is a Japanese
term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime
, and video games
As an honorific second-person pronoun
is derived from a Japanese
term for another's house or family (お宅, otaku
) that is also used as an honorific second-person pronoun. The modern slang
form, which is distinguished from the older usage by being written only in hiragana
(おたく) or katakana
(オタク or, less frequently, ヲタク), or rarely in rōmaji, appeared in the 1980s. In the anime Macross
, first aired in 1982, the term was used by Lynn Minmay
as an honorific term. It appears to have been coined by the humorist and essayist Akio Nakamori
in his 1983 series , printed in the lolicon
magazine Manga Burikko
. Animators like Haruhiko Mikimoto
and Shōji Kawamori
used the term among themselves as an honorific second-person pronoun since the late 70's.
The term entered general use in Japan
around 1989, and may have been popularized by Nakamori's publication in that year of . It applied the term to the (then) recently caught serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki
(宮崎 勤), who turned out to be a recluse
obsessed with pornographic anime and manga and who lived out his rape fantasies
on young girls, thus attaching a huge taboo to a formerly innocuous term.
From the May 2006 issue of EX Taishuu magazine
Another potential etymology for the term comes from the May 2006 issue of EX Taishuu
magazine, which claims that use of the term started among the fanbase of the 1982 – 1983 TV series Super Dimension Fortress Macross
, as the main character of the show had a habit of addressing others as "otaku", which fans started to emulate.
From the works of science fiction author Motoko Arai
Another source for the term comes from the works of science fiction author Motoko Arai
. In his book Wrong about Japan
, Peter Carey
interviews the novelist, artist and Gundam
chronicler Yuka Minakawa
. She reveals that Arai used the word in her novels as a second-person pronoun, and the readers adopted the term for themselves.
In modern Japanese slang, the term otaku
refers to fan of, or is specialized in any particular theme, topic, or hobby. Common uses are anime otaku
(a fan of anime ) and manga otaku
(a fan of Japanese comic books or manga), pasokon otaku
(personal computer geeks), gēmu otaku
(playing video games
), and wota
(pronounced 'ota', previously referred to as "idol otaku") that are extreme fans of idols
, heavily promoted singing girls. There are also tetsudō otaku
) or gunji otaku
While these are the most common uses of otaku, the word can be applied to anything (music otaku, martial arts otaku, cooking otaku, etc).
The loan-words maniakku or mania (from the English "maniac" and "mania") are sometimes used in relation to specialist hobbies and interests. They can indicate someone with otaku leanings, (for example- Gundam Mania would describe a person who is very interested in the anime series Gundam). They can also describe the focus of such interests (a maniakku gēmu would be a particularly underground or eccentric game appealing primarily to otaku). The nuance of maniakku in Japanese is softer and less likely to cause offense than otaku.
Some of Japan's otaku use the term to describe themselves and their friends semi-humorously, accepting their position as fans, and some even use the term proudly, attempting to reclaim it from its negative connotations. In general colloquial usage however, most Japanese would consider it undesirable to be described in a serious fashion as "otaku"; many even consider it to be a genuine insult.
Although stereotypically male, there are also many female otaku or fujoshi. A small alleyway of Tokyo's Higashi Ikebukuro district is known as "Otome Road" ("Maiden's road"). A feature of the area is that there are so many bookstores devoted to Manga and books filled with stories about homosexual men, in a genre called yaoi or shōnen-ai. Dōjinshi, manga produced by amateur fans, dominate the shelves along Otome Road, with a significant chunk of Manga' stories about more famous anime that imitate, parody or develop on characters who are usually household names in Japan.
An interesting modern look into the otaku culture has surfaced with an allegedly true story surfacing on the largest internet bulletin board 2channel: "Densha Otoko" or "Train Man", a love story about a geek and a beautiful woman who meet on a train. The story has enjoyed a compilation in novel form, several comic book adaptations, a movie released in June 2005, a theme song Love Parade for this movie by a popular Japanese band named Orange Range and a television series that aired on Fuji TV from June to September 2005. The drama has become another hot topic in Japan, and the novel, film and television series give a closer look into the otaku culture. In Japan its popularity and positive portrayal of the main character has helped to reduce negative stereotypes about otaku, and increase the acceptability of some otaku hobbies. Perhaps encouraged by this reduction in stigma, a few famous Japanese celebrities, actors and models have come out about their otaku hobbies.
