On Being an Otaku

Mahoro Andou

Yes it is true, I am a closet Otaku and have been watching Japanese Anime since 2008. I really come from a comic and traditional cartoon enjoyment background so it was just a progression from there, but prior to 2008 the only real exposure I had to anime was the children’s programmes on TV like Heidi, Transformers or Starblazers and a couple of others that I do not recall. The biggest problem that I had back then was the quality of the animation was not as slick as that of Disney or Warner Bros. or any of the other cartoon brands coming out of America. 

It is difficult to know what was my first anime; and there are two contenders: Mahoromatic or Azumanga Daioh. To confuse matters even more, the local newsagents released one of those partworks series that included a DVD and magazine for weekly purchase and I collected a few of them before giving that up because they kept on returning to the same series (Macross) which I did not take a fancy to. I am NOT a fan of giant meccha, or idiots in general and Macross seemed to embody both. At the time I was living in Randburg and there were two anime shops in Brightwater Common that I started to visit.  There was a very nice woman that worked at the one so that may have influenced my wallet and she recommended that I try either of the two shows.  There were few options open to watching anime; you could download it using a file sharing programme like Winmx or Limewire, you could buy an “official dub” or even a dodgy “fansub” or you could hope to find somebody who knew somebody that knew somebody else that had a copy you could watch. An “official dub” is loosely speaking an anime that has been dubbed into another language (usually English) by a company that has purchased the rights to it ie. an officially licensed translation done by professionals. A fansub is an anime that has been dubbed into another language by fans and subtitled. I am hard at hearing and because most anime never reached our shores “officially” ended up with fansub exposure because of the subtitles. It also meant that I was watching the show in Japanese and reading the subtitles. This was very helpful to me because it helped with my hearing, I am now at a stage where I will not watch something that does not have subtitles and will quite happily watch a movie in another language by reading subtitles. Indirectly It has opened a whole new world to me.

Back at the grindstone I gradually expanded my viewing into different genres of anime. In my case “slice of life” became a favourite and still is, but I also enjoyed a lot of the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres.  Anime does lend itself to science fiction and fantasy quite well and of course you can literally do anything as long as you have some sort of a story, characters and enough fan service to satisfy any otaku. What is fan service? it is any material added in to cater to fans (usually male) and it can range from huge battle scenes right down to upskirting, sexual innuendo, panty shots, boobs, shower scenes and so forth. Anime is often seen as a pastime enjoyed by perverts, weirdos, geeks, gamers and shut-ins. Generally those are males, but occasionally there are female equivalents watching anime just as eagerly. Let’s face it, anime does have somewhat of a jaded reputation. 

Another important aspect of anime is “character traits or tropes“, the best known probably being the “tsundere“.  For some odd reason the tsundere is quite popular amongst otaku, Probably the most famous tsundere is Haruhi Suzumiya, and in my opinion is one of the more curious anime girls around.  The opposite of the tsundere is? There are just so many to choose from and you can find all permutation of personality within anime, although wars can break out over which character fits a particular trope because there are different levels of tropes too. Its really quite complicated but once you start watching anime you start to categorise the characters and slot them into the appropriate boxes.

(l-r) Haruhi Suzumiya, Yuki Nagato, Mikuru Asahina

I will also admit that on quite a few occasions I have been forced to reach for the tissue box because there are quite a few weepies out there that can reduce watchers to blubbering wrecks. In my opinion Clannad After Story wins the grand prize. I will not leave any spoilers here but trust me on this one. Clannad also has my favourite anime girl (sometimes called a “waifu” (the origin of the word comes from the katakana word for wife; ワイフ). Nagisa Furukawa pretty much embodies many traits that make her very likable but she is somewhat of a tragic character too, stricken with a mysterious illness that always happens at the worst possible moment. Incidentally, Nagisa is a Byoukidere, they  live with some kind of terminal illness, but still manage to be cheerful and kind despite this hardship. Often, they pass away from their illness at some point during the series.

