Rock: On “Otaku”

Akihabara, Japan, one of the most notable centers of otaku culture.

So while looking into various parts of Japanese anime/manga fan culture and how it has impacted the entertainment industry in America, (Eureka Seven has a lot of “pop crosscultural currents” within itself alone to explore) I decided to look up one of the less favorable terms that reoccurs both in Japan and as a loanword in the US, “otaku”.

Most have probably heard it stateside in the negative context, along with the even more demeaning “weeaboo”, from what I’ve read it applies beyond anime or manga in Japan and is slang term referring to an obsessive, not necessarily unhealthy, interest in a subject with there being twelve ranked otaku interests.

What I found interesting is that the its sub-culture origin in Japan came from school clubs where students various interests outside school work were encouraged (at least what I’ve found so far).

I also found, and expected to find, the general accusations of otaku culture, and even using it as a loanword, outside of Japan as being cultural misappropriation, on top of the already negative stereotypes.

I admit that the otaku topic and exploring into already has me out of my comfort zone, mainly because of the stigma, misappropriation issues, the “weeaboo” derogatory term (thanks 4chan…), and not wanting others to apply this to me. It became personal very quickly reading extremely negative things, whether they were true or not.

As I went over briefly in my first post I grew up fairly isolated socially.

I specifically want to point out that this has been an issue since grade school, my lifelong experience. I’m not someone who came along anime and manga one day, identified with it and decided to “full dive”.

I had been studying traditional Japanese culture prior to being introduced to anime when I was 17. This I believe was rooted in Star Wars, the main fiction I watched growing up, where I learned George Lucas had drawn from Japanese films, mythology, religions and fighting styles for much of the Jedi’s culture and belief systems.

What I had found was a culture I identified with strongly, found others who knew about it as well and finally had a place, a “home” that also had people. It wasn’t just documentaries and books were I was comfortable and felt a belonging to anymore. And I found a childhood that I had been denied.

In school I spent the majority of my time outside the classroom in the library. Outside of school my mom was a single working mom and had to rely on the church I grew up in for help. There I was regularly excluded, put down and shamed publicly, such as being ordered out into the hall as punishment for the rest of Sunday school when I was unable to recite the books of the bible in front the twenty other kids. My mom couldn’t afford extracurricular activities or the nicest clothes or anything that resembled what 90’s and 00’s kids childhoods were supposed to look like, which is a large part of being able to participate in the capitalist based American culture, a “pay to play” society, even for kids.

I also had to regularly visit my dad, who was not nice, while I was growing up and my weekly schedule revolved around that and recovering from it.

What I mean by “not nice”, is he would scream at me and send me to bed without dinner for leaving a spoon in the sink, and would throw away my toys randomly and say they got “lost”. He hated having cartoons and kids shows on in general, so I watched a lot of documentaries, things like “CSI”, “Surviorman”, movies like “The Aviator”, “Catch Me if You Can” and “Castaway”, and thankfully “Star Wars”.

As far as books go, I ended up skipping the normal books K-12 graders read for that, colored dot reading program thing, they had in my school system (you had to read so many books at the level you tested in at for part of your grade). My reading comprehension level was graded at about 11th grade in 5th grade and 12+, or college texts, by 8th grade. The highest ranked fiction book they had was War and Peace at 11.6.

I wasn’t encouraged to read middle grade or young adult literature at those ages because of my score, but the school didn’t have resources or programs in place for students doing, more than well, so I ended up reading mainly non-fiction since those were the only books at or near my level in a middle school library. Non-fiction books weren’t assigned dots, so to improvise, I was allowed to pick whatever topic I wanted to read in the non-fiction section so long as the book was long enough and was primarily words, not images.

Overall, in that time alone I didn’t have access to “normal” American cultural tropes for children and instead grew up learning about topics and reading texts that were meant for adults and not children, as far as comprehension goes (which on a side note makes me question why it is presumed children by default are believed to be unable to comprehend complex topics).


Cosplay of the cardboard cutout of eight-year-old “Little Tiffany” from the movie “The Men in Black” with the books that were way too advanced for her age.

I don’t particularly like to talk about this. I don’t like feeling like a braggart or want sympathy. My past is what it is and that’s what is was. But I wanted to put into context just how much time I spent alone, why and how my interest, personal identity and “home” is strongly tied to Japanese culture. That it was a lifelong progression, rather than a sudden obsession or an interest that escalated quickly.

And given I had no connection to my Cherokee or Sami (Scandinavian aboriginal) heritage being here in Washington State and knowing I was these, it didn’t help having the Native Americans indigenous to the Olympic Peninsula assume and call me a “foreigner” and had this same sentiment from white adults and classmates, trying to guess where I was “really” from, both expressing I didn’t look like I was born here at all.

I simply wanted a “home”, a group of people I felt I belonged to and I guess a second chance at a childhood that had animated shows and movies, games, “toys” that weren’t at risk of being thrown away and books with mainly pictures, but were still intellectually stimulating.

But because of the stigma associated with those who would call be an “otaku” or worse a “weeaboo”, and the fear of being accused and harassed of committing misappropriation by overzealous white persons (yes, more specifically married, white women who don’t need to work or go to college and seem to be using it as a substitute for gossip).

Yet this is still the subject I want to explore, otaku culture and its impact on entertainment media in America with regards to my “home”.

Its influence can be seen with the live action film”Ghost in the Shell” and Netflix’s “Death Note”, the success of Studio Ghibli’s films and its partnering with Disney, “Pacific Rim” the kaiju genre inspired “mecha” film by Mexican-American film director Guillermo del Toro, “Edge of Tomorrow”  based upon the manga Ōru Yū Nīdo Izu Kiru and as far back as the western “The Magnificent Seven” based on the 1954 Japanese film “The Seven Samurai” which director Zack Snyder reported as one of the influences of the new “Justice League” film coming out this November.

So I can’t not explore and investigate this darker side as my goal is to go into film and media production. I can’t remain ignorant out of fear.