Let’s get this thing started…

The very first thing I’d like to open up for discussion is the meaning and myth surrounding the word “otaku” itself. Literally a formal and rather archaic pronoun for “you” (perhaps translated as “thou”), it implies distance from the subject, and is used in relationships that are not very close.

Whatever its original meaning, the word “otaku” has come to mean anyone who is a hardcore enthusiast or fan of any particular subject, including anime, comic books, video games, etc.

The article The Politics of Otaku, by Lawrence Eng makes reference to varying interpretations of the word, from “passionate obsessive” to information fetishists” to his own “self-defined cyborgs”, all of which (to me, anyway) seem slightly offensive. I myself have heard the term translated as “maniac” (in the official English subtitles of the anime Full Metal Panic), which also suggests some sort of strange and disturbed person. This Wikipedia definition also includes a lovely image of the stereotype of the otaku.

In light of all this, why on earth would fans use such a term to describe themselves? The infamous pedophile and serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki was closely associated with this title, and was perhaps the instigator of its negative connotations, and yet North Americans still refer to themselves as an otaku! Do you use the term yourself? What does it mean to you? Where you aware of these meanings? Do you have more information about the term to share? Knowing this, would you continue to call yourself an otaku?


14 responses to “Let’s get this thing started…

  1. I myself hate the term otaku, even thou i am an anime fan i think that otaku is a negative term like the word Geek or nerd. i know my fiancee calls herself an otaku with pride. Many of the older fans i talk to online dont really call themselves otakus, they just call themselves anime fans. i havent really asked my fiancee why she prides herself in being an otaku. ive been an anime fan for about 13 years and my fiancee has been a fan for about 10 years.

  2. I have always viewed Otaku as a term that newer entrants to the fandom have used to cry out “I like {insert fandom}!!” or by people who want attention by proclaiming their outright “fan”ness. The use of the word always seemed too forced to me, as if it was an ego thing. I have mostly seen this term in conjunction with younger fans, i particular those new to fandoms such as Inuyasha and Naruto

  3. yeah, I don’t really use the term to describe myself, but I do (in my mind at least) apply it to younger fans who are hard core for newer series’, like naruto. I’m not sure, but maybe the term continues to be used only because so many younger fans aren’t aware of its negative connotations in the japanese language? Is this a result of extensive “western-ising” of anime as a fandom? Is there now less of an emphasis in the fandom on learning about the japanese language and culture? I don’t know. Comments?

  4. i myself tend to use the term only for the scarier, more menacing fanpeoples. I completely agree with you, though, about this word becoming so Westernized that no one is aware of its original meaning anymore. I think it’s a perfect example of vocabulary appropriation, and manipulation of slang. there are tons of other examples of this slow change (like “cool” or “wicked”) in the meaning of words. languages are fluid and not at all static, of course. i am not sure if the term has gone through the same type of transformation in japan, or if it still suffers from the stigma of figures like Miyazaki. just think of the word “terrorist”, which (to me) seems to have meant something different before and after 9/11. but that, of course, is another matter all together.

  5. I myself would never, ever call myself an “otaku”. It’s usually reserved for those smelly, watch-anime-first-before-bathing obsessive people. The scary people. I think Americans like referring to themselves as the term because they’re not aware of how bad it’s seen as.Plus, all the “new” anime fans I’ve seen are so over-enthusiastic that they have to prove they’re a bigger fan than everyone, immediately after seeing one episode of an anime or reading one manga book. They don’t care, nor do they take the time to learn the “real” inner workings of their “fave” anime/manga. They see the nasty, translated (and most of the time hacked-to-bits) dubbed versions.They can call themselves Otaku. It seems to fit.

  6. I myself am not nearly as into the arena of anime fandom that I once was. I was just as pround and fangirlsh as the next fan at the time, frequenting forums and attending cons. Now I’ll go to the rare con to meet up with old friends and see the sights, and the fanatical behavior of forum members caused me to escape that madness a long time ago.In regards to the “otaku” subject. I never felt comfortable with the term after first learning about it. I didn’t always like applying Japanese terms to myself as it never really jived with the fact that… well, I ‘m not Japanese. I did use other words and phrases for a short time, and then grew tired of being something I wasn’t. But even still I cannot deny that I did partake in it, in fact one of my still most commonly used nicknames is “Chi”, derived from being referred to as a “chibi” version of a friend of mine.Anyways, I had no sooner learned of the term Otaku when I read a statement somewhere about the origins of the term in Japan. Generally, it tied an (extreme) fan to their home – it was meant to imply that the fan was like a part of their house because they never left it; they were always watching anime.I have been turned off of the title ever since. It doesn’t hold actually a very positive connotation in Japan, and I felt that fans were fooling themselves by using it. Much like the usage of any other Japanese words/phrases, incorporated into one’s vocabulary simply to show that they know it, calling oneself an otaku always seemed to me like a way for fans to prove or show how “into” anime they were. Like being a part of the culture or something along those lines.I find it to be derogatory and can say quite honestly that I am instantly dissuaded from associating with a fan who refers to themselves as an otaku. It has come to paint very sterotypical and negative images of anime fans in my mind; sterotypes which, unfortunately, have been fueled by the fans themselves.I may as well take this chance to apologize. One, for the untidiness of my thoughts. I’m in a bit of hurry and don’t have time to make full logical statements, I hope you can decifier my meanings through my poor grammar and spelling.Second, to all the die hard fans who are insulted by my analysis. Please just try to keep in mind that I was a fan once. I’m speaking from a different perspective: an outside view that is nontheless speaking from experience. It’s often easier to see the big picture once you’ve taken a few steps back from all the action.

