Female otaku have received more media attention (N: in Japan) since around the time of the Train Man phenomenon, but, rather than being embroiled in discussions about the family, they have most often been showcased as a creative force ofconsumers and producers of Japan’s flourishing manga and anime industries and as brave pioneer members of fandoms generally dominated by men. Although positive, these reports present female otaku as anomalies rather than role models and reveal aspects of gender segregation in otaku culture. Alisa Freedman, Train Man and the Gender Politics of Japanese ‘Otaku’ Culture: The Rise of New Media, Nerd Heroes and Consumer Communities
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Even as otaku culture is recuperated by elites and the mainstream, and as the terms “anime” and “manga” have become part of a common international lexicon, otaku culture and practice have retained their subcultural credibility. In Japan, much of manga and anime is associated with mainstream consumption; otaku must therefore differentiate themselves from ippanjin (regular people) through a proliferating set of niche genres, alternative readings, and derivative works. In the United States, the subcultural cred of anime and manga is buttressed by their status as foreign “cult media.” This stance of U.S. fans is not grounded, however, in a simplistic exoticism. Susan Napier suggests that “rather than the traditional Orientalist construction of the West empowering itself by oppressing or patronizing the Eastern Other, these fans gain agency through discovering and then identifying with a society that they clearly recognize as having both universal and culturally specific aspects” (Napier 2007, 189). She describes how U.S. fans most often explain their interests in terms of the works’ “thematic complexity and three-dimensional characterization” rather than as an interest in Japan per se (Napier 2007, 177).
Put differently, the international appeal of otaku culture is grounded precisely in its ability to resist totalizing global narratives such as nationalism. The long-running and intricate narrative forms of popular Japanese media represent a platform or, in Hiroki Azuma’s terms, a database of referents that are highly amenable to recombination and customization by fans and gamers (see Chapter 2). We can see this in the stunning diversity of doujinshi derived from the same manga series (see Chapters 5 and 9) and in the activities of young Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh! card game players who design their own decks out of the nearly infinite set of possibilities on offer through a growing pantheon of monsters (Buckingham and Sefton-Green 2004; Ito 2007; Sefton-Green 2004; Willett 2004). While certain female fans might look to Gundam for source material to tell stories of erotic trysts between the male characters, other fans geek out over building and customizing models of the giant robots.
Mizuko Ito, Fandom Unbound, loc. 246-63
Scholars working on Japanese popular culture are only distinguished by the quantity of their publications and the novelty of their topics, which conditions a preference for niche subjects, which are analyzed by applying simplified superstructures. The result is a tendency toward exoticizing and essentializing. This tendency often reflects or even reproduces sensationalist journalism about Japan. This is very clear in the context of otaku. Definitions are set up on the basis of “otaku” in Japan, but often with little or no contact with these imagined others, and there is a critical lack of engagement with experts in Japan. Thus discussions of otaku repeat assumptions about unique, even bizarre habits and practices. And such assumptions go unquestioned, because Japanese uniqueness is the last remaining rationale for continued study of Japan itself. Japan appears as the quintessential “non-Western” example.
Patrick Galbraith and Thomas Lamarre, Otakuology: a Dialogue, p362