Dreaming of an Otaku Christmas
Learn the otaku do's and don't's for this holiday season with the otaku love experts!
This holiday season, Chip plans to buy his girlfriend something special: a Nurse Nanako costume. He already has his anti-anime sweetie answering to that name in bed, but up to now, he has been leery of "pushing her too far."
Friends predict that Chip will soon be one very lonely boy, and experts agree.
"The non-passionate partner sees exclusive devotion to an interest as infringing on 'together time,'" says Dr. Philip Bornstein, a couple's counselor with over 30 years of experience. "He or she may feel they don't rank as high on the hierarchy as they should... and their partner is too self-centered to extend."
Anime fandom is notoriously fanatical, and members have been stereotyped since Akio Nakamori's 1983 "Otaku no Kenkyu" (Loser Studies) article as "anti-social, unkempt and unpopular."
But an enthusiast's life does not necessarily translate to a single one. "Having a passionate hobby can actually contribute to a good relationship," Bornstein says, "even if the partner does not share it."
He argues that introducing something new into the mix can be fun for both, insofar as it doesn't disrupt harmony or "force the partner into doing something he or she finds absolutely vile or distasteful."
Tough luck for Chip, but not for more well adjusted members of a global otaku community that is expected to consume $5.2 billion in anime DVDs this year.
"I've met a lot of fans who use anime as a bridge to meet people," says Susan Napier, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Anime from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle (on shelves this month). Many in the United States do so at massive mixers, such as conventions.
Japan scholars such as Napier are out to debunk the myth that anime fandom is social suicide -- at least stateside. "[Otaku] are not the most popular kids in school," she says. "It's a different kind of world. They are intense in ways that can be surprising for [casual] observers."
But "intense" does not in all cases translate to loner or weirdo.
Currently in Tokyo as a Fulbright Scholar, pursuing "otaku culture" for her new book, Napier calls herself an otaku-type who has interviewed and surveyed nearly 1,000 American fans since 2001.
The superficial analysis is quite positive, styling consumers as "very open and articulate and completely normal."
Although quick to assert that there is no average among diverse U.S. fans, one definite in her research is an absence of the "intense" private idol "worship," comparable to the Japanese brand.
Games, toys and the myriad of marketing tie-ins to anime characters and films represented some $18.5 billion in Japan in 2004, according to Digital Contents White Book, an industry guide.
This is obsession, described by Bornstein as "passion to the extreme," but for otaku, it is more of the fine line when passion begins to rule one's life.
Luckily, sharing hobbies, a rarity in the fledging U.S. otaku population, in which women represent less than 40 percent (up from six in 1994), isn't germane to working as a couple. But Bornstein, and even Dr. Phil (McGraw), caution to "always be aware of where your partner's interests lie, or don't, when attempting to integrate the two."
That's especially true for romantic settings such as Christmas and Valentine's Day. Not everyone is predestined to follow the wayward otaku path mockumented in Studio Gainax's Otaku no Video (1992); just don't let Faye Valentine threaten your Valentine come February 14.
"I've encountered many people who develop commonality in relationships sharing a hobby," Bornstein says, "but the partner certainly wants something from his or her spouse. No matter how passionate one or both of you may be about a special hobby, you need to make an effort to show that your loved one is special, too."
It works for Oz, a longtime manga otaku who connected with his closet-fan girlfriend when she saw the Anime Insider magazine that he had secreted away. Both were just reluctant to broach the subject with a possible non-fan. The same passion is at the heart of Ben and Jin, Jeff and Gail, and countless other successful couples.
"But let's get one thing straight," Ben says. "I love Jin, but I have a completely different love for anime. They don't conflict for me. If we're on the couch together, Jin time is Jin time, and Bebop time is not Jin time. She feels the same. Probably."
Bornstein agrees that priorities are key, but advises to not segment your life as Ben does. Rather, know and show that your loved one comes first in all cases. The result of not "moving [your partner] up on the interest hierarchy" is a marked feeling of being jilted.
Indeed, when a certain "Eva-freak" freelance writer (ahem) introduced his girlfriend to his life-size marionette of Ayanami Rei, the competition for attentions was too palpable, and she bolted.
Bornstein advises countless methods to effectively manage interests and relationships to achieve what he calls a "healthy" balance during crucial romantic interludes. For example, the Odds and Evens routine allows partners to chose alternating activities, eliminating over-exposure to the "threatening" hobby.
"This is where having different interests can be fun and really spice things up," Bornstein says. "Both partners recognize that it's fair and equitable and as long as they aren't forced into something they hate, people seem willing to try a variety of new things."
Integrating often offers a certain uniqueness and romance of its own, and holidays and special occasions are the perfect opportunity: "I will cook Ben an anime-inspired meal for our [Christmas celebration]," Jin says. "I'm not quite sure what yet, but I'm thinking bell peppers and beef, you know, from Cowboy Bebop, and Di Gi Charat Cake."
It's clear where Jin's interests lie, Bornstein points out; she is planning on using something that her boyfriend loves to make him feel special.
It all comes down to personal compatibility and mutual acceptance of each other. "I should hope someone who loves you would be happy when you are happy," Bornstein says with a laugh. "Just don't exclude them or allow a hobby to hurt your time together."
Bottom line? It's OK to have it, but keep the marionette in the closet this yuletide.