The Meaning of Otaku has Changed

Long before I decided to launch Otaku Attack, I was a fan. As a kid growing up, I was inspired by the Japanese anime of the late ’80s and ’90s as well as many other geek culture staples such as games, comics, and movies. While these things certainly provided an escape, more than that, they were an inspiration. They fired my imagination and inspired me to believe anything was possible. I am pretty sure I am not the only one who feels this way. I mean seriously, how many of us got into tech because of games? Or martial arts because of Dragon Ball? The truth is that I see many intelligent, successful, and creative people who enjoy and find inspiration in things that might be considered "geeky."

Nevertheless, Otaku has traditionally been considered a sub-culture. Being labeled a ‘Geek’ was undesirable. I feel that we are living in a period where these negative stereotypes are reversing and that Otakus and geeks are finally being recognized for the amazing people that they are. However, to understand where the meaning of the word Otaku is going, I think it is helpful first to revisit the origin of Otaku and the traditional stereotypes that have been associated with it.

The Definition of Otaku

Traditionally, the term Otaku (お宅) had been used as a sort of honorific for referring to another person (basically a polite way of saying ‘you’). However, in modern Japanese, the meaning of the word Otaku (オタク) itself has come to mean anyone with an obsessive interest in popular Japanese geek culture items such as anime, manga, or games. Basically, anyone who is an anime nerd, a manga nerd, etc. However, the term is also used more widely to apply to anyone with an obsessive interest in any hobby. Thus, there are computer Otakus, fitness Otakus, maker Otakus; you get the idea. Although it is often assumed that Otakus are guys, this could not be further from the truth, with a large portion of the community being Otaku girls.

While the term has come to be identified internationally with fans of Japanese popular culture, in its home country, Otaku is more of a pejorative. This largely stems from the image of Otakus as loners with poor social skills that would rather lose themselves in fantasy than engage with the real world. The issue is exasperated by a number of high profile crimes in Japan that have been committed by people the media have identified as Otaku.

Otakus or Geeks?

The meaning of Otaku and its connotations are not so dissimilar with concepts such as Geek and Geek Culture in English. The main difference is that Geek tends to be associated with western comics, movies, etc…, and muck like Otakus, there can be computer geeks, maker geeks, and so on. Also, like Otaku, a Geek is often seen as a social misfit. They are considered to not fit into the generally accepted definition of "normal." However, as I will describe below, I don’t think this is a bad thing. In fact, normal is highly over-rated.

The Meaning of Otaku is Changing

Although there has traditionally been a negative stigma associated with being an Otaku or Geek that ranges from mildly disapproving to all-out social pariah; in my observations of people who might be considered in this group have shown me that quite often they are anything but the slow, socially awkward losers that they are often made out to be by society. I come from a tech industry background, and there you will find Otaku and geek culture everywhere. From the figurines, people decorate their desks with to the wallpapers on computers to the t-shirts people wear in the office. These are intelligent, successful people who clearly are not sleeping on stacks of comic books in their mother’s basement. Then there is the gym I go to where the owner has a good but of Marvel merchandise decorating the shelf behind the service counter. Then there are the people building things that have their origins in Otaku and geek culture. Giant mech robots (Gundam, but many other anime as well), Hoverboards (Back to the Future), 3D printed prosthetic hands (Star Wars), and more. Seeing this, I realized that being an Otaku should not be a stigma; it should be something to be proud of. Otaku and geek culture not only often provide inspiration to create and improve; it embraces the act of creation and improvement itself. Far from the socially useless castaways, Otakus can often be some of society’s most important contributors.

Creating Otaku Attack

I thought about this for a long time before deciding to move forward with creating and launching Otaku Attack. Otakus have often been somewhat shy about expressing their interests outside of their own inner groups be they anime Otakus, cosplayers, comic fans, etc. But the truth is that we should be proud of our passion for Otaku and geek culture. We should own it and wear it on our sleeve for the world to see. Being an American Otaku living in Tokyo, Japan, I realized this was a great opportunity to express my feeling to the world, and I got to work collaborating with local artists to create a collection that would represent Otaku culture, but in an unapologetic way and a little tongue in cheek.

Because there is such a close relationship between Otaku and Geek culture (indeed these days they both often influence and inform one another), Otaku Attack is about celebrating both in a way that is proud and uncompromising. This is the spirit that I want to attempt to capture in our t-shirts, hoodies as well as upcoming products. I hope that you will enjoy them and that you are looking forward to the ride!

Here we go, 発車!!!

The Otaku Attack Crue

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