You’ve seen the fans, but you’ve probably never really seen a throng of them up close and personal, and studied their behaviour while you’re at it. We’re talking about the “Otaku”.
What/who are they?
Otaku (おたく/オタク) is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, commonly the anime and manga fandom. Its contemporary usage originated with Akio Nakamori’s 1983 essay in Manga Burikko.
The subculture, a central theme of various anime and manga works, documentaries and academic research, began in the 1980s as changing social mentalities and the nurturing of otaku traits by Japanese schools combined with the resignation of such individuals to become social outcasts. The subculture’s birth coincided with the anime boom, after the release of works like Mobile Suit Gundam before branched into Comic Market.
The definition of otaku subsequently became more complex, and numerous classifications of otaku emerged.
Otaku may be used as a pejorative; its negativity stems from the stereotypical view of otaku and the media’s reporting on Tsutomu Miyazaki, “The Otaku Murderer” or “The Little Girl Murderer”, in 1989.
Tsutomu Miyazaki was a Japanese serial killer, cannibal, and necrophile who abducted and murdered 4 young girls in Saitama and Tokyo Prefectures from August 1988 to June 1989. His crimes included vampirism and preservation of body parts as trophies, which shocked Saitama Prefecture, for the region had few crimes against children.
He was sentenced to death on 14th April 1997 and was later hanged on 17th June 2008.
According to studies published in 2013, the term has since become less negative, and an increasing number of people now self-identify as otaku. In fact, the culture of Otaku has grown into a major industry in Japan.
Furthermore, the economic impact of otaku has been estimated to be as high as ¥2 trillion ($18 billion). While it once carried a negative connotation, many Otaku are now proudly displaying their love for 2-dimensional heroes – while the number of foreign fans is also soaring.
It’s safe to say that it’s truly a Japanese phenomenon.
And now, Japan has opened what organisers are billing as the world’s first “Otaku” summit Saturday (28th March), drawing visitors from around the world as the country looks to boost the international fan base for Japanese comic books and anime.
So-called Otaku from at least 18 countries and territories, many dressed as their favourite anime characters, were converging on the Otaku Expo at a convention centre near Tokyo for the 2-day event.
23-year-old Briton Katie Carter, who turned up dressed as Usagi Tsukino, a character from the popular “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon”, said that the Otaku culture is spreading worldwide “like a big snowball picking up a pace”. “This is amazing. There are so many people of different cultures coming together,” she told AFP.
28-year-old Expo visitor Valentino Notari said of the Otaku culture outside Japan, In my country, Italy, currently it’s a very big thing. It used to be much smaller, we used to be sort of outcasts when we started back then about 10 years ago, and now it’s becoming massive. It’s quite fun and nowadays everybody accepts it.”
Comic Market Committee co-chief Kahoru Yasuda said, “The number of foreign visitors has been increasing over recent years.”
The Expo is part of a special comic book fair held every 5 years, which attracts about half a million visitors. This year’s event marks the first time that groups from outside Japan are invited. About 4 dozen overseas Otaku groups were expected to attend.