Let’s get meta: Why do people want to be linked to ‘otaku’?

Recently, as I was writing my ‘history with anime’ post, I stumbled upon an interesting conundrum : why do people want to be linked to the word, ‘otaku’?

I mean, come on. The word was never a badge to be proudly displayed at first. To quote Simon Richmond’s ‘Rough Guide to Anime’ , “the sterotypical image of an Otaku in Japan is of a person who is highly knowledgeable about their chosen field, be it a particular manga character, computer game, anime or toy, but also somewhat socially inept, i.e. a nerd.” Flashback to the time when the word was just introduced. The kanji used, if translated to Chinese (I’m too lazy for Google Translate) roughly translates to someone who seems to never leave his home, much like a hikikomori. The word was latched onto the media in Japan when they wrote about fandom, and soon its popularity skyrocketed. From just a simple form of address, it’s become a term that even people not involved in the fandom know it. In fact, Oxford even added the word, ‘Otaku’, to its dictionary quite a long time ago.

But when you think about its origins, one must really wonder how it became a term to be embraced by anime and manga fandom alike. Ever since the Miyazaki Murders, or the ‘Otaku Murders’ of 1988 were reported, with Miyazaki being an otaku interested in horror and hentai, the word started to become a derogatory insult, a term of negative connotations. In some regions, it’s still considered a insult, and not a badge of honour. The word otaku has often been used for negative reasons. In fact, I believe that when you tell most people of the older generation about otaku, they see this image:

Yet you see numerous fans from overseas enthusiastically using the word ‘otaku’ in a friendly way to describe themselves and their friends. We still have people who use it as an insult, with negative connotations beyond our imagination like , (I quote) “to become 2D”, written by an American (I presume) on her blog.

Some people have an idea of ‘otaku’ as males who obsess over 2D depictions of adorable little girls. No joke there. People who don’t understand the word hardly even link this word to females! They have the idea that all otaku must be male! Some people even continue to relate the whole of Japan to WWII, as my anti-Japan pro-America friend likes to demonstrate by insulting every thing that involves Japan and calling them a bunch of ‘terrorists bent on world destruction/domination.’ I kid you not, and I’ve tried not to argue with him on several occasions, mostly due to the fact that I know I could never get him to understand. People like these most likely use the word in a derogatory sense, but really, does anyone often use the word as an insult any more these days in your own countries? I doubt so.

Richmond writes that the word has ‘even [been] adopted into the name of several magazines and websites devoted to anime and fandom.’ Don’t be alarmed, this blog won’t be renamed Otakuvalence or is it Otakuguity, but I’d like to talk about the blogosphere now.

Oh, not this shit again-

I love writing about the blogosphere. I can’t help it.

Anyway, a quick search through AnimeNano’s blog directory would reveal that a large amount of blogs have incorporated the word, Otaku, into their titles. I know a few bloggers who have done the same, including SilentSerenata and Arianna Sterling. With titles and the word otaku, we directly think : anime and manga. And perhaps that’s why the word has gained such popularity : it’s more than how Oxford defines it, more than just that.


noun (plural same) (in Japan) a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it? The word’s most rigid definition implies this sense of obsession, an image of a fat, sweaty, nerd without a social life or any social skills being over 40, unemployed and requires his/ her parents for subsistence. Ok, I’m exaggerating a lot here, but you can understand, right? The way most of the media sees it, this word is an insult. Nothing to be proud of.

But I suppose we, as fans outside of Japan, not subjected to their media, have come to embrace this term as a simple way to express our fandom, not an insult. It’s a word that involves the user into a different clique, a community of people who wear this badge as a way to express their own fandoms. Much like the Nazis. Much like a group identity the users can identify with, people who won’t mock them, people who would understand them. Much like using the word aniblogger to describe a blogger about anime, the word conveniently relates fans to one another. No wonder it’s become such a badge of honour among fans.

