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Otaku is a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, including anime, manga, or video games. In its original context, the term "otaku" is mildly offensive, implying that a person is somewhat socially inept. Otaku can be seen as being similar to the English terms 'geek' or 'nerd'. However, the term started to be used by anime and manga fans themselves in a positive way, and today it is often used by those outside of the fandom to refer to fans of anime or manga. Although those new to the fandom may use it in this sense also, those more experienced know its original negative connotations and would not usually use it to refer to themselves.
History of the fandom
Although there have always been those with an interest in anime, the fandom as a community started in the 1970s. One early instance of fans uniting themselves as a fandom came with the anime Space Battleship Yamato; when it stopped airing on Japanese television, the fans banded together to get it back on the air.
In Japan, anime and manga are referred to collectively as the content industry: anime, video games, manga, and other related merchandise are different types of media focused around the same content.
However, the manga market in Japan is beginning to decline. In 2007, the manga industry showed a 4% decrease in sales from the previous year, its fifth consecutive year of decline. Japanese and American researchers have proposed that this may be due to the decrease in the young population in Japan and a lack of interest in reading. The manga critic and translator Matt Thorn stated that there was a growing dissatisfaction with the lack of originality found in many manga. Al Kahn, CEO of 4Kids Entertainment, stated that "Manga is a problem because we are in a culture that is not a reading culture" and that "Manga is dying in Japan." Liza Coppola, vice president of Viz Media, said that the widespread availability of cell phones and ability to view anime and manga on cell phones is likely the cause of decline in demand for anime and manga.
In the United States
In the United States, the fandom began as an offshoot of science fiction fandom, with fans bringing imported copies of Japanese manga to conventions.[unreliable source?] Before anime began to be licensed in the U.S., fans who wanted to get a hold of anime would leak copies of anime movies and subtitle them, thus marking the start of fansubs. By 1994, anime had become more common in the U.S., and had begun being translated into English and shown on television, most commonly shōnen series such as Pokemon and Astro Boy. Gilles Poitras identifies "generations" or "waves" of anime fans in his Anime Essentials book.
According to Mike Tatsugawa, the founder and CEO of the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the first milestone for anime in the U.S. was in the 1980s with the advent of the Internet. With the Internet, fans were able to more easily communicate with each other and thus better able to exchange fan-subtitled tapes and higher quality versions of anime. Some experts such as Susan Napier, a Professor of Japanese Language and Literature, say that Akira marked first milestone. However, most experts agree that the next milestone was in 1992 when U.S. Renditions, a film importer, released the first English subtitled anime videotape that year, entitled Gunbuster. According to Tatsugawa, the success of Gunbuster triggered a flurry of releases.
Due to the localization process, many people who grew up watching anime did so not realizing that it originated in Japan. Initially after the success of Power Rangers (which first aired in 1993), U.S. television companies began broadcasting Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z in 1995 and 1996 respectively. However, due to the relative failure of the latter two, anime did not seem like it would become mainstream. However, the anime boom in the U.S. began with the airing of the anime series Pokémon in syndication in 1998, which served as proof to U.S. broadcastors and distributors that Japanese media could succeed in the U.S. market. It was only after Pokémon and Power Rangers left the mainstream that U.S. audiences became aware of anime's Japanese origins.
Appeal of anime and manga
One major appeal of anime is its artwork; some fans claim that its visual quality is superior to that found in most cartoons made in the United States and many ignore all non-Japanese animation. One fan described enjoying anime because "there is no dividing line between special effects and what is real...it's just the way somebody imagined it." Another fan has also said that "only Japan can write a good story." The content editor of Anime Fringe, Holly Kolodziejczak, described being amazed by anime's depth that was unlike the cartoons she had seen before: "the characters had real personalities, their own feelings and motivations for their actions, strengths and flaws that enhanced their characters. They were more like real people, and thus people could much more readily identify with them." Larry Green of Nausicaa.net agreed and added that anime discusses subjects for both adults and children whereas as in United States animation is traditionally for children. He also stated that any viewer would be able to find something to their liking due to anime's large scale of production.
Susan J. Napier, a Professor of Japanese Language and Literature, stated that anime fans "find refuge in a culture that diverges from the typical American way of life." She pointed out that fascination with Japanese culture is not a new concept and has existed since the mid-1800s. For example, an 1876 painting by Claude Monet entitled La Japonaise depicts Monet's wife wearing a kimono, with Japanese hand fans shown in the background. Napier described this interest in Japan as an "escape from the Industrial Revolution ... a pastoral utopia" for many Europeans.
Although fan service usually refers to sexually provocative scenes, it also refers more generally to events of little plot value designed to excite viewers or simply make them take notice, such as big explosions and battle scenes. When anime and manga are translated into English by U.S. companies, the original work is often edited to remove some of the fan service to make it more appropriate for U.S. audiences. Mike Tatsugawa explained this change as a result of a difference between cultural values of the Japan and the U.S. In fact, some anime seem to feature little else other than fan service as their selling point. However, some believe that the prevalence of fan service indicates a lack of maturity within the fandom; an editor of Del Rey Manga joked that manga Negima!, which contained fan service, should be rated as "for immature readers 16+" rather than for "mature readers 16+."
