I’ve been involved in yet another colourful argument with the Space Nazis over at Colony Drop over yet another of their nasty little poison pen posts about anime fandom and Otaku. Of course, considering the modus operandi of Colony Drop when it comes to fandom is to be the biggest wankers (in Fandom Wank terms, no less) possible, it’s no surprise they get a lot of attention.
This week, the focus of their butthurt is over Akihabara, and the seeming misrepresentation it gets from most anime fans, after having inexplicably went there after 9pm for drinks and dinner, when all the shops would be about to close…
So, Sean describes wandering Akihabara after hours, and the feeling of desolation you’d get from such a place. This I can hardly rebuke, as I’ve been in a similar situation. When I first walked into Akihabara, I inexplicably decided to get up and get to the train station at around 7am, and get to the Electric Town as soon as possible. And it didn’t take me until I actually emerged from the subway exit to find out how bad this was an idea, as…
…all the shops were shut. So as a result of this, I found myself wandering the length and breadth of Chuo-dori, the main drag of Akihabara Electric Town, taking pictures of closed shopfronts such as that one above, and generally looking for something to do. Chuo-dori was dead asleep, at the rare time before it would rise, bidden at the tenth hour, to feast on the currency of the hapless citizens of the country, as well as all the other countries foolhardy enough to venture near its jaws.
And ironically, on my last day in Tokyo before I left for England’s greener pastures, I would find myself roaming Akihabara at night, and witness the dread beast falling into it’s dread sleep again. Like our dear friend Sean here:
The maids who lined the streets to hand out fliers had left for home, and with them, so had the otaku, their ubiquitous, oversized backpacks stuffed with doujinshi and figurines. Fading remnants of Akihabara’s daytime activity and bustle still lingered, but they were being shuttered, closed or ignored. We were trapped in Disneyland after closing; the animatronic ghosts of otaku cool haunting the streets, lifeless and cold.
So yes, I’ve been to Akihabara, and I understand that place for what it is. As we all know, Akihabara’s reputation as the one-stop shopping district of Japanese otakudom is well known among us Western anime fans, as it should, being featured on practically any anime or manga that is about otaku or otaku pursuits. However it just isn’t enough! According to our friend Sean here, Akihabara’s reputation is being inflated and blown all out of proportion into being a haven, a Mecca for anime fans! And he’s going to tell us the truth!
Akihabara is not the epicenter of Japan’s cool otaku subculture, nor does that subculture even exist. Akihabara is an over-merchandised shopping complex in the middle of Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward, populated by Japan’s manchildren, gawking tourists and the foreign residents who erroneously portray it as the hub of modern Japanese pop-culture.
Alright, so I’m being a bit facetious here, but as is usual with these people over at Colony Drop, it’s hard to tell whether they’re joking or not whenever they do something like this. Usually I just assume they’re not kidding, and then when somebody calls them out on it, they tell us it’s all just a joke they’re playing on us that we just don’t get. But really, posts like this are a dime a dozen on Colony Drop, and it tends to get in the way of the posts that really should be garnering attention. But for their sake, I’ll go through their points and analyse and respond to them, like a good little Japtoon geek should…
- Akihabara is being misrepresented as a centre of “ota-cool”.
Well, this is hardly a point that I can argue against. Akihabara isn’t really anything special once you peel back the gloss and maids and flashing lights. It’s nothing like any major shopping district in America or England, but it’s also nothing you can’t get the hang of once you’ve gained your bearings. It’s a place full of shops, amusement arcades, restaurants and fast food courts and maid cafes. There’s no real vibrant cultural scene you can really get your hands on in Akihabara, it’s all sell sell sell, play play play. Blame the Japanese keeping to themselves most of the time, or sticking around in packs. If you want urban culture, you’re better off in Harajuku. And that’s probably not what it’s used to be any more…
It still has a rather heady reputation as being unique as a massive shopping district that deals exclusively in geek goods, video games and anime and manga. While Nakano Broadway becomes a haven for figure hunters and super-otaku, Akihabara will always be the face of Japanese otaku culture, and there’s no getting past that.
So what about the so-called Danny Choos and Patrick W. Galbraiths of the world who, according to Sean, are perpetuating the myth of the so-called “ota-cool” culture with their blogging and coverage of otaku hotspots, such as the latest maid cafe or place to get arcade circuits?
