An otaku is a term originated in Japan for a person who has an interest in Japanese popular culture mainly focusing on interests in Japanese comics, video games, and animations. This word is usually associated with the American term as a “nerd” or “geek,” however this word isn’t really known in western countries because it was first established in Japan, a country from the far east. Those who know or is familiar with this term are usually otakus themselves or are familiar with activities relating to otakus. I’ve noticed that otakus have been minimally represented in western popular culture media. When some people hear “otaku” they think of a weird, antisocial, obsessive male who loves computers, anime, manga, or video games. Within the limited media representations encountered, I’ve noticed that media have been depicting several stereotypical issues associated to an otaku: they are men, they are considered abnormal, and they have personal problems or issues.
Heroes & The Big Bang Theory
One of the depictions is that otakus have been mainly represented as male. The American NBC TV show called “Heroes” nicely exhibits this observation. This TV show is about people around the world that have superpowers, it mainly focuses on how those people manage their powers and how they prevent calamities from developing. In the first episode of the series, they introduced an ordinary Japanese office worker and otaku named Hiro Nakamura as one of the characters who discovered his superhuman powers. In this TV show, they used a male to represent an otaku from Japan. I found this inaccurate because according to an article by Morikawa, “although otaku generally brings to mind a male figure, more than half the otaku population in Japan is female.” Using a male to represent an otaku does not precisely exemplify women otakus in Japan but also shows gender inequalities for otakus in media.
Also, a clip from the American TV show “The Big Bang Theory” by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady also showed an example of the majority of men being otakus compared to women. In the clip, Sheldon corrects Penny that they are watching anime, which is not a cartoon. It also displayed Sheldon and Leonard as the otakus because they are knowledgeable about what they are watching and based on their facial expressions, only Penny’s face looked as if she was very confused with what they were watching. After Sheldon’s explanation that it was not a cartoon, Penny changes the subject by saying she knew a girl named Anna May. This clip illustrates that men are mostly represented as otakus because the two men in the short clip were the ones who knew more about what they were watching while Penny, the only girl, was very puzzled by it and instead changes the topic to something that she did know more about.
Another is that in media, they perceive otakus as “abnormal.” The Japanese movie “Train Man” is a true story about an antisocial otaku man, Train Man, who falls in love with a normal girl, Hermes, after saving her from a drunk man on the train. Throughout the movie, it showed scenes where they distinguished Train Man and Hermes. For example, in scenes with Train Man, it showed his crowded room with all his collectible figurines, manga, and posters of anime. Meanwhile, in scenes with Hermes, it showed her room which looks like a normal western style bedroom you would see in furniture advertisements. The movie definitely emphasizes how “different” Train Man is compared to a normal person because he is an otaku. However, according to a study by Andreas Welin, “With what’s considered to be otaku interests spreading and taking root geographically (e.g. Akihabara) especially after the turn of the millennium, one could argue that otaku became less abnormal (in lieu of “more normal”) in the media, and gradually accepted as a natural part of the Japanese society.” It is stereotypical that otakus are considered “abnormal” however, in reality, otakus are not completely generalized as abnormal.
Another thing I noticed was that media also shows otakus with having personal problems or issues. In the movie Train Man, it also showed Train Man as an antisocial person who seemed nervous every time he went out in public and would stutter whenever he talked to anyone. Morikawa noted that “as these obsessive adolescents became noticeably absorbed in anime, the medium itself was associated with people who had poor interpersonal skills.” With this, it gives a generalization that otakus seem to have an association with having personal issues. Also, Train Man’s friends that he talks to were only online people, hence, “the otaku are socially inept although but enjoy socializing with others via the Internet.” (Niu et al.) Which also shows how otakus struggle with being sociable people. However, in a news video by fox6now.com called “Cosplay fans flock to Wisconsin’s largest anime event” by Julie Collins talks about the recent event at the time of the anime convention called Anime Milwaukee in Wisconsin. The reporter mentioned that one of the attendees, Annie Zappie, said that going out to an anime convention and engaging in cosplay has boosted her confidence. This demonstrates that not all otakus have personal problems or issues.
There are many stereotypical representations of an otaku that are mostly shown in a negative light. These forms of popular culture media artifacts chosen to be analyzed, mostly focus on stereotypes of gender inequality, abnormality, and having personal problems or issues. These stereotypes may be misleading, so we should be careful not to conclude based on those generalizations. Popular culture media may frequently illustrate stereotypical ideas, however, they are not always true and we should realize that these generalizations may shape the identity we are labeled with, but we ourselves form the identity we want to be a part of.
Significant Learning Moments
I’ve learned that in popular culture media, our identities have been represented differently or sometimes inaccurately. For example, when reading through some of the group discussions, someone mentioned that in movies that portrayed Vietnamese people, they would cast other Asians to play that role. I thought the study “Inequality in 700 Popular Films: Examining Portrayals of Gender, Race, & LGBT Status from 2007 to 2014” by students and professors at USC was really informative on minority representations in films too. This relates to what I’ve learned in the past because I learned that minorities are also outnumbered in different kinds of ways. Knowing this I can see if there is an evolution in our media or film to see if there any changes compared to the past. Another thing I learned was that news media seems to hide certain details or doesn’t include the most important information when they broadcast the news. From the article we read from one of our required course texts: “News: Balance Bias with Critical Questions” by Patricia Hynds, it definitely helped me learned about what questions to consider to know if I’m getting the whole story or not. This was really insightful because there are some questions that I don’t even keep in mind when I read or watch news stories such as the question “Are exaggerated or rhetorical claims reported uncritically without journalistic scrutiny?” Now that I know some questions to ask when I see or listen to the news, I can do that to the future news stories and see if I am actually getting the whole story.
Collins, Julie. ““It’s Been a Really Busy Con:” Cosplay Fans Flock to Wisconsin’s Largest Anime Event.” FOX6Now.com. Fox6now, 14 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.http://fox6now.com/2015/02/14/its-been-a-really-busy-con-cosplay-fans-flock-to-wisconsins-largest-anime-event/.
Densha Otoko. Dir. Shosuke Murakami. Perf. Takayuki Yamada and Miki Nakatani. Toho Company, 2005.
Hammer, Dennis, Allan Arkush, Greg Beeman, and Matt Shakman, prods. “Heroes.” Heroes. NBC. 25 Sept. 2006. Television.
Kaichiro, M. & Washburn, D. “おたく Otaku/Geek.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society, vol. 25 no. 25, 2013, pp. 56-66. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/roj.2013.0002
Niu, H.-J., Chiang, Y.-S. and Tsai, H.-T. (2012), “An Exploratory Study of the Otaku Adolescent Consumer.” Psychol. Mark., 29: 712–725. doi:10.1002/mar.20558
“Sheldon Cooper – It’s Not A Cartoon, It’s Anime.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Aug. 2013
Welin, Andreas. “The Meaning and Image of Otaku in Japanese Society, and Its Change over Time.” The Meaning and Image of Otaku in (2013): n. pag. Web.