The Rise of Filipino Otaku Culture

So this is what I’ve been busy with for the past few weeks. As you all know I am a proud Filipino, and I also like anime and otaku culture. As such, I have submitted a research proposal about this particular topic. And what do you know? It got accepted by my professor!

Now you’re probably asking why the hell I posted this long and boring article over here. Long story short, I want opinions. Opinions on how I can improve this draft for the impending doom that is the final paper to be submitted sometime soon. So be a pal and help me out, okay?

Disclaimer and warning: This post contains the rough draft of my academic paper. It is tentative and is subject to further changes. As it is now, this study is unfit to be used as an official source for an academic paper, and it shouldn’t. However, if I find out that this article is used unlawfully, I am fully prepared to take the case to court, so please think twice before attempting to plagiarize.

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“Otaku” is a Japanese slang word that roughly means “a person who has an obsessive interest in a particular subculture or hobby, most often, but not always, anime or Japanese animation, manga or Japanese comics, and other related merchandise. Various other interpretations of the term exist. For example, Oxford Dictionaries defines the term as “a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills” (otaku, n.) .This example may reflect the image of a typical otaku in the eyes of the more critical groups of people, and of the general public over at the western side of the world. However, Japanese author, Hiroki Azuma, provides a more “culture-centric” approach on his definition:  “…a general term referring to those who indulge in forms of subculture, strongly linked to anime, video games, computers, science fiction, special-effects films, anime figurines, and so on” (3). The latter definition provides a more in-depth and comprehensive view on the specifics of the subculture, and the definition that is widely accepted by anime and manga fans themselves. In this paper, Azuma’s definition will be used.

Otaku culture in the Philippines, though comparatively small compared to the US and other countries, does exist. This is proven by certain factors, which would be discussed in this study. To provide a clear grasp on the historical and finer details concerning local otaku culture, it is imperative that a brief history of anime in the Philippines be provided.

Japanese animation started gaining popularity in the Philippines during the rising popularity of “Mecha,” or giant robot, anime back in the 1970’s (Sy). It was back at those times that the anime industry in Japan was just starting to produce animation with a deeper focus on plot and character development, producing a broader spectrum of cartoon themes than the normal slapstick comedy staple of western cartoons back then. The local airing of Voltes V was very well-received by the Filipino people with some considering it to be the most phenomenal anime series in Philippine history (Voltes V on Hero TV EXPOSED!). The title first aired in the Philippines during the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. The themes of Voltes V, such as opposition of an oppressive ruling body and a family-centered storyline might have contributed to the overwhelming popularity of the show among the Filipino people; children and adults alike.

However, the introduction of other imported TV programs, namely Mexican soap operas in the 1990’s, Taiwanese soap operas in the early 2000’s and most recently, Korean shows and pop culture in the mid-2000’s demoted anime to the early morning children’s programming block and at times, the afternoon programming block along with other imported non-primetime Asian shows. Local television stations on free TV have also shown less and less anime to the point of said stations rerunning locally popular anime opposed to acquiring broadcasting licenses for newer titles from Japan. While local cable channels dedicated to broadcasting anime like Hero TV or Animax Philippines have a wider choice of programs, they are still quite limited and inaccessible to those not subscribed to cable television services.  Of course, now with fewer anime titles shown on local free television, Filipinos who want to see more anime had to find alternative ways to watch said shows.

The recent rise of internet usage among Filipino households have allowed for the exposure of the more liberal internet-using Filipino youths to information about anime, manga and Japanese pop culture in more depth and detail compared to what is shown on television or other forms of media. This also led to more Filipinos discovering websites where they could watch anime or read manga to their heart’s content. Fan-subtitled, more well-known as fansubbed anime, and fan-translated manga are also accessible through the internet for the prospective anime watcher.

Social networking sites and services like Facebook, and blogs dedicated to anime, manga and otaku culture also help in spreading information about the culture and provide a place where Filipinos can discuss aspects of the culture with each other. A quick internet search of something like “otaku Philippines” will provide substantial results when searching for Filipino otaku gathering websites.

