Saturday Special Volume One: What is an Otaku?

Author’s Note: This is all opinion and honestly very much a ramble. There won’t be any images besides the one at the end to preview the Manga Talk for Monday due to copyright concerns. I do apologize for this coming late, but better late than never.

Welcome to the very first Saturday Special, where I talk about and explore aspects of otaku culture.

I think that the best way to talk about otaku culture is to define what an otaku actually is. I find that having a clear definition of something can help articulate my thoughts.

The issue is that there appears to be multiple definitions of what an otaku is.

Some say that it’s someone who is passionate about anime and manga, others say obsession, and even others say antisocial.

Let’s talk about, at least in my opinion, what an otaku is and more importantly what an otaku isn’t.

Equivalence

The best way to think of an otaku is to think of similar terminology.

While there are plenty of words that come close, I think the best starting point is to look at the main word that I associate with otaku: enthusiast.

Whatever what one may associate with otaku, I think it is fair to say that enthusiast is probably one of the best equivalents to otaku in the English language.

Sure, nerd and geek are also accurate, however whenever the word otaku comes up, more often than not anime and manga are a major part of the conversation.

Nerd and geek aren’t as defined in that aspect since they tend to be more nebulous. If someone calls me a nerd then they can be calling me a nerd for a wide variety of things related to a variety of niche subcultures that I happen to enjoy.

Why is it different for the word otaku?

There could be a variety of factors, but I believe the main reason is lack of context. While otaku is often attributed to manga and anime in the West, in Japan there is a whole different conversation.

Otaku, at least from my understanding, is essentially a term used for someone who is enthusiastic about something. I have seen and heard the term used for people who are interested all sorts of things, ranging from trains, model kits, food, and yes anime and manga.

In fact, I would also argue that nerd and geek are different terms for enthusiast as well, which is why the three words are often so closely attributed.

So while enthusiast is the best term in terms of equivalency, what isn’t?

Sociable

Otakus and nerds happen to be associated with another word, and that is antisocial.

More often than not, there has been a correlation drawn between watching anime and reading manga automatically means that one lacks basic social skills to function in society.

Let’s ignore the fact that anime conventions exist where people of all types meet and interact in a social space for a moment, painting a wide brush over all otaku as antisocial is like saying all fans of soccer are like soccer hooligans.

I have a feeling that this is because of people painting otaku and nerd as the same thing but in a different language. There is also the consideration of the phenomenon in Japan known as hikikomori, which in a very broad and almost insulting definition is someone who is a shut in and is often asocial.

Hikikomori are often, at least from what I can tell through some cursory research online, are often engrossed in some sort of hobby, like video games or anime.

While the topic of hikikomori can be dissected in a future Saturday Special, I believe it is safe to say that assuming that all otaku are hikikomori or at the very least unable to maintain any social life is an assumption.

Get to the Point

So what is an otaku, and why did I spend so much time rambling about equivalence and what an otaku isn’t?

It’s more so that you all can understand my though process and how difficult it’s been to write this.

Giving a clear definition to otaku is difficult.

I want to express to anyone who is reading this that despite myself reading several definitions and reading several articles, defining an otaku in a clear concise manner is difficult without bringing up more context than is absolutely necessary.

There is a fantastic article on tofugu.com that shows how in depth defining otaku is, exploring historical context and social definitions that I highly recommend reading and that article put one important fact in my head.

An otaku is a fan who takes something that they enjoy and expand upon it.

Expanding Horizons

An otaku takes the actual thing that they enjoy and does something more with it, whether that be making art, or a toy, or a cosplay, or a story, or interacting with the media outside of its usual space.

There are people who make fan art for basically every franchise under the sun, people who cosplay as actors from live action shows as well as animated shows, people who have written fanfiction to expand upon a story point that they thought was interesting or taking aspects of that property and molding it unto their own.

Otaku are creators using properties to inspire their own passion.

Passion being the key word.

Otaku are passionate people, and they are also some of the most creative people.

Otaku are not just limited to anime and manga, otaku is not a noun.

Otaku is a lifestyle, regardless of what you are passionate about.

You can be a LEGO otaku, or a knife otaku, or a book otaku, the possibilities are endless.

Just so long as you have passion in something and wish to express that passion in a way that others who feel the same can enjoy. Like with everything there are boundaries that should not be crossed, but that should go without saying.

If you can express your passion with something in a way that other people can enjoy, then you can be an otaku.

And I have many passions in my life, manga and anime are definitely some of the biggest passions in my life, and I hope to keep talking about these passions, and others, in the future.

Thank you for reading this jumble of words.

On Monday we will be taking a look at a work done by Masashi Kishimoto that isn’t Naruto. We will be looking at the first volume of Samurai 8: The Tale of Hachimaru.

So until then,

Heiwa to sayonara!

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