In response to Otaku Japan’s Database Animals Hiroki Azuma.
What I find most striking about Azuma’s historicisation of Otaku culture is how he brings together Japan’s past and present in demonstrating how the otaku phenomenon is not necessarily a modern one, but can be traced to the Edo period. In other words, Azuma argues that the practices of otaku culture are closely related to the aesthetics of Edo culture (See 8-9). Another interesting and insightful aspect of Azuma’s theory in relation to the emergence of otaku culture is that its origin was influenced by the rise of American popular art/culture. By showing how the otaku phenomenon is not unique to Japanese culture, Azuma accomplishes to de-fetishise and demystify popular definitions of otaku and otaku-ness. In drawing attention to the ways in which otaku culture appropriated and adapted American comics and animation, a post-colonial reading would suggest that Japan made use of its “master’s tools”, but in order to redefine and re-articulate a cultural discourse (See 18-20). Azuma suggests, though, the double standard of otaku culture in Japan:
One the one hand, as connected to the experience of defeat, the presence of otaku culture is a grotesque reflection of the fragility of a Japanese identity. [. . .] On the other hand, the presence of this culture is connected to the narcissism of the 1980s and is also a fetish that can feed the illusion of Japan being at the cutting edge of the world”. (20)
This contradiction, to reiterate, can be understood in terms of Japanese orientalist point of view: Japan’s ambiguous position as having been once the Empire of Asia while simultaneously being viewed as an occupied or semi-colonised nation from Western lenses. I find it interesting that this tension is still manifest in contemporary manga, anime, and literatures, revealing how Japan constantly redefines and renews ideas of nation and identity in opposition to the West (America). That one’s existence relies on the “Other”. But in this light, I wonder to what extent Japan contributes to its own submissiveness to the West by validating and paying homage to Western aesthetics, tropes and conventions. After reading the first chapter I am left to wonder what is so Japanese about otaku culture?