The Otaku Phenomenon: Showing Japanese' Love for Anime and Manga

Defining Otaku's Meaning: Is It Good or Bad?

Upon hearing the term Otaku, one would not help to but ask – what exactly is Otaku? To put it simply, Otaku is the term given to anyone who has a special interest in pretty much anything that is related to Japanese pop culture pop culture. An English equivalent of Otaku is a "fan", or a "fandom" for a collective group. The etymology of the term "Otaku" is very interesting – upon translating the word, it directly yields "you" based on various older Japanese languages. However, it is not a simple translation of the second person pronoun but rather goes deeper in meaning. The first defined translations of Otaku indicate it as an honorary title coupled with "you". In English, that term would be the equivalent of the phrase "Your Honor".

However, in the 80's, the definition of Otaku started to change as it slowly portrayed Otaku in a bad light – and the Otaku's were then considered as the weirdos, geeks, and nerds who have failed in the social aspects of their life, and hence have retreated to the fictional stories that they enjoy.

To this day, it is quite unsure how the term Otaku was coined exactly, or how it slowly integrated into the life of many young Japanese. Some say that the honorary second person pronoun was selected by the fandom themselves to coin them. It is quite complex, but the explanation coupled with this phenomenon is that the anime and manga fans chose the honorary term to refer to themselves in actual.

Understanding Anime and Manga's Popularity In Japan: The Roots of Otaku

It may seem mundane now to like anime – pretty much everyone and their brothers, sisters, and neighbors have seen at least one anime and liked it. Manga and Anime are now an icon of Japanese culture, pretty much along with their other quirky and unique facets of culture. In the 70's, plenty of manga were adapted into the small screen as televisions became more and more accessible for the average Japanese household. This paved way to many of the classics such as Mobile Suit Gundam, an anime that was loved dearly by the Japanese during the time.

However, for some, the rise of anime and the fandoms proved to be too much. Others saw extreme aversion towards anime as a negative thing since others found it to be too unfavorable on one's social skills. Instead of focusing on more acceptable interests then, such as music, sports, arts, and literature, the Otaku were judged for living into the fictional world of their characters.

A certain anime-loving serial killer rose to popularity during the 80's as well, further associating Otakus with negative behavior. Aside from being a nerdy introvert, Otaku's were seen as harm to society. The liberal themes of anime's that included sexual and violent undertones became frowned upon. This allowed the manga and anime writers to choose to tone down the themes of their stories, leading to the stories now that are more child appropriate.

It was only in the early 2000's to 2010's when Otaku's became more and more popular in Japan in a more positive way. These days, many individuals would proudly declare their love of a certain anime or manga with pride, proudly referring to themselves as Otakus.

The Otaku Killer and His Negative Impact on the Otaku Culture

Prior to 1989, Otaku already had a negative connotation, since it was then the Japanese' version of typical Western insults for people who are on the nerdy or geeky side. However, it was in that year when the entire nation's view on Otaku shifted from being something mildly derogatory, into something that is just pure evil.

What exactly happened during 1989 that sparked massive outrage over anime culture? It was in 1989 when Tsutomu Miyazaki, who would then become one of Japan's most famous serial killers, was arrested and charged with several heinous crimes committed his victims – for young girls aged between four to seven years old, whom he had selected personally to murder brutally.

To make it clear, this article will not divulge into the disturbing facts of the Otaku Killer, there is Google for that. Instead, this section will briefly discuss how Tsutomu Miyazaki's life affected his actions severely, and the impact it made towards anime culture.

Tsutomu Miyazaki's life had been extremely difficult from the very beginning. His classmates were constantly insulting him due to his physical disabilities, forcing him to perform poorly in his academics. His performance denied him acceptance into Meiji University; he instead took a vocational career path instead. His personal relationship was also strained, but this was entirely his fault. His family did not condone his aversion towards pornography and violence; hence, they distanced himself from him. Perhaps, it was his difficult life that led Tsutomu Miyazaki to commit four gruesome murders on little children between 1988 and 1989, earning him the titles "Otaku Killer" and "Little Girl Murderer", among many others.

During his arrest, however, the police found a shocking collection of manga and anime which led the citizens to believe that his interest in anime and gore films ultimately inspired him to commit those extremely terrible crimes. With the close association of Otaku to Tsutomu Miyazaki's life, people began frowning upon individuals who displayed extreme interest in anime. It became a public perception that those who engage too much in anime and manga's content are prone to show signs of violence, as they try to mimic what is inside the stories.

However, some may argue that the case of Tsutomu Miyazaki was overly exaggerated in the account. Yes, he did own a lot of manga and anime materials, but the police possibly gave too much emphasis on his liking of violent media as the sole reasons for his crime. It is possible that the gore films and erotic novels inspired him, however, other people failed to see that the problem stems from something even further: his difficult childhood and adolescent years. Truly, if he was shown more compassion when he was younger – if he was treated with respect by the people around him, then his life would most likely have ended on a much better note.

