The Jaded Otaku
Anime and manga are here to stay, and there's a good chance we're merely on the verge of an even greater explosion in the popularity of such Japanese products. With the successful entrances of magazines and comic anthologies such as Newtype USA and Shonen JUMP into the North American mainstream market, the fan base for Japanese media cannot help but expand domestically. For viewers and readers just now getting into anime and manga, this sudden deluge of new series to dive into may be somewhat overwhelming. For longtime fans or self-proclaimed otaku (a Japanese word for super-obsessed fan, the kind of person who owns hundreds of anime figures, wallscrolls, animation cels, and more) it seems as if this should be the moment in time we've all been waiting for, right? Well, not exactly...
In February, a man came in to my bookstore and flipped when he saw we carried Newtype. He swiftly bought the last three copies of the magazine and started explaining to me how he used to pay $20 a copy to import it years ago but could no longer find good import shops that sold it. I assumed that since he was so keen to buy every copy of Newtype, he'd go into convulsions when he saw our manga and anime selection. I pointed it out to him, and with a quick glance, he brushed it off completely. He told me "I'm not interested in any of those crappy new shows -- nothing good has been produced since the 1980's."
I was shocked. Here's a man buying multiple copies of a magazine dealing with shows that are so new, they haven't arrived in America yet, and he claims to dislike everything produced in the last thirteen years. I asked him what he thought about series such as Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, Lain, or even recent Miyazaki films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. He felt that nothing compared to the glory days of anime when shows like Astro Boy or even the Bubblegum Crisis OVAs were still around.
This isn't the first time I've encountered people who profess to love anime and yet stray away from one aspect of it or another. Some of my friends love Dragon Ball Z but can't stand Cowboy Bebop. Others only like feature-length movies like Fist of the North Star, Ninja Scroll, or Ghost in the Shell. Many people will only watch a series if it's been dubbed in English, and then others will refuse to watch anything that isn't in the Japanese language.
Similarly, some shun any show that maintains a high profile merely because it is popular, which is somewhat ironic. After all, these people typically avoid mainstream titles because they don't appreciate being swayed by the masses...but if one stays away from a show because everyone else likes it, then that person is still being influenced by the mainstream - just in the opposite direction. One of my regular customers refused to buy CLAMP's Wish because TOKYOPOP turned a gender-neutral angel into a female (though, in defense of TOKYOPOP, later in the series, the angel does draw the distinction between being male, female, or an angel). Practically everyone that shops at my store is avoiding Initial D, but that has less to do with the series itself and more to do with the unfavorable editorial changes that occurred when it made its way to the English language.
I realize that anime and manga series cover a broad array of genres - that's one of the reasons I like them both so much. There's always plenty to choose from. As such, if you're not a fan of magical girl stories, cyberpunk adventures, or hentai then I believe that you can still have hundreds of series you enjoy, and thus you can still call yourself an otaku. There are also the monetary restrictions we all face when we get into a series. Perhaps you love Rurouni Kenshin, but shudder at the thought of paying for every single DVD release of the series, whether it is from the TV episodes, the OVAs, or the movie. What I'm getting at is it's possible to be a diehard fan and not own everything - the size of your collection is not necessarily an indication of your love for anime or manga.
Personally, I enjoy practically every show I watch. I'm very easy to please, so it's a monumental effort for me to critique the shows I pick up or books I read so I can present a review. I can sit through hours of Dragonball Z when nothing occurs save for Goku charging up his next attack. I have no qualms about head-trip shows such as Evangelion or Perfect Blue. Anything from hard science fiction to Excel Saga - it's all good for me. I suppose if the requirements for being a hardcore anime fan include snubbing 90% of the shows available, then I'll stick with being whatever type of fan I am now.
It remains unclear as to where the Jaded Otaku phenomenon is going, but as far as I'm concerned, it's an oxymoron. It's okay if you don't love anime and manga with an all-encompassing fervor - not all of us do. But until you judge a show or manga on its content and not circumstantial qualities such as popularity or the age of the work, then I'm not sure you can consider yourself an extreme fan. As the great Crosby, Stills, & Nash suggest (sometimes with the aid of Neil Young,) if you have some anime to watch, it is your duty to "love the one you're with." If you begin to appreciate whatever you have in front of you, then you'll find yourself happier more often. And I understand that not everyone wants to achieve a blissful existence by watching anime, but it certainly works for me.