Long ago, being an otaku, one of Japan’s hyper-obsessive subculture fans, made you sort of an outcast. People, especially respectable adults, didn’t really want to look at you, either out of embarrassment for your childish hobbies, or perhaps fear that having spent the last three days indoors had given you a case of shut-in cooties that would jump onto them.

That’s starting to change, though. More and more people are becoming comfortable identifying themselves as otaku, and while some still worry their fixations on fantasy are a drain on society, they’re definitely a boost to the economy, as shown by a survey that indicates spending is up in several sectors of the otaku world.

Like the combining segments of a giant robot, Japan’s Yano Research recently concluded two studies on Japanese otaku, one soliciting information from consumers, and the other from businesses. In the first, the firm polled 18,000 people between the ages of 15 and 69. Around 23 percent identified themselves as otaku (or said they believe others see them as such), an eye-openingly large number for a group that’s traditionally been defined as having tastes outside the mainstream.

Out of those who accepted the otaku label, one in three was either currently married or had been in the past. 13 percent had never been married but were currently dating, with another 19 percent having never been married and broken up with their previous romantic partner. The remaining 35 percent had no significant romantic experience, never being married, and having never been in a serious relationship.

The second half of Yano’s survey dealt with how much money subgroups poured into their personal otaku preferences over the last year. Let’s take a look at some of the standouts:

Idols (up 19.9 percent from last year, revenue of 86.3 billion yen [US $719 million])

Sales of pop idol-related products saw a huge surge from the previous year, rising to 86.3 billion yen (US$719 million) on the numerous backs of supergroups such as AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z.

Vocaloids (up 19.2 percent, 8.7 billion yen [$73.8 million])

Musical artists who’re literally created by their producers also had a good year, with sales of Hatsune Miku V3 giving the segment a big boost.

Toy guns (up 23.1 percent, 8 billion yen [$67.8 million])

The makers of replica and airsoft guns enjoyed one of the biggest gains of the year, as the growing popularity of “survival games” in Japan means more and more otaku are looking to arm themselves.

Figures (down 0.2 percent, 31.1 billion yen [$263.7 million])

Preassembled decorative figurines, usually of the anime and video game variety, continue to attract a lot of cash. That said, sales were slightly down, meaning there’s probably just a little more empty space on the shelves and desks of Japan’s otaku right now.

Plastic models (up 2.2 percent, 25.4 billion yen [$215.4 million])

On the other hand, build-it-yourself plastic model kits saw increased interest this year, either due to good old human industriousness or the inspiration of seeing what a skilled hobbyist can do with the right painting technique.

Model trains (up 1.1 percent, 8.8 billion yen [$74.6 million])

Most Japanese homes aren’t nearly big enough to set up an extensive miniature rail network, but model train otaku still helped the sector chug along in 2014.

Dojinshi (up 2.2 percent, 73.2 billion yen [$620.7 million])

Helped by the continued shift to digital distribution, Japan’s self-producing comic creators are proving manga talent isn’t completely tied up by big-name publishers.

Romance games (up 10.2 percent, 13 billion yen [$110 million])

Dating simulators, whether aimed at guys or girls, tend not to require the most powerful hardware. With a number of mature, price-cut handheld systems, plus nearly every young Japanese urbanite sporting a gaming-capable smartphone, there’s no shortage of platforms for these all-ages games, and love is in the air, or at least on the screen.

Adult video games (down 5.1 percent, 18.8 billion yen [$159 million])

Whether you call them adult games, H titles, or eroge, it was a hard, hard year for interactive digital boning.

Boys’ love (down 0.5 percent, 21.4 billion yen [$181 million])

While it didn’t suffer the same letdown that adult video games did, Japan’s tales of fictional male-on-male love also failed to rise in 2014.

Cosplay (up 1 percent, 42.3 billion yen [$358.7 million])

Just like it does in reality, the fashion of anime and video game worlds is constantly evolving, and keeping up with the latest 2-D trends means shelling out for new goodies and materials.

Despite a couple of rough spots, overall, 2014 looks to have been a strong showing for the connected industry as a whole, and further proof that when it comes to their economic clout, the otaku are nothing to laugh at.

Source: IT Media