Otaku Now: Its Acceptance and Further Development

With the shift in ideals caused by modern day advancement, the culture of Otaku became more and more acceptable in present day Japan. Instead of frowning upon individuals who are engaged in anime or manga, they are now accepted as normal people with hobbies that are just the hobbies of others; theirs just happened to be in the form of manga and anime. Back then, a high level of regard for anime was considered to be for dorks only. The cooler kids who played sports, and were attractive cannot be considered anime addicts. Nowadays, all social demographics have learned to accept the Otaku way.

Every year, the popularity of anime keeps on growing. While printed material, including manga, is slowly being superseded by the massive advancements in digital technology, the reach of anime is starting to go far beyond Japan. In fact, there are many hardcore anime fans as well in neighboring Asian countries, as well as in the western nations. Aside from being accepted as a normal thing, Otaku is also being studied continuously as a form of human behavior.

Otakus are now released from their previous stereotype of introverted losers – but rather they are now considered to be people who are extremely passionate about anything.  The more recent definition of Otaku has already spanned from anime and manga into other interests that involve more mundane things such as cameras and cars. Basically, anyone who is passionate about his hobby can now be called an Otaku.

With Otaku's popularity, even young adults all over the world wish to be called an Otaku. Otaku festivals, conventions and other events are being held in different countries. These just highlights further how Otaku truly has transcended from its negative connotation. For example, in the Philippines, there are annual event that targets fans of Japanese pop culture to gather together and bond. Last August 2016, the famous Asia Pop Comic Con was held in Manila. This is considered to be one of the biggest Otaku events in Asia. Just recently (February 2017), Otaku Expo was also held in SM Megamall Mega Trade Hall - a popular venue for cosplay and anime themed events. Even U.S. based Otakus have an opportunity to interact with fellow enthusiast, through different events being hosted in various states.

It is undeniable that the Otakus are now welcomed with open arms all over the world. They are no longer lonesome nerds who enjoy weird anime, now they can engage with, interact and share their passion with other individuals who are proud of their interests. It is no longer a source of isolation, but rather a bridge that connects like-minded people together.

Where to Buy Otaku Merchandise: Tokyo Otaku Mode in Japan and Otaku's Economic Impact

One of the amazing things about the current economy, and this is relevant even outside of Japan, is that even the most niche things can drive the national economy. In the Japanese setting, it is amazing how something that was once frowned upon such as Otaku (or basically obsession over anything) is now an important component of their economy. The magnitude of Otaku's impact is not minor, as Otaku related merchandise (ranging from anime and manga to specialty Japanese hobbies) amount to roughly $18 B worth of annual revenue.

In retrospect, the demand for Otaku or any fandom related merchandise has allowed capitalists to venture into manufacturing of various goods. Combined with Japan's state of the art manufacturing techniques, it comes to no surprise that Japan sells the most number of character-inspired goods that range from films, television shows, books, and even video games. Back then, anime fans were judged for spending too much on their addiction, but nowadays, the scenario is completely different. Any individual with a certain passion for anything is highly encouraged by society to spend his money on things that will fuel his passion.

For example, manga collectors can now display their massive collection of books, and they will surely get a lot of positive responses from outsiders ranging from: "Your collection is amazing!" to "I am extremely jealous!" Anyone with a massive figurine collection of his favorite anime can earn even more money selling obsolete designs in the future. This just goes to show that the business based on Otaku is very lucrative. Aside from physical goods, there are also different themed cafes and establishments (mostly in Akibahara) that center on anime and manga characters. Good examples are those maid themed cafes that capitalize on the "maid culture" that are also popular in plenty of Japanese manga. There, groups of friends can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while interacting with servers who are dressed in maid costumes. These types of establishments encourage Otaku fans to spend money to experience the world of anime outside its fictional realm. Specialty establishments are also considered very novel by tourists, which attract more income into the business owners.

With the rise of capitalism, the wide acceptance of Otaku, and technology, it was only a matter of time when anime related goods would conquer the biggest marketplace of all – the World Wide Web. Online sellers have a very high presence all over the Internet. One of Japan's leading Otaku specialty store is even based on the Internet: Tokyo Otaku Mode.

Perhaps one of the biggest retailers of manga and anime themed items, Tokyo Otaku Mode (popularly abbreviated as TOM), offers an incredible amount of goods for every fandom. Those who want to engage in cosplay (or "costume play") may opt to buy from Tokyo Otaku Mode's wide variety of apparel and accessories. For those who are looking for something cutesier, their figurine dolls and plush toys are to die for. Aside from targeting specific fictional characters, they also sell Japanese fashion or clothing items that are distinctly Japanese or very Harajuku. For non-native Japanese speakers, they will find delight in knowing that TOM website is entirely in English.

In retrospect, the times have really changed for Otaku. Anyone who is engaged in a fandom can easily buy merchandise that will suit his or her heart's desire. Thankfully, it is not just the Otakus who are happy with this new development, since the Japanese economy is also growing with every single purchase being made. That is truly a win-win situation.