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Fandom Unbound

Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Fandom Unbound
    Book Description:

    In recent years, otaku culture has emerged as one of Japan’s major cultural exports and as a genuinely transnational phenomenon. This timely volume investigates how this once marginalized popular culture has come to play a major role in Japan’s identity at home and abroad. In the American context, the word otaku is best translated as “geek”—an ardent fan with highly specialized knowledge and interests. But it is associated especially with fans of specific Japan-based cultural genres, including anime, manga, and video games. Most important of all, as this collection shows, is the way otaku culture represents a newly participatory fan culture in which fans not only organize around niche interests but produce and distribute their own media content. In this collection of essays, Japanese and American scholars offer richly detailed descriptions of how this once stigmatized Japanese youth culture created its own alternative markets and cultural products such as fan fiction, comics, costumes, and remixes, becoming a major international force that can challenge the dominance of commercial media. By exploring the rich variety of otaku culture from multiple perspectives, this groundbreaking collection provides fascinating insights into the present and future of cultural production and distribution in the digital age.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17826-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Editors’ Note on Translation
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxxii)

    Otaku culture defies simple definition. Emerging first in Japan in the 1980s as a marginalized and stigmatized geek subculture, it has gradually expanded its sphere of influence to become a major international force, propelled by arguably the most wired fandom on the planet.

    Along the way, the term “otaku” has been hotly contested by those inside and outside the subculture. For some, it evokes images of sociopathic shut-ins out of touch with reality. For others, and increasingly, it suggests a distinctive style of geek chic: a postmodern sensibility expressed through arcane knowledge of pop and cyber culture and striking technological...


    • 1 Why Study Train Otaku? A Social History of Imagination
      (pp. 3-29)

      At the Bottom of the Social Ladder of Boys’ School Culture

      Although just one among today’s varied types of otaku, train otaku are in many ways a seminal category.¹ The purpose of this chapter is to elucidate the development of otaku culture in Japanese society by tracing the history of train otaku. As it is one of the archetypical early types of otaku to emerge in Japan, understanding train otaku’s history offers a shortcut to grasping the overall history of otaku culture. As discussed later in this chapter, tracing the path of train otaku culture also makes visible various changes...

    • 2 Database Animals
      (pp. 30-67)

      The essay excerpted here is from a book published in Japan ten years ago, in 2001. Please understand that some of what has been written here on otaku andmoeis already out of step with the times.

      In addition, it is important for English-language readers to understand that this excerpt is from a book on postmodernism,Doubutsuka Suru Postmodern, or “an animal-like postmodernism.” This book has been translated and published in English under the titleOtaku: Japan’s Database Animals. In the original book, the emergence of otaku is taken up as one among many examples of how postmodernism has...

    • 3 Japan’s Cynical Nationalism
      (pp. 68-84)

      Let me start with the story ofDensha-Otoko(Train Man).

      According to the book jacket,Train Manis the “greatest pure love story of the century.” Born on the Internet megaforum 2channel (2ch),Train Manbecame an instant best seller after being released as a book in October 2004, with more than 300,000 copies sold within three weeks.¹ One might expect that a book coming out of a web forum means it was a novel written by collective input. In fact, however, the book consists of forum posts with nominal editing.² This means that tens of thousands of people have...

    • 4 Strategies of Engagement: Discovering, Defining, and Describing Otaku Culture in the United States
      (pp. 85-104)

      More than two decades after the word “otaku” entered the vocabulary of young anime and science fiction enthusiasts in Osaka, Japan, the term remains highly contested and fraught with controversy. From its origins to the present day, its use by various parties and across multiple continents has fragmented its meaning. Of course, individual observers will have developed local, fixed meanings of “otaku,” but in observing the landscape of how otaku are perceived locally, transnationally, and through time, one sees that the contours are more fluid than ever. The variation and ambiguity surrounding the meaning of “otaku” reminds us that otaku...


    • 5 Comic Market as Space for Self-Expression in Otaku Culture
      (pp. 107-132)

      This chapter describes conventions centered ondoujin—fan-created manga—as spheres of activity for otaku. A significant share of otaku activity in Japan is rooted in doujin culture, and doujin events, where these amateur works are bought and sold, are the centers of commerce for this scene. The driving force behind the creation of the doujin culture has been Comic Market, the oldest doujin market in Japan, first convened in 1975 and continuing to maintain its status as the largest otaku event in the world.¹ Even before the term “otaku” was established in the culture, fans of anime and manga...

