Why "Otaku" Isn't A Dirty Word - Part 2

Continued from Part 1

“Otaku” Duality

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In 2005, Densha Otoko, a story about an otaku who saves a beautiful young woman from a drunk on a train, released, both as a film and a TV drama. Both were remarkably popular, despite the protagonist’s otakuism, and both received critical acclaim, as well.

Coupled with events like the Miyazaki murders, these events exemplify the duality of otaku’s perception in Japan. It could be said that, to a certain extent, otaku are seen as a “necessary evil” in modern Japanese culture. On one hand, the otaku is seen as a social misfit, someone who abandons the responsibilities of adulthood in favor of childish pursuits. On the other hand, fix up his hair, get him a stylish wardrobe and a girl to go after and the otaku doesn’t seem so bad (His bumbling, socially-awkward tendencies might even be kind of cute!).

In addition, otaku are consumers, with a capital “C.” There’s a reason why so much contemporary anime can be seen as “otaku pandering.” Give a hardcore moé otaku a cute girl to fawn over that hits all his favorite charm points and he’ll buy the DVDs, the PVC figures, the hug pillow cover, the cell phone strap, and the shower curtain. Remember that estimate: $19 billion. That’s a lot of money; market-stimulating money.

Thus, there’s a sort of duality when dealing with otaku. Society gets to pick and choose. When Kaoru Kobayashi kidnaps, sexually assaults, and murders a first-grader, otaku are bad, but when the Japanese pop culture industry wants to grow and spread, otaku are good. It’s a good way to keep undesirables on the fringes while still being able to capitalize on their ravenous consumer habits.

And the otaku don’t care. They never cared. Otherwise, they wouldn’t indulge in their hobbies so unapologetically. Nakamori might have been making fun of the Comiket crowd when he coined the modern use of the term, but Comiket continued to grow, year after year. Their hobbies are what matter to them, and they couldn’t care less about society.

It’s a matter of objectivity and subjectivity. Subjectively, women don’t want otaku boyfriends, general society is put-off by them, and many of them are loners and outcasts. Objectively, however, the numbers don’t lie. Otaku’s life path of pursuing their own happiness above all else might not win them points with the opposite sex, but it certainly keeps the gears turning for the anime goods industry.

“Otaku” Community

The concept of “otaku” is often incorrectly conflated with the concept of “hikkikomori.” That isn’t to say that they never intersect. They do on occasion, but while “otaku” refers to individuals with super-passionate interests in fringe subjects, “hikkikomori” refers to individuals who withdraw completely from society and shut themselves up in their houses for sometimes years. If the two were one in the same, places like Akihabara and events like Comiket would be nothing like they are today.

Though socially-awkward they may be, communal activities play a big part in otaku culture. It just makes sense. Otaku are human, after all, and humans are social creatures. The anti-social stigma of otaku comes from the fact that they’re generally disinterested in people who aren’t also otaku. This also makes sense, as otaku, by and large, have dealt with social ostracism for being otaku. As a result, they’re often perfectly willing to interact with other otaku, but not with the general society that shuns them for their hobbies. When they aren’t indulging in their hobbies at places like Comiket and Akihabara, they’d rather be alone than go out and have to interact with non-otaku.

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When otaku get together, however, magical things can happen. Combine plenty of time to develop a talent with the undying passion and drive to see one’s dreams come true and we get things like the Daicon IV animation (And, eventually, Gainax). Not only do otaku interact with each other, bucking the conflation of “otaku” with “hikkikomori,” but groups of creative otaku can go on the create great things.