It’s Tuesday geek girls guide (GGG)! This time, I’m going to talk about Otaku. Yay! We’re entering the realm of all things Japanese (anime and manga). But first, we have to talk about the word “otaku.” It is a negative word in Japan. “Otaku nerds” are people who don’t go out so much, and are really obsessed about anime and manga. Obsessed to extremes. However, in the West, otaku just refers to people who are fans of anime and manga mainly. So, we’re going to use the positive western take of this word and talk about all things Japanese related to anime and manga, and some others that are considered so in Japan. Since I was living in Tokyo for eight years, what I consider to be otaku might not be exactly what is considered to be an otaku in the West. So, please, take that in mind when reading this geek guide.
I don’t want to write a mammoth guide here, nor state that this guide is the only way to become a real otaku. This is how I made it. Remember that I’ve been on it as far as I can remember. All of it started with Captain Harlock, Mazinger Z, Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball. Yes, that’s very old! I know. But, take in mind that manga and anime arrived really late to Spanish shores. I lived next to Barcelona when I was a kid. Let’s time travel to the ’80s. Spain was a very young democracy, just some years before there was a transition from dictatorship. There were few TV channels, and no internet at all. Yeah, and no smartphones. Spain was years behind the rest of the world, and what arrived, was quite old. However, the Catalan new TV station (go to Google maps and search for Barcelona, and you’ll find the place), instead of buying American cartoons, went for the Japanese ones. Maybe because they were cheaper, who knows. The results were this: while the Spanish TV stations were airing US and EU cartoons, the Catalan TV station was airing Japanese anime. So, kids who lived in Catalonia were the first otaku ever in the country. And since I was in Catalonia, and I could watch the Catalan TV Station, I watched tons of anime.
But the anime chosen were a little bit old: Captain Harlock and Mazinger. And others I cannot remember because I was too young. Then, afterwards came Dr.Slump and the whole Dragon Ball. And it was a blast. As time elapsed, more and more anime was being aired by the Catalan TV. I think that one of the reasons to use old anime more than the new one was that it was cheaper compared with other cartoons. Whatever the case, I was hooked, and this, along with me reading a lot of Japanese novels made of me a tiny Otaku.
So, you can understand my background here now: not only I was involved in Fanzines, but I also was involved in translating! Since I was trying hard to learn Japanese to be able to read what came into my hands, I shared that with others. Before the internet came, things were done via mail (you know, with stamps and all), cassette tapes and videotapes. We would mail fanzines that were crafty copies from an original made with lots of love (nowadays that would look like crap), exchange tapes with Japanese music, and even exchange video tapes with some original anime from Japan that someone copied from God-knows-where.
And then the Internet finally came, and with it total mayhem. It was crazy; you could have whatever with a bit of patience. So, when the 2000s came, we had a huge party! (I was going bananas with the easy access to almost everything. Yay!)
So, this is my background, and so, you will understand some of my suggestions. I know that creating a Fanzine on paper isn’t a thing you do now, but, creating a blog for the sake of sharing stuff? We can do that, can’t we?
1. Watching lots of Anime and reading tons of manga
You have no idea of how many times I’ve sung the intro of Dragon Ball in Japanese. It’s ridiculous! Anyway, a way to enter into the realm of Otaku is to watch as many anime as possible and to read as many manga as you can. And if you can do it in original language better!
2. Learn Japanese
Now with youtube you’re lucky. But when I started there was no internet, and I was in Mad Max zone (a country that had been a dictatorship, had opened some years before I was born, and that was trying to enter the Eurozone). To find some info on how to learn Japanese was out of the question for a ten-year-old. Only people at University had some access. But I wanted to start before time. Fortunately, at school there was a penpal program to improve your English. You were supposed to write down the countries from which you wanted your penpal. I wrote Japan I don’t know how many times. So, I got a Japanese penpal from Tokyo! (And many years later I was able to visit her, yay!) After some letters, she sent me a Japanese-English dictionary. That was heaven. With that dictionary, I started to learn Japanese. I know, so crazy, right? But that’s how I started. Now you’ve got anything you want on the net. So: you have no excuse whatsoever to start learning the language!
3. Have a Japanese friend and do language exchange
There are several ways to have a Japanese friend: language exchange at College, or groups in Facebooks and forums. It’s easy now! Imagine what it was like before the internet. You almost needed to hunt them down!
4. Cosplay your favorite anime and manga characters
If you’re going the Otaku way, you need to Cosplay some of your favorite characters and not panic during it. It can be challenging. But it’s real fun!
5. Write a blog, create a group in FB or G+
Take a look at the video. That’s how a Fanzine looked like. Instead of going the retro way, consider creating a blog about your favorite anime and manga, or why not a group on Facebook and G+?
6. Consider translating manga and anime for your friends
What about those anime and manga that you can find only in Japanese? If you know some Japanese, consider translating them for your friends, or share the results online (be careful with copyright notices though). I used to translate magazines about a Japanese pop group called B’z and read original manga for studying purposes. It took me a lot of time, but I learned a lot of Japanese that afterwards came in handy. I also ended up trying to read novels (and that was so difficult damn!)
7. What about some karaoke in Japanese?
You need to try to sing in Japanese in a karaoke box. Even if you have tons of public. If you happen to travel to Japan, then you can try karaoke there. It’s heaven. [By the way, I was in the Karaoke of Lost in Translation!!! Yaaay!]
8. Travel to Japan
It’s an amazing experience. If you go to Japan, you’ll love to go back again! And, if you have the opportunity, live there for some time. You won’t regret it! Well, I don’t. I was there during eight years, and it’s been one of the most interesting and incredible experiences I’ve ever had. For me, it was worth it!
9. Attend Manga/Anime Cons
For example, in London you have Hyper Japan. Just take a look locally and see which Japanese conventions you have available.
10. Learn about Japanese culture
You can do that with events held by nearby Japanese cultural associations, embassies, and consulates. Make some digging, you might be surprised on how many cultural stuff you can find locally. You can also learn about it through documentaries, and of course, youtube.
And above all: have fun!
Whatever manga or anime you decide to read or watch, go beyond and learn Japanese or not, the gold rule here is to have tons of fun along the way!