Because of this now widespread knowledge, even if limited, about anime and Japanese culture among the young Filipino people, some aspects of the otaku culture, both in Japan and other countries are being assimilated into the growing local otaku culture. Many Filipino otaku consider themselves as such, with most treating it as a badge of honor and a symbol of knowledge about foreign culture (Sy).

University organizations, one of the most popular and prominent being the UP AME, or the University of the Philippines Anime and Manga Enthusiasts, participate in most Japan-related events within the university. The organization also holds an annual event called the AME Fair, which caters to both casual and serious anime fans in the Philippines, particularly in the Metro Manila area.

Several anime-related events, or conventions, like the AME Fair or the Ozine Fest, are being held regularly, and greeted positively. According to AME member and AME Fair Committee finance division member Jesus Lorenzo Guerrero, the last AME Fair had an attendance count of around 5000, selling out every available ticket and having to deny admission to many more latecomers because of the unanticipated positive reception (Guerrero). Other such events like the aforementioned Ozine Fest, is also held from time to time.

Role-playing and/or dressing up in a character costume as anime and manga characters, better known as cosplaying, is gaining popularity locally. In anime-related events, cosplayers are often present, aside from other cultural influences such as Maid Cafés, or cafés that have waitresses who dress as maids are also being integrated into said events.

It must be said, however, that the term otaku has bad connotations both in Japan and countries like the US and the UK. Tsutomu Miyazaki, a social recluse responsible for some deplorable defilement and murders of young girls was found to be obsessed with pornographic anime and manga (“Otaku” Murderer Tsutomu Miyazaki Executed on Tuesday). The Japanese media needed something to blame Miyazaki’s actions on back then – a scapegoat: anime and manga as a whole. From then on, otaku culture has been seen by the general public of Japan as something that implies being a “geek murderer” or an obsessive maniac. This notion has since dwindled significantly following the positive reception of Japanese media franchise, Train Man, an allegedly true story about a 22-year old Japanese otaku, nicknamed “Densha Otoko (Train Man)” by anonymous users of 2Channel, a Japanese message board. According to the story, “Train Man” saves a woman he meets on the train from harassment by a drunken man. This story became an international bestseller (Ashby) and helped improve the image of otaku in Japan.

There is also the issue of Rapelay, a Japanese anime-style adult game primarily involving rape, getting discussed by the British parliament (Choo), open to the public, about finding ways, and effectively banning the sales of such games. This may have influenced the views of the public about otaku for the worse.

Cases of both internet and real life bullying toward otaku, one of the most infamous being the now inaccessible Encyclopedia Dramatica articles on otaku and anime, as well as some websites that publish unsubstantiated claims that generalize otaku as unpatriotic, perverted and weird do exist. While some of these claims may hold a sliver of truth, it most certainly does not apply to every anime and manga fan.

However, Filipino otaku culture reflects very little, if any at all, of these stereotypes, especially when considering the outgoing and hospitable nature of the Filipino people. Claims referring to Filipino otaku being sociopathic child murderers cannot possibly exist due to the absence of any such case in the Philippines being made public, if any have happened at all. Any appeal to lack of patriotism will most likely be shrugged off because of how Filipinos easily assimilate foreign culture to their own.

This does not mean that there is no stigma associated with being an otaku in the Philippines, however. Watching anime is somewhat viewed as a childish and immature endeavor, and being seriously involved with the culture was not widely welcomed. In fact, Angel Rivero from the Philippine Star shares that as an otaku herself, she found otaku culture to be largely unpopular some years ago, and that other people find it hard to comprehend anime fascination and other aspects of the culture (Rivero).

This popular conception might come from the fact that most anime aired in the Philippines come from an anime and manga genre known as “shōnen” or anime targeted at young boys. Examples of these kinds of anime include Dragon Ball, Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. While these examples are some of the most internationally-acclaimed examples of Japanese animation, they are most certainly not the only anime in existence. The “shōnen” genre isn’t the only genre of anime and manga that exists. There are in fact, anime and manga targeted at a more mature audience; those that showcase technicality, darker themes and even socially relevant issues. Some examples of these anime include 1995’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, Code Geass of 2007, or the recent Puella Magi Madoka ★ Magica aired this 2011. These kinds of anime are considered to be for a more mature audience as they contain high amounts of violence, profanity, and a certain amount of suggestive and dark themes. These anime franchises were very popular in Japan, even among the non-otaku crowd. Though Neon Genesis Evangelion did air here in the Philippines through the television network ABS-CBN in 1999, the series seemed to have only received little acclaim, if any, the local broadcast of Code Geass had tough viewership competition from being broadcast at the same time that local television giants such as GMA7 would broadcast daily news and Puella Magi Madoka  Magica has yet to be aired locally.