  7. i agree that it does take an outsiders perspective to see things in a different light, and perhaps it is much easier if that outsider is one who is deeply familiar with the topic. i also find that this term is used almost excusively by younger and more obsessive fans alone. i am really interested in the fact that you say you “grew tired of being something you weren’t”. did this realization lead to your exit from the fan community?

  8. Wow….now I feel sort of strange reading all the other comments. I have been an anime fan (and yes that is what I call myself) for 12 years and although I do not call myself an “otaku” it is not because of any negative connotation its just that I grew more comfortable saying that I was an “anime fan” instead of trying to explain to people what I thought an “otaku” was. However I must say that in all those 12 years of watching anime I never knew that there were such negative connotations to the name “otaku”. Of course I knew that the term was applied to somewhat obsessive, hyperexcitable fans, but well, the same can be said for the fans of many teen idols and nobody associates them with serial killers. I think that just because a name was once associated with something negative it does not mean that it can not be turned into something if not positive, then just harmless. In the end it may just end up being something else that Americans have adopted from other cultures and then made their own….sort of like Pizza or Tacos. LOL

  9. Have any of you seen “Otaku no video”? this anime/documentary has several interviews with hardcore otakus and even some secret otakus. its a good movie to watch to see how the word otaku can sometimes be positive or negative. they even interviewed an american who moved to japan just to persued the otaku lifestyle.

  10. I’ve always prided myself on being a geek or a nerd, whatever the term I was it. It’s part of who I’ve always been. I grew up with it, my parents are big Star Trek and Star Wars enthusiasts, we went to cons when I was little. I was raised in the whole fan culture that is a con as long as I can remember.I don’t really recall what my first thought of the term “Otaku” was, but I think it grew and changed for me along the same lines of another fan-based term. When I was smaller “Trekkies” simply referred to the people who went to the cons, or were fans of the series, not necessarily a hard core fan, but still an enthusiast. It incorporated a fairly wide spectrum of people, and most importantly it wasn’t considered a bad or distasteful thing.But now if someone claims to be a “Trekkie” the first thing that comes to someone’s mind is the image of some 20-something male, pimply face and most likely glasses, who goes all out for the cons, dresses up, lives their entire lives with everything being dictated by the fandom of which they are a part. Society mocks them and they’ve become a running joke in fandom, even hard-core anime fans feel justified making fun of the Trekkies.The term “Otaku” took the complete opposite route I think. Otaku’s used to be, as you said, those who were the hardcore fans, those in whose lives the world of Anime was the most important thing. Anti-social to at least some extent, not someone that society accepted, and a bit of a joke on top of all that.4 or 5 years ago in Canada when the Anime Cons still weren’t that big, they jokingly referred to the con-goers as “Otaku’s”. Fans who were not necessarily those who were traditionally described by this term, but who were some of the more informed fans non the less. At the Cons, the committee’s running them put it on the name badges and on the T-Shirts and merchendise, they turned it into a generally accepted term. People who’ve only started going to the cons in the last 2 years (after the release of Inu-Yasha and Naruto) Have never really been referred to as anything other than “Otaku” So the meaning, just like the meaning of the word “Trekkie” shifted to describe a different niche of the fanbase.Older fans would get that when someone referred to an Otaku in an anime show or manga, they were referring to the older version of the term, not the one cleaned up and made a part of the almost pop-society aspect of anime.Anyway yes, long rambly response….

  11. Interestingly enough there is a non-derogatory meaning to otaku, which is most likely the origin of the english usage of the word.I cannot state a clear source for this, but it was something conveyed to me by a Japanese person. The non-derogatory meaning is more along the lines of a collector who is very knowledgeable about something. In this sense it can be a compliment.

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