The term “otaku” has been debated, it’s meaning contemplated and strenuously explained by many, and I’ve been fighting the good fight against improper usage of the word for a while. As you know, “otaku” is used to describe someone who’s obsessed with something, often following the object of obsession (“anime otaku” or “SF otaku”) so I’m going to tell you today in a half language-debate half Japanese-vs-American otaku way, why YOU probably are NOT an “Anime Otaku.”
I’d like to preface this post by stating that I care a lot about classification. A lot of people don’t care about classification, and that’s fine, but if you’re one of those people, you don’t need to read this post. This post is for people with an interest in proper usage of language and terms, and who want to further define their otakudom. For you music fans, it’s for the kind of people who care about the difference between ‘death metal’ and ‘metalcore’. I’ve also gone ahead and taken the liberty of copying a very interesting speech from a guy named Jakehammeran on the importance of classification into a google document if you’re interested.
Now, with ‘otaku’ meaning someone who is obsessed with something, I think it’s rather odd that anyone who watches a whole lot of anime may see fit to call themselves an ‘otaku’. The reason it confounds me is that the greater majority of American anime fans who have seen a considerable amount of shows tend to claim that ‘90% of anime is shit.’ This is a little confusing, only partly because these people obviously haven’t seen every anime ever to be making such a statement, but because if you’re supposed to be obsessed with anime, how come you hate most of it?
I’ve read a million statements along the lines of ‘why do they keep putting out this crap’ or ‘most anime sucks’ but I often want to ask these people why they think that Japanese companies would continually pump out ‘shitty’ anime all the time. The obvious answer is ‘to make money’ but that has another obvious meaning – the Japanese like this stuff. If 90% of anime sucks, then the Japanese have REALLY shitty taste, right? But that’s just not true. The Japanese may like a lot of ‘shitty’ shows, but they like the ‘great’ ones as well, or else those shows wouldn’t get the high budgets and attention they do. The difference is that Japanese otaku are able to like a wider variety of shows while American otaku aren’t.
And the reason is simply this – in Japan, they have ‘anime otaku’, and in America we don’t. Now, that’s not a definitive statement – my best friend No Name and for the most part, I, myself, am an anime otaku. No Name is very close to the Japanese kind of otaku, and is in some ways a good way to understand them better. No Name has seen — EVERYTHING –. He’s seen more anime than you’ve ever heard of, I promise. Obviously, he could not have seen all of that anime if he hated 90% of what he watched. No Name pretty much likes everything he watches to the point that when we tried to make a favorites list, he came out to something like 100 shows.
That, my friends, is what I would call an ‘anime otaku’. He is obsessed with anime – he will watch anything! Now, of course, he’s an otaku for other things as well (I know, how does he have time to be?!) but no one would argue with his status as an ‘anime otaku’. Now, let’s take, just for example, my cousin, Funeral (like how I choose subjects that I unmistakably know?) Funeral really, really likes anime, and after last year’s otakon, he went through a phase where he wanted to be an ‘otaku’. Eventually, he decided that this wasn’t possible.
Now, it’s not for lack of love of anime. Funeral can fanboy over his favorites like Cowboy Bebop, Gurren Lagann, and Baccano! as well as anybody, but he couldn’t get past his comfort zone with genres. He tried to dip into some of the moe anime or romance, but even as he saw the highness in quality of some of these shows like Manabi Straight and Toradora, he just couldn’t get into them. He decided that he didn’t want to be an ‘anime otaku.’ Funeral, I find, is more of a ‘director otaku’. Whether it be anime or live action (the latter being more his forte) he loves anything that is superbly directed above all else, and even as he is a huge fan of cinema, he still only likes those well-directed movies (and I’ll bet he’d make the statement that ‘90% of movies are shit.’) He is not an anime otaku or a film otaku, or even a music otaku (his biggest interest) because as much as music dominates his life, he only listens to select genres.
I definitely think we should make distinctions between types of otaku, and look beyond the overly broad genre of ‘anime otaku’. And I’m pretty sure that the Japanese do this too. Earlier I said how Japan has ‘anime otaku’, but I’m not saying that everyone who watches anime over there is one. I definitely think that the Japanese are more in-tuned to their individual otakudoms. They have ‘figure otaku’ and ‘cosplay otaku’ and to get really specific, ‘maid otaku’ or ‘gothic lolita otaku’. I think a great way to see this in action is with a pair of videos by otaku idol Shoko-tan where she explains otaku culture and, at one point, many different kinds of otaku (part 1, part 2.)
So what I want you to do is start considering your individual otakudom. I know some of you already do it – The Animanachronism seems to consider himself a military anime otaku, and while Ghostlightning has a variety of tastes, he’s most definitely a ‘mech otaku’ above all else. Eternal and CCY could probably be called ‘moe otaku’, while Baka-Raptor (who I previously called ‘not an otaku’ but may be able to remedy with this new definition) should most definitely be called a ‘ShizNat otaku.’ Now you must ask yourself, specifically what kind of otaku are you? (Alternatively, if you want me to give a name to your otakudom, just comment and link to your blog, and I’ll give you some kind of absurd genre name.)
(Incidentally, I’m definitely a ‘post-avant-garde blackened doom otaku.’)