In the past, I tend to avoid the topic on the Otaku for the fact that they are viewed negatively by Japanese society while the west tends to view the word in a more positive manner.
Of course, in a recent interview from the famous Hayao Miyazaki has stirred controversy when he stated that the Anime Industry is “full of Otaku.” While it’s understandable why he would feel this way considering his age, he brings up an interesting point that eventually lead me to share my thoughts about the whole thing. (Image Source)
What is an Otaku? Do you consider yourself one?
Otaku (お宅) literally means “your house” in Japanese (or as an honorific pronoun, it means you). However, that isn’t the meaning that most fans are familiar with. In Japanese slang, Otaku is mostly an equivalent to “geek” and “nerd”. It can relate to a certain hobby, type of entertainment, topic, etc. taken to an obsessive level.
The term generally has a negative connotation mostly because of their behaviors and not living in reality. These negative stereotypes came as a result of a man who murdered of 4 young girls that happen to have a huge collection of Anime and slasher films. Of course, the media called him “The Otaku Murderer,” thus all Otakus received a bad reputation. While the term in recent years has become less negative, it’s still considered so mostly they are still stereotyped as being anti-social.
As for me, I will never consider myself an Otaku not because the term is viewed negatively, but for the fact that I don’t take my liking for a certain hobby to obsessive levels. Sure, I watch shows that cater to an Otaku audience, but to me, it’s just a form of entertainment. Sure, I do enjoy some archetypical characters such as the tsundere, but I sure don’t want to date one in real life. Not only that, I prefer real life girls to imaginary ones. The point I’m making is that I don’t let escapism and obsession take over every aspect of my life. Besides, I don’t believe in labels.
So, what is the uproar with Miyazaki’s remarks? What are your thoughts on it?
Here is a translated excerpt of the interview:
You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life. If you don’t spend time watching real people, you can’t do this, because you’ve never seen it.
Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku!
While people felt outraged for the fact that most westerners tend to view the term Otaku in a more positive light, I do agree with most of his statement for the fact that there is a lot of shows that tend to have a more idealistic of what characters should be compared to reality. Since Otaku oriented shows most of the time have characters that appeal to that type of audience, hence the character tends to be more archetypical such as the tsundere, the typical moe girl, yandere, or the dense and average high school male lead. As a result, it allows greater creative control as one doesn’t have to make them act like actual humans. In short, Otaku oriented shows focus more on the artistic merits rather than on believable characters.
In contrast, Miyazaki’s movies tend to have characters that you can relate more in real life because he doesn’t rely on archetypes, but base them on actual people through their experiences. This is perhaps one of the reasons why his movies are widely accessible, it’s a lot easier to relate with the characters since they have a realistic personality, not just a bunch of archetypes and tropes smashed together. To me, I think it would be difficult trying to picture Mirai from Kyoukai no Kanata as a real person compared to someone like Kiki from Kiki Delivery Service. Of course, there are other titles besides Miyazaki films that I can relate the characters as real characters such as any of Makoto Shinkai movies, Usagi Drop, Tari Tari or even some of Mari Okada’s works such as Hourou Musuko, Hanasaku Iroha (to a certain extent) and Nagi no Asukara.
Of course, this brings us to the main question: is the Anime Industry’s focus on the Otaku audience a bad thing? To me, while I would like to see more of a balance between more believable/realistic characters/story and escapism so that more people can get into Anime. However, these shows do not sell well. Capitalism is the main reason studios continue to make shows that cater to an Otaku audience because they sell! It’s a vicious circle that has no end because these studios need to make a profit.
While this seems pessimistic, catering to an Otaku audience does not automatically mean that all of these shows are bad. In fact, it can allow for more creative characters and stories since writers can express themselves freely and give a greater degree of escapism in their works (although, these works can also have realistic characters). A good example of this is Madoka. While the characters in this show are not completely realistic, the setting, character development and the story is what made this show very enjoyable and interesting to watch. Although these shows are more idealistic and has stronger elements of escapism, it doesn’t mean that you can’t relate to it or take a new perspective in life just because the characters aren’t believable. I have learned some life lessons from Otaku-oriented shows like Clannad for instance. In that regard, the approach one takes shouldn’t matter.
As a whole, while having a middle ground would be better to add more variety and attract more non-anime fans to the medium, having an Anime Industry focusing on the Otaku audience is a necessary evil. Without it, niche shows or ones that have more realistic characters and story wouldn’t even receive an adaptation because it won’t sell. However, it doesn’t mean that shows aimed at the Otaku are any less creative than their realistic counterparts. I think the only big difference I see is the approach they take in making the story and characters. Let’s face it, there are always going to be bad shows from both sides of the spectrum as stated by Sturgeon’s Law of 90% of things being crud. Even so, I think people need to take Hayao Miyazaki’s opinions with a grain of salt considering his age and his experiences as a director.
What are your thoughts on his remarks? Do you think that an Anime Industry focusing on shows for an Otaku audience is a necessary evil so that niche titles can receive an adaptation?
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4 Comments… read them or add your own.
It’s a bit similar to calling “gamers” or “gaming” bad/negative because there were news about “gamers” doing bad things in the US or at Europe. The news media claims that video games are the cause of violence even though it’s not scientifically proven true but it’s not exactly treated by the general public that poorly compared to “otaku” in Japan. That could be why most Westerners don’t find the “otaku” word negative.
Also the Japanese media is probably the main cause on why “otaku” is mostly negative especially that it’s the Japanese culture where you can put the specific group you’re in to shame if you did something bad and thus, they applied it to the “otaku category group” because that “bad person” happens to be in it.
However I don’t consider myself as an Otaku, either.
I have watched some videos on why some people don’t consider themselves “gamers” because it has a bad reputation. I think people are quick to stereotype a group of people because someone does a bad thing. I think it’s saddening that gamers have a bad reputation not because one is being judged by his/her interests, but also for the fact that video games are being blamed for shootings when it’s not true. The easily can be said about Otakus too.
But generally, I think labels are generally negative as they are regressive and cause people to hide their feelings towards a hobby so he/she won’t get judged, thus we need to stop using them. This is one of the reasons why people reacted so heavily to Miyazaki’s remarks over the use of the world “Otaku” even if I do agree with some aspects of what he said.
I think a clear definition for “real people” is needed here, for if the term represents the emotional struggles or trails against adversities that a character faces, it can be found in almost any shows. And being an entertainment medium, I certainly don’t want anime to have a close resemblance to the real world, as I will be watching what I already have seen in the 3D realm. Still, I agree that the pendulum needs to shift back to the middle, in order to lure in new fans, bring back former fans, and maybe open up new horizons for the current fans.
And I also don’t see myself as an otaku. But if any “real people” see my collections of various anime related goods build up for over a decade, they will likely think I went off the deep end a long time ago.
While characters can have personalities that are idealistic, I agree that even if the characters can have their own experiences and struggles through out the story. Of course, I don’t think Anime should not be overly realistic as it wouldn’t be called an Anime, it will feel more like an adaptation of an live action show. Heck, I do like a lot shows that can’t happen in real life such as magical girl shows as they are enjoyable an interesting to watch at.
But I think there should be a limit as anything in excess (in this case, over-obsessing with fictional characters to the point that one doesn’t want a relationship with a real person) will of course lead to anti-social behavior and of course lose touch in reality in general as stated by Miyazaki’s remarks. However, it does not mean that all people are like this as there are many who like fictional characters and collect a lot of these goods, but still sociable.