Category Archives: Otaku Culture


Are You Addicted to Anime?

Most articles about anime addiction tend to be comedic lists about how everything has to be in Japanese and how you lack money because of all the merchandise you bought. Let’s have a serious discussion instead. We toss around the word addiction in ways that belittle the term. Liking something and enjoying something isn’t addiction. In order to be addicted, your interest has be be destructive to your health, social life, or ability to function (Alter, 2017).  For a long time, addicts were considered weak-minded people who can’t control themselves. Most of the time, addiction is associated with substances like heroin, meth, and other drugs. However, behaviors are addictive too. In fact, some researcher believe even substance addictions are behavioral addictions at their core (Alter, 2017).

The Nature of Addiction

Addictions build off of our natural reward systems–systems that everyone has. Substances hijack those systems, and behaviors short circuit the triggers within the brain. Dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel pleasure and happiness, sits at the center of addiction. Anything that encourages the brain to secrete it can be addictive. Even love can be an addiction, which is why some people jump from one toxic relationship to another like a heroin addict looking for another hit.

Addiction is, essentially, “an extreme dysfunctional attachment to an experience that is acutely harmful to a person, but that is an essential part of the person’s ecology and that the person cannot relinquish (Alter, 2017)”.  The experience component of addiction is the key. Addictions have a strong association with environment and memory. Environment triggers memory, which triggers the addiction. Lee Robins studied returning heroin addictions from the Vietnam War. Around 19% of veterans admitted to having a heroin addiction. Normally, heroin addicts relapse at a rate of 95%. These veterans had a relapse rate of only 5%. Robins, along with other addiction researchers, discovered the relationship between environment, memory, and addiction. To break an addiction, a person must leave the environment–the people, places, and memories–where they practiced their addiction. Few veterans returned to Vietnam, so their addiction didn’t return (Alter, 2017):

Addicts aren’t simply weaker specimens than non-addicts; they aren’t morally corrupt where non-addicts are virtuous. Instead, many, if not most, of them are unlucky. Location isn’t the only factor that influences your chances of becoming an addict, but it plays a much bigger role than scientists thought.

Addictions often center around negative coping methods, ways of handling pain, regret, loneliness, and other negative emotions. Any behavior that triggers dopamine and eases emotional pain can become an addiction, including Internet use and anime. I wasn’t able to find any studies that dealt directly with anime addiction. However, studies on Internet addiction provides us with useful parallels.

Internet Addiction

Even Dracula has his addictions.

Internet Addiction is one of those umbrella terms thats shades a variety of problems, from social media addiction to MMORPG addiction and online gambling. Anime would fall into the category too. Otakuism has a strong online component–anime is watched online. Otakus share fanfiction online, discuss anime online, blog, and enjoy other online activities. Internet Addiction is seen as a preoccupation with the Internet that causes impairment or distress (Stavropoulos, 2017).  Internet Addiction, or IA, links to health problems, academic failure, emotional problems, and behavioral problems (Zhou, 2017). Addictive behaviors in your teen years carry into adulthood, mainly because they become coping methods.

People use the Internet to avoid negative feelings–think about your last Tumblr binge and how you were feeling. Teens who use emotion-focused coping methods instead of problem-focused coping methods have a greater risk of IA (Zhou, 2017). IA appears to feed existing addictions; it provides easy access to rewarding and pleasurable activities. Remember dopamine’s role in addiction? Online activities make your brain squirt the feel-good chemical.

Most game addicts are men, for example; most social networking addicts are women. Interestingly, research suggest people with Internet Addiction keep to certain activities instead of bouncing between various addictions. A gaming addict usually isn’t addicted to Facebook (Starcevic, 2017).

Online gaming and social networks feature all the elements that create addiction: inconsistent rewards–which excites the brain more than regular rewards–and notifications of new content, which makes the brain release dopamine. Think about that happy feeling you have when someone likes a Facebook or Tumblr post (Hormes, 2014). Think about that feeling of pleasure when you plunk off someone with a headshot. That’s what the research is talking about. Research also suggests those who use the Internet heavily, particularly social networks, show signs of impulse control disorders and lack of emotional self control. I’ve seen gamers rage at the smallest things, and I’ve done it myself.

Addicted to drama…and potato chips.

Online video games and social media were designed to be addictive. MMORPGs have a particularly addictive design. They boast immediate gratification and satisfaction from conquering gradually increasing skill level of challenge. They trigger high emotional involvement too because of the social ties they forge, increasing the need to spend even more time online. They help players feel as if they are fulfilling their talents and potential, a feeling reality often lacks (Stavropoulos, 2017).

