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In Search of the Otakukin

By Janet Houck     March 29, 2007


Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005).
© Warner Bros. Pictures

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...Journey) or merely occurred on an alternative plane of existence, and these souls transfer over to Mother Earth and reincarnate in humans who discover the joys of anime and their hidden soul heritage. I haven’t heard of the aliens being involved in Otakukin, so there’s one blessing there. Even they think reincarnated fictional characters are crazy. 

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. 

Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a CSI episode set at Anime Vegas next year. 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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firstrays74 3/29/2007 1:46:21 PM
Gotta love the Sephiroth reference. Why is it that depsite superior FF games, that is the villian that rose to the top?
nadiaoxford 3/29/2007 1:55:11 PM
Oh God, Otakukin. I have a lot to say on this subject, and maybe I will in a future column ... if you don't mind me following up. ^_^
DaForce1 3/29/2007 2:54:15 PM
Heh...the word 'otaku' in Japanese is roughly translated as 'nerd'. Except an otaku is a nerd without an off switch. Think of those gamers that will spend days in front of their computer playing a game without any contact with the outside world, and also neglecting themselves in the process. That's the definition of 'otaku'. Single-mindedness.
glyph 3/29/2007 7:06:44 PM
Go for it, Nadia. I'm all for more people knowing about these nutjobs.
LAgrrl 3/29/2007 8:44:57 PM
oh please. This is the same type of stereotyping and labeling that gives ALL fans everywhere a bad name. You're just rationalising why you as a fan are better than someone else as a fan. "I'm good, but they're crazy!" "I'm alright, but they're off the deep end" "they have lots of friends online" what was that supposed to be about? you're saying they're so crazy they have friends? oh please. Sounds like sour-grapes to me. You're playing the same old us and them game that goes on everywhere else. Who are these so called crazy fan people, have you ever met one? Some fans might be more extreme than others in their devotion, most fans might look different or act differently than "normal" people, but if they're part of an online community and they have friends (oh no, how aweful! they have friends!) or they're going to conventions, or they're with other people that are like them, guess what? they're not crazy loners. I've met some colorful people sure but I have never met one of these so called lurking crazy "dangerous" fan people. When you make this kind of argument you're no better than sports people that think fans of sciffy are weirdos, you're playing right into their game because you're AGREEING with the people that hate sciffy fans, you're saying that these nutjobs EXIST, they're lurking out there, they're dangerous, but oh they're not you. Oh no, not you. I just started reading here and I don't know if I'm coming back, so far everything almost everything I've read here are attacks on other people. I figured that Kurt Russell tantrum was an isolated incident then I read some interesting articles on Battlestar Galactica and Lost and thought it was an isolated case, and now I read this crap, fans attacking journalists, fans attacking OTHER fans? Stop trying to belittle other people to put yourself up, you're better than that.
nadiaoxford 3/30/2007 7:57:44 AM
"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 don't see anything offensive. The message I get is, "over-excess of anything is a bad idea." Which is true. I have friends who are "otakukin", and that's fine. I <i>had</i> friends who took it way too far and now live their life for Sephiroth. That's kind of more than a harmless game of make-believe. There are about a zillion other articles existing on the site right this second that aren't "attacks", though I don't see how this article is an attack in the first place. Far as I know, the KJ thing was an isolated incident that kind of went overboard. Most of the people who comment on my articles have been awesome. And if things do get out of hand or snarky on occassion ... that's the Internet for you. If there's a message board or site where peace and harmony exists 24 hours a day, I sure don't know about it.
twesaak 3/30/2007 10:43:56 AM
I understand this whole thing, I have a roommate that spends more time with her Harry Potter, and creating an avatar, than with her husband, who was just caught cheating on her with someone he met online. She has everyone call her by her avator name. There are times I just want to smack her, and say come back to the real world.
LAgrrl 3/30/2007 8:23:18 PM
I'll admit the whole tantrum in the Kurt Russell comments section might have colored my reading of this article. So I went over it again fresh and I can see that Janet was trying to qualify her statement, saying it applies only where it applies, but that's a circuitous argument isn't it? I can see she didn't mean to imply a majority where dangerous, but its pretty clear the argument is that enough of these dangerous fandom people are around, enough to warrant a front page article on the subject. and it's just not true, how is this argument any different from the hysteria that surrounded Dungeons and Dragons players in the eighties? Journalists bought into the "some of these people are satanists!" argument and it couldn't have been further from the truth! the next thing you know the word "dangerous" gets thrown around and associated with ALL D&D players and movies are being made where "dangerous obsessed D&D fanatics" are killing people. When you throw around words like "extreme" and "dangerous" it has an effect, other people will read this, people who may not know anything about fandom, and they WILL elevate an infinitely small problem and turn it into a stereotype of ALL otaku. Just like what happened with D&D. Next we'll have government committees meeting to decide whether to ban certain types of fandoms, because hey, "these people are potentially dangerous!" "even Janet at Mania said so!" Which is exactly what the government tried to do with D&D. Because some journalists said it was filled with satanists and had all the characteristics of a cult worship, governments and local committees had meetings on whether to ban it, I think it was banned in the south for awhile. I'd like to see more articles on how fandom is often misunderstood by the mainstream. What's really the difference between 5 guys dressed up in baseball shirts, who hang around a playground talking about their favorite baseball players and 5 goth fans who hang around a graveyard dressed up in goth attire and talk about their favorite vampire books? There is NO difference, it's the exact same behavior, except that society accepts one as "normal" and the other as "peculiar" or "dangerous". In reality statistically obsessed sports fans are way more "dangerous" than obsessed otaku or goths or D&D players, but you wouldn't know it to look at the media or public opinion. THOUSANDS of sports fans physically hurt other people, ranging from murder to physical assault, look at european football hooligans, look at our Hockey players, even ice skating for god's sake has had REAL dangerous murderous nutballs in it, there are way more "dangerous" sports people in the world than dangerous otaku, goths and D&D players. I just think this kind of article feeds the mainstream view and fear of us, even if it was not the authors intention. I think the more important message that needs to get out there is that statistically even if you combined EVERY dangerous nutcase in EVERY fandom everywhere in the world it wouldn't come anywhere even close to the number of dangerous obsessed sports fans.
karas1 3/31/2007 10:47:35 AM
There are all kinds of people out there with all kinds of hobbies. There is a lunatic fringe in every community and as long as you don't shoot the president to impress an actress or something it's ok. But many people look down on OTHER people's hobbies as weird. My father was a hunter and gun enthusiast who loved to spend weekends at gun shows. I accompinied him sometimes. The people at the shows were not wild eyed terrorists, gang members or backwoods hicks as is portrayed in the media. They were mostly men of varying ages in neat, casual clothes. Not scary at all. As for these otakukin, there's always somebody who can't tell reality from fantasy. They do seem to gravitate towards fantasy/scifi things. But fantasy doesn't cause it.
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