I do use myanimelist to record my viewing trends and have been doing so since 2008. So far I have watched  714 shows/movies/ONA/OVA/series and dropped 103.  It is a handy one-stop source for all anime information although every so often it gets hacked and becomes a disaster all on its own. Generally anime have 12 episodes in a season or 24 spanning 2 seasons. (There are 4 seasons in a year). Although the best 12 episode anime never seem to have a season 2, or if they do it can be years after the original. It is a very fickle industry that is driven by local (Japanese) demand as opposed to overseas demand. 

Manga is the book equivalent of anime, although most anime seem to be derived from the manga or visual novels. These read from right to left and can be found in English too, although they are pricey and you could end up sitting saddled with hundreds of them and nowhere to store them. The South African market was minuscule and when I was buying them they retailed at roughly R120 each (in the UK they sell for around £11.50 per volume).  When it came to disposal time I ended up with this pile of books and nobody wanted them. I also collected anime figurines and have quite a few left over from my days in South Africa. They too were pricey but the resemblance to the characters they depict is amazing. If I had been able to find them easily I would have had a huge collection, but pricewise the expense is not really warranted. And, once you have them there is no way to resell them as there is no real market.

Shirai Kuroko and Mikoto Misaka from Toaru Kagaku no Railgun

Like it or not anime and manga is not a mainstream activity that is pursued in the west. I really struggled to find like-minded people in South Africa and the few internet groups that I did encounter were graveyards of activity.  And, whether you like it or not the preponderance of characters is female, young and curvy and the viewership is mostly male. There are however a few excellent male characters and Takashi Natsume from the anime Natsume Yuujinchou springs to mind almost immediately. He is surprisingly “normal” and overall a very likable character. Male dominated anime does have a small following amongst females, and there is an even smaller group known as Fujoshi (腐女子, lit. “rotten girl”) and they are female fans of manga, anime and novels that feature romantic relationships between men (known as Yaoi). 

Inevitably hearing all this Japanese has given me an ear for the language too and I have picked up quite a lot of words over the years although I could never have a conversation in the language. I do have an appreciation for its complexity and incredibly difficult Japanese written word and I will not even attempt to explain it but like most languages it is probably easier to pick up if you are surrounded by native speakers.  And, as a result of my interest in Japanese I have become a fan of the many opening  and ending music (aka OP and ED) from a number of the anime I have watched. It does tend to make people stare strangely at me, but they do not know what they are missing.  

Part of my original collection

The really great thing about anime and manga is that it does not dwell on the perfect, it covers all manner of personality, sexual orientation, gender, age and imagination. There is something for almost everybody (assuming you know where to look), and even weirdos like me will find something of interest to watch. Unfortunately it does have a seedy, exploitative, sexist and ageist side to it too, although watching anime does not automatically make one a lolicon.

From my collection….

Favourites: I have many although they tend to slip down the list as I discover new shows and in most cases the pairing of male and female characters makes these favourites.  These are just a few in no particular order:  Natsume YuujinchouClannad, Clannad After Story, Kanon 2006Girl’s Last TourAzumanga DaiohMahoromatic: Automatic MaidenChuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, Angel Beats, 3-gatsu no Lion, Another, Hanasaku Iroha, ChihayafuruBakemonogatari , Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, BakumanDenpa Onna to Seishun OtokoLove Live School Idol ProjectFullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Genshiken, Gunslinger Girl, Saki, Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica , Non Non Biyori, Moyashimon, Little Busters!, Ghost in the Shell, Hyouka, Violet Evergarden and so forth. 

Anime has been a great way to waste time and I have  been thoroughly entertained over the years.  Do I regret it? not really because I have been exposed to a whole new genre of entertainment and a very different culture. Had I been in Japan I would have had a blast, and in spite of my age I will continue watching as long as I can, because frankly a lot of the mainstream movies out there are drivel and unimaginative.  

May the Uguu be with you. 

DRW © 2020 – 2021. Created 13/06/2020. There are just so many resources out there, but I do recommend  “a glossary of anime and manga”myanimelist and of course any other places where you can find info. It is all about rooting around on the net because this is not a “one size fits all” world. Special thanks to those who create the anime and manga that we enjoy so much, and all those who voice the characters.  Removed table and corrected some typos 16/05/2021. 


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