Online game addiction is something I know well. I was an addict in my high school and college years. It was consuming. World of Warcraft was something I avoided because games like Diablo II hooked me bad enough. Even now, I have to be careful, or I will fall into my old patterns of behavior. Remember how research spoke of memory being a trigger for addiction? PC gaming triggers my addictive memories. Luckily, gaming no longer offers me feelings of self-actualization which helps blunt my risk of relapse. I now tightly regulate my gaming. My last all-day binged was scheduled–the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but I digress.

Traits of Internet Addiction

Beyond impulsive behavior like obsessive-compulsive disorder–constantly checking your Tumblr or Twitter feed, for example–or feeling anxious when you can’t read the latest fanfiction or play a deathmatch online, IA associates with other personality traits.  It’s unknown if the Internet stimulates these traits, but people with certain personality disorders may be drawn to the Internet because of what they feel they lack in real life. IA is most common among college students.  Males with IA showed higher rates of narcissism; females showed higher rates of narcissism and avoidant behaviors than those without IA.  Women show a higher need for assurance and less autonomy (Wu, 2016) . Both men and women turn to the Internet for validation. This sense of fulfillment the Internet offers takes us to the relationship between anime and addiction.

Anime and Addiction

Okay, let’s recap. Behaviors can be addictive; Internet Addiction centers around online behaviors that give us a hit of dopamine, eases anxiety, and provides a feeling of fulfillment. Anime addiction lacks clear research, but using the research into Internet Addiction, and the nature of behavioral addictions can help us understand anime addiction. Yes, you can become addicted to anime just as you can become addicted to gambling, sex, love, online gaming, texting, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and anything else that fills an emotional need.

Anime can become a coping technique, a way to escape, which is fine until it becomes destructive. When anime watching damages your relationships, consumes your thinking, consumes your money, and becomes a craving, you may well be addicted. However, we have to be careful not to blindly fling the word addiction at anime fans. Otakuism appears to be an addiction to outsiders because it is an alternative culture (Azuma, 2009):

The otaku choose fiction over social reality not because they cannot distinguish between them but rather as a result of having considered which is the more effective for their human relations, the value standards of social reality or those of fiction. For example, they choose fiction because it is more effective for smoothing out the process of  communication between friends, reading the Asahi Newspaper and then going to vote, or lining up with anime magazines in hand for an exhibition. And, to that extent, it is they who may be said to be socially engaged and realistic in Japan today, by virtue of not choosing the “social reality.” Otaku shut themselves into the hobby community not because they deny sociality but rather because, as social values and standards are already  dysfunctional, they feel a pressing need to construct alternative values and standards.

Otakuism provides an alternative to the social culture of mainstream society. It allows people to connect to each other in a different way that feels more affirming, but therein lies the danger. Drug culture often has similar trappings. Think about the New Age movements during the 1960s and the wanton use of substances and sex many of the movement had–LSD, heroin, and other drugs. Now, the otaku community uses anime, manga, and other consumer-culture products as their “mind-altering” substances. I know, I look to be stretching a bit but stay with me. Otaku behaviors, particularly the social behaviors like conventions, collecting, and discussing, are the addictive substances. Of themselves they are good, but when taken to extremes–that is, they become damaging and consuming–they become addictions. Anime conventions for otakus are the equivalent to Woodstock for hippies, only smaller and more frequent.

Woodstock was a music festival that attracted over 400,000 people and became a symbol of the counter-culture of the time.

Of course, watching anime can be a compulsive addiction. It’s similar to compulsive gambling, Tumblr reading, and other compulsive behaviors. Anime may ease your anxiety, but the association, if you aren’t careful, can create anxiety. Your mind begins to crave the escape anime offers, making you feel anxious when you don’t get a hit. It’s similar to nicotine addiction. Contrary to popular belief, smoking doesn’t ease stress. Rather, it adds the stress of physical cravings on top of your already present stress. The feeling of relief smokers feel when they take a hit is the easing of that physical craving and the comfort of the behavior, but neither has much impact on the baseline stress level. Behavioral addictions add stress to the baseline rather than reduce it. Meditation, mindfulness, moderate exercise, and other healthy behaviors–anime watching can be healthy–reduce baseline stress.