It is possible that the reason why such anime have seemingly poor reception is because of the remnants of conservative Filipino culture, as well as people treating anime as something that is for children and teenagers alone. It is for this reason that a minor stigma against Filipino otaku appears to exist, even though the possibility exists that said stigma is simply a trifling worry.

However, even with these apparent issues, Filipino otaku suffer little, if any, persecution from common people. It is considered as simply a love of culture, much like how many Filipinos also appreciate Korean and American pop culture without suffering from any negative stigma. Filipino otaku can freely socialize with non-otaku people while donning anime-themed clothing or accessories, as much as the next Hollywood film fan would.

The local otaku subculture, though may not be as prominent as it is in Japan or western countries, is slowly taking footing as a stable subculture through the improvement of information technology and the absence of negative notions about otaku in the country.

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Bibliography:

Azuma, Hiroki. Otaku, Japan’s Database Animals.Trans. Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono. Minneapolis, Minnesota. University of Minnesota Press, 2009. 3. Print.

Choo, Danny. “Rapelay.” 29 May 2009 <http://www.dannychoo.com&gt;

““Otaku” Murderer Tsutomu Miyazaki Executed on Tuesday.” 17 June 2008 <http://www.animenewsnetwork.com&gt;

“otaku, n.” Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/otaku&gt;

Rivero, Angel. “Part Chinese, part Filipino and part otaku!.” 20 May 2011 <http://www.philstar.com&gt;

Sy, Michael David. “An ethnographic study on otaku culture from a local perspective.” 22 March 2007 <http://animeotaku.animeblogger.net&gt;

Ashby, Janet. “Hey Mr. Trainman.” 18 November 2004 <http://search.japantimes.co.jp/member/member.html?ek20041118br.htm&gt;

Guerrero, Jesus Lorenzo. Personal interview. 21 August 2011.

“Voltes V Evolution on Hero TV EXPOSED!.” 11 April 2006 <http://magtibayanime2000.blogspot.com&gt;

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10 Responses to The Rise of Filipino Otaku Culture

  1. Justin says:

    Hmm, I think you need to check up a bit on the Otaku thing for the US. In the past, the term Otaku was used positively by publishers (example, Tokyopop), and in some cases, it doesn’t imply anything negative here in the states (after all, we have a magazine called Otaku USA here). And even today, it appears not to be anything bad to us (See, http://animegravity.com/)

    • @fkeroge says:

      I have taken what you have pointed out into consideration. Thank you for commenting. 🙂

      Since the time allotted for us to research on our chosen topics is not really that long. And since I am enrolled in an engineering degree program, I have more important subjects to take care of other than this required three-unit general education course.

      But since I am already doing this, I will make it a point to research more on American and European anime culture.

  2. There is a strong bias in your writing when you take it as a matter of fact that the public needed scapegoats and therefore otaku were victimized. This is conjecture just as much as the parties you accuse of making.

    I do agree that there is no persecution of anime, manga, and cosplay enthusiasts here in the Philippines. However, I don’t usually see working-class people openly demonstrate this as a matter of fandom.

    Sure I’d see utility staff or construction workers in the occasional Naruto t-shirt, and of course the jeepneys with Gundam SEED markings as if itasha, but I am skeptical about the actual knowledge and passion of these people about the subject matter that they are displaying.

    It’s the same as finding parents who want to name their kid “LeBron” without being hardcore fans of the player or even the NBA, but just because they want their kid to feel that he was named after someone “sikat” (there is more nuance here than simply translating it to “famous” or “popular”).

    • Sebz Dima says:

      same sentiment as ghosty. Our masa is not exactly as cultured as in countries like Japan and America. The actual population of what you can call otaku is very small in any Filipino community, even in families of higher class (unless Ateneo / La Salle is trolling).

