This month's column is about a word.
No, it's more than a word.
It's a word that embodies everything I hate about online fandom.
One word. Five letters.
Five letters in English, at least.
"Why does that one word bother you, James?"
Oh, for many reasons
most of which I'll outline below.
So that we're all on the same page, let me borrow the definition of otaku from Animeinfo.org:
n. - From the Japanese, literally meaning "house". In Japan, the term refers to someone with a heavy, and sometimes near-religious interest in something. In the Japanese culture it also carries a derogatory meaning, in the context of being someone with no real social or personal life outside of the object of their obsession (much like the term "fanboy" or "nerd" in Western culture).
"Ah, so an 'otaku' is a nerd, right?"
Not so fast, my friend. Here's the rest of the accepted definition:
However, outside of Japan, the term may or may not carry a derogatory meaning depending on the person being referred to. Many anime fans in Western cultures proudly (and sometimes mistakenly) call themselves otaku, preferring to use the term to describe themselves as a "hard core",or knowledgeable, anime fan.
So, in other words, the word "otaku" has been appropriated to mean something totally different to your western (read: American) fan.
In its original connotation, images of large guys with coke-bottle glasses, pale skin, and a lack of social skills are conjured up in my head. In the American definition, images of a respected, well read, well versed individual are created in my head.
Of course, the American fans who are defining the word Otaku are the large guys with coke-bottle glasses, pale skin, and lack of social skills.
Sorry, boys. Things don't work that way.
Otaku is a foreign word. As much as we'd like to think we can change the word or its implied meaning, we can't. You call yourself an otaku to a Japanese person, and they don't think of some knowledgeable fan. They think of some dirty social malcontent with an unhealthy appetite of books and shows featuring magical girls in short skirts and tentacle action.
As the definition I quoted says, it means "house". More specifically, it means someone who doesn't leave their house. Someone who knows too much about something. You can have a car otaku or a movie otaku. I am a shoe otaku. I allude to it in the little bio here on the page, but as much as I like anime, I love shoes. Especially Nikes. I have about 100 pair, most still in their original boxes. I polish my shoes with a toothbrush so they stay new looking. I have 10 year old shoes that look like they've been barely worn. I average a pair or two a month. I know the shoe release dates, the cushioning systems in the shoes, and what they're best used for.
Last week, I discovered these:
Those are Special Edition Nike Shox VC. They're colored like the RX-78-2. And a Japanese exclusive.
Once I found out about it, I went right to one of my friends in Japan. She knows of my Nike addiction, and has looked for several pairs of shoes for me before.
You know what she said?
"Wow. You're the Nike shoe otaku."
I thought about it. I'm definitely more obsessive about my footwear than most people, but I'm not as bad as some of my friends, who'll buy 2 pairs of shoes so they can wear one or display one. But whether I'm on the bottom level of shoe otakuness or the next to the bottom level, to most people, I'm a shoe otaku.
The anime fandom subculture, is in some part defined by the popular culture (I am not referring to "pop culture;" pop culture speaks to fads and trends. Anime's popularity has increased yearly, so I doubt that it's going anywhere anytime soon). We may think of ourselves as knowledgeable and all that jazz, but to your average joe, our interest in Pocky, plushies, and all other things Japanese is a little strange.
As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.
So, instead of running from it, why don't we embrace it?
Perhaps those who used the word otaku at first were attempting to "posess" the word, as some people have suggested that people have tried to do with the n-word here in the U.S. That doesn't work. No matter how much you may want to change the meaning of a word, you can't. We can't, because we're not part of the Japanese culture.
So why don't we use a word that has a meaning similar to the one we would like otaku to have.
How about uber-fan?
Nah. How many people know how to make the german uumlats with their keyboard? I know I don't.
Nah. Implies that we're fans of something where the characters wear hardly any clothing.
What about Anime Nerds?
That could work. Everyone loves the movie with Pointdexter and Louis Skolnik and Lamarr and all those guys.
But, the word nerd' has its own negative connotation. People see guys in pocket protectors and thick glasses with salad bowl haircuts and goofy laughs.
Oh, and Bill Gates.
Which would you rather be compared to, Bill Gates or some dude who lives in his parents' basement?
Got something you wanna say to James?
Think he's right on? Think he's full of it? Let him know! He loves to hear what others think. Especially when they disagree. He just loves fan or hate mail. Gotta keep him happy. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.