2010: Podcast on Otaku Culture

Popular culture may be imploding in Japan, but this has been good news for the otaku. With not much competition from the trend-minded consumer habits of normal human beings, the otaku have become the most influential player in the market. The few cultural breakthroughs of the last few years have come from this long-standing subculture’s deep psychological need to interact with people in mediated ways, from obsessing over idol collectives, making songs powered by vocaloids, collecting toys, anonymously writing online about their newest favorite anime featuring little girls, and following every moment of Cooking Idol Main.

To get a better sense of what is going on lately in otaku culture, Marxy of Néojaponisme sat down with Patrick Macias — editor of Otaku USA and author of such books as Cruising the Anime City: An Otaku Guide to Neo Tokyo — and Matt Alt — author of Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide and Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws — in a cold basement, warmed only by the glow of an old kotatsu.

Listen to the hour-long discussion on the past, present, and future of otaku culture and what it means for us non-otaku.

Download: On Otaku: Marxy x Patrick Macias x Matt Altt
General Néojaponisme Podcast RSS Feed: .rss

Related Articles:
• Matt Alt translation of seminal 1980s article “What Kind of Otaku Are You”
• Matt Alt translation of seminal 1980s article “Can Otaku Love Like Normal People”
• Podcast with Patrick Macias on Japanese style and fashion: Harajuku Requiem
• Podcast with Patrick Macias on Japanese recessionary culture: The Tonkatsu Tapes

W. David MARX
December 16, 2010

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

13 Responses

  1. LS Says:

    I feel silly having to point this out, but FYI: Nausicaa wears pants. Seriously. They are just tan-colored.

  2. M-Bone Says:

    There was a huge and memorable debate about that on rec.arts.anime back in the day. The consensus was that she was wearing tan pants and you can see that is clearly the case in the early flight sequences. Depending on who was drawing her, however, it can end up looking pretty sketchy.

  3. Carl Says:

    It is good to put a check on some of the wilder claims that have been made on behalf of otaku culture and its “success,” but I wonder if measuring otaku against such figures as Zuckerberg or Gates properly reflects their respective cultural identities. Without diminishing their achievements, both of them were arguably American elites even before they built their businesses–they attended Harvard, after all. Also, Facebook and Microsoft created global platforms that can be and are used for individual cultural expression in (literally) a billion different ways. This is surely a very different societal impact than what an individual manga-ka or anime studio could expect when they create particular narrative works, even an exceptionally popular one such as Evangelion.

    On that score, Matt brought up Gainax’s Otaku no Video as an aspirational document of the otaku subculture, which I think is certainly correct (it is also, at the same time, a deliberately unflattering portrayal of otaku). One of the things that sets Gainax apart in the industry is that, beginning with Evangelion, they have insisted upon retaining a share in the merchandising rights to their anime as a condition of doing business with them; and while this hasn’t made them billionaires, it has certainly put their creators on better financial ground than other studios.

    The idea that anime and manga could improve Japan’s image in China is not outlandish–although I share your doubts as to this happening through any kind of formal diplomatic campaign. Several years ago, the BBC had a segment where they spoke to high school students in both countries to get the impressions each had of the other nation. All of the Chinese students spoke of Japan’s imperialist record against their country, but all of them also praised anime and manga, saying it was better than the Chinese equivalents.

    Americans, of all people, are in a position to understand the idea of one’s pop culture creating a favorable space that manages to co-exist even alongside generally unfavorable impressions of our defense policy or political culture. Again, this cannot be oversold by eager state departments or foreign ministries–the fact you may like American hip-hop doesn’t erase your feelings about America invading a country–but nevertheless pop culture can encourage a more nuanced view of a foreign society, and that does count for something.

