Dean Talks Anime: The Hard Truths of Otakudom
(As presented by Gainax)
An Opinion by Christopher Kinsey
Otaku. Oh we like to dress up that word so much. Our literal translation for the word is “Obsessed Fanboy”. We paint it different colors, we analyze Japanese culture, and we point out how someone could be an otaku about anything. It doesn’t change one simple fact.
When the term is used, it’s implied that the word’s target is a loser.
Oh sure, we’ve had our fun with English terms for the bookish outcasts with special hobbies. “Nerd” and “Geek” are at an all-time marketable high. Put zombies on anything and you will make bajillions of dollars. Put super heroes on the big screen make all the money in every developed country ever. So far the geeks have inherited the earth, within certain mainstream tolerances of course.
But Japan is slower to change. Well, scratch that. Japan is slower to acknowledge change. In Japan manga’s been a tradition for a long, long time. Comics are so prevalent that some textbooks are given a full comic book style treatment to engage students. But outside of that it’s still pretty shameful to be a person of a certain age and still associating yourself with cartoons. And the current state of anime certainly hasn’t helped that conception. With a solid 70-90% of new anime series being waifu mills it’s easy to see the anime fan as the lonely dude who spends his waking hours sitting uselessly in a dark room dreaming of a better world, then masturbating to the women he envisions in that world.
But Japanese fandom has some bright success stories outside the venerated manga artists. There are stories of fans that made garage kits (small run plastic molded models made by fans for models that have never existed) becoming great toy designers, prop makers and special effect artists for television and movies. Airsoft fans became members of the police and self-defense forces. But the big tale of “Otaku who made good” comes in the form of everyone’s most loved and hated anime production house, Gainax.
Gainax could be seen as the dream of anyone in Japan who really loves animation growing up and says; with some planning and a little hard work you too can make your dreams come alive. Forget all the mismanaged money, stupid endings, and the continuing debate on how anime breasts bounce. For good and ill, Gainax is a company that was born of fandom and it shows. These days when Gainax is attached to a project there is always debate and moans of unease. But back in the day they had this little gem that showed anime fandom at its highs and its lows. That anime was Otaku No Video.
Back in the day this 2 episode OVA was two stories in one. The animated portions showed a bright and fun side of anime fandom. That can-do attitude where your only limitation is your will to surf the wave of nerd-dom in the face of what society wants out of you. The animation shows an idealized rise of a small anime company out of fandom itself. Everyone in the fandom is a little weird, but certainly are some of the best friends and colleagues you’ll ever have. Everything is sunshine, rainbows and when you have tough times, you’ll pull yourself together until that fateful day technology catches up to your wild imagination and you can blast off into space and be young and idealistic forever. Yay!
But, the real meat from this series is in the faux interviews. These live action segments are more telling of Japan’s relationship with its nerds more than anything else I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s exaggerated but it’s often proven true that there’s more truth in comedy that any other form of entertainment. Each of these segments involves someone either suffering because of their involvement in fandom, or embarrassed from being a part of it some time ago. I’ve decided to re-watch these segments and see how they relate to anime fans not just then, but now.
Part One: Tamatani Junichi
We are introduced to Junichi as he smokes away at what I’m assuming is a restaurant since I can see a nice assortment of arranged condiments nearby. The voice is changed and the eyes are blurred, as they are in most of these segments. I understand the humor of wanting to hide their years as an otaku as shameful, but changing the voices is a touch too much and very distracting. The sins he lays out are watching anime with a group of friends, writing science fiction scripts together and publishing some fanzines. This in and of itself isn’t too bad. Even in the US an ashcan comic, fanzine or hobby website is a fine thing. However, he then talks that within the group were people researching things like animation, comic book creation, Lolita complex studies, examinations of sailor suit style girl’s uniforms and research into giant rubber monster suit special effects. Wait, back up. Pretty much several members of this sci-fi club broke off into groups to harvest tropes of fetishes. They would be up all hours of the night drinking and debating about all of these parts of the group. He is then asked if he has any “real” friends. Junichi gets a little pissed off at this notion that his sci-fi group aren’t “real” friends, and rightfully so. He gets a little wistful and nostalgic for the fun he had in the group. And that’s pretty common for when we look back at any hobby we had when younger. But as it turns out, he dropped out of college.
Comedy is a cruel mirror in which we judge ourselves. This interview is one of the tamer, but it’s blatantly telling us that on the surface of the anime and science fiction clubs of Japan dwell perverted fetishists. Members of these clubs have a shelf life for “friends” that rarely lasts outside of college. And on top of all that, these obsessions cut into your college life enough that you don’t even graduate. Don’t get me wrong, in college I stayed up too late for school work, real work, or even nerdy pursuits with friends. But to treat fandom as a destroyer of academic pursuits? I can’t claim that it’s never happened, but at least a cursory glance at Japanese news about the subject tells me that most college dropouts are universally about money issues. Either you believe starting in the work force will help you more, or there is no money for your continued education. If watching cartoons late into the night during college led to an increased dropout rate, well we’d have nobody beyond a high school degree after Cartoon Network brought out Adult Swim.
