What it means to be an Otaku

Naruto: One of the most famous and well known anime in the world
Naruto: One of the most famous and well known anime in the world [Image via HDW]
An Otaku is a person who is mostly a fan of Japanese culture. Being an Otaku can be quite an exciting (and expensive) lifestyle to live by today, especially since Otaku are quite a minority group around the world and in South Africa. Contrary to what others might believe, being called an Otaku in Japan is quite a derogatory term and these people are mostly looked down upon in society. Stereotypes associated with the modern geek in Western culture are also associated with Otaku, such as wearing glasses, being stuck in your room most of the time and always being on your computer. Society always places rules and expectations on people so it’s hard for some people to truly express themselves as an Otaku. Nevertheless, the Otaku culture is something that is embraced by many people in Western society and also has influences in many forms of media, such as movies and video games.

The main reason why people become an Otaku is because of their appreciation and love for anime and manga – this makes up the crux of Otaku culture. You cannot call yourself an Otaku after watching one or two anime series (or by just watching Dragonball Z and Pokémon). To truly be called an Otaku you will have to find as many shows as you can that suit your personal taste and preference. Many times, Otaku choose a series based on opinions and reviews from peers or from first impressions. In my case, I first choose an anime based on first impressions and then research it before I make a decision whether to watch it or not. This is the same when it comes to manga (Japanese Comics).

Reading manga is an essential part of the Otaku lifestyle, especially collecting manga. A very important skill every Otaku should know is reading it in the original format – from right to left. Most anime are based on their manga counterparts and usually manga follows the author’s intended storyline better than the anime. Manga is also great because you can interpret everything you see and read based on what you think is intended by the author.

Manga: Vagabond [Image via Mangapanda]
Manga: Vagabond [Image via Mangapanda]
Cosplay, which involves dressing up as your favourite anime, comic book or video game character, is one of the most famous pastimes in Otaku culture. These can be rewarding, but also expensive and time consuming, endeavours as these costumes are mostly hand made by the cosplayers themselves. Places where cosplayers show off their creations are usually at conventions or social gatherings that happen around the area. I have never cosplayed myself as I have never had much time and inspiration to pursue the endeavor. If I ever get the time and money, I would like to cosplay at a convention, such as Free Comic Book Day.  Much like cosplaying, creating AMVs (Anime Music Videos) can also be time consuming and rewarding at the same time.

Cape Town cosplayer, Kuroneko Cosplay, as Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed
Cape Town cosplayer, Kuroneko Cosplay, as Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed

An AMV is when you take scenes from your favourite anime show(s) and put them together to music that is suitable to the mood of the anime. The most well-made and well edited AMVs are usually made using expensive editing software, which not everyone has. Like cosplay, AMVs are shown off at competitions hosted at conventions. I tried to create an AMV years ago and lets just say it wasn’t amazing. You really need to know your editing if you ever want to create great AMVs. As I am currently a Film student, I’m sure I can perfect the art of creating an AMV one day.

To truly be recognised as an Otaku, however, you need to learn Japanese. Most Otaku dream of travelling to the Land of the Rising Sun one day in their lives and for that to be possible they need to learn Japanese. Some people learn Japanese from what they hear in anime and there are also those who make the effort to go and study the language at a school or college. Learning Japanese can be exciting but also difficult, trust me. I only know basic Japanese greetings, such as konnichiwa and sayonara, as well as some words and phrases I learnt while watching anime, such as “teme” (bastard), “baka” (idiot) and “watashi no namae wa Dale desu” (my name is Dale).

Examples of Japanese Kanji [Image via Top Notch Tattooing]
Examples of Japanese Kanji
[Image via Top Notch Tattooing]
The Otaku culture is not for everyone; you either appreciate anime or you don’t. Being an Otaku is not the same as being a geek in western society; rather, it is a subculture. This does not mean we do not appreciate comic books and Batman, you could rather say that being an Otaku is not only an appreciation of Eastern geek culture, but also an appreciation of Western geek culture.

The life of an Otaku summed up into one picture Anime: Watamote [Image via Joyreactor]
The life of an Otaku summed up into one picture
Anime: Watamote
[Image via Joyreactor]

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