      *sigh* disappointing, but when has the country done anything but so?

  3. ~xxx says:

    anime shows nowadays is well off in this current situations.

    I was feeling that nowadays, korean drama really puts everyone in their drama mode. (not to mention I do watch few of them.)

    Maybe the only problem was that Filipinos tend to say that something that is drawn as a cartoon like appearance is treated as a kid’s show and then they tend to judge every actions one has made in accordance to what kind of hobbies one person has.

    The only hope for this current condition of anime in the Philippines would be the younger generation who will continue what the old have forgotten to do.

    Well, and the old have to do as what the youth is doing right now.
    Just Like Jose Rizal said “the youth is the hope of the Nation(ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan.)’

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  5. Valence says:

    Content wise it is okay. Language wise, you need some work (no offence.) Some expressions are awkward, although sensible, and some areas …just don’t seem too right. But generally it’s fine.

  6. keikakudoori says:

    Being a long time anime fan I reckon I can provide some ideas on the topic despite not being Filipino. A couple of things here. It’s a nice draft, but I’d strongly advise you to expand on some topics so the research can explain the points you’re making and be more comprehensive

    Good to see that you mentioned that there are other genres in anime because that’s one of the most important parts. This is a topic that it is advisable to expand upon. The reason behind it is that in the eyes of non-anime fans all anime is “the same”. By mentioning different genres you’ll let them know that anime isn’t a restricted medium. It’d be also a good idea to add more titles to your list, and consider adding quick summary of titles that impacted you the most to demonstrate the contrast between “regular” anime and “thought provoking anime” as well. Example, Lain explores the impact on technology on the human’s life and the mind. Kino’s journey is a profound take on life viewing it as journey through bizarre and peculiar countries. By expanding on some of them the readers will get a quick grasp of what some of these shows they never heard of before can be about in case they feel curious.

    Often I compare anime to movies (or even TV) to make the point that anime, Japanese animation, is a medium with multiple genres therefore aimed at different audience. Another point to consider mentioning is that same as movies, anime also varies in “quality”, therefore it isn’t unusual for anime to be of higher quality than others. If you’re wondering about this the point is that the readers should be aware that all anime isn’t the same. And so while there could be masterpieces there are also poor quality material out there. It may sound redundant but you’ll be surprised that many non-anime fans don’t always realize this. Whatever “bad experiences” they may previously had with anime is only “one” of the many and that there is sure to be something out there that could catch their interest. Similarly, anime fans’ taste in the medium vary.

    I don’t think you mentioned manga or other mediums but if you want you can briefly mention any of them to let the reader know that there is more than anime and that these mediums are also connected in a way.

    One last suggestion that I’d strongly recommend is to include the reason why anime fans like anime in the first place, seeing the research is on anime fans and the rise of it, well Filipino, to be exact, this is relevant to explain why the medium appeals to them. It’s a good idea to let the reader know why anime fans like Japanese animation. Of course, there are many reasons but here is one – people looking for something different than what they are used.

    Well, that’s it. This is all mostly general talk regarding the medium and the fandom, but I’m sure some of these topics will prove relevant to your research in some way. The list goes on and so when it comes to the topic of anime so you can easily expand on any topic. Good luck.

  7. Yi says:

    I hope this isn’t too late for feed backs…

    I knew nothing about Filipino otaku culture or its anime/manga scene, so this is a wonderful article introducing and detailing it and its history. I really enjoyed it. Very informative and nicely written.

    I think there are some parts that you could expand a bit more on. There are a few claims that read a bit unsupported. I think you kind of drew an indirect equivalence between not being persecuted and being popular, i.e. without much persecution, otaku culture would slowly grow. I think that simplifies how subculture develop a little too much, because the assumption is that anime is something most people would enjoy, when that’s not necessarily true (and not just because of negative connotations). I feel the NGE example actually kind of supports the fact that just because there is little persecution, otaku subculture wouldn’t necessarily grow. That, in some ways, run counter to your point (or at least what I think your point is).

    Anyway, good luck with the paper! And take my comments with a grain of salt. My feedback is with very little knowledge of Filipino otaku culture, or even otaku culture in general. So yea. ^ ^

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