Otaku: Are you Real or Fake?

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We all know that one self-confessed otaku. That one person, the Wapanese (aka the weeb) that throws out random Japanese words and can’t stop talking about the latest episode of Naruto.

In the modern context outside East Asia, the term “otaku” loosely describes anybody who loves anime, and these faux-otaku are largely composed of people who pretend to be geeks for a couple minutes of limelight. This is casting a shadow on the anime pop-culture scene.

Parts of the article contributed by Austin on The Artifice. Thanks mate! Article proofread by Dipayan, Daryl, and Anindya.

What I’m up against

Now, I know some people won’t like it when I mention him but his words are so true that I can’t just write this article without him. To quote Joe Peacock,

I’m talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn’t give the time of day on the street.

Well, it was for cosplay-type attention-seekers, but it applies equally.

The quote was from Joe Peacock’s 2012 article, “Booth Babes Need Not Apply,” which got very controversial. It essentially vented out his anger on “pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention.” His allegations regarding these otaku are very true, besides all the flaming he collected over his post.

Online, you’ll often hear the term weeaboo. Weaboo more or less means the kind of creature we’re targeting here. However, the usage of weeaboo is infinitely diverse. For example, once I was called a weeaboo because I asked a question that went like “Who in your opinion is the most beautiful anime girl?” The internet can be cruel. So, you’re a weeb if you show obsession, I think. The undefined state of weeaboo’s meaning prompts me to avoid the term wholly in this article.

Anyway, more to the point now. Although no attack is meant on any particular cosplayer, we all know how thoroughly infested comic cons are with booth babes. They are undeniably very sexy and being sexy is obviously a good thing, ahem, but from the other more serious point of view, they taint the spirit of a geek culture or a collective fandom. Cons aren’t for this. I’m sure you can find countless hot girls on one search about cosplaying booth babes, and here’s one:

Booth babes, probably from San Diego Comic-Con 2010.

Booth babes are a fragment of the fake otakus composition. You will still see females cosplaying maids and other fantasy characters for money without any idea about the character in certain major events in Japan, namely Comiket. The primary fragment is made up of those people who’ve watched one arc of Naruto or One Piece (or worse yet, dubbed Pokémon on TV) considering themselves otakus. That’s what I’m up against.

Actual Otaku

In the Japanese context, the term Otaku mainly refers to people with fanatic-level craze with anything in particular. Otaku in Japan aren’t just anime-centered. There are many kinds which can be specified according to the nature of interest:  anime, games, manga, figurines, to gadgets, pop idols, even military and trains!! But here we’re just going to talk about anime/manga related otakus.

These otakus aren’t just anime lovers, they are obsessive people. A report in 2008 showed an otaku burning his stock of manga in public to display his agitation against the story-writers of Kannagi, because Nagi-sama just might be “second-hand.” Many other otaku participated against the revelation as well, even when it wasn’t really confirmed at that time.

This proves the mindset and levels of craze an otaku might exhibit. Otaku are also generally considered anti-social because of their evident lack of socializing with others, their habit to cling too desperately to their fanservice artifacts, and their ferocity upon facing criticisms of their favorite anime. Further, they’re known to be well-enclosed within their lives and rooms.

A 2014 Valentine’s day survey of 335 otaku from Japan (original press release in Japanese) revealed that more than 70% of them would choose their geekdom over love or romance with an actual life-partner. If you see things in this light, then most otaku outside Japan seem like they’re not really otaku, because, in fact, their primary aim is to get to know other people and gain popularity, or even a relationship, based on hobbies like anime or loving Japan.

Any such person would be extremely happy in knowing an interesting fellow anime lover and would try to communicate or hang out, totally defeating the notion of an otaku. Now obviously, defeating this notion isn’t bad in any way, because as humans, we’re naturally communicative and even otaku communicate a lot with each other.

However, socializing and being open to conversation with like-minded people isn’t a thing of otaku. Today’s self-confessed otaku are very tolerant, which is a good thing. They don’t have a maddening love for anything. In fact, what they call their obsession is respectfully considered general affection for a non-otaku subject.

Quick real otaku trivia:

  • Animax translates the word “otaku” into English terms like “crazy”, “anti-social”, etc. in its dubs for South Asia.
  • When the term “otaku” is mentioned in manga depicting Japanese life, the first impression of characters is “Ew.”
  • Many popular anime including Death Note give off certain subtle hints at how otaku is perceived in Japan. “You shouldn’t be one of them.” “That’s gross.” And so on.

While doing some searches on fake otakus, I found this video.

There’s one point I’d like to reiterate from that video here: the otaku denial. A true, actual otaku denies that he or she is an otaku because otherwise they risk being looked down upon by society. They watch countless anime day and night but when somebody asks them about it, they’re quite passive about discussing it openly unless they feel comfortable/are with their own kind who they trust.

Also, a real otaku feels he or she’s watched only a fraction of anime that are out there. Of course, we all have studies and work to handle, and that hinders real otakus as well from binge-watching for too long. For example, an otaku who watches all the recent, modern anime feels sad about not being able to watch old classics. Someone who has watched old classics a lot feels sad about not being up-to-date with what’s coming out each season. But whatever the case may be, they know a lot. And as someone once said, the more you know the more you learn you know nothing.

No, it’s true. Come to think of it as a guy pursuing Ph.D. Only when he starts working on his thesis on, say, the impact of animals on our lifestyle, will he learn that he knows only a small fraction of human-animal interaction because there are so many different animals with their unique impacts and so many different places where these impacts differ a lot.

The pretending otaku

From Western otaku to Japanese cosplayers, people dislike these kinds of pretentious anime fans.