Part Two: Ikuta Yuudai
This story is more along the lines of shame. He’s a computer programmer who claimed he was in an audio club, read fanzines and watched some anime. But you know, these days he’s cool man. All about the computers. Yesirree. But the interview takes a turn when they bring up cosplay. They have a fanzine and photos of Ikuta cosplaying, and while he’s revolted at having this shame brought back to him, he still keeps a Char Aznabel helmet in his desk and quotes a line in his own defense. “One does not care to acknowledge the mistakes of one’s youth.”
Now I’m not a big Gundam fan, but shame? Yeah an ounce of shame can produce introspection. Too much is bad, but a little bit greases the wheels of society. While I do loathe a lot of the zombie, comic book movie, video game-sploitation and me-too-ism of American nerd-dom while what you wear out in public may induce cringe and we may comment on it, society at large does not care what you do. So your shame may be that little bit of grease that inspires you to be a better, well rounded person. But in Japan you have society making you hide your “freak flag” 24/7 or else prepare for a good old fashioned shun from anyone you know and love.
Part Three: Harold Shioda
In a room filled with video tapes and anime posters a chubby man claims “Oh no, this isn’t a lot of tapes, really.” But in the next breath he admits that he does have a collection of rare commercials. As it turns out, he doesn’t watch what he records. He just wants a perfect collection of material. He didn’t even collect all the material, he trades around for it. He even has it down to a science where he knows when a certain rare commercial will air. He accepts a phone call in the middle of the interview, and preps a tape to record. As it turns out, “Harold” has traveled to the USA to find the ultimate VHS collection. Perhaps he has found Red Letter Media by now and sits amongst the gods.
Otaku almost literally translates to “Obsessed fan”. But this is the example of the extreme. Honestly it’s the weakest “Bit” in this comedy. One man spends his life recording everything but not even experiencing viewing it. I can’t even equate this with anything. It’s not a commentary on being a NEET. It’s just a one note joke that defines nothing.
Part Four: Mamiya Kenji
I’m not one to guess “Who related to Gainax is in this bit” but this dude has to be Kenichi Sonoda. The evidence checks out. Who else has that many accurate airsoft guns in the Gainax stable? Also he has on camo face paint, so he doesn’t have his face pixelated. Anyway, this segment is about the gun nuts of Japan. They comment how real it seems, and they are decked out in some serious gear and realistic looking guns. They try to hook him when there is a comment about how his personal gun is souped up, and it could easily kill small critters. Then if Mamiya finds the idea of killing a person is exciting, it’s more about the guns and how cool a gun is. The fact a gun is an equalizer between the weak and strong, but at the same time he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but airsoft is pretty fun.
Unlike a lot of the other segments, this one seems to have a lot of heart behind it. People who like guns are always told it must be because of a desire or fantasy to kill. Well guns have been banned in Japan for so long, it’s hard to really say the thrill comes from killing. People who enjoy airsoft, paintball and other sports that involve “Near guns” are painted as demented folks who can’t wait to hold a real gun. But this segment seems heartfelt in dispelling that. Survival sports in Japan have been on the downswing for a long time, I can’t find anything on the sport in Japan recently. But there is an undeniable appeal in guns, and if there is a safe outlet to mess with them well more power to them.
Part Five: Mr. “A”
With a name this anonymous, it has to be good. This is one of my favorite of the interviews. The entire time Mr. A is turned from the camera and continuously masturbating while an adult film plays in front of him. He’s an assistant recording engineer and has worked on in his spare time a pair of glasses that can beat Japan’s censorship of pornography. Pixels, begone! Oh yeah, he’s a virgin. Let’s make sure that’s emphasized. Loves it, ain’t had it. Sad trombone.
“The two dimensional world, the screen can show me things that satisfy me plenty” says our protagonist. Over the years how long has this been the battlecry of the dateless, the insecure, and the put upon in love? Instead of trying to improve the self they give up and just nab a 2D waifu. The phenomenon was a joke in the 80s and 90s. Emphasis on was. With the internet we can now know who has this problem because somehow if there are legions of people who have given up on dating real women have decided that dreaming and porn are a substitute for a human relationship. This scene is almost prophetic. Every nerd connected anonymously trading who, what and how to masturbate to something to fill the void in the soul where love should be. Cyberpunk dystopia at its finest.