In our technologically advanced world, I guess the word, ‘nerd’ has taken on a whole new life of its own as well. The word, ‘nerd’ seems to have become a term for great fan. No wonder my friend confused it for a compliment. (Albeit too late, after calling numerous people nerds.) The word is now an identity. It’s kind of hip when you think about it. It oozes this feeling of cliques and identity, of a bizarre sense of coolness. Who isn’t a nerd nowadays? Video game nerds, Glee nerds (or Gleeks), Literature nerds, and so on – almost everyone is a nerd in some way or another! It’s become a overlapping identity as well , to the extent where the word seems to have lost some of its underlying notions and break out of its stereotypes : America portrayed nerds as spectacle-wearing, acne-ridden people with buck teeth with awkward clothing and bad social skills who’d get bullied often in the past : now we see that slowly, we are breaking out of that stereotype – plenty of people can be ‘nerds’ yet not fit that stereotype. We fans, if you will, are getting more and more social, with this stereotype slowly fading, it’s no wonder why we started embracing the term, ‘otaku’. Its negative connotations have given way to this hip trend, this sense of fandom and love for the world of anime and manga.

So perhaps I should be less anal retentive about the word. Perhaps I should be okay when people use that term on me,since I myself, am a huge fan after all, no hiding that. So maybe I am an ‘otaku’, after all.

Time to loosen up,  Valence.

I like shows like these and there’s nothing wrong

About Valence

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39 Responses to Let’s get meta: Why do people want to be linked to ‘otaku’?

  1. Ex14 says:

    I think all in all, It’s just because it’s a term that easily identifies us to our hobby, because in all honesty i think Anime/Manga/VN/Lightnovel nerd is too much of a mouthful as compared to just saying otaku.

    • Valence says:

      But there are different types of otaku too, like train otaku, so sometimes we must wonder how the word otaku came to represent anime and manga alone. Maybe since these two represent Japan in a sense.

  2. randName says:

    Them hipsters obviously haven’t heard of The OEG

    Also, I am disappoint because you did not use this image

  3. afkeroge says:

    Here in the Philippines, there are a relatively few people who even know of the word. Most Filipino anime fans on Facebook practically shout out to the world that they like anime because there’s no negative connotations to the word here (except when you are very versed about the workings of the net). I’m not really that big of a fan when looked at in a global (or even Asian) scale, but here, I’ll be called something like an otaku god even with my very limited knowledge.

    Why? Here in the Philippines, most anime that even reach our shores on free TV consist of Naruto, Bleach, One Piece and other shounen series. Anime then had quite a few fans, but they’re mostly young boys not even reaching their twenties. It was only recently that a very daring TV station started taking risks and airing anime such as Azumanga Daioh, Shakugan no Shana, Haruhi, Lucky Star, Clannad and most recently, Kaichou wa Maid-sama in our native language. This was probably the reason why anime fans here in the Philippines started multiplying like bacteria in an agar plate. From 10 year old boys to the women in their 20’s, they are proud to be called otaku, just because there’s no visible prejudice here as of now. Heck, even Facebook Group names include: “Otaku Craze”, “The World Only an Otaku Knows”, “Sana Anime Character na Lang Ako (I wish that I were an Anime Character )” among several others. And they’re not afraid to show it off.

    • Valence says:

      Same in most countries : we get dubs first, then subs. Always , it is the dubs that are our first anime. Facebook groups display this word as pride, but the question is not how, but why?

      • afkeroge says:

        I think it just goes to show that people here are not yet very aware of the negative connotations of the word, which is good. I don’t want the Philippines to have an all out discrimination campaign against anime fans.

        Well, considering that the media here hasn’t taken an interest on interviewing otaku yet, I think the fandom has not yet spread too much.

        • Valence says:

          I think that on the contrary, the fandom is growing really large, but in different degrees per person.

          And also, otaku does have negative connotations, but when you think about it it’s kind of lost these connotations in our daily usage.

        • baka~ says:

          “Well, considering that the media here hasn’t taken an interest on interviewing otaku yet, I think the fandom has not yet spread too much.”

          Local media. If we’re talking about cable TV like Heroes or Animax Asia, they would often interview people who attend conventions.

          But well, going back on the topic, ignorance is bliss so I think that having foreigners ignorant of the original, negative depiction of Otaku is for the better.

          In addition, back then, people would reprimand you if you curse out loud (at your misfortune) using words like “s**t” or “f**k” but nowadays, people doesn’t seem to mind anymore. I don’t know how often the negative use of Otaku was back then but by having people accustomed to its usage, they have accepted it and have formulated a logic of it as being “not that bad”.