Let’s go into a bit of detail. In the anime fandom, there are people who have a very shallow understanding of the anime culture. They are only acquainted with heavily-advertised works. And it’s not their fault, they’re just catching up and are on their way to be anime lovers. However, if these otaku would be happy with just attention and won’t care for more, then they cannot be true fans of anime culture. In fact, outside the particular convention they attend, they won’t care about their character or anime much.

They lack much devotion or alignment towards anime and typically embody several attributes:

  • Ranting about anime like it’s the best thing that ever happened in the universe.
  • Going full “What the hell is wrong with you!!!” when someone says they don’t know what is anime.
  • Trying to act like they know everything by constantly correcting others on Japanese terms.
  • Consistently bringing in a select few Japanese words like “sugoi,” “kawaii,” “baka,” or “minna” in completely normal English conversations.

Although there’s nothing bad in presenting your flavors and having a set of catchphrases, these points would generally classify you as a non-otaku in front of other otaku or normal anime fans.

Fake otaku misconceptions

People who incorrectly think that they are otaku while callously and ignorantly throwing out foreign phrases are disliked in any conscious anime community: Online or offline. They think being an otaku is awesome, socially-acceptable, a means of getting a boy/girlfriend, and loved immensely throughout Japan, which is a plain incorrect assumption at best. And to make things worse, some people effectively portray this assumption in communications with other otaku or anime lovers, which can earn them dislike.

As for preferred anime shows, fake otaku would generally perceive the Big Ones to be all there is to anime. That’s one of the less practiced attributes differentiating the two kinds of otaku. They’re usually seen obsessing over the “Big” and mainstream anime. However, it’s never their lack of versatility that bothers others, as even the most devoted of anime lovers might follow around 30 anime per year only. Instead, what makes these fake otaku intolerable is their constant and fruitless obsession around a small selection of anime converging on One Piece, Naruto, Fairy Tail, or Bleach — often complimented by a stranded Death Note in between.

For all they know about the Devil Fruits in the One Piece Universe, they notably lack personal opinions about anything deeper.

Missing on emotions

Usually, fake otakus don’t go too over the curve to watch rare, experimental, or what some would call intellectual anime like, say, Monster, Steins;Gate, Ghost in the Shell, etc. But in case they do, they miss on emotions.

After they finish an episode, they won’t have much to say beyond “awesome” or “sucks.” All they care about is completing the episodes and finally the anime, so they can flaunt that now they have “done” Steins;Gate and feel proud of increasing their overall anime count.

Some advice for de-otakucizing

If you’re beginning to do stuff like that or think that way, stop! Enjoy each episode, each anime, with ardent love. Analyze, if necessary. Construct opinions. Watch lots of rare anime, films, and offbeat shows. Watching an anime is a joy of a lifetime and limiting the number of anime one watches limits the possibilities of discovering the joy.

Also, in a hurry to finish the anime, you might lose a masterpiece scene, emotion, sub-plot, or story altogether. Trust me, you should never watch anime for the sake of watching because:

  • You’re going to be talking about an anime and remembering the delight for your life if you watch it properly. You might even pass on the joy to your grandchildren.
  • You’re going to be unable to participate in good discussions in anime communities (no, I’m not talking about Facebook groups with 10,000 members 90% of whom are plain wannabe otaku).

Fake Otaku and their image of Japan

The fake otaku don’t comprehend the market and fandom of Japanese animation, which is offending. They have a somewhat restricted perspective when it comes to anime. Their devotion to anime is limited to shipping Nami and Luffy or watching “awesome” ninja battles in Naruto.

When faced with the reality of Japanese artistic culture and its multi-dimensional character, their excitement often bleeds to obscurity. They appear shallow because their devotion is shallow. Even with impeccable know-how about all the bankai in Bleach, their knowledge about the series is shallow and their devotion even more superficial. They love Bleach and Naruto, not anime.

Now, it deserves to be said again that it’s not a bad thing to love Bleach without loving anime. If someone does that, then there’s still a good chance that they’re just catching up. There can be certain limitations or physical barriers on their side as well.

Nothing bad in that. But let’s take this example. I like vector algebra but not mathematics. But if I say I am a professional in maths – two bitter slaps on my face:

  1. I won’t be able to keep my cool when faced with professional mathematics-lovers.
  2. People would still be sarcastic towards me, even if they accept that there’s nothing bad in being a wannabe mathematician.

And that’s why I would never say I love mathematics if all I like in it is a couple of concepts and methodologies. And that’s precisely why a non-otaku should never pretend to be an otaku.

Even so, it’s never bad to consider yourself a part of a community like the otaku, but certain characteristics (that I mentioned throughout the piece) in your thoughts can drastically misrepresent the anime community. To most of the anime fans, it appears fruitless to talk to a fake otaku, who comprehends nothing more of anime than downloading torrents.

Ask them to name five anime of any two of these genres: horror/thriller, comedy, mecha, or sci-fi, and they won’t have quality and opinionated answers. More often than not, such a person doesn’t know the historic milestones of Japanese culture, about its developmental phases, about the artwork, or much about the manga that constructed their favorite anime.

Of course, it’s not necessary to master the technical details and historic aspects of an anime, but one must collect more knowledge about anime at large for being deemed a professional, an otaku, because generally, we expect real otaku to know a lot.

Anime can be an art of mere entertainment, but believing that they’re just that is nonsensical. That’s why you’re recommended to watch anime thoroughly and enjoy the experience.

Let’s end with this snippet I stumbled upon at Whisper, started by a certain Bulverde:

There’s so many fake otakus in our school I can’t have a normal anime conversation without having some random person coming up like “omg L is so hot right?!”

Frankly, the feeling is hard to relate by most Indians I presume. At school, we rarely have friends who watch anime and most of those who do consider them cartoons. But we get the idea nevertheless.

I derive most of my inspirations and practical traits from Hikigaya Hachiman.