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Viva La Revolution!
By Janet Houck
August 16, 2006
Kenada in Akira
Welcome to American Otaku, a celebration and exploration of the US anime and manga scene!
First, a little info on myself in true confessional style. I'm a mother in her mid-twenties. I'm an ex-pat Canadian, living in Colorado. I work for the local school district, and I love anime and manga. Yes, I am aware that this is less of a sin than it was five years ago, yet I still live with the stigma of having to hide the majority of my anime collection when my family comes to visit. The Kenshin wallscrolls never emerged after moving, but the Hiroshige woodblock prints remain. (I can pretend that other people think that are just art, and not the sign of a Japanophile in the house.)
I boarded the anime train back in the late 90s, with Sailor Moon on afterschool TV, but didn't really get into it until my boyfriend (now husband) showed me Akira and oddly enough, La Blue Girl. (Warning: In no way, do I recommend these titles for introducing someone to anime. You already have to be pretty geeky and possessing inner otakuhood to understand anything during your first viewing of Akira. You just need to have a perverted sense of humor and a lack of disgust for writhing tentacles to watch La Blue Girl.) Anyway, enough about me. Let's talk about what we're all here for!
In this column, we're going to explore the state of anime and manga in the US, and the issues that affect the otaku culture. (Before you jump on me for being ameri-centric, one must write about their local environment, and hey, this is where I live.) We're going to talk about its roots and its future. We'll discuss the various genres available, as well as the technical Japanese jargon that goes along with them. We'll look at the pretty, the ugly, and the memorable, but mostly the pretty because it's pretty, and we all like pretty things.
We'll enter into the world of OEL (Original English Language) manga and domestic publishing companies, as well as the growth of the anime and manga industry. Descending into the grey zone of fansubs and other fan-works, we'll talk about the issues close to you. Of course, it won't be serious factoids all the time. I'll share some recommendations of titles and websites that you should check out.
So why stick the word "revolution" in this week's title? Because anime has come a long way, baby. Fifteen years ago, even ten years ago, your best bet for viewing anime were clubs (mostly out of colleges) and mail order fansubbed VCR tapes that were god-only-knows how many generations old. (Anyone remember what a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy VCR tape looked like on TV? ) Over on the manga side of the fence, few titles were translated in English, so you were almost forced to learn Japanese if you wanted to expand your tastes past Record of Lodoss War and Tenchi. Yes, life before the Internet boom was hard on the lonely otaku.
Now we have anime broadcasted on Saturday mornings (as well as other mornings), separate manga sections in chain bookstores, genres beyond magical girls and shounen (anime and manga intended for boys) action represented, you can even buy a pair of catgirl ears at Walmart. Our little closet hobby has grown into a commercial industry. The Internet enabled instant (maybe more like a few hours) downloads of fansubs and introduced Photoshop-edited scanslations (fan-translated manga) to the world. Besides all the ...things that the Internet brought to the fandom community, it brought us all closer together. (Cue the "Awww!" soundtrack.) It gave us a sense of identity, that you are part of a world-wide group, not just a hobbyist in an apartment with a TV and a five-dollar Fruits Basket poster on your bedroom wall. No matter how obscure the latest title you're geeking out on is, you can find all the facts in English (the keyword there) at sites such as AniDB (http://www.anidb.net) and AnimeNfo (http://www.animenfo.com/). Yes, you can sound like an expert with an afternoon's worth of forum research.
Note how I use "otaku" as the term for members of anime and manga fandom, a badge that I wear with pride. I don't buy the argument that the word should keep its original connotations of an obsessive house-bound fanatic outside of the Japanese language. Foreign words flow in and out of languages constantly. (Le Big Mac anyone?) All living languages do this; evolution is part of being alive. Sometimes, the original meaning mutates into something entirely unique in its adopted community. Thus the otaku has become the equivalent of a Trekkie in the anime community. This is a bad comparison, however, as they really don't share anything in common besides being nice collective names for groups of otherwise diverse people with a single geeky interest in common.
And this brings us back to this column's title--American Otaku--and its over-arching theme of the anime revolution. Look how far this little obscure hobby has come outside of Japan! For better or worse, we are moving towards primetime TV and a wall of paperback novels at your local generic giant bookstore. We are the otaku generation, marching ever forward into the visual future. Viva la Otaku Revolution!