Monday, June 09, 2008
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.
Posted by Lawrence Eng at 9:33 PM