Friday, February 1, 2008

Oh to be an otaku in America

Recently I was listening to Anime Roundtable (which has become my second favorite anime-related podcast) and they were talking about an interview with Kio Shimoku (the creator of Genshiken) in Publisher's Weekly, and it got me thinking about Otaku culture (especially in North America).

Honestly one of the most interesting statements was from the interviewer on the nature of the world otaku - "Unlike in the U.S., where otaku is treated with more affection and used the way geek is, in Japan, to be called an otaku by a non-otaku is like being called a pervert or freak."

I'm not so sure about it. I mean I'm sure that the word otaku has become this catch-all subculture specific word that essentially means anime (or manga) fan. Probably in the most extreme situations it delves into Nipponphilia, but it doesn't go much further than that.

What it did remind me of was something a comic store clerk once said to another customer. He was comparing the various levels of hygiene of the groups of geeks who went through there and he came up with this list (from best to worst):

Anime fans
Heroclix/Mechwarrior players
Comic book collectors
D&D players
Anime fans

Yes, that was the list. What I found interesting was the idea that the anime fans were the best and the worst. And for better or worse I think it's still there today.

My observations about the North American Otaku Culture

Sure smarter people than I have made better arguments than I will about this same phenomena. But to be honest, I'm really not sure what the picture of the normal "otaku" is in America. I mean sure we do have a few torch carriers who still say that anime is better than any Western entertainment. But they're definitely in the decline. In general, the word is starting to become mashed up with general nerd culture.

To be fair, I don't think it's a bad thing. Because, as much as it might not be true for everyone, anime fans are the ambassadors of nerd culture. The work itself attracts a subset of the counterculture that dresses nicely, can have discussions with the opposite sex and actually does bathe regularly. (Well for the most part.)

But I wonder if the subculture isn't losing a bit of it's identity. As much as nerd culture gets co-opted by the hipsters, I miss it's insular nature. I miss the idea that anime fandom was about anime and not about video games or politics or any of the hundreds of other geeky hobbies that all have their own little world.

And to top it all off, I wonder where it's going now. Is all of nerd culture going to become one semi-hipster enclave? Will it become as vapid an meaningless as all that. Or will it just segregrate, much like that list at the beggining seems to hint at. Will the hardcore otaku-types just go off to their corners, while this new guard comes in.

1 comment:

Sophist said...

The thing about hipsters is that they cannot be expected to stay in one place for very long. Nerd culture has become something of an "it" or statement thing lately, I personally believe it's just because hipsters seem drawn to 80s memorabilia and nerds are one of the few groups that dig that.

The hardcore otaku that are here today will be here tomorrow, people that are just there for the scene will find a new one eventually it's just the way things work. The interesting thing will be to see what parts of the sub-culture are retained when it dips in popularity because North American otaku haven't been at it for as long as their Asian counterparts.

Hopefully that wasn't too much of a ramble, hahaha.