Well, Danny Choo is mostly putting up photos of places in Tokyo he goes to, and the places he eats with his little plastic figures, or writing about various little minutiae in Japan for weeaboos to lap up. He never really came across to me personally as a prophet of the cool otaku, apart from the fact that he has a high paying job, and is a really big fan of anime and manga.
As for Patrick Galbraith, he’s more of the otacool type, but he doesn’t look like the kind of person to take seriously as “otaku cool”. Really, a lot of the foreign anime fans who are living in Japan would probably know of the real otaku culture in Japan. Otherwise, if they didn’t, would they still be staying there, running businesses in Japan?
And on that note, who can really take Danny Choo seriously as the epitome of otacoolness when he talks about the joys of dolphin waxing? Does Danny Choo even take Danny Choo seriously, when he talks about the joys of dolphin waxing?
So, moving swiftly along to our next point:
- Japanese anime otaku are shunned outcasts, even by Japanese non-otaku
This is a point that is belaboured constantly by Sean and his little friends at Colony Drop, and one that I still have trouble understanding why. Why does he seem to have to bring this point up constantly?
One certain podcast (the Anime 3000 Panel, I believe) equates the Japanese anime otaku to the American comic book fandom: very large and diverse in real life, but also frequently misrepresented. But the two most well-known publishers of comics in America, DC and Marvel, publish almost nothing but superhero comics, which mean they take up the majority of the market, with other comics of other genres, as well as the more artistic or thought-provoking comics, are sold by lower profile publishers. Hence, some people don’t like to come out as comics fans in America, as it still has a reputation of being kids’ stuff, despite certain famous comic books attempting to dispel that notion.
As for the Japanese otaku? Well, think of the old-fashioned Japanese values that many Japanese people still exhibit today, even though it hearkens back to a dark period in Japanese history, values which can be summed up in one proverb: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” The best answer that I can come up with is that, with anime studios and television networks recently focusing in on the otaku base with constant harem shows, eroge adaptations and moe four panel comics, anime is being kept from being able to appeal to other audiences.
The Colony Drop view of otaku under their most common stereotype is a constant fixture of their posts about otaku or certain recent anime, which makes me think of them as rather backwards thinking in general. Note that in the article, dear old Sean says that otaku are “viewed as creepy loners”, but doesn’t differentiate between otaku that are creepy and otaku that aren’t. Instead, he just differentiates Akihabara’s visitors as otaku, non-otaku, and tourists. This will be important as I go on to the next point:
- “Otaku culture” is actually based around nothing more than pornography and sex.
Yet another Colony Drop otaku hangup that appears repeatedly throughout their posts, and one of the big stereotypes that Colony Drop repeatedly advocates whenever it talks about Japanese otaku or the strange and often unnerving world of moé at any length.
Why? Well, with the popularity of eroge and harem anime as of recently, the rise of moé culture, not to mention Japan’s… relaxed stance towards sexual content in media despite it’s buttoned down nature in general (apart from it’s bizarre censorship laws regarding genitalia, but that’s a rant for a different night), it’s hard not to see that a lot of Akihabara’s entertainment has a sexual frisson around it. You don’t go to a maid cafe for the food, you go for the feeling of being served by a pretty girl. You can see eroge for sale in places like AsoBit City and Gamers, and I found a couple of those soft breasted mouse pads. I went to a maid cafe, just because they seemed so popular in Akihabara. I noticed that there were even, horrors of horrors, actual females eating at the establishment I went to!
Alright alright, so I don’t really take the whole sex aspect of the image of Akihabara as seriously as the people in Colony Drop seemingly do, but looking at lines like this:
With the personal computer, came its two close siblings: video games and anime, and the ever present factor that tied all three together: pornography.
It’s the sex and pornography that keeps Akihabara going, and the otaku pay for it.
..and especially this:
Akihabara is little more than a red light district, albeit one with a unique deviancy and a curfew. Anywhere you look, you’re likely to spy the doe-eyed visage of a cartoon girl of indeterminate age, be it on a billboard, a book cover, a pillow or a mouse pad with sculpted breasts, but the sex comes in other forms as well.
