Otaku : Japans database animals

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Intersections: Review, Otaku: Japan's Database Animals

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Otaku: Japan's Database Animals

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Hiroki Azuma

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Manufacturers, suppliers and others provide what you see here, and we have not verified it. See our disclaimer. What, or who, are otaku? They're nerdy young men, socially challenged and obsessed with popular culture. Yet the successful globalization of anime and manga tropes noticeable in the enthusiasm for them among my own mid-American undergraduate art students have positioned and [End Page ] elevated otaku as early adopters and innovators. Hiroki Azuma's intriguing book delivers Japanese applications of postmodernist theory to this population.

There's a philosophical meaning behind antenna-hair and floppy socks on disturbingly sexy young cartoon "database animals" that appear in various novel games in Japan's cyberspace. Azuma's concept of the database is that of a continually shifting authorship of moe distinct fan-favorite elements, often yanked out of context taken from "the grand non-narrative" of otaku stories in various media.

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Sometimes these are rewritten and reassembled by the original authors—including computer game designers—or sometimes by the fans themselves. Authority and authorization; derivation, variation and vision; official and bootleg versions all have been blurred in this cultural stew called the database—but what does the otaku care, as long as he's entertained and the fun keeps coming? Azuma applies Jean Baudrillard's procession of the simulacra, from imitation to something weirdly sui generis, to the database.

Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is also cited as a historical precedent of this analysis, especially in noting the disappearance of the "aura" of a unique artwork weird momentary reverie: I want to see a lifelike Walter Benjamin Japanese robot, perhaps unpacking and repacking his library of manga in a busy department store. The appropriately brief and thoughtful book, with its screenshots and theoretical diagrams, is worthy of multiple readings.

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The translators, Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono, have been conscientious and thorough in providing an introduction that establishes the context of Azuma's work, as well as endnotes of particular subtlety, pointing out shadings of interpretation within the Japanese language. Not having visited Japan since , I am quite happy to have Hiroki Azuma's appraisal of his nation's cyberscape and happily anticipate especially if put into English by these scholarly translators more of the Japanese cultural critic's subsequent writings.


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Perhaps I await them with an eagerness that could be called otaku-like. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves. Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus.

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