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Otaku, Cat Ears, and AKB48


From Azuma Hiroki’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals:

Many of the otaku today who consume adult comics and “girl games” probably separate [genital needs and subjective “sexuality”]; and their genitals simply and animalistically grew accustomed to being stimulated by perverted images. Since they were teenagers, they had been exposed to innumerable otaku sexual expressions: at some point, they were trained to sexually stimulated by looking at illustrations of girls, cat ears, and maid outfits. However, anyone can grasp that kind of stimulation if they are similarly trained, since it is essentially a matter of nerves. (89)


Recent pictures of AKB48 (scroll down).

W. David MARX
December 5, 2011

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

20 Responses

  1. zoltan Says:

    Best part about this or i guess it be ironic, Hiroki Azuma actually kinda likes AKB48,!/hazuma/status/138810430268256257

  2. M-Bone Says:

    Since Doubutsu, Azuma has flat out claimed that otaku / loli is a unique wellspring of Japanese creativity, that light novel form is the evolution of a new form of literature, that foreigners can’t understand otaku culture, that otaku culture is like zen and monodukuri, and celebrates animalized reactions as fulfillment of the postmodern human condition, and so on. How could he not like AKB48?

    Did you guys also note how Azuma lost his shit right after the earthquake?

    “The Japanese are an unfortunate people who have rarely felt pride in their country or government since the defeat in World War II.”

    “Only recently the Japanese people and the government were seen as indecisive and selfish, muddled with complaints and bickering. But now, they are boldly trying to defend the nation together, as if they are a changed people.”

    Not only are both of these statements silly (Nobody in Japan felt proud economic nationalism in the 1980s? Hasn’t he ever watched Project X? ; Japan’s response to the quake was amazing in many ways but political vision wasn’t one of them), they sound like clips from from Kokka no Hinkaku.

  3. zoltan Says:

    OMG! Are we on the same wavelength M-Bone?
    *Bro fistpump*

    I think you took that from genron

    He has that elite Tokyoites vibe in his this particular writing.

  4. M-Bone Says:

    Even if we disagree on a point, if we’re commenting on this site we’re probably on the same wavelength about a lot. *knucks*

    Actually, I was quoting his NYT op-ed, it looks like he has qualified it a bit in the months since. Good for him.

  5. M-Bone Says:

    Key otaku passage from the Genron piece –

    “In the past few years in Japan, a new form of discourse called “criticism of the 2000s” emerged as if to resist this reality. It was led by a generation of critics in their early thirties or younger, such as Tsunehiro Uno and Satoshi Hamano (the former contributed an article for the last issue of Shisouchizu beta). The core of their contention, in short, was that since entrepreneurs with an annual income of three hundred million yen and contract workers earning three million yen were just the same in terms of being an otaku, just the same in their feverish enthusiasm for AKB48 and in the way they had fun watching Nico Nico Douga videos, that was where the possibility of a “new solidarity” should be sought. This is to say that the “criticism of the 2000s” was nothing but an attempt to recover somehow the view that “everyone-is-the-same” as society became substantially fragmented. Because of this, even though on the surface their discourse presented pop culture analysis or Internet service analysis, it was received as having a unique political implication. Needless to say, I have been supporting their vision.”

  6. Anymouse Says:

    You have seen the photos, now play the game.

  7. Anymouse Says:

    It is nice he is not like some of the amateur theorists who dive into the whole “Otaku equals Edo period” shtick.

  8. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    Kind of a cheap shot, isn’t it? I mean, I’d think by now it’s pretty clear to everyone that nekomimi, maid uniform &c. are otaku sexual fetishes, and that AKB caters to such fetishes.

    I wonder if we’ll eventually see apparently-mainstream pop groups like AKB selling to more fringe fetishes, like 男の娘 or マゾ or 腐女子 tastes (or do we already have those?)