…it’s hard not to see Colony Drop’s actual general feelings on otaku and Akihabara. Once again, it’s that old saw about Japanese otaku all being sick perverts who are probably train gropers again. You might think this is just me coming on Colony Drop pretty strong, but this sort of thing is carried throughout this post.
Is this how they think of most Japanese otaku? Remember that last point, where I noted that Sean doesn’t differentiate between creepy otaku and non-creepy otaku, just otaku, non-otaku and tourists? This refusal to differentiate means that my conclusion above is what the writer intends us to think.
Allow me to add a personal note here, one that I repeatedly stressed in the comments of that very post. When I was in Tokyo in August, I had tragically spent most of my time in Akihabara, roaming up and down Chuo-dori and peeking in the occasional side streets, in search of a copy each of all the Super Robot Wars games that came out for PS2 (easily done, thanks to Trader and Mandarake), and a Soul of Chogokin Baikanfu (which I finally got, from Nakano). While there, I saw the maid cafes, porno shops and eroge outlets that were scattered throughout Electric Town.
However, apart from the very rare exception, almost none of these shops were on the main drag of Chuo-dori, where the majority of Akihabara’s traffic was. Instead, they were mostly in the side streets, hidden amongst cheap secondhand game shops, fast food outlets and pachinko parlours. AsoBit City and Gamers had basement floors dedicated to eroge and porn, but they were clearly marked 18+ only. Comic Tora no Ana were similarly marked for their adult doujin floors.
The rest of Akihabara, the facade that was put out to the general public? Anime and manga shops, game centers, pachinko parlours! Maid cafes, which is the only thing remotely sexual put out in the open! Adverts for eroge! And that’s about it!
I won’t deny that there is a strong sexual undercurrent running throughout a lot of Akihabara product. But this is hardly the red-light district that Sean so sensationally suggests it should be surmised so. It’s not innocent, but those maids aren’t asking you for ten thousand yen in exchange for a blowjob. The average maid cafe in Akihabara is about as sexually suggestive as your average Hooters in America, except with girlier food and frillier costumes.
- So, what is Akihabara, in my own humble opinion?
Akihabara is the world’s biggest and, some would say, the world’s only, large scale geek-oriented shopping district. It is the Beast of Japanese otakudom. It’s influence stretches far and wide across Japan through its anime industry. It thinks of nothing but sucking up money, from ten in the morning when it awakes to feed, to around ten or eleven at night, when it goes back to sleep again, it’s belly full of cash.
Now that I think about it, me and Sean do share some opinions about Akihabara. The difference between us is of simple semantics: I’m an unabashed fan of Japanese animation. I love the stuff. My SoC Baikanfu is testament to that. Not just that, but I’m also accepting of a lot of it. I enjoyed a bit of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star, I like a lot of giant robot anime and shonen action anime. I like stuff like Once Piece, Gurren Lagaan, Giant Robo and Castle of Cagliostro. And I like tokusatsu, J-drama, Japanese music and Japanese video games.
However, Sean, and Colony Drop seems to resent a lot of Japanese animation in general. Looking through the comments, he only cites one Japanese animation-related place n Japan as being a place for a respectable Japanese animation fan: the Ghibli Museum. Most of the anime–sorry, Japtoons–that are usually favourably blogged about are classic anime, usually from the 1980’s: Akira, Demon City Shinjuku, LoGH, Gunbuster… Hell, one of their categories is basically devoted to anime from 1988! Colony Drop then, is an anime blog that is mostly devoted to nostalgia, lamenting the days when great anime grew on trees and the streets of Shinjuku were paved in gold, only to have been correupted by fanboys and otaku taking over the asylum and ruining everything. This post on Akihabara is just the biggest signifier of that outlook on Japanese animation.
Of course, this outlook isn’t something that I personally agree with at all, considering I’ve written over 2500 words on the subject, but hey, that’s what dissenting opinions are for, right?
Oh, and if for some reason you are in search of dinner and drinks at Akihabara in the evenings, you can’t go wrong than Akiba Ichi in the UDX building, which is pretty close to the entrance to Akihabara train station. They have lots of restaurants there, that serve all kinds of dishes! I went to an okonomiyaki place there called Yukari, and the okonomiyaki I had there really rocked the house! If you get lost in Akihabara as night falls like me and Sean did, you can’t go wrong than going there. Last orders are 9:30 though…