works to Genshiken, but I will never expect another work to be just like Genshiken because I know how unrealistic an expectation that is.

Instead, what I am fascinated by is the very portrayal of otaku in anime and manga itself. I want to see the optimistic and the pessimistic, the highs and the lows, the strong and honest works and the exploitative cash grabs, and everything else in between, to get a better sense of how they are seen and how creators want otaku to be seen. The Fujoshi Files are a result of this desire, and also to track the extent to which the “fujoshi character” and “fujoshi personality traits” have become prevalent in anime and manga. I like Ogiue very much, yes, but it is not due to her fujoshi attributes, but rather the way in which they are indicative of her deeper personality and thoughts. It is an academic pursuit, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get personal.

That is why I dedicate myself to finding these works. I want to know more, and if I so happen upon a particularly powerful and moving story then I am all the better for it. If not, at least I learned something.