If there’s a term in the anime world that has great controversy, it’s the term “otaku”. Perhaps you have heard of the term here and there, but do you really know what it means?
In Japan, “otaku” means someone who is obsessed about their hobby to the point that they do not leave their room or home. The Japanese form of “otaku” does not strictly mean anime – it can refer to any obsessive behavior involving a hobby such as video games, sports, or even shopping. It is usually used as a derogatory term for nerds who have no life outside of their hobby because it is not normal to be so absorbed in one thing. This is not deemed acceptable by society. The dislike for otaku became exacerbated after the otaku killer, Miyazaki Tsutomu, brought a negative image of otaku into the media. At this point, being an otaku actually made you a danger to society in most people’s eyes.
“Everyone says I am an otaku, but recently everyone is an otaku, even if they just have a hobby. If someone says they are an otaku, I am a little doubtful.” –Uchimura Amika
The American “otaku” refers to a person who has a strong interested in anime and manga, specifically. An American otaku does not have to be so obsessed with anime that they do not leave the house, but it is a major hobby of theirs. This is a much tamer use of otaku compared to the Japanese use of the term. The western use of “otaku” is similar to the use of “nerd,” which is a milder meaning than in Japan.
“There are only two types of people in the world–those who became otaku and those who didn’t–and the latter just can’t understand what the former is so excited about.” –Ono Norihiro
Even in anime, westerners are often portrayed as stereotypes (although that isn’t to say the opposite isn’t true). There is a good handful of foreign characters portrayed as the occidental otaku, which is a foreign character with a gross obsession over anime. Some occidental otaku may have even learned Japanese from anime! Just look at Patricia Martin from Lucky star. Everything Japanese Patricia knows comes from anime and manga. These occidental otaku are the characters who are overly excited about being in Japan because of what they’ve seen in anime. As if there wasn’t enough ridicule for otaku in the west; they even mock western otaku in anime.
Sadly, though, there’s a reason for this type of stereotype. Now, I introduce to you the weeaboo. “Weeaboo” is a derogatory term for a westerner who is obsessed with anime and all things Japanese. It is a term that replaced the old term “wapanese” or “white Japanese” when the term started being censored on the popular website 4chan. While the term has changed, the hate hasn’t.
The Future of Otaku
While there are some stereotypes of otaku, the American otaku is just someone who enjoys anime and manga in great detail, though not obsessively so. There is a social stigma involving otaku due to the stereotypes associated with otaku, but there should be no shame in being an otaku. Although the term is very different from how it is used in Japan, that doesn’t mean we should think of the American usage of “otaku” as being wrong. Much like how categorizing anime is different in Japan than what Americans are used to, the American use of “otaku” is just right for our own purposes.
One day, the term “otaku” will not have as much societal judgement as it does now. Anime won’t be something that causes society to look down on you. Otaku stereotypes will be a thing of the past. Each day, anime is becoming more accepted in society which will eventually lead to proud otaku owning up to the name! For now, there are only a few individuals capable of bearing the name “otaku” with pride. Are you one of them?