Wednesday, February 4, 2015

[DC004] Azuma vs. Okada: Defining Otaku

Previous: [003] Azuma vs. Hegel: Defining History

            For the next section of this series, I will be examining some other contemporary studies of otaku/postmodern culture in comparison to Azuma’s model.

Mr. Okada Toshio
            The first periodization of otaku history was proposed in Okada Toshio's Otakugaku nyūmon ("Introduction to Otakuology"), a 1996 book based on a seminar taught by Okada while adjunct professor at the University of Tokyo. Okada's periodization is surprisingly close to Azuma's, even though it does not take any cues from Hegel or Kojève.

            Otakuology is perhaps closer to Nietzschean philosophy, in that it presents otaku as a “New Type” of humanity (taking the term from Mobile Suit Gundam) more skilled at processing visual information and resisting social pressures than “normal” humans (14). The message is that otaku are an advanced, improved version of humanity

            Okada was born in 1958 in Osaka. He attended the Osaka University of the Arts, but dropped out of school to co-found the legendary animation studio Gainax. He became one of the first public advocates of the otaku culture at a time when the word “otaku” could not be broadcast on NHK (1). He was frequently invited to speak on television shows and adopted the nickname of “Otaking.” He has written over 30 books, the majority of which are about the otaku subculture, and was a critical figure in helping American
entrepreneurs secure the rights to sell anime in the United States (Leonard 38).

            The writings of Okada have not received an English translation, perhaps because they lack the refined critical structure of Azuma. But as the otaku community’s first apologist, his work deserves attention as a crucial link in otaku evolution.

            In Introduction to Otakuology, Okada presents three generations of otaku, with his periodization based around what media they were most interested in and what technology they used to enjoy it. The three generations are:

            First Generation - Born in Showa 30 (1955), Okada describes them as the “Special Effects Generation.”  The SFX Generation was interested in Godzilla, Ultraman, and classic American Sci-Fi such as Lost in Space. 

            Second Generation - Born in Showa 40 (1965), Okada describes them as the “Anime Generation.”  As with Azuma's Era of Fiction, they were interested in anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam and Space Battleship Yamato.

            Third Generation - Born in Showa 50 (1975), Okada does not give them a special generational label. This generation is described as having a wide variety of interests; garage kits, video games, voice actors, Neon Genesis Evangelion, dōjinshi (fan comics), and dating simulators.

            Given that Okada consistently sets ten years between generations, it is interesting that he does not describe otaku born in Showa 60 (1985), perhaps because they would only have been eleven years old at the time.  Okada did, however, revisit the issue of the emerging generations of otaku in his 2008 book Otaku wa sude ni shindeiru (You Otaku Are Already Dead).

            In this book, Okada lays out his grievances against the younger generations of otaku, claiming that they have destroyed what it means to be an otaku (thus, “you otaku are already dead”).  His complaints are varied, but they can perhaps be summed up in two points: moe subculture and the younger generation’s desire for social acceptance.

            It is interesting that moe subculture is such a point of contention for Okada, seeing as how Azuma places Gainax’s Evangelion as the Genesis of moe culture.  Okada says that his anger is based on experiences with moe fans that claim one cannot be an otaku if one does not “get” moe subculture. 

            Okada, the self-proclaimed “Otaking,” takes issue with this. How dare moe fans accuse him of not being an otaku? He was the leading defender of the otaku community decades before moe existed. According to Okada, the older generations of otaku had a Big Tent policy where fans of anime, SFX shows, Science Fiction, and military equipment all got along as one happy family. To say that a person is not an otaku because they are not interested in one aspect of otaku culture conflicts with his utopian vision of the otaku community.

            Okada also sees the younger generations as desiring mainstream approval. This conflicts with Okada's view of otaku as a “New Type” of humanity (essentially the next stage in evolution) superior to the average human.  He contrasts the calendars of “normal people” going on Christmas dates in December and celebrating New Year's in January with the otaku calendar, which centers on the release schedule of new anime and the summer and winter Comic Markets.  Moe fans who desire the approval of mainstream society are counter-evolutionaries.

            Okada's work is interesting not just because his periodization is so similar to Azuma's, but because it so clearly encapsulates changes in the otaku community.  Born in 1958, Okada is very much an exemplar of the First Generation, with very strong sense of the Grand Narrative.  For him, being an otaku is not simply about being a fan of anime or video games, it is about being a member of a group with a very specific worldview.

            Much like the Red Army or Aum Shinrikyo, he has an “us vs. them” mentality with society-rejecting otaku on one side and everyone else on the other.  The influx of moe fans who do not share these social values has overwhelmed the “true” otaku, making it impossible to have a legitimate otaku subculture.

            While Okada’s philosophy does not line up with Azuma, his periodization of different generations of otaku is almost identical. Azuma focuses on historical turning points and Okada simply gives 10-year spans, but both reach the same conclusions on the tastes and consumption patterns of otaku generations.

            Having declared the death of otaku, Okada went on to write books on dieting and career success.  It was a bizarre end to the reign of the Otaking, who had helped create anime giant Gainax, wrote Otaku no Video, and helped usher in an era of international mainstream success for the otaku industry.  In many ways a victim of his own success, Okada's tireless efforts to redefine otaku as something other than sexual deviants paved the way for critics such as Eiji Ōtsuka and Azuma Hiroki.
Don't Stop Believin'
Next: [005] Azuma vs. Allison: Global Flows

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