Part Six: Sato Hiroshi
Panning over a messy room filled with magazines, model kits and of course garbage. He’s a magazine editor, and busily working on a model. He extols the virtues of being a garage kit builder. Unlike collectors, you actually have to build these models, and if you can’t find what you want you build your own. Fair enough. But then he goes into the creepy level. He claims how his sculptures accentuate how he feels about the characters. Especially if it’s a lady character he takes “Special care” of the “parts” he likes best. In essence, he’s building the perfect girlfriend.
Paired with the last segment, this is the same issue. It’s sad to think that Japanese nerds are so mired and loveless. This is a clear problem in Japan. Declining birth rates, unhealthy attitudes about sex, and more just makes the stigma of being a nerd that much more reflected in anyone’s quest for love. So why do the nerds of Japan give up? Society-wise, there is an easy out. If that means building your own resin model kits in your one room apartment and dreaming of a fictional woman, then so be it. Mark my words, have a sexual revolution in Japan and the amount of creepy stuff coming out of it will decrease overnight
Part Seven: Shon Hernandez
Now we meet what the otaku of old thought of the American anime fan. He’s a missionary in a cramped dorm looking room. Reading a Japanese magazine he felt moved by God himself to move to Japan. As such he has sold everything he owns and uses any money he gathers in Japan on Japanese merchandise. He loves Lum because it’s a different take on imagining a devil woman than an American comic book would handle it. Oh if only he was born as a Japanese person. Then he would have the perfect life.
I think most American anime fans had that dream. If only they went to Japan, things would finally be right. Finally, a country where people are polite to you. And look at how they make all these cool things! There was a dream, that as an American all you had to do was show up and Japan would be nothing but great to you. When it comes to American anime fans, I tend to find this is a phase. In some it lasts longer than others, but with education and learning more about the downsides of Japanese culture you find it might be a nice place to visit but living in japan as a foreigner might not be that great.
Part Eight: Akabori Osamu
Hideaki Anno, I know it’s you fella. Another dirty room filled with posters, magazines and in this case computer game boxes. On a smudged up, anime sticker encrusted PC is a girl in a state of undress. This fellow really enjoys his dating sim. He can’t take his eyes off it the entire interview. Watch as he evades every question on the quality of his life with how cute the character he’s undressing is.
Three times this series makes the same observation. The show “Big Bang Theory” has three jokes. You are such a nerd, you never have sex, you are awkward in public. The fact this series has two callbacks to the idea of the dateless loser means that were this a comedy series it would have the exact same three jokes. While this series is a love letter to fandom, it is a death threat to anyone who dares to love a real woman. Food for thought, but are there really nerd cliques who deride members who successfully find someone to date? Do they exist? For all the nerdy stuff I’m into I not only have raised a family myself, but someone was always in a relationship in the groups I’ve been in. Some were in the fandoms, some weren’t. Who are these über nerds who shun love for falsehoods? Why haven’t we bred this trait out of the species yet?
Part Nine: Murayama Akira
This is a largely gone phenomenon. This fellow steals animation cels and production art then sells them to nerds. But he does have a code and a duty to animation, he only steals them after they’ve been used.
With most production on computers now of days, you can’t get original art for anything animated anymore. But I can’t say that this kind of culture doesn’t exist. Walk through any convention and you’ll find knock offs, broken up sets and other practices designed to turn a $30 piece of anime merchandise into a triple payoff. But business is business and it’s not outright theft. Still, you have to grumble at it. It’s the foundation of being a good consumer.
Part Ten: A Real Otaku
So, the camera crew stalks down a dude with a shopping bag with Ranma ½ images proudly displayed on it. As he’s chased he runs into his apartment never to be seen again. Comedy!
The stereotypical anime nerd has been done no favors on either side of the Pacific. With a proliferation of more and more titles catering to the very people and lifestyles we should be actively discouraging, it feels like a losing battle. Why is it suddenly OK with regulating yourself to a kind of second class citizen when all you’re doing is watching some cartoons? You don’t have to belong to the losers. You don’t have to print out a special NEET beta badge and declare that how unpopular you are is the one thing keeping you from happiness. Keep yourself in check with the idea that being an Otaku is cool. It’s not. It shouldn’t be. Nothing in your life should consume it to the point of an addiction. While fantasy is healthy for the mind and a human’s condition, balance it with actually living the rest of that life.
When you can understand what Otaku means to so many people outside of the fandom, perhaps that’s when you take off that label and put back on your own name. Because you’re not just an obsessed geek, you define yourself through everything you do. So do more.
Dean The Adequate recommends any time you declare yourself an “Otaku” you do yourself a favor and think of all the things you do every day that has nothing to do with your fandoms. The 90s were unkind and people who lost themselves in a fantasy world were forced into crude VR machines doomed into the hell they create for themselves. Well now the VR machines can be bought, and you can have sex with them. We’re buying our own hell. WE’RE BUYING OUR OWN HELL PEOPLE! -Paid for by Facebook’s Oculus Rift.