Thursday, May 04, 2006

More otaku video clips, and some thoughts on Kevin Underwood

Video clips

In late January, I posted links to two clips by "Yamato Damacy" that featured otaku and Akihabara. In the meantime, they've posted two more videos that feature otaku culture. I enjoyed them, though the otaku interviewed at the end of Episode #18 was probably being too down on himself. Follow the links below:

Episode #16, Scenes from Akihabara

Episode #18, Otaku

I also came across a video segment called "Otaku from USA", posted in the following blog: TV in Japan: Otaku from USA.

It's a clip from a Japanese TV show that followed around and interviewed the members of a Pop Japan Travel tour. I went on one of those as well, but we didn't get the same amount of Japanese media coverage (just a newspaper article with a photo, and a little video footage during the Sapporo Snow Festival). For a full length documentary featuring a Pop Japan Travel tour, check out Seven Days in Japan by Joe Doughrity.

Kevin Underwood: An American otaku-murderer?

26-year-old Kevin Underwood was recently arrested for the murder of a little girl, whose body was found in his apartment. It has been a high profile incident, not just because of the crime's brutality, but because of Underwood's significant internet presence (he maintained various blogs, for example), allowing crime analysts (professional and amateur alike) to peer into his clearly troubled psyche. He was into a lot of things: sci-fi, movies, music...typical stuff, really, for someone his age who spends a lot of time on the internet. More telling was his apparent interest in serial killers and cannibalism. I mention him here because he was also into anime. The nature of his crime and his interest in anime have caused some on the internet to draw parallels between him and Tsutomu Miyazaki.

Miyazaki, of course, was the infamous child-murderer who, due to his vast collection of videos (anime, horror movies, and child porn, according to most reports), was publically called an otaku by the Japanese media, sparking a moral panic against otaku in general in the late 80's and early 90's. I do agree that there are interesting parallels between Miyazaki and Underwood, but I find it ironic when people label Underwood as an otaku. Miyazaki being called an otaku resulted in an unfortunate backlash against anime fans in Japan. While Underwood's crime is similar to what Miyazaki did, are we to repeat what the Japanese media did over a decade-and-a-half ago, creating a backlash against anime fans in America by focusing on Underwood's anime habit? [Anime was apparently only one facet of his wide-ranging interests; he does not appear to have blogged about anime-related subjects very much since 2004]

Luckily, linking Underwood to anime hasn't really happened yet on any large scale, and the network news coverage of the incident hasn't really touched on anime at all. Hopefully, they will focus less on the media he was into and try to understand the deeper causes of his crime. Unfortunately, we may never know the real answer. Even in the case of Tsutomu Miyazaki, after all these years, there is still debate about his motivations and what really happened. (The following article has an excellent discussion of that: Sifting through the geeks - that's all of us - to identify the perverts)

I find myself a bit puzzled as to why more people have not made a connection between Underwood's self-professed social anxiety and Japan's hikikomori problem, since the hikikomori phenomenon is often associated with social anxiety disorder. When reading some of Kevin Underwood's blog posts, I was more reminded of the disturbed hikikomori protagonist of Welcome to the N.H.K. than the easy-going otaku portrayed in Genshiken (which is not to say that I think being hikikomori or having social anxiety disorder necessarily leads to violent behavior).


  1. Supplementary info:

    Here is a page that collects Pop Japan Travel media coverage. "PJT on TV Happy" and the "Asahi Shinbun Evening Edition (March 14, 2005)" were both about the tour I was on.

    Also, Aka-san (our intrepid tour guide and all-around cool guy) has some comments regarding the "Otaku from USA" footage. See here:

  2. I haven't yet read all of your posts but I was wondering if you had seen/heard of the Japanese TV show called Akihabara@DEEP. I saw Densha Otoko and was all like "This is good, otaku are being seen." But then I saw A@D and in one scene (in the fourth episode I think) One character criticizes Densha and says it's a lie and otakus really don't end up with pretty girls. A@D in general, I think, tries to present a less acceptable image of otaku, in the Japanese mind anyway, as Densha did. For one thing, the main character has a horrible stutter and otaku are portrayed closer to how they actually are (I think...) as one engages in one-on-one ring fights while working in a maid cafe, etc. Although, this theory is totally ruined by the fact that two of the main characters are played by mainstream j-pop stars... I suppose, in general, A@D is a loss for otaku that don't want otaku-ism to be mainstreamed but at the same time I think it's not as fantastical as Densha was and presents a picture of otaku that is closer to reality so people understand that the Yamada-shis of the world are not going to wind up with the pretty girls... That was a reference to Densha if you didn’t get it.
    Sorry for my long rant and sorry if you already heard about it.
    Here is the torrent link if you want to check Akihabara@DEEP out:
    ~Enchan toiu dorama otaku