The translation following this essay dates from December 1983. It appeared in the pages of Manga Burikko — the same magazine in which Nakamori Akio first introduced the term “otaku” to the world. For this third and final installment of the magazine’s notorious “Otaku Research” series, Nakamori is replaced by a psuedonymous writer “Ejisonta,” who maintains his predecessor’s tone of gleeful disdain for the magazine’s core readership.
Manga Burikko was (and is) a soft-core porn manga magazine dedicated to “lolicon” — a sub-genre of anime and manga featuring illustrations of what appear to be pre-pubescent girls in compromising situations. While this may sound royally gross to detractors, of which there are a great many (including, not incidentally, me), it’s important to note that lolicon doesn’t involve actual children. Rather, it’s a fetishization of girlish naivete and innocence, as played out in fictional stories featuring little girls. Photography of or contact with real children is not an accepted part of the “scene.” (In fact, Burikko readers actually demanded that editors remove photographs of teenaged gravure idols from the pages of the magazine. Like Japan turning its back on gunpowder in the 17th century, this has to be the only case in human history of teenage boys clamoring for less skin in a skin mag.)
Lolicon remains a controversial subject even today; it is one of the targets of Tokyo Mayor Ishihara Shintaro’s much-debated Bill 156, which aims to keep portrayals of “non-existent youth” engaged in “harmful fictional sex” out of mainstream magazines and non-adult bookstores. One of the fascinating things about Ejisona’s essay is how clearly it illustrates that this tension among creators, consumers, and detractors is nothing new.
The most surprising part of the Otaku Research series may be that that Ejisonta and Nakamori’s broadsides ran in the pages of a magazine dedicated to the very same topic they were lambasting. But appearances can be deceiving. Nakamori and Ejisonta seem to revel in the “bad taste” of the genre; they never once question the value or morality of lolicon itself. The line they draw in the sand is between people such as themselves, who indulge while realizing just how fundamentally misanthropic lolicon is, and those who through naivete or a lack of social graces consume it exclusively, unquestioningly, and obsessively to the further detriment of the social lives that led them to lolicon in the first place.
As you might expect, this provocative stance didn’t exactly endear them to the Burikko readership. Outrage from readers culminated in the editor forbidding Nakamori from using “otaku” in the pages of the magazine, essentially killing the column six months after it had began. (Nakamori’s parting salvo is the stuff of legend; stay tuned for a translation soon.)
Ejisonta’s essay links the obsession with lolicon to a point only obliquely referred to in previous installments: the otaku’s defiant refusal to grow up and join the ranks of society. Lionizing the supposed innocence and open-mindedness of youth as a foil to adulthood is hardly limited to the otaku. In fact, it was a globally debated aspect of most subcultures during this period.
In a 1978 interview, punk rocker Richard Hell declared that “the extent to which you maintain the attitude you had as a teenager is the extent to which you remain alive.” To this critic Lester Bangs retorted “adolescence is one of the WORST parts of life… when the fun you have always seems to be tempered by some kind of stupid bullshit.” As you will see, Ejisonta takes Bangs’ side in this debate.
Clearly it’s a stretch to link punks and otaku; punks were all about giving the finger to the mainstream in the most obnoxious way possible, whereas otaku were passive rebels, content simply to shirk their obligations to society. Yet there are intriguing similarities between the two subcultures. Like the punks, the otaku were portrayed as a public menace in their heyday, lumped in with the likes of serial killers and marginalized to the point where “otaku” became a discriminatory epithet. Public broadcaster NHK only lifted its prohibition on using the word on-air quite recently, in 2008.
In another odd similarity, the otaku have been co-opted and re-packaged by the mainstream in the form of the government’s Cool Japan campaign — much like punk rock merged into the Cool Britannia narrative. These social misfits, who dedicated body and soul to dropping out of society, have now become ambassadors of Japanese culture abroad.
But here’s where the punk-otaku analogy breaks down. Whatever punk’s merits or demerits, gender segregation and lolita complexes weren’t really part of the package. Much as Japanese government PR wonks would probably wish otherwise, from the very beginning a major subset of the otaku have always preferred two-dimensional characters over actual human relationships.
Technology has only amplified the escapism that outraged Ejisonta and Nakamori. Modern otaku culture is increasingly less about nostalgically clinging to the anime, manga, or toys of one’s youth, and more about a single-minded obsession for simulations of little girls in tender fetishwear. Lolicon never went away; it blossomed into the trend now known as “moé.” Little did Ejisonta and Nakamori realize that their allusions to this superdeformed sexuality were merely a preview of things to come: an (economically) apocalyptic future in which the lolicon otaku represent the last saviors of a crumbling consumer kingdom.
“Otona Club” (“Adult Club”) Corner
(Originally Published in Manga Burikko, December 1983)
“I don’t want to grow up.”
That was the particular catch-copy for a certain famed manga club, but the phrase perfectly captures the essence of the manga maniac. Manga maniacs and anime fans both (come to think of it, “maniac” feels too heavy while “fan” feels too vanilla) are infatuated with “lolicon,” refusing to mature, interested only in maintaining psychological stasis. All of us feel this to a certain degree — you, me, the presidents of major corporations, everybody. But the urge is far stronger amongst the otaku. Point out this desire for stasis to one of them, and they inevitably over-react as though you’ve picked a decade-old scar, occasionally launching into impassioned ideological tirades as to why refusing to grow up is so important.
This is why they remain in the manga/anime cultural sphere, maintaining a mid-teen level mindset and sensibility, reacting to adults who happen to penetrate from time to time with a “please leave us alone.” I’m sure they feel that their child-like mindset gives them a purer view of the world, but that is total fantasy. The way they see the world couldn’t be further from that of childhood or even puberty. Sure, the elderly always wax nostalgic for the glory of their teen years, but that’s only a desire for renewed vitality.
In reality puberty is a very difficult time. Old enough to be sexually aware, but too green to actually pull off the foreplay needed to be sexually successful. Normally one twists and turns and grows and gradually approaches “real” adulthood, but the otaku are different. Mentally, they completely refuse to vector themselves towards maturity. What remains is immature self-assertiveness, immature thinking — effectively speaking, immature everything.
Come on, your teen years aren’t really worth clinging to! Sure, we’ve all experienced the phenomenon of stumbling on some deep idea the creators embedded in their manga or anime. That sort of thing can be enlightening. But the more tenaciously you cling to that period in your life the less you’ll actually grow up. And all of us have to grow up sometime.
Let’s look at a real-world problem: you! Reading this lolicon-mag with a huge-ass grin on your face. Take a look in the mirror. You know you’re gross. Jerking off to stuff like this is nothing to be proud of.
This is why sad little children can’t resist clumping together with other “different kids” and transform themselves into otaku cliques. But as a famous lolicon manga artist once said: “Even otaku boys have a chance to meet girls, so don’t lock yourselves up in the dark. Go out and make friends!” Damn straight.
No man can live his life in a bubble. Everyone has to grow up sometime. It’s how you carry yourself that gets you through the trials of society. You can hang on to that childish sense of wonder throughout that, if you want. Maybe that’s even purer and clearer than a vague and uncompromising otaku worldview.
That’s the grown-up way of looking at things. This is “Otona Club,” after all.