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My Life As An Otaku

My Life as an Otaku

By Samuel Lamont

I like to see myself as an otaku, or hard-core anime fan. The truth is, I’m not really. I’ve never been to a convention, I own very little merchandise, and I prefer dubbed anime videos to subtitled ones. But I do know a lot about otaku culture, having been an avid viewer of anime for approximately nine years and having been a member of the Oyster River High School anime club for two of those years. This is the story of my growth as an anime fan.

I guess that I should start by describing what anime is. In Japanese, anime simply means “animation,” but in English, it refers specifically to the distinctive style of animation characteristic of Japan, usually featuring large shiny eyes, bizarre hair colors and styles, and strange facial expressions. Closely related to anime is manga, which is used to refer to Japanese comic books. Some examples of well-known anime are Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon The best-known manga in the U.S. would probably be Yu-Gi-Oh, as well as other manga series covered in the manga anthology magazine Shonen Jump, such as Naruto and One Piece.

My interest in anime began when I was about twelve, and Pokemon was released in America. It was the first anime that I watched regularly, and I loved it. I loved the continuous plot so uncharacteristic of American cartoons, the well-drawn characters, the adorable creatures. It inspired me to get into anime, mostly watching dubbed series on TV. Then, about two years later, I started my anime collection with a tape of Magic Knight Rayearth, a shoujo fantasy series. By the way, “shoujo” is Japanese for girl, and is also used to refer to anime aimed at girls; this generally involves interaction between characters, particularly romantic interaction. The male equivalent is “shounen,” literally meaning “boy.” Shounen anime tends to involve lots of action and fighting, and usually doesn‘t have as much character development as shoujo. Most anime currently broadcast on TV in this country is shounen, but there are a few shoujo shows currently on the air, most notably “Mew Mew Power,” a mahou shoujo (magical girl) series involving young girls infused with animal DNA who fight to protect the environment, and “Magical Doremi,” another mahou shoujo series, but aimed at a younger audience, and revolving around the title character and her desire to become a witch.

When I was sixteen and had amassed a significant collection of anime, I found out that an anime club was being formed at my high school. I decided to join, and it was the best decision of my life. Most notably, I learned to like subtitles. This would probably be a good time to mention the “dub vs. sub” debate. Among anime fans, a big issue is whether dubbing or subtitles are a better method of translation. On one hand, with dubs you don’t have to bother with reading subtitles, and dubs are also more readily available. On the other hand, subs are generally more true to the original. I tend to favor dubs, if only because they’re more readily available. This doesn’t mean that I’m blind to the atrocities that dubbers commit, such as changing significant lines to corny jokes. As an example, in the dub of Sailor Moon S, one scene involves the character Usagi (Serena in the dub) meeting with her future daughter, Chibi-Usa (Rini.) Rini mentions that she was sent back to the past to train, and shows her a letter from her mother. One of Usagi’s friends mentions that she can tell the letter was written by Usagi because it doesn’t have any kanji (Kanji is a form of Japanese writing derived from Chinese characters, considered to be somewhat more advanced than standard hiragana text.) The implication is that even in the future, Usagi still doesn’t know kanji. In the dub, the line was changed to Usagi’s friend having to use her imagination to read the letter because it was “written in funny symbols.” Almost every anime brought overseas has quite a few similar changes, and some that are even worse.

Back on the subject of the anime club, I tended to prefer actually watching the anime brought in and enjoying the various Japanese snack food available, rather than socializing with my fellow members. One day, though, I just decided that socialization wouldn’t kill me, and I decided to chat with some other members. Although it’s been a long time, I can still vaguely remember some conversations, such as the one below. At the time, I was into mecha, a sub-genre of sci-fi anime involving large humanoid war machines (also called mecha), particularly one series, called Gundam Wing. I had heard that J.C., another club member, knew a lot about it, so I decided to talk to her.

“Hi,” I said. “I hear you like Gundam Wing.”
“Who’s your favorite character? Mine’s Treize.”
“I like Quatre.”
“Yeah, he’s cool. In fact, he’s probably my second-favorite. But I can‘t believe that I actually met a fellow Gundam Wing fan! Hey, let me test you. Zechs Marquise is a member of OZ.” (OZ being an anagram for Organization of the Zodiac, a military group within Gundam Wing‘s universe.)
“Yes, he is.”
“Wow, someone who doesn’t giggle like a schoolgirl when hearing the name Zechs! You know, I‘ve got some mecha designs I want to show you, but I don‘t have them with me. Where do you usually hang out?”
“The art room.”
“All right. What would be a good time to meet you?”
“How about I period on Monday?”
“Sounds good. See you then!”

Although I actually never saw J.C. again until the following school year, we remained good friends in the club, discussing Gundam Wing and other anime, as well as other topics. Sadly, the club was effectively disbanded after my senior year, since most of the club members were also seniors. I also had a bit of a falling-out with another member, which might have alienated me a bit.

Although I hadn’t had any human contact with fellow otaku for almost three years, I still lurk on various anime-related websites (“lurk“ meaning to view without contributing), including those connected with the closely related domains of fanfiction and fanart. These refer to stories and art, respectively, based on anime, and have their own set of terminology. One term that comes up frequently in fanwork is “slash,” referring to close relationships of the same gender. Slash is divided up into several forms, based on the gender of the participants and the closeness of their relationship. Shounen-ai refers to two boys who have a close, even romantic, but non-sexual, relationship. The more intense version, often including overt homosexual attraction, is called yaoi, which is a Japanese slang word effectively meaning “pointless.” The female equivalents to shounen-ai and yaoi are shoujo-ai and yuri, respectively. I tend to prefer shounen-ai and shoujo-ai to the more “intense” forms, because I don’t really like reading about actual sex, but I do enjoy reading about relationships.

Even today, anime continues to fascinate me, although my lack of technical skill prevents me from using a DVD player, and hence from being able to watch the majority of anime available today. As is such, I’ve fallen behind the anime knowledge curve. However, I do still watch the tapes in my relatively-small collection, and I own a couple DVDs and a Playstation 2, so I could probably continue to build up my collection, especially with anime constantly being produced in the Land of the Rising Sun, including such relatively new series as “Inuyasha“ and “Fullmetal Alchemist.” I also have plans to start a UNH anime club after I’m accepted as a full-time student. After all, when you’re an otaku, you’re an otaku for life.