What would you say if someone were to call you an otaku? These days, people’s responses would likely fall into one of two extremes: “Hell, yeah! I’m a huge [insert hobby here] otaku!” or “Screw you! I have a life!”

Some might argue that the latter response is more likely to come from a true otaku, but very rarely do you hear someone admit to being an otaku with the nonchalant cadence of someone saying, “I’m a claims adjuster.” There’s always at least hint of bias in their tone whether its pride or embarrassment.

And yet such an emotionally charged label is still in debate with regards to its definition. To try to make sense of what an otaku is and whether it’s a good or bad thing, let’s start by looking at reasons people might say they aren’t an otaku. The following are four types of denial you might hear when calling someone an otaku as concocted by Japan’s Excite News.

1 – I keep myself together

An otaku denier might refer to their own sense of style or personal health regimen to dispel such as accusation. This is based on the stereotype that things like coordinating clothes, being aware of fashion trends, or keeping in shape are simply obstacles to what is truly important to the otaku.

Deniers may say that they are well aware of the latest styles. They might also tell you how they play sports or work out regularly, which for some reason would prevent them being able to list off the blood types of every member of the original line-up of Morning Musume.

Although watching a supermodel on a talk show admit they’re “a huge geek” about something inevitably feels hollow, the fact is being an otaku is not mutually exclusive to being genetically unlucky or lacking the ability to pick-up a nice shirt or two.

2 – I know how to act in social situations

Another widely held belief about otaku is that they only know about their particular interest and nothing beyond it. Such involvement in their hobby leads to a partial detachment from society at large.

This can be especially crippling in settings where others around them might not know all the differences between a 9300 series and a 5500 series Hanshin electric train. As such, calling someone an otaku might lead to a retort such as “I know how to talk to people,” or “I don’t talk about this stuff if other people aren’t interested.”

However, much like fashion, conversation is an art that people of all walks of life either excel at or flounder in. Even the most hardcore otaku possessed with the gift of the gab can find something universal to chat about like the weather or food.

3 – I’m not an otaku, I’m a fan

Ultimately the line drawn between “otaku” and a “fan” is the depth of knowledge a person possess about something and the amount of their life they are willing to invest in it. This is very hard to quantify and is basically up to the judgment of the parties involved. Some go so far as to classify it like an addiction, saying that an otaku is so deep into an interest that it adversely affects their life. Anything beneath that is simply a “fan.”

This ambiguity gives an otaku denier some leeway in shrugging off their obsession as just a passing phase or innocent pastime. They might say that they’re “into a lot of stuff” or that “I just get really into something and then move on to something else when I’m tired of it,” and that none of this really makes them an otaku. Those are reasonable excuses but also sound a little like the “I can quit anytime I want” excuse of an addict and could generate the same disbelief in the accuser.

4 – Compared to a real otaku, I’m just a piker

Probably the most common and diplomatic way to defuse an otaku labelling is by humbly admitting a lack of the level of knowledge and passion that one requires to be a true otaku.

The previous three excuses involve a sort of over-contempt for the otaku lifestyle that almost belies the denier’s true feelings. They deal more in prejudices than in logic. It feels like when a politician spouts out anti-gay rhetoric only to be revealed as gay himself.

However, this fourth method was what most netizens identified with and seems to close in on what it truly means to be an otaku. “I’m number four. I don’t go to comiket, I don’t chase voice actors across the country, and I don’t go on wild shopping sprees.” read one comment while many others echoed, “I’m not an otaku. I just like anime, manga, and video games.”

Self-proclaimed otaku commenters agreed, stressing that their definition of otaku does not include fans of anime, saying: “Number 4 applies to people who watch anime; higher level otaku are into erotic manga,” and, “Otaku is someone who is absorbed into one thing; anime, moe, sci-fi, idols, or even trains. Watching anime doesn’t make one an otaku. Too many people misunderstand that meaning.”

Otaku relativity

The above comments are just a few in yet another lengthy debate over what is or isn’t otaku that this Excite list had spawned. You could take the clinical addiction criteria to defining an otaku as an unhealthy fan, but that’s a pretty grim assessment.

On the other hand, according to remarks made by people immersed in typical otaku hobbies like idols and moe, there seems to be a sentiment to protect the concept of a pure otaku lifestyle from being coopted into mainstream culture such as by casual anime viewers. That seems fair, but people still have their own preconceptions of what exactly an otaku is, leaving the word highly vulnerable to reinterpretation.

The bottom line is, “otaku” is in the eyes of the beholder. For better or worse, it’s a label used by society in all its levels differently. The swimsuit model who occasionally plays Nintendo may be an “otaku” to her friends regardless of what you or anyone else thinks so in her world she’s an otaku; the kid in school who never misses an episode of Pokémon might be an otaku; the guy whose bedroom is a shrine to Super Sonico and has about a dozen of her booby-toting hug pillows is an otaku. That’s just the way it is.

Source: Excite News via My Game News Flash (Japanese)
Images: RocketNews24