Hello! Also, Words About a Word
Hi everyone, my name is John Sato, and it looks like I’m the latest blogger to catch the Mushy bug! (Get it? ‘Cause a bug is like a virus, and “Mushy” sounds like “mushi” which is Japanese for “bug,” and. . .forget it.) I will supposedly be making the occasional post here on O-NEW, and since Mushy pretty much gave me free reign of topic, I guess you can probably expect something on anime, video games, and/or writing/grammar from me at some point.
Jumping right in to the post at hand, an otaku, for those of you who don’t know, is basically a huge fan of anime culture, probably on the adult side age-wise. The definition is a little more complex, of course, but for the most part, it’s basically the Japanese equivalent of a brony, if that helps (though bronies only apply to one show, whereas otaku are fans of any number). It’s a social stigmata: most otaku are already in or are entering adulthood, and yet they’re still watching cartoons. How weird is that? Cartoons are for kids. See, on either side of the Pacific, that seems to be the general thought process. Whether you’re in Japan or elsewhere, whether you’re called an otaku or a nerd or a brony, you are a cultural oddity. Obviously, the backlash and judgment differs from country to country, but in the end you’re the strange one, the one that’s different, no matter where you are. Mushy’s excellent post (yeah, I like O-NEW posts, I know I’m weird) from a couple of weeks ago went over some of this territory, so I feel that I don’t really need to discuss it any more here.
Here’s the weird thing about it, though; people brand themselves as otaku. Think about that for a second. People willingly give themselves a social stigma; they want to have it. Why? Why would someone intentionally want to be different (in a bad way)? I feel the answer lies in how you view the word. See, you can view “otaku” as an insult of sorts; I mean, it kind of is. But there are a couple of other ways you can look at the term, too. The first is as a challenge, of sorts. “I watch cartoons at 29, and I’m proud of it!” That kind of thing. By using it to identify yourself, you broadcast a message of your hobbies, and show you’re ready to stand up for them.
The second main view is in stark contrast to this conflict-ready approach, though I suppose they can also go hand in hand quite easily. By calling yourself an otaku, you’re telling everyone that you watch cartoons. That includes other otaku. You’re broadcasting an entirely different message. This one is sort of like, “Hey, you watch weird foreign cartoons? So do I! Don’t worry, I understand what it’s like.” You become part of a subculture, a community, whose purpose is more to build camaraderie and a sense of belonging than it is to actively defend the hobbies you share.
Either way, though, the thing that really interests me here is how the meaning of the word (or words, if you want to include the other terms) can change so drastically from person to person, even as the definition stays the same. An otaku is always an anime fan, no matter who says it. But whether it’s a positive term or a negative one depends almost entirely on how the speaker wants to use it.
tl;dr Otaku is a versatile word and oh lord Mushy is going to kill me I didn’t use capital letters for large amounts of this oh lord oh lord