          For instance, I recall Kakashi from Naruto saying something like:

          “People who break the rules are trash but those who leave their friends are scum”

          So when given a choice of two evils, people would often go after the lesser one. In this example, it is ok for people to be considered by society as trash as long as they don’t swoop down to the levels of a scum. I guess this creates that mentality that “hey, I guess being called a trash is alright… I’m not someone who deserts friends after all”

          • Valence says:

            Problem is, there are always two uses for the term, to the extent where the word is rendered ambiguous. It can be a compliment, or a insult.

            We have a funny way of dealing and adapting with our language. For instance, the word ‘fucking’ became a fit-all term for ‘very’, and perhaps it even took on this meaning we understand but can’t explain. Seriously, you can fucking place it any fucking sentence and it fucking still fucking makes fucking sense.

            Also, not everyone at conventions fit the stereotype. I’m suspectful that they go after the ones who fit the stereotype…..it’s all a conspiracy!

          • afkeroge says:

            Really? I don’t know about that since we don’t have cable TV. But the big time TV stations like GMA or ABS-CBN hasn’t really gone into details about anime culture in the Philippines. Maybe that’s why people are still relatively ignorant about the subject.

            There were some crude documentaries about the culture aired in Matanglawin recently but I think it mainly focused on the world famous cosplayer, Alodia.

            I also vaguely remember something from ‘Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho’ about ero-anime productions being done in the Philippines.

            But still, these provide very little information about the rich culture which is otaku culture.

            • Valence says:

              Alodia is a nice person, but as the figurehead of the fandom…not a good choice.

              • baka~ says:

                @ valence

                agree, having her represent Filipino fandom is a different matter altogether with how Filipinos fare in the culture


                Those documentaries you mentioned were simply done at the spur of the moment. Alodia being interviewed by ABS CBN was because she’s having a show on that station. GMA having done documentaries about ero-anime/manga translation and dubbing were the product of the article focus of “how modern day Filipinos survive” so they look at it on the aspect of a high paying job… and proceeds to criticize it and related culture.

                Try attending anime conventions and see for yourself how decent the Flipino otaku culture is. it’s nothing compared with the gusto of the Japanese fandom and may not even be supported by local media but it is strong on its own

            • afkeroge says:

              However, there is the fact that they’re giving ‘not-so-true’ information about the general trends and facts about the culture, in fear of being censored and stuff just like how nosebleeds are ‘a sign of falling in love’ and that only guys in anime can have nosebleeds. And the interview of Alodia just became a make-up session.

              While I’m not really quite experienced yet, I did attend last year’s AME fair. True, the people were very knowledgeable, not to mention that they were all very nice people. Very different from the false common notions of people who don’t even try to get to know otaku and proceed to criticize them. I admit, I used to dislike people who were really obsessed about anime and manga back then, but now, I understand them more and appreciate how they are not ashamed to do what they love to do.

  4. Alx2oy says:

    o.O the second pic freaks me out..

  5. Azure Hoshizora says:

    I don’t like the general perception and association with the word. But its just a word so I’m not exactly to particular about it. You could also try saying “I’m a modern Japanese visual pop culture enthusiast.” Which actually gives the wrong impression that you’re into art or something…

    Most people I know have no idea what that word means; they usually use ‘宅男’ ‘宅女’. And explaining what Otaku really means is like Tsukasa’s “what is moe?” Question all over again. Then there are always those who think its a really cool way of saying you’re very into anime and stuff. I used to think that too; not anymore. In fact I’m beginning to feel that the old me was an idiot for having not understood that word.

    My friends know that when they call themselves ‘otaku’ or even an ‘anime fan’, I’ll start going on a rampage and flaming them for only watcching stuff like Naruto, bleach and KHR; yea I need to have self control…

    • Valence says:

      I guess the word has become a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Going about saying you’re a modern Japanese visual pop culture enthusiast makes you sound even nerdier..

      I doubt we can ever explain the word fully, since people have different perceptions of the word..

  6. Diego says:

    “a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills”

    No issues on my end, then – my social skills were nonexistent to begin with. Can’t detrimentally impact what isn’t there in the first place.

