Not too long ago, I was walking through a shopping mall named Funan Digitallife Mall, a place stocked from head to toe with gaming stores, anime merchandise stores, and electronics. In my small country, it is also well known as an area where many smaller-sized anime conventions, cosplay events were held. In other words, it is similar to a mini-heaven for anime fans, for every shop I pass there is inevitably some anime-related posters stuck in shop windows or at shop entrances, intent on strongly appealing to the like-minded.
Anyway, on that day, there happened to be a convention of sorts on the ground floor selling all sorts of anime merchandise, together with cosplaying competitions and a large anime-screening theater. I believe it was showing an episode of ‘Date A Live’, or some other anime clearly belonging to the harem comedy genre, which I wouldn’t be familiar with, because I watch very little of those anime.
My friend and I were walking past all these stalls, where there was a good crowd of clear anime fans. My friend was clearly curious, pausing a little in his steps to peer at the merchandise they were selling. I maintained a steady pace, letting my eyes slide over figurines of Kirito, Asuna, Saber, and Archer.
“What are these?”
“Figurines from different anime.”
“Wow, so ex!” He replies. I squint a little at the price tags on the figurine boxes. Expensive, yes, but merchandise always cost a bomb for what it looked like it was worth.
“These things are always expensive,” I tell him the truth.
“Huh …” his voice trailed off, before he realised with a start that we had stopped beside a group of guys proudly wearing anime-themed shirts and chattering excitedly with the booth owner. “Let’s go,” his voice took on a hint of anxiety, “Let’s move away before they talk to us.” I turned sharply towards him, but he was already shushing me away from the booth and increasing his pace.
That incident was but a small fragment of how the perennial world-view towards anime fans and anime lovers has not changed. Modern society has always viewed the concept of ‘otaku’ in a negative light. This applies not only to countries with fear-mongering online communities which harbour a deep-seated bias against Japan’s ability to manipulate the subconscious through the attractiveness of its soft power i.e. culture, but also even within Japan itself, where the term was born. Strictly speaking, ‘otaku’ does not mean anything more than a person who is a zealous fan of an area of interest, and becomes so well-versed and obsessed with it to the point of doing away with most or all forms of human interaction just to spend more time in indulgence in this activity. However, the term is more commonly associated with fervent manga and anime fans. How this has only come to stick with manga and anime is a question that cannot be answered simply. Historical factors, the values that anime is seen to promote, and the stereotypical personality as one that is not desired nor productive for society all have some role to play.
Given that my foray into anime has not been for quite a long time, I may not be the person most suited to state what my society’s reaction towards otaku are. However, I believe that any person who is born and bred in my society and is thoroughly steeped in it would be able to get a roughly accurate sense of what my society generally thinks.
In my country, anime lovers are actually not all that uncommon. Look at the throngs of people who visit Anime Festival Asia, an annual festival that is held annually and is a possibly substantial source of tourist revenue, that is sufficient to deter anime lovers who hate crowds. Most people wouldn’t even blink an eyelid if you say you watch anime. In fact, most young children in the country have played Pokemon on the Gameboy or Nintendo DS. Some university professors draw analogies from the Law of Equivalent Exchange from Fullmetal Alchemist, simply to bring across a learning point more clearly. In lectures, the dude in front has apparently acquired the fastest skill of tab-switching, such that with a swipe on the keypad on his Macbook, he can switch between his notes and a browser window of the latest chapter of Naruto manga. On public transport, the bespectacled guy in a suit sniggers as Eyeshield 21 runs at exaggerated lightspeed to touchdown on his phone screen. Anime is insidiously ubiquitous, though it is never a topic that is brought up to daylight or in normal, polite conversation.
One only truly generates a larger reaction when one states that he or she watches ‘mostly’ anime in his or her free time. Such reactions are mostly unconscious as most people try to appear to be non-judgmental and open-minded, an impression that is apparently more important to bring across than ridiculing or letting the expressions of distaste play across one’s facial features. But, these are not sufficient to hide their true feelings, as they are betrayed by how their eyes change or by the flitting expression which are picked up by the anime fan due to their more sensitive nature.
Part of the controversy and disgust directed at the anime otaku community is no doubt generated by the negative impressions at the demographic that it seems to be largely aimed at and the nature of the content that the rest of society is exposed to. For starters, the amount of male anime and manga fans vastly outnumber females. This overwhelmingly slanted ratio is seemingly explained by the kawaii or moe phenomenon that has translated into images of cutesy young girls in skimpy outfits or noticeably larger boobs, sometimes in suggestive positions, that seem outrageous to the larger society. The fact that this is clearly a product of hand-drawn and digitalised animation further augments the mentality that it is all an elaborate attempt to blur the lines between reality and fantasy. It certainly does not help that the hentai is seen as equivalent to anime, especially when genres like ecchi and harem do exist, and which constitute the bulk of the negativity associated with anime. People take a look at the fan demographic, look at Miku Hatsune or basically any anime girl poster, put two and two together and come to the conclusion that anime is but a farce to put ideas of child sexualisation or even child pornography into the heads of young, hot-blooded males. Couple that with the fact that anime tends to appeal to the shyer, introverted group of males, and voila! We have a force akin to terrorism to fear.
Now, that last sentence may have been a logical leap or a slight exaggeration of sorts, but these are the fundamental concerns of any other individual who is not an anime fan, when they regard any individual that proclaims to be one. The more intellectual ones, understanding that anime is more than hentai, see anime as just yet another area of interest and on par with say, watching American TV series or movies. But these are few and far between.
On the most basic level, obsession scares people. This rings true in my society which is a largely pragmatic and conservative one, so unless one is obsessed with anything that is considered a ‘legitimate’ field of study (for example, anything that is a university major), one has to tread carefully to not let his or her interest fall into the ‘obsession’ category for fear of neglecting ‘real-life concerns’. Especially when that area of interest is already disadvantaged by predominantly negative impressions.
The next time any topic related to hobbies or interest crops up with my friend, I suppose would still tell him that I watch some anime in my free time. After all, that would be nothing short of the truth.