There was once a time when I was an adolescent that I found comfort holding a Playstation controller playing video games, being engulfed by the light of the computer screen in the dark, shamelessly watching “Spirited Away” when I’m bored, or enclosed by headphones in a self-contained world of the soundtrack of “Final Fantasy VII.” Does that make me an obsessed fan or does it make me an otaku? In Japan there is a fine line that separates between the otaku and the obsessed. Further investigation of the otaku culture will offer a better understanding of how post-war innovations influenced Japanese cultureand progressed to spread all across the world, proving that anyone can be an otaku.
Ever since my first time I played Final Fantasy VII, I have immersed myself in the interest of RPGs (role-playing games). RPGs are video games that put you in control of a character (or several) and progress in the game’s storyline while developing your characters through battles. You could say that it was the root of my interest in the otaku culture, in which it spawned an eagerness to see what else it has to offer. In my experience I have discovered animes, such as Akira, and started renting VHS copies of different anime movies. When I was even younger I collected and sold Pokémon cards, practically a Westernized-revolution in the late 1990s. I suppose I can consider myself an otaku, however I regulate my interests and typically don’t have the luxury of time to immerse myself with the culture due to work and academics. Despite that, you can see evidence of such influence in my art works and academic studies.
The meaning of otaku can be quite dichotomous in itself. More specifically, otaku refers to obsessive fans of anime, manga, video games, and just about anything else who spends the majority of their time at home pursuing those hobbies and interests (Schimmel 67). Otaku is a Japanese word referring to the cultural group that originated in the 1970s (Azuma). It consisted of enthusiastic consumers that are fans, and almost obsessed, of various post-war Japanese subcultures such as manga, anime, Sci-Fi, films, computer hacking, electronic gadgets, and so on (Azuma).
Ever since World War 2, the Japanese have suffered a heavy blow to the pride of their cultures and a sense of traditional identity (Azuma). From there spawned the otaku culture. The boom generation began to be taught to reject Japanese history (Izawa). That is why otaku is a form of collective expression of post-war Japanese nationalism and response to American popular culture (Azuma). Anime and manga became the main medium to communicate this reaction. Right at the beginning of post-war, Akihabara (a district of Tokyo) had black markets selling electronic parts and tube radio (Torakichi). Eventually it became “Electronics Town,” and became a center for home electronic goods (Torakichi). Akihabara evolved into markets selling entertainment products which includes mangas, animes, video games (even erotic ones), pornography, toys, and collectors’ items (Torakichi). The otaku industry was born, and fed the trend to the people of Japan… and the otaku themselves (Torakichi).
Animes and mangas started evolving alongside the boom generation, and began to include scenes of excessive violence, racism, rape, and poverty in children’s television shows (Izawa). To clarify definition, the term “anime” refers to animations of mangas (Eng 12). Manga is comics and cartoons printed in novels or comic books (in that particular “anime” style (Izawa). As you see the two terms have a intertwining relationship, which the otaku embraces as well. Individuals embraced the childhood of what once found peace and simplicity, then thrown into a very adult environment. Adults themselves, didn’t mind their kids watching these shows (Izawa). I remember a time when I religiously watched Dragon Ball Z as a child (in Okinawa), and remember seeing scenes of mild sexual intercourse and nudity (even in men and boys). Not only this, but the animators themselves enjoys fan-made, copyright infringing, artwork based off their characters (Azuma). Most of the time, they’re depictions are highly and excessively eroticized. Compared to the United States, if you marketed something with Mickey Mouse on it you bet that Disney will go after you! Hayao Miyazaki however, admired the early animation of “Superman” (despite the numerous anti-Japanese propaganda) (Izawa). “Superman” was the pinnacle of animation, and greatly influenced the animes we have today (Izawa).
Eventually, a man named Osamu Tezuka (considered the father of modern manga) brought forth “Tetsuwan Atom (“Mighty Atom” or “Astroboy”) to the Japanese airwaves (Izawa). Bringing animation to Japanese viewers meant low economical productions plus the need for toy makers and sponsors to help cover the cost of production in exchange for marketing the characters (Izawa). This would eventually lead up to the concept of massive consumerism referring to the marketing of major franchise on a lower scale (think Hello Kitty). It was just in time for the baby boomers of post-war (Izawa). Eventually, anime evolved into different genres, such as robot anime or “mechas” (“Gundam” and “The Super Dimension Fortress Macross” series). Mr. Miyazaki himself have created award-winning movies such as “Spirited Away,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and “Princess Mononoke.” “Pokemon” became a major hit in Japan when it was introduced in the late 1990s as well as the United States, and conjured up a marketing storm. We come to an era where the otaku has a deep “database” of media to be a fan of, and the evolution would be evident in the rising popularity of the viral culture.
The otaku culture has progressed through a series of evolution, enough to be immortalized in today’s fine art. “Superflat” was born, risen from a Japanese artist named Takashi Murakami who boasts a PhD in Nihonga (Japanese painting). Takashi Murakami’s groundbreaking essay, which shares the same title, brought forth the “Superflat” movement. It was complimented by an exhibition, also named “Superflat,” with art and sculptures opening a window to the popular culture in Japan and otaku. The term itself is defined as an art movement based off of Murakami’s manifesto utilizing different forms of graphic design, popular culture, and fine arts (Drohojowska-Philp). In his own sense, the art derived from this concept is “flattened,” and has a more metaphorical meaning behind it which includes a two dimensional perspective (Drohojowska-Philp). To specify the concept more, Murakami himself coined the term “poku,” a combination of pop art and otaku (Matsui 95). Based on his essay, “Superflat” is an amalgation of post-modernity Americanization, otaku, Japanese post-war Nationalism, and contemporary pop art (Azuma). It establishes the marriage of high and low consumerism, reminiscent of Andy Warhol (Azuma).