Notes on Azuma’s Otaku Database Animals (1. The Otaku’s Psuedo-Japan)

Anime fuses the east and the west together. Sailor Mars, named after planet and Roman war god, part of a superhero team, totally hotheaded and modern, yet in touch with tradition, is a great example of how this looks. Azuma makes the claim that those able to embrace this hybrid imagery as “Japanese” are able to accept otaku works, and those who can’t find them unbearable.

His analysis obviously applies more to Japanese viewers, but to Azuma, this is part of the heart of anime as a cultural phenomenon. Traditional identity was decisively lost in the defeat of WWII, and the psuedo-Japanese of anime and manga is appealing because it helps fill that void. It’s also potentially repulsive seeing how it isn’t the real thing.

In the eyes of Azuma, there was a sort of narcissistic arrogance in Japan in the 80’s, which collapsed with the economy in the 90’s. However, anime and manga became internationally acclaimed at that time, allowing this attitude to continue in the otaku subculture.

“A pseudo-Japan manufactured from U.S.-produced material” is now the only thing left in our grasp. We can only construct an image of the Japanese cityscape by picturing family restaurants, convenience stores, and “love hotels.” And it is, moreover, within this impoverished premise that we have long exercised our distorted imaginary. For those who regard these conditions as unacceptable, otaku are detestable; conversely, those who overly identify with them end up becoming otaku.

To the Japanese then, anime and manga are not necessairily praiseworthy for their Japanese-ness. Those who cling to Japanese elements are substituting a fake culture for a real one. This theme of substituting fake for real is also at the heart of the stereotype of the extreme otaku who claim anime characters as their wifes, collect their figurines, sleep with their pillows, and such. A fake in the hand, a real in the bush. What’s worth more?

But, we are not all Japanese, so what’s with the foriegn otaku and their reaction to Japanese-ness? Let me speak personally here as an American and hope that I’m speaking for others as well. I am attracted to the psuedo-Japan of anime and manga simply because it’s not America. As the dominant culture, we are everywhere in the world. We have to watch as our culture suffocates traditions all over the world, and to be honest it feels kind of bad. I don’t like being part of this, yet there’s nothing I can do to fight it. When I hear that some nation’s domestic film industry can’t compete with our imports, I realize that it is their own choice to let their culture wither in favor of the American culture.

So, my reaction to the Japanese elements in anime is gleeful, because to me it is an example of a culture holding its own, preserving itself even while embracing the new world society. I get saturated with our culture every day, I see it reflected back at me in other nations, but when I look to anime, I see a change, and this to me is refreshing.

In the end, I’m not even convinced that there is anything wrong with clinging to a fake culture. I’m not sure that’s what Azuma was getting at either, and I do not mean to elevate one nation’s otaku over another’s. But, regardless, we can sort of see that there are some differences, and that this book won’t be quite so applicable to non-Japanese otaku.

Part Two

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3 Responses to Notes on Azuma’s Otaku Database Animals (1. The Otaku’s Psuedo-Japan)

  1. gwern says:

    > So, my reaction to the Japanese elements in anime is gleeful, because to me it is an example of a culture holding its own, preserving itself even while embracing the new world society. I get saturated with our culture every day, I see it reflected back at me in other nations, but when I look to anime, I see a change, and this to me is refreshing.

    But isn’t this just a crude Orientalism? 🙂

  2. Pingback: 12 Days of Anime: Day 10 – Shinsekai yori, but really a review of Tezuka’s “Adolf” | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere

  3. Pingback: Notes on “Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals”: Part 1 – The Otaku’s Pseudo-Japan | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere

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