3 Types of Otaku: What Does Otaku Even Mean?
What does otaku even mean? If there’s a term in the anime world that has tons of controversy in begin defined, it’s the term “otaku”. Perhaps you have heard of the term here and there, but do you really know what it means?
What Is An Otaku?
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 define or limit the scope 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
You can see how some in Japanese society view otaku when you watch OreImo. In OreImo, one of the main characters is an otaku but her own father views them with contempt and is very strict with anything involving anime. Being one was viewed as being dangerous and you see it very clearly in how the parents refer to them. Recently, in the past 10 years, the term has been getting more regular usage amongst the Western audience, effectively changing what the term means. In Japan, the term is still not a revered term even amongst nerds, but it’s the western usage of “otaku” that has changed what we know to be otaku!
How To Define An Otaku
Let’s jump into the main types of otaku: Western, Occidental, and the timeless Weeaboo.
1. The Western Otaku
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 the word 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.
Despite of its mild meaning, not everyone likes to identify themselves as an otaku. Some people think it refers to someone with a greater interest in anime and manga than the normal person. Those are the types who would rather just enjoy anime casually. Many people do not want to associate themselves with being an otaku or would prefer not to bring attention to their interest in anime culture.
“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
Why is it that people don’t want to be labeled as an otaku? Well, the reason why so many people do not like to associate themselves with it has more to do with social stigma. When anime was first introduced in the West, there was a great amount of dislike for anime and the people who liked it. People who liked anime were ridiculed and bullied. It was not a good time for otaku in the west. Why watch a cartoon when you should be behaving like an adult? Many anime enthusiasts were ashamed of their hobby. Of course, when it caused ridicule amongst society, why wouldn’t you be?
Since then, anime has become more widely accepted, however there is still a social stigma involving those who watch it. Yes, the community of anime viewers is much larger than it used to be, but ignorant people are still not as accepting of a hobby that involves “watching cartoons.” It makes it even worse when otaku are stereotyped!
2. The Occidental Otaku
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 defined as a foreign character with a gross obsession over anime. Some occidental types 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 types 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.
Another example of an occidental type is Renge from Ouran High School Host Club. She’s absolutely obsessed with Japanese otome games to the point that she cannot seem to differentiate between reality and fiction! Renge is the type who tries to put her fantasies into reality. It’s a new way of LARPing.
Also interesting is how gender roles and sexism in anime and manga fit into this otaku world. Check out the article above for some insight into that!
3. The Weeaboo
Sadly, though, there’s a reason for this type of stereotype. Now, I introduce to you the weeaboo. “Weeaboo” is defined as 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.
Many people detest weeaboos because of their obsessive nature over all things Japanese. Japanese goods are the best. The Japanese language is #1. There is no finer country than Japan. They portray themselves as people who would rather be Japanese than anything else. This is one of the reasons why people do not want to associate themselves with being an otaku. For those who are not familiar with both terms, being an otaku and a weeboo are synonymous, however that is far from true! Otaku are people who have an interest in a certain hobby, which may be anime. Weeboos are people who only know about anime, which has caused some sort of Japan complex. Yeah, that is so not the same.
Anime Recommendations For Weeaboos
If you’re looking for an example, you may want to consider Pina from Ladies vs Butlers. Pina is European but she places all things Japanese above her own country and history, even to the point of saying that manga is better than classic literature. Needless to say, she needs a bit of a reality check. It’s one thing to commend one country for their achievements. It’s another to put down your entire background and homeland for another country’s.
The Future of Otaku
While there are some stereotypes, the American otaku is just someone who enjoys anime and manga in great detail, though not obsessively so. They may care a lot about the differences between tsundere and neo-tsunderekko, or possibly the different types of “dere”. There is a social stigma due to the stereotypes associated and how it’s defined, 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 the term 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 will not have as much societal judgement as it does now. Anime won’t be something that causes society to look down on you. Stereotypes will be a thing of the past. Each day, anime is becoming more accepted in society which will eventually lead to an otaku paradise! For now, there are only a few individuals capable of bearing the name “otaku” with pride. Are you one of them?