Learning about Japan
Anime and manga have stimulated many young people to learn the Japanese language. In the 1970s, Naoka Takaya's Saskatoon Japanese Language School was founded with a student body consisting of primarily Japanese-Canadians interested in polishing their language skills for their return to Japan. However, popularity for the language began to rise; the Japanese Language Proficiency Test was first held in 1984 in response to growing demand for standardized Japanese language certification. Yuki Sasaki, who works for Japanese-language program at the University of Georgia, noted that when she first started in the program in 1994, most students were interested in Japanese for internal business majors; however, in 2004, students are more interested in "translating Japanese pop-song lyrics and talk excitedly about the Japanese cartoon character Card Captor Sakura." Echoing this sentiment, Takaya also stated that about 60% of her students are studying Japanese because of anime.
Despite some fansubbers declaring (due to fansubbing's illegality) that they will stop distribution once a series is licensed, many fansubbed versions of anime are produced because of the stiff localization process in official translations. According to one survey only 9% of fans prefer dubbing over subs; some fans believe that the localization process degrades the quality of anime and thus look to fansubs for the purer form of Japanese culture, feeling that something is lost in translation. Most hardcore fans are motivated by the desire not to miss the jokes and puns present in Japanese anime and manga. In fact, most people interested in anime express at least a passing desire to learn Japanese, but usually choose not to, due to either time constraints or rumours about the difficulty involved in learning Japanese. Japanese terms are so well integrated into the anime and manga fan culture that during a Fanime convention, a newcomer expressed confusion at some of the announcements because she was unable to understand the Japanese words used. As fans become more proficient at Japanese; they often also become more critical toward the quality of various translations; some critique the different translations of a single series by different fansub groups.
Some fans even decide to translate professionally. In fact, fluent English speakers who know sufficient Japanese are often preferred for translating over fluent Japanese speakers who know sufficient English, as the syntax of the latter group tends to be stiff. Del Rey Manga's editor finds much of their talent through conventions.
Anime and manga have also inspired many young people to learn about Japanese culture, and the anime fan community in fact encourages people to do so. In her dissertation entitled Anime Fans and Learning Japanese Culture, Annie Mannon found that for many young people, learning about Japan and understanding anime are closely linked. In the past, there was disdain for fans who had not yet learned about Japanese culture, but as the number of newcomers and casual fans grow, this disdain is decreasing. Increased contact with Japanese people as a result of fansubbing has encouraged inter-cultural interaction by promoting everyday communication between people in places such as internet forums, allowing people to learn more about Japanese culture. Fans often learn about Japanese honorifics from anime and manga. Companies such as Del Rey Manga and GoComi add explanatory notes describing honorifics and other words and concepts that do not translate well between languages.
Technology and the Internet
Developments on the Internet have had profound effects on the anime fan community and the way in which anime is consumed. Additionally, fan interest in anime has inspired many developments in technology. Roughly 68% of fans obtain anime through downloading from the Internet or through their friends, a much larger proportion than in any other medium. As a result, fans have made some of the most sophisticated advances in peer-to-peer software in order to make searching for and downloading anime online faster. VirtualDub, a video capture and processing utility, was first created for use on an anime film adaptation of Sailor Moon. The desire to simulate all forms of media that anime and manga comes in has caused PyTom to create Ren'Py, an open-source software engine that allows for the creation of visual novels without the needing a programming background.
Several online communties have been formed where fans can come together to share and interact. Sites that offer file sharing services are popular and influential where people can gain easy access to anime and manga. Fandom has also resulted in the creation of anime and manga fan communities on sites where people can share fan art, one of the most common ways for fans to express their love of anime.
Sightseeing in Japan
Many anime fans dream of one day visiting Japan. A large number of well-known travel agencies from Japan have begun offering anime tours. In 2003, the company Pop Japan Travel was founded to help customers experience Japan's content industry (including anime, games, food, and fashion) by allowing them to visit studios and meet artists, among other activities. Many different museums dedicated to the industry exist throughout Japan, such as the Suginami Animation Museum in Tokyo and the Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum in the Hyogo Prefecture. Other popular locations include places where people can enjoy anime-related activities, such as shopping for related merchandise or singing anime theme songs. Additionally, fans enjoy visiting real-life locations that serve as settings for some anime, and locations where live-action movies were filmed. For example, the popularity of Lucky Star brought many of its fans to the real-life settings of the anime, beginning in April 2007.
A popular location for anime fans to visit is Akihabara, located in Tokyo. Known as the Electric Town, it is a major shopping area where people can buy manga, anime, and other assorted otaku merchandise. The Tokyo Anime Center is one of the most popular spots in Akihabara, where a diverse set of events take place, such as the display of new anime films, related exhibitions, talk shows featuring voice actors, and public recordings of radio programs.
- Anime club
- Anime convention
- Yaoi fandom
- Science fiction fandom
- Furry fandom
- Editing of anime in American distribution
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