  9. W. David MARX Says:

    Azuma makes it seem Pavlovian: Condition Otaku libido with “moe element” –> Sell Otaku things by providing them with that moe element

  10. Carl Says:

    Yeah, but the cat ears thing is from the Heavy Rotation video, right? You linked to that video in your 5 part series, so I watched part of it, and it starts with a big ol’ pile of girls floundering about in corsets and stockings. Of course, corsets and stockings are also fetish wear, but let’s think about their origins. Corsets and stockings used to be more or less normal underwear, then they got associated with burlesque and from there to the other fetish scenes (Betty Paige, I suppose). If Heavy Rotation had just had the girls in corsets but not cat ears, would it have been any less sexually provocative or “perverse”? Of course not.

    Cat ears and maid outfits are a new fetish, but selling sex is just what capitalism does. It seems weird to get mad about the specifics of what kind of sex is being sold rather than the commodification of love per se. SNSD, for example, while much leggier and possibly more “mature” than their Japanese counterparts are also just a means for commoditizing a sanitized form of sex appeal.

    Speaking of SNSD, I think I’m kind of confused about part of the thesis here. If the point is that normal Japanese middle class people don’t buy anything anymore, how are SNSD selling records in Japan? The 2ch crowd are racist against Koreans and scared of the long legs of SNSD, so it’s gotta be normal people who are buying their records. But if normal people can be sold to, why is no one in Japan doing the selling? Is the non-perverted middle class dead or not?

  11. W. David MARX Says:

    If Heavy Rotation had just had the girls in corsets but not cat ears, would it have been any less sexually provocative or “perverse”? Of course not.

    Not but it could have been confused as a sex video for everyone. The cat ears are a cultural signifier — a “shout-out” — to otaku fans (i.e., their core audience).

    selling sex is just what capitalism does

    Yes, but the battle between artistry and Pavlovian capitalism plays out in the degree to which the sexual desires are subtle or obvious. AKB48 — compared to Shiina Ringo or Supercar, etc. — does not have a lot going for it musically or artistically and finds it appeal in sexual desire. You could argue that a singer like Ayaka has a “sex appeal” but that’s not necessarily why she appeals to a female audience. There was a music market with non-sexual artists and singers that made a lot of money. But maybe “capitalism” (i.e., the record industry) appeals to sex when the appeal to musicality or artistry has run dry.

    If the point is that normal Japanese middle class people don’t buy anything anymore, how are SNSD selling records in Japan?

    I would think of it as a three step process:

    Stage 1: Mainstream consumers stop buying content, industry starts catering to otaku who do buy content
    Stage 2: Mainstream consumers even more exasperated by otaku-focused content and have latent demand for something not in the market
    Stage 3: SNSD appears, mainstream consumers find something appealing in it, buy it

    That being said, SNSD is still not selling as well as AKB48.

  12. Anymouse Says:

    “I wonder if we’ll eventually see apparently-mainstream pop groups like AKB selling to more fringe fetishes, like 男の娘 or マゾ or 腐女子 tastes (or do we already have those?)”
    Not enough I say. With tongue in cheek.

    Am I the only person who has to wait for approval if I post a link or is that a standard feature of the Spam Detection system?

  13. Anymouse Says:

    Apparently it’s not just when I post a link.

  14. W. David MARX Says:

    I don’t know how this spam filter works. Links definitely trigger it, but I try to approve as quickly as possible.

  15. M-Bone Says:

    I think that quoting from other comments or posting several times in quick succession tends to do it.

  16. Anymouse Says:

    It seems to work well. I have never seen the 20 pages of Viagra ads appear here. Or AKB48 ads.

  17. W. David MARX Says:

    Dudes in cat ears?

  18. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    Well, néojaponisme is my foremost (and only) source of information on AKB, so in a sense the journal itself is a great venue of mouth-to-mouth AKB48 advertising for a certain very specific niche :) It makes me more likely, for example, to watch AKB48 videos (to criticize, etc); perhaps even to buy cat ears or something (ironically, of course).

  19. Anymouse Says:

    I Ironically watched the Idolm@ster until I got to episode 8. I decided that was enough.

  20. Arbitrary_greay Says:

    T-ara cat girls (The mature version of the MV for this involves someone doing it with a werecat.) I think that nyan pose dance speaks for itself even when the cat ears aren’t involved.

    Catgirl Kara, and Kara seems to be considered more popular in Japan than SNSD. Although SNSD have done the maids fetish.