Thursday, January 29, 2004

Letters, We Get Letters, We Get Sacks and Sacks of Letters...

Courtesy of Mr. Alan Zabaro:

You mentioned on your weblog that otaku is an insult in Japan. Oddly, my understanding is that it didn't start out that way. It started out as an exalted way to refer to somebody else (I think it literally means "your house", just as in English we address a judge as "your honor").

Now, here's the story as I remember it (I don't have cites on hand, but I might have picked this up from one of Schodt's books): otaku is an archaic term. A bunch of anime and manga fans are holding conventions (late 70s, early 80s?), and a bunch of them address each other with this overly polite and outdated form of address. Some observers take this as a sign that the fans are very out of touch with normal, non-fan society (quite possibly true), and adopts the term "otaku" to refer to these fanboys and fangirls. I don't think the label was too big a stigma at this time...anime company Gainax even made an anime/live action production called Otaku no Video (Otaku's Video), so the fans at least didn't seem too bothered by it.

However, at some point a freak named Miyazaki (not related to the anime director) committed some horrific crimes (killed a kid, and some other things I'd rather not look up). Because he apparently had a huge collection of anime and manga of the most perverse kind, he was labelled as an otaku, and that kicked off a media frenzy in Japan. I understand that the media and the public have since accepted that this guy was in no way representative of otaku, but even so some part of that stigma still remains (even though I don't think it's considered a horrible insult...)

Anyway, my understanding is that the term "otaku" was used by Japanese fandom before it was used by most outsiders to refer to them...the opposite of many appropriated epithets here in the US. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I read this in Schodt's Dreamland Japan : Writings on Modern Manga. If you're interested in the topic, you'd do better to read that than to rely on my memory.

You know, its funny - originally, this was not exactly a topic I had a lot of interest in. I'm don't read much manga. (That is, other than the same manga most American comic readers probably have: 'Lone Wolf & Cub' and 'Akira'. I picked up the first book of 'Battle Royale' and definitely plan on picking up more - and I plan on at least trying out Tezuka's 'Astro Boy' and 'Buddha' one of these days...) But anyway, what started as a random blog entry has evolved into an increasingly complicated - not to mention interesting conversation. Now, 'Dreamland Japan' is a book I have definitely heard of, usually mentioned in the same breath as Schodt's similarly-themed 'Manga Manga' volume. Perhaps one day if I want to understand these things I will pick up some Schodt - as it is, for now I think its enough to say that otaku seems to be an insult on par with "fanboy" in America.

Now, for me, "fanboy" is about the most offensive thing you can call me - I'd almost rather you call me a wife-beating pederast Republican and get it over with. I know fanboys - and, Sir, I am no fanboy. Seems that if Otaku is similar in meaning (which is what it seems to me that you are saying) then I can use the term pejoratively and with impunity.

I will say that after I read this letter I went back to Google to find where I had originally seen the negative definition. Big surprise - I couldn't find the one I was originally looking for. However, I did find this, which seems to sum up all these arguments very nicely.

So, if you're keeping track at home, that's Tim 0 - Otaku 1. But, you know, considering I don't wear plastic pants and have tattoos of Sailer Venus on my ass, I think I can sleep safely. (Yeah, cheap shot - but I had to get it in there somewhere, right?)

Where was I... oh yeah, Alan Zabaro!

Oh, as far as that article from Mainichi's web site: did you notice the blurb near the bottom of the page? It goes:

WaiWai stories are transcriptions of articles that
originally appeared in Japanese language publications. The
Mainichi Daily News cannot be held responsible for the contents of the original articles, nor does it guarantee their accuracy. Views expressed in the WaiWai column are not necessarily those held by the Mainichi Daily News or Mainichi Newspapers Co.

My understanding is that these "Japanese language publications" that the WaiWai stories come from are tabloids. I'm not sure if that necessarily makes them inaccurate, but...well, take a look at some of the other stories in that section. I might not dismiss those stories, but I tend to take them with a grain of salt.

Now next you're going to tell me that the Bat-Boy isn't real.

In this case, I'm inclined to believe what an acquaintance who spent a year in Japan wrote about this article:

This whole thing is SO not news-worthy. A writer for a low-brow newspaper had too much time on her hands and wrote about some people griping about something they consider a nuisance. So what? There's virtually no activity on this whole wide earth for which you couldn't find someone who's annoyed by it.

Well, if its true that this paper was a tabloid (which, in my defense, I had no way of knowing) then we must indeed proceed with caution. However - I think that unless they were just plain fabricating the story out of a whole cloth, part of my initial point lo those many days ago still stands: comics in Japan, while much more popular than in America, are still not the perfectly 100% accepted art form that they have been characterized as by overzealous American fans (and this isn't just Otaku, for generations fanboys have been parroting this line).

No-one would object to a man reading a novel or a newspaper on the subway - millions (billions?) of people across the world do that every day. This is the type of societal immersion comics fans long for, the metaphorical equivilent of society opening its arms and embracing the fanboy who has been shunned and insulted by the world at large for so long. Well - it took hundreds of years for novels to become accepted as normal by all strata of society. If there is ever to be a time when comics are accepted alongside "normal" literature and art, dollars to donuts we won't live to see it.

Its ain't fair but that's life, and I'm just not going to tolerate self-indulgent fantasies from the fanboy contingent who want to see every man, woman and child on the planet reading 'Green Arrow'.

(Man, I got some spleen to vent, don't I? I need to get a punching bag with Comic Book Guy's face on it or something...)

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