Most web-savvy readers will be familiar with the term “Otherkin,” a term used to describe people who identify themselves with non-humans, such as animals and supernatural creatures like dragons, vampires and werewolves. Yes, there is a name for that World of Darkness tabletop gamer or larper who really thought they were a vampire. Unlike the current fad of furries in mainstream media (you know you’ve made it when you have a CSI or Law and Order episode), Otherkin has yet to become a household term or the “fetish-of-the-week”. Otherkin explain their beliefs and feelings through reincarnation and alien abduction, which works...if you believe in those things. Otakukin, however, is a little harder to support.
I’ll warn you right now. This week’s column is going to be a lot more of me expressing an opinion than something based on facts. Feel free to comment, but before I jump into this murky topic, just know that I’m all for people freely believing in whatever they want to, until it ventures over into mental imbalance territory and endangering-others county.
Otakukin is a branch of Otherkin, where people believe that they are anime-related, fictional characters. If you haven’t heard of Otakukin until now, take a moment to digest that definition.
Ready to continue?
Now I can understand people who write fanfiction or draw fanart who get so wrapped up in their creative work that they get under the skin of the character, so to speak. Method creativity, I suppose it should be called. I’ll admit; I enjoy fantasizing first-hand when reading a particularly juicy Harry Potter hetro fic. But I recognize that there are fictional characters. I don’t want to be Hermione or Snape, or Nynaeve, if you want to tap my old fandom. I am myself, and they are characters that entertain me for a few hours. Then I close the book, or close the browser, and life continues.
Otakukin seem to lack this ability to split from their fandom. They claim to feel a connection to a character in a series by either “channeling” the character, being a previously unknown character who wasn’t featured in the anime (an NPC or Red Shirt Number 12, as it were), or simply feeling that the character feels uncannily familiar. Often times, they “remember” the events in the anime, but it’s somehow wrong, so of course they’re the character reincarnated. One can make an argument that the familiarity may come from the common character types found in most anime in a genre, but I doubt I’d be converting any Otakukin. Some claim to have the same special skills as the character, such as ninja skills, magic, talking to animals. Only naturally, these skills can’t be seen by unbelievers.
Reincarnation works into the equation by saying that anime plots are based on events that happened thousands of years ago (must...not...quote...Hero’s..
Now, this sort of naivety, you can accept in someone new to the Internet and to the Real World (trademark pending). High school kids and college freshmen are ripe for falling for illogical idealisms, and for communities that bolster their self-esteem and reinforce that they are “different” and “special,” that no one understands you because...you’re not a part of this world! Join the other true avatars of Sephiroth! Learn to use your wicked Masumune and Jenova skills!
This is where my belief in doing whatever you want until it negatively affects others kicks in. Hmm...communities that encourage you to sever ties to the world and listen only to them...sounds like a cult, doesn’t it? Happily, most people seem to snap out of it, and write it down as yet another stupid thing done during their life. But some people don’t recover. They close themselves off from reality, choosing to live in a world of their own delusions. The line between insanity and sanity gets erased. It’s these creepy thirty-something adults that become the authorities at communities, with teens and barely adult kids at their beck and call.
I’d like to reiterate: I’m cool if personally believing that you are Yuna/Rikku/Paine all in one helps you get through your day with a smile. But if you start cutting off other people in the Real World, embracing a world made from your own thoughts, you’re taking a road straight into trouble.
I’m of two opinions when it comes to the group’s name. I don’t like having the public opinion of anime fans (otaku) being tainted by a small group of unbalanced otaku. I hope that the majority of the Internet understands that every fandom has its allotment of crazy. On the other hand, these people are surely otaku in the strictest definition of the Japanese term. Many Otakukin are certainly obsessive when it comes to living their “true” identity.
Am I against Otakukin as a whole? It does bring up an instinctive weird vibe, but as long as it doesn’t hinder you as an individual, I don’t think it’s inherently wrong. I do think that it is something that most people will grow out of as they gain self-esteem, not needing to have an imaginary character to back you up. (It’s just like having an imaginary anime friend!) But when individual Otakukin cross the line into a cult-like worship of their fandom, then it becomes dangerous.