A subset of otaku are the Akiba-kei, men who spend a lot of time in Akihabara in Tokyo and who are mainly obsessive about anime, idols and games. Sometimes the term is used to describe something pertaining to the subculture that surrounds anime, idols and games in Japan. This subculture places an emphasis on certain services (see fanservice) and has its own system for judgment of anime, dating simulations and/or role-playing games and some manga (often dōjinshi) based upon the level of fanservice in the work. Another popular criterion — how ideal the female protagonist of the show is — is often characterized by a level of stylized cuteness and child-like behavior (see moe). In addition, this subculture places great emphasis on knowledge of individual key animators and directors and of minute details within works. The international subculture is influenced by the Japanese one, but differs in many areas often based upon region. (See also: Superflat, Hiroki Azuma.)
On the matter, in recent years "idol otaku" are naming themselves simply as as a way to differentiate from traditional otaku. The word was derived by dropping the last morae, leaving and then substituting with the identically sounding character , leaving the pronunciation unchanged.
In Japan, anime is not as widely accepted and mainstream as manga. Because of this the otaku subculture has much influence over the mainstream anime industry in Japan. The area where otaku have the most influence in manga tends to be with dōjinshi. Manga published in the United States are more influenced by their respective otaku subculture than they are in Japan. This is because most people who read manga have some ties to the subculture in the US, whereas in Japan manga reading is more widespread.
In English and internationally
The term is a loanword
from the Japanese language
. In English, it is used to refer specifically to any kind of "geek", though it can sometimes refer to a fan of anime
. It also is used to refer to people who appear to be obsessed with Japan and its culture. The term serves as a label not unlike Trekkie
. However, use of the label can be a source of contention among some anime fans, particularly those who are aware of the negative connotations the term has in Japan. Unpleasant stereotypes about otaku prevail in worldwide fan communities, and some anime fans express concern about the effect these more extreme fans can have on the reputation of their hobby (not unlike sentiments in the comic book
and science fiction
It should be noted that the English term geek is not a precise translation of the Japanese otaku. Otaku has a significantly greater negative connotation than geek does in the West, especially as the term geek has become less derogatory. The term otaku in Japanese occasionally suggests a creepy, obsessive loner who rarely leaves the house. However this is not always the case, and in general use it shares more of a similarity with the English term "enthusiast". In English, geek can possibly suggest a person who may be socially awkward but who is also intelligent and may be fairly "normal" aside from their interest in certain typically 'geekish' pursuits (video games, comic books, computers, etc.). Otaku is closer in connotation to the English nerd, but the closest English-language analogue to otaku is probably the British English term anorak. Both of these English-language terms have more emphatically negative connotations of poor social skills and obsessive interest in a topic that seems strange or boring to others.
While otaku in English-speaking contexts is generally understood to mean geek or even fan, this usage is not widely known in Japan. Casual use of this term may confuse or offend native Japanese speakers.
The most common case in the use of the word otaku is not only referring to a geek but also to a person who likes/loves watching anime (or a person who likes/loves 'Galge' Games or 'Bishoujo' Games).
To indicate that one is talking about the Japanese definition rather than the English loanword, the spelling wotaku (ヲタク) is sometimes used. On Japanese forums such as 2channel, however, otaku (オタク) and wotaku (ヲタク) are used interchangeably, depending on the mood and personal style of the poster.
Many Western otaku are frequently perceived as "wapanese", a portmanteau which may be based on the similar term wigger. Such individuals are typically white and worship an idealized version of Japan and its culture based mostly on what is seen in anime, manga, and TV dramas. This worship may extend to emulating external aspects of Japanese culture, such as eating sushi and instant ramen or using chopsticks. It also may extend to attempting to use Japanese words in a normal English conversation, usually incorrectly and based on words pulled from anime dialogue.
The term was popularized by William Gibson's 1996 novel Idoru, which has several references to otaku.
Named after the label Otaku, "Otakon
" (short for "otaku convention") is a convention known for focusing on anime, manga, East Asian culture, and its fandom. The second largest convention of this type in the US and the largest on the east coast, it began in State College, Pennsylvania
, in 1994 and has been held in Baltimore
since 1999. Last Year, Otakon was the largest convention of its kind in the US. Konami
(the company which created the Metal Gear
series) was given permission by Otakorp, Inc. to use the name "Otacon" in any title of the series.
Fictional works about otaku
As otaku make up a good portion of the creative forces behind anime and manga, it is only natural that several works of manga and anime on otaku culture have appeared, often as a light-hearted pastiche
. Some of the more famous works include:
- 1 LOVE: In the video for the Ayumi Hamasaki song '1 LOVE', a clown man is auctioning off people, and among them are a prostitute, singer, beast, aerial hooper, and even an otaku, among others.
