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On that OTAK Otaku Certification Exam...


As reported in the news media, the “Akiba-kei” magazine Elfics is holding the first “otaku” certification exam, OTAK. For those interested in taking the take-home test, the question booklet is included in this month’s issue, between the anime-parodies and forty pages of erotic sci-fi art. (These artists seem to be tackling sex in same fantastical, non-empirical way as Robert Heinlein or Arthur C. Clarke wrote about the moon without ever actually traveling there.)

I would not normally have this genre of literature in my home if it were not for the fact that a serious, respectable American magazine requested a translation of the test booklet. Unfortunately for the editors, the exam is not as unintentionally funny as they imagined, but I did manage to find something quite interesting in the process of translating the test.

The OTAK is about 1/3 parody of Japanese test-taking (juken) culture, 1/3 honest attempt at knowledge certification, and 1/3 soapbox for the leaders of the Akihabara Otaku Rights movement. While the AOR does not technically exist, something like it seems to be bubbling up. In the first section about the origin of the term “otaku,” one of the written passages specifically calls out Densha Otoko as a “fake” otaku trend — created by the mass-media and not an “authentic” part of otaku culture. Apparently, the exam authors are incensed by the recent media attempts to make otaku “cool” for the masses, which ultimately takes away the central taste-making authority from the subcultural leaders. First Densha Otoko, next maid costumes on network television, then drawing dirty pictures of prepubescent girls will in danger of being normal. How dismal this future. Keep your eyes on the prize, boys.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
August 17, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

12 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    In other news, CBGBs is being closed down.

    Man, I liked being an Otaku before it sold out. Back when Otaku just meant hand copied manga of the Ramones tentacle raping a 12 year old with a guitar, not some dork on TV getting a girl and shopping at Hot Topic.

  2. Momus Says:

    The future would indeed be dismal every time things changed if people didn’t come up with new stuff. Even as CBGBs closes and otaku becomes just some guy on a train, new rock clubs and new ways to be a retarded asocial loser are being invented somewhere.

  3. marxy Says:

    Well, everything on the margins eventually gets swallowed up by the pop culture beast, but I think that there appears to be superficial differences between co-opting a relatively anti-social subculture like hip hop or punk – which are alternative versions of “cool” and operating on the same logic – and co-opting an anti-cool subculture like the otaku – who are geeks essentially pushed out of the system. When the media champions the Densha Otoko etc., it tends to validate certain elements of this culture without actually vindicating the original participants, robbing them of their symbols without even giving a temporary social boost in return.

    I lived through grunge, and even as manufactured and small as that was as a social “movement,” it absolutely turned my whole middle-school social order upside down. Suddenly the introspective kids were cool, and not the proto-jocks. Baseball trophies went out the window for bass guitars. I’m not sure otaku are enjoying the fake culture created about/for them (like Densha Otoko) nor are they reaping any benefits out of the spotlight.

    One look at Elfics, however, will pretty much prove that they are in no danger of normalization.

  4. guest Says:

    Yes, some otaku are pretty put off by Densha Otoko, and have interesting things to say about it:

    “(Densha Otoko) is an otaku’s surrender to ‘love capitalism.’ … Since the 1980s, love has become a consumption item.”
    -otaku writer Toru Honda, interviewed here:

    I hate to tell him, but love has been a consumption item for a lot longer than that. It’s unfortunate that this guy has something against the “makeinu” single career women who have been in the news recently. In a way, you’d think they’d have common cause, as the rejection of “love for sale” is implicit in the makeinu lifestyle. If this guy would deepen his critique past the bubble economy, he’d be in Marxist-Feminist territory. And of course, if otaku, makeinu, freeters, yankii, etc realized the commonality of their alienation, then we’d really be getting somewhere!

    On a similar note, this article makes a particularly illuminating comparison of “worker’s masochism,” the “healing” boom, and the goth-lolita scene:

    I can’t help but agree when the author points out the missing element of universality in personal torment, which prevents the critical turn to the question “Who put me in this situation?”

  5. Chris_B Says:

    guest wonders “Who put me in this situation?”

    Chris_B replies: its the ultimate question of adolesence isnt it?

    In other news, Carl, Marxy and Momus said all I’d want to or need to say about the rest of this.

  6. guest Says:

    Who is “the man?”

    Of course the answer is “no one” (or rather, “everyone”), I didn’t mean to imply a more instrumental answer.

    Well, actually, I guess I did, but I like to indulge in some contradiction now and then…

  7. guest Says:

    Or how’s this for a way to hedge my bets (I do get to find out the real answer when I get to heaven, right)?

    “The man” is everyone, but some of us more than others, depending on the circumstances.

  8. Køunt Says:

    i recon the 12 year old girl is “the man”. she’s managed to escape the Ramones tentacle, bought her own guitar and is prowling the streets of Akihabara, looking for easy otaku prey… whilst wondering “who put me into this situation?”

    you better watch out

    you better not shout

  9. Carl Says:

    In today’s Japan Times, the Kotoba culture section explains the words “Densha Otoko” by saying, “…’Train Man’ is a fictional story in which a twentyish otaku (geek)…” Heh, oops! JT forgot to toe the line on that one.

  10. MrGado Says:

    Damnit! I knew I forgot to buy something…
    thanks for the reminder ^_^

  11. kewldevice Says:


    They’re taking over.

  12. guest Says:

    Chris: I was so distracted by my desire to pontificate on the answer to what you called “the ultimate question of adolescence” (revealing where my own development has stalled) that I completely abandoned my original point, which was precisely that the question “Who put me in this situation?” is NOT the ultimate question of Japanese adolescents, according to the author of the article. I think this says something very telling about the diversity of social constructions of adolescence, and it relates directly to what I was saying on an earlier thread about unquestioning adherence to the values of gaman/ganbaru.