    • 6 Otaku and the City: The Rebirth of Akihabara
      (pp. 133-157)

      In the past few years, I have taken foreign students on guided tours of the district of Tokyo known as Akihabara. The students’ majors varied across many disciplines, including urban planning, media studies, and cultural studies. But they all had one thing in common: they were not going to Akihabara to buy electronics.

      In the postwar period of economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s, Akihabara was established as the primary electronics district in Tokyo, where both families and technology enthusiasts would flock to buy appliances and electronics. From the late 1990s onward, Akihabara was dramatically transformed into the epicenter...

    • 7 Anime and Manga Fandom as Networked Culture
      (pp. 158-178)

      Otaku are drawn to anime, manga, science fiction, and computers because they are subjects that are dense and information rich, enabling otaku to immerse themselves in a rich knowledge economy. Otaku knowledge requires immersion in not only information and media but also in ongoing social exchange about topics of interest. Particularly for overseas fans, much of their knowledge and media content is gained through contact with other fans instead of or in addition to commercial or professional sources. This was certainly the case in the early years of the fandom, directly influencing the landscape of fandom in the present day....

    • 8 Contributors versus Leechers: Fansubbing Ethics and a Hybrid Public Culture
      (pp. 179-204)

      Today’s massive international anime and manga audiences have been built through the energies of teams of highly dedicated fans who have localized and distributed Japanese content in diverse languages and regions. Beginning with the activities of anime clubs in the 1980s, fansubbing (fan subtitling) has been a core practice of overseas fans, a necessary condition for access to the foreign cult media of anime. In the absence of commercial distribution overseas, the fan-to-fan traffic in fansubbed VHS tapes is credited for creating markets and audiences outside of Japan. With the growing availability of digital production tools and Internet distribution, fansubbing,...


    • 9 Making Fujoshi Identity Visible and Invisible
      (pp. 207-224)

      In this chapter, we analyze the identity construction of female otaku. More specifically, we examine the practices of otaku whose interests center on anime and manga and who createdoujinshi(fancreated manga). More females than males are otaku of this type. These women refer to themselves by the playfully self-critical termfujoshi. The term literally means “rotten women” and is a pun playing on the homonym with different Chinese characters that means “respectable women.” Broadly speaking, “fujoshi” describes all female otaku, but the term often refers more specifi cally to female otaku who are fans ofyaoiand “boys’ love”...

    • 10 Cosplay, Learning, and Cultural Practice
      (pp. 225-248)

      My first encounter with cosplay culture occurred in the summer of 2003 when one of my students proposed cosplay as her thesis topic. My guide-to-be was a cosplayer herself. Once I set foot in a cosplay event hall, I was completely taken by the faithful reproductions of characters from a myriad of series such asNarutoandMobile Suit Gundam. I found it particularly exciting to witnessawase, group photo shoots of characters from the same series (see Figure 10.1). Upon talking to some of the cosplayers, I was surprised to learn that many of them buy the necessary materials...

    • 11 The Fighting Gamer Otaku Community: What Are They “Fighting” About?
      (pp. 249-274)

      Game arcades are ubiquitous in urban space. If one had no interest in them, perhaps they would escape notice, but shopping districts, shopping arcades, and shopping malls all tend to have game centers where many couples and families go for entertainment. In the depths of an arcade, or on one of the higher floors, you can always find the fi ghting gamers going head-to-head.

      Gamers can face off one-on-one in a variety of electronic games that fall into three main categories: fighting games, rhythm action games (also known as music games), and trading card games. Most of these games are...

    • 12 “As Long as It’s Not Linkin Park Z”: Popularity, Distinction, and Status in the AMV Subculture
      (pp. 275-298)

      Fan conventions (cons) in the United States include a colorful mix of programming that showcases the original Japanese anime at the heart of the fandom, as well as a wide variety of fan-made creative productions, such as fan art, cosplay, and anime music videos (AMVs). One of the most popular events in any major North American con is the AMV competition, featuring videos in which fans edit anime to a soundtrack of the editor’s choosing. Generally this soundtrack is popular Euro-American music, but it could also be the soundtrack to a movie trailer or dialogue from a TV show, movie,...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 299-300)
  10. Index
    (pp. 301-320)