- Akihabara@DEEP: Page, Box, Akira, Taiko, Daruma, and Izumu are six otaku, each with his/her own troubles, who seek relief through a website called "Yui’s Lifeguard." When site owner Yui dies of a mysterious death, the six, who are each experts in their own fields, gather to form "Akihabara@DEEP", a "troubleshooter" group that vows to protect Akihabara and solve the problems of its inhabitants.
- Comic Party: Originally a series of dating sims which was then adapted into various anime and manga series, Comic Party follows a rejected art student as he is enthusiastically thrust into the dōjinshi scene by a crazed otaku friend. He then creates several of his own dōjinshi works while interacting with other artists and dealing with his girlfriend who is at first less than enthusiastic about his new passion.
- Densha Otoko: Densha Otoko (電車男, literally "Train Man") is the allegedly true story of a Japanese geek in his early 20s who saves a beautiful woman ("office lady"), code-named Hermès by the geek in his online chats, from a drunken groper on a train, and then chronicles his subsequent dates with the woman and requests for help on the Japanese mega-BBS 2channel (in the TV series referred to and remodeled into the semi-fictitious "Aladdin Channel").
- Genshiken: A manga, later adapted into an anime series, which follows a "catch-all" otaku university club and the various activities they undertake. Much of the story is told from the perspectives of two characters: a freshman who grows into his otaku identity; and the "normal" girlfriend of another member, who disapproves of the passions of her attractive otaku boyfriend.
- Inubaka: Introduced in Volume 2, the character Hiroshi Akiba is "a teen idol otaku turned dog otaku." At the beginning of the graphic novel, the interior of his apartment is shown as being covered with posters, cutouts, and miniature figuruined of his favorite idols. However, after he purchases Zidaine, his french bulldog, he becomes obsessed with dogs in the same way.
- Groove On Fight: The fourth entry in the Atlus fighting game series Power Instinct. In the roster, there are two characters who make references to otaku culture: Popura Hananokoji, a magical girl who transforms her outfit in different costumes, resembling Cosplay in various attacks. The other one is Hizumi Yukinoue, an otaku obsessed with ninjas and is also a fan of manga and anime.
- Hot Gimmick: Subaru is an avid fan of Gundam and gets made fun of for being an otaku on a number of occasions by Akane, who later develops a crush on him despite his love for Gundam and reading manga all day.
- Lucky Star: The main character, Konata Izumi is a very avid fan of anime, manga, gaming and cosplaying. Throughout the show there would be puns or jokes about other anime and other otaku hobbies. Lucky Star also shows a lot about the life of the everyday otaku in Japan.
- MegaTokyo: A webcomic by Fred Gallagher featuring an American otaku, Piro, and his friend Largo, along with female characters Erika and Kimiko who are voice-actors for Japanese dating sim games. This comic features a cast of many other characters including magical girls and ninjas.
- Metal Gear: A recurring character in the Metal Gear video game series is a man named Dr. Hal "Otacon" Emmerich. He is a lover of Japanese anime and entered into the field of engineering and technology because of it (namely because of the mecha genre.) His nickname "Otacon" is inspired by the Anime Convention Otakon.
- Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu: The main character, Nogizaka Haruka, is an anime and manga otaku, a fact which she tries to keep a secret from the rest of the school.
- No More Heroes: A video game made by Suda 51 about an Otaku hitman by the name of Travis Touchdown climbing the ranks of the UAA, a group of competing assassins.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: A minor character of the anime named Kensuke Aida is a gunji otaku, obsessed with piloting an EVA.
- Ouran High School Host Club: Ouran contains a character named Renge who is an avid fan of Dating Sims and doujinshi. She is usually seen in some form of cosplay through the anime.
- Otaku no Video: A pair of films that follow a young college student as he is introduced into the world of the otaku by a high school friend and soon spends the next several years trying to become the greatest otaku, the Otaking. The work also serves as a semi-autobiographical account of the formation of Gainax, and is inter-cut with several live-action mock interviews with several different types of otaku.
- Welcome to the NHK!: A novel that was adapted into a manga and later an anime series, Welcome to the NHK! is a black comedy that follows a delusional hikikomori, a girl that wishes to help him, and an otaku neighbor who is also an old high school friend (of convenience). The series lampoons many otaku themes such as lolicon, moe, and dojin soft.
- World War Z: Max Brooks' "Oral history of the Zombie War" includes passages from Kondo Tatsumi, an "otaku" (although he fits the personality of a Hikikomori) who is nearly killed after staying in front of his computer until the last minute during a worldwide zombie epidemic, eventually forming the fictional "Tatenokai" alonside Sensei Tomonga.