Monday, June 09, 2008

Moving forward from sad days in Akihabara

Here are some links to articles about the recent tragedy in Akihabara, where a young man killed 7 people and injured several more:

17 Hit or Stabbed, 7 Confirmed Dead in Tokyo's Akihabara

Cry for help from comic book killer

Tragedy strikes Tokyo's geeks

Akihabara, of course, is the world's most famous otaku hotspot, known for its heavy concentration of anime and manga-related stores, maid cafes, and public cosplay (usually on Sundays). In recent times, there have been various reports of some otaku being mugged there, or of police cracking down on impromptu otaku gatherings, but in general, Akihabara has been considered a fun and safe place for otaku to visit. I've only been there once, but I had a good time shopping in the otaku specialty stores.

Right now, Akihabara is a site of mourning. I imagine that otaku in Japan feel the hurt on a very personal level, with their safe haven violated--by someone who shared their interests in anime and manga, no less, and many otaku in Japan probably relate to the suspect's alleged feelings of alienation. I linked to the 2 articles above, not because they're necessarily the best ones out there, but because they've tried to link (implicitly or otherwise) the suspect's actions with his hobbies, which is sure to flare up the never-ending debates about the harmfulness of mass media.

In fact, it's fairly safe to predict that we will see the following two viewpoints expressed in the media during the next few weeks:

1) Otaku culture is causing the breakdown of mainstream Japanese society
2) Otaku culture is a symptom of the overall breakdown of mainstream Japanese society

I suppose that point #2 is a bit more reasonable than point #1, but what we almost never see, however, is an idea I've tried to propagate for some time now: Otaku culture is neither the cause of the problem, or a negative symptom of the problem. Instead, otaku culture is a positive subcultural reaction to the problems of Japanese, American, and other postmodern societies. Sure, one could easily focus on all of the negative aspects of people who are called or call themselves otaku--people have been making fun of otaku for over 25 years--but considering that most otaku around the world aren't criminals but are instead doing some very cool and creative things, and belong to vibrant and diverse communities surrounding their interests, why shouldn't we focus on (and encourage) the positive?

I think's it's important not to let events such as these be the catalyst for others to judge otaku based on fear. More importantly, perhaps, anime and manga fans should resist the urge to point to their peers who might be more introverted, have more alternative tastes, or simply look different and beratingly call them 'otaku' to distance themselves from negative mainstream attention toward anime fans in general. Instead of continuing the cycle of alienation, propagated by divisive and sensational stories in the media, we can try to be inclusive and encouraging of pluralism, at least within our own community.


  1. Patrick Macias, a regular commentator on Akihabara and otaku culture in Japan, has been blogging about the incident. I left some comments on his post here: Subject: Moe

    His other posts on the topic are worth reading, too.

  2. Finally, a cool headed blogger.

    Keep up the good work.

    Here are my 2cents:

    There is tons of doom and gloom concerning the issue of the mass media's attitude toward the Otaku culture. I don't necessarily find this event as a huge turning point many others find it to be.

    I find it odd how hypocritical the media is concerning the Otaku culture. In the last 3-4 years the Otaku culture has been the in the Mass Media lime light and in a general displayed in a good light.

    The Hokuto no Ken specials, Zeta Gundam specials and Jojo Anniversary Celebration, and the constant news reports about Akihabara and Maid cafes, it would make you think the Media Loves Otaku. Yet, in the end it doesn't seem that it was correct assumption.

    It seems that many of Japan's social/economics issues are dragged out for all to see, and I think this is causing a gut reaction. When people notice things are going as well they thought, they have to find something to blame. The Otaku culture that has been growing and becoming prominent with us 20 and 30 somethings is really easy to aim at.

    I honestly think the Otaku culture is a by-product of our post-modern society, but it doesn't mean its negative. Our modern society allows us to become somewhat obsessed with hobbies by allowing us to make it our life's work by either making it a profession, amateur Otaku blogger, fansubber, or just a collector.

    If Kato was an Otaku of any degree it doesn't really matter, but it will matter for those who find the culture itself repugnant. I do have some slight fears concerning what all of this means to the Otaku culture. This might push conservative groups to increase their fight against lolicon and the moe culture itself.

    Who knows what will happen from this point on.

  3. Thanks for commenting, byrc.

    Yes, it's very difficult to predict which way the wind will blow.

    Regarding the media and their apparent love of otaku...

    There are different kinds of love. In recent years, the media found some good stories to tell about otaku--how they are a positive economic force, their amusing maid cafes and cosplay, their unlikely status as awkward but cute heroes in romances such as Densha Otoko--but that love has been fairly superficial. Has the Japanese (or any other) media really examined (in detail) the positive aspects of being otaku? Call my cynical, but it won't come as any surprise if the Japanese media decides to vilify otaku again if it means that more papers will be sold. Then again, there are more things to blame now compared to 20 years ago: hikikomori, freeters, parasite singles, etc.

    Regarding the long-term effects...

    Many within our community have been concerned for some time now about anti-otaku backlash in the US. I'm kind of surprised that there hasn't been more of an anti-anime movement due to the growing popularity of Moe and the like. Most of the tension I've encountered has been within the anime fan community itself, as some fans have sought to distance themselves from other fans to ensure that they're not lumped in with the 'deviant' segment of their hobby.

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