    In any case, as an anime/manga/Titanic disaster/Third Punic War/Late Roman Republic/Vesuvian eruption of A.D. 79 otaku (amongst other areas of interest, obscure or otherwise), I tend to think of the word neither as a badge of honour nor as a pejorative term – merely as a convenient shorthand for “chap who obsesses about something”. Works for me, anyway.


    • Valence says:

      But it doesn’t exactly apply to all fans of anime, Diego. I’ve used to be kind of a electroswing otaku myself. For 2 hours. Now my new hobby is Lomography. And by new I mean 3 days.

      I suppose otaku IS shorthand after all. Since it means quite a lot, but only takes 3 syllables..

  7. I loved reading this, and not just because you mentioned me, I swear. Haha. I always find it interesting to read about the different ways the term otaku can be understood. In the book I’m intending to write, I actually plan to include a section on ‘portrayal of otaku’, about the way they’re thought of in Japan (i.e. Ayase’s reaction to finding out about Kirino, the characters in Genshiken) as opposed to the United States and whatnot.

    And that second picture…I’ve seen it before and it’s still disturbing.

  8. Baka-Raptor says:

    Self-labeling is for insecure tween girls who crave a sense of belonging.

  9. Nopy says:

    I can’t believe that second image you used is still floating around. That’s been on the internet for ages.

    Since I got into anime in the 90’s, it’s going to take me a long time before I start seeing the word “otaku” as something good. My real-life friends still use it as a derogatory term, using it to describe anyone who is so obsessed with anime that it affects their ability to interact with people normally.

    • Valence says:

      I suppose the people who get acquainted with this term in the 90s will use it in its derogatory term, but otherwise right now it’s hardly used that way.

  10. Janette says:

    Back in my days, otaku meant you were super knowledgeable about anime.

    And then everyone said they were otakus when they didn’t watch that much. And quickly, stating that you were an otaku was a surefire sign that you were a weeaboo.

  11. shumbapumba says:

    Yeah the word nerd is definitely not as demeaning as it once was. It has become quite a claim – ‘it’s hip to be square’ is a common slogan going around. Also, consider the rise of DJ cultures. DJs are computer/technology/music nerds yet they are revered and respected – ‘cool.’ Consider DJ/producer James Zabiela. His music continually revolves around robots, he rocks up to gigs in Boba Fett t-shirts, his latest essential mix for BBC’s radio 1 uses extensive samples of the film ‘Moon’, and one of his CDs has him surrounded by an army of toy robots with a shirt that says soemthing like ‘death to humans.’ And chicks froth on him! There is a whole lineage of DJs as nerds – spending hours on the computer all through the night hunting down rare tracks to play on machines for an audience. I should know, I am one. The connotations associated with the term nerd are being redefined – maybe it’s cos we are the computer generation, or maybe it’s cos every one is tired of giving a fuck. Either way, it’s awesome. P.s. that is such a funny picture of the ‘pillow party’ haha

  12. MkMiku says:

    I like being called an otaku for the lulz. It’s like the equivalent of being a nerd. Heck, I used to run a club with Oktau in the name (but it was the previous president who came up with it). I know it usually has a bad connotation, but to me it sounds cooler than being called an “anime fan.”

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  14. ^_^ says:

    Hey, I’m a 14-year-old anime otaku and PROUD!!! I’m not afraid to show who I am to the world – if other teen girls are allowed to show off their Justin Bieber CD collection, then I should be allowed to show off my manga collection! I will quite happily walk into school with my anime backpack, headphones, anime-styled hair and manga in my hand without a care in the world as to what everyone else thinks. Otaku should never be afraid to be themselves. It’s what makes all of us unique! I can safely say that I love being an otaku. It gives me a sense of happiness and trust, and anime has taught me a lot of good life lessons: the value of friendship, bravery, strength and achieving goals. I recently exposed a drugs selling group at school – I believed it was awful what my friends were doing to themselves, and I wanted to protect them even if I had to sacrifice our friendship. Thankfully, it didn’t, and I have more than forgiven them for what they did. Anyway, you should never, ever be afraid to show who you are. Otherwise, the world would be pretty damn boring!!!

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