    Regarding the rightist and misogynist identity of otaku, it is certainly worth noting that the recent Bill 156 in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly was opposed not by the conservative parties, but by the Communist and Seikatsusha factions, both of whom have a good record for female political participation. Racist and sexist remarks seen on the net should be evaluated with caution as to their larger significance; it may be like taking /b/tards as representative of American geeks.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    I agree that otaku misogyny on the net is not reflective of all otaku. The openly misogynistic Alfalfa Mosaic does have a central role in internet otaku culture, but this is more about how little the net means for Japanese culture compared to the U.S., where most cultural expression is now “on the grid” or at least reflected/reported online.

  5. M-Bone Says:

    I was not sure about commenting on podcasts, but since Carl got the ball rolling in a big way, I have a few comments about Evangelion –

    I’m not sure that you can position Eva as a “Japanese” revival in anime. Let’s not forget that the ending theme was the all English “Fly Me to the Moon”. In addition, on the border of the beginning of the age of (often canned) Shinto imagery in anime (Mononoke, Gasaraki, Sen to Chihiro, Air) we have Eva sticking by the often bizarre Kabbalah stuff. Finally, Eva’s strongest influences would have to include “Childhood’s End” (maybe via Idion) and “2001” and the prolific use of classical music in the series give it some serious internationalist links. More clear ones than Nadia in some ways.

    I saw the kanji numbers and whatnot as a part of the show’s nerdy refs to old Japanese navy stuff (the names of the characters are mostly WWII ships). The use of lots of katakana also fits with the old military theme.

  6. LS Says:

    Re: Eva

    Also, didn’t Anno say he was really into Jungian psychology when he made it? What’s more Western than psychoanalysis?

  7. W. David MARX Says:

    I assume that most anime creators are equally influenced by Japanese and international culture, but the otaku in particular are consumers of domestic goods rather than the very internationally-minded purchases of the 1980s and 1990s o-share scene.

  8. M-Bone Says:

    Back to otaku no video – there is a scene early on where the main character (Kubo)’s drift into otakuhood is foreshadowed by his apathy to his oshare group’s interest in Saabs and lining up for 6 hours to get Boathouse hoodies.

    Haven’t otaku always been like this?

    Eva doesn’t seem like a particularly direct turning point in the Japan-centrism of otaku.

    It is also possible to find more worldy otaku examples over the last few years – this generation of American games has done better in Japan than any other, a recent boom in Chinese Three Kingdoms stuff, Kamiyama’s “Eden of the East” is one of the most America influenced anime ever done (aesthetics, theme, setting).

  9. W. David MARX Says:

    No, I agree that otaku have always been a domestic-centric subculture. It’d be interesting to see if there are any more examples of this oshare vs. otaku as a “socialized people” vs. “unsocialized” construct.

  10. M-Bone Says:

    The recent show “Kurage-hime” puts a bunch of female otaku against “osahre ningen” and actually has an attempt to osahre them up, take them out to stylish restaurants, etc. It has a rather unironic makeover tone but also embraces the idea that “oshare ningen” are made while otaku are born.

  11. Anymouse Says:

    I am wondering if you ever find any political messages in Moe comics or animation. Embrace of Pedophilia seems to be inherently non conservative, but glorification of traditional gender roles seems to be very conservative. Are there any shows where you can find a right wing message, or is it only on the blogs where they utter such things? Air seems to be somewhat anti imperialist, and it was quite a hit. In it it is the emperors forces that are responsible for the curse that dooms the the heroine. I can not find that to be a particularly right wing message. I found it rather surprising that they can embrace such right wing politics while at the same time maintain such an individualist attitude towards personal life. I suppose they are just one more example of societies contradictions.

  12. W. David MARX Says:

    Let’s not call it the clinical pedophila and say it’s more of a “socialized preference of little girls” that is 100% related to the need of men to dominate women in order to have any sort of relationship with them. This is deeply, deeply conservative. And since these men cannot dominate women their own age anymore (because the 21st century is upon us, among other things), they have to create a world of little girls who call them “big brother.”

  13. Anymouse Says:

    Although this might be a little off topic I just want to say:
    IOSYS: How cool is that?