Otaku culture tends to attract certain personality types, some of which may be in danger of addiction. However, the culture isn’t any worse than other cultures. For example, sports can also create addicts. Think of the super-fan–I like to call them sportaku–that drops out of family life during their sport’s season. Their identity revolves around the identity of their team or favorite sport. For that matter, think of the neighborhood cat-lady or cat-man, or dog-lady and dog-man. Their lives center on their animals to the point where they live in a dangerous, unhealthy situation that precludes anything else. See what researchers mean when they say any behavior can become an addition? You also see addicted runners, crafters, and other apparently healthy hobbies.

Behavioral addictions are tough to see because they often appear healthy. After all, who would argue running or walking isn’t a healthy habit? But when that habit becomes destructive to your health and social life, it becomes an addiction. Enjoying anime and manga is healthy….until it becomes disruptive and destructive. Likewise using Tumblr, Facebeook, Twitter, fanfiction can be healthy, until it becomes consuming and anxiety inducing.

Besides the problem of seeing a behavioral addiction like anime is the fact you can’t avoid the addiction. There is a behavioral addiction known as the empty inbox. People feel anxious if their inbox isn’t empty (I sometimes catch myself feeling that way), but we all know that’s an almost-impossible ideal. It’s not like we can avoid using email. It’s a central part of modern life, yet its similar to expecting someone with a drug addiction to return to their environment and not become addicted again.

Breaking an addiction requires mindfulness. You have to be aware that a behavior like anime binging creates anxiety when you can’t do it. In the articles I’ve read, behavioral addictions have a detox period similar to substance addiction (Alter, 2017).  You also have to change your environment. For an anime addict, that means reducing or avoid conventions if that’s your trouble spot. That also means changing your binge environment and habits.

Are you addicted to anime and the otaku life?  How can you tell? I’ve repeated the criteria several times, but the distinction is important enough for me to repeat one last time: addictions come down to disruption and destructiveness. If your anime watching and involvement in otaku life disrupts your ability to live, that is, work and socialize, you may have an addiction. If you don’t have any hobbies outside of anime and otaku-related hobbies, like cosplay, you may have an addiction.

Behavioral addictions rewire the brain in ways similar to drugs. It takes time to undo this wiring, and even then the memory–and the behavior–remains. Enjoying anime and otaku life isn’t the same as being addicted. The word addiction is tossed about too easily. Let’s save it for when the word actually applies: when somethings becomes all consuming. When you are “addicted” to an anime, say something like “This anime has hijacked my life.” It had an element of temporariness to it that addiction lacks, but it still has the hyperbole people today like to use. Addictions are serious, life disrupting problems. Let’s not belittle them with poor word choices.

If you or someone you know struggles with anime, video game, or other online addictions, the reSTART addiction center can help.

References

Alter, A. (2017) Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. New York: Penguin Press.

Azuma, H. (2009). Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. University of Minnesota Press.

Hormes, J., Kearns, B., Timko, A. (2014) Craving Facebook? Behavioral addiction to online social networking and its association with emotion regulation deficits. Addiction 109: 2079-2088.

Starcevic, V. & Billieux, J. (2017). Does the construct of Internet addiction relect a single entity or a spectrum of disorders? Clinical Neuropsychiatry. 14 5-10

Stavropoulos, V. & others (2017) MMORPG gaming and hostility predict Internet Addiction symptoms in adolescents: An empirical multilevel longitudinal study. Addictive Behaviors. 64 294-300.

Wu, Jo Yung-Wei, Ko, Huei-Chen, Lane, Hsien-Yuan (2016) Personality Disorders in Female and Male College Students with Internet Addiction. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 204 (3) 221-226.

Zhou, Yueyue and others (2017) Big fiver personality and adolescent Internet addiction: The mediating role of coping style. Addictive Behavriors.  64. 42-48.


What is a Meme?

We see them all over social media and across websites: memes. They come in all flavors, from sarcastic and funny to downright painful. Some are stills. Others are animated scenes like the one above; however, many people don’t consider these memes. I will explain why they are in a bit. But what exactly are memes?

The word meme comes from the Greek word mimeme, which means to imitate (Meme, 2016).

Richard Dawkins, a biologist, coined the term in his book The Selfish Gene. He used the word as a way to counter the focus on genes in evolutionary theory. Memes helped place evolution as a product of culture as well as biology:

“For Dawkins, the meme served as a catalyst for cultural jumps in human evolution, much like a gene served to further biological evolution. Memes are the mediators of cultural evolution.”

According to Dawkins, a meme was an idea that tried to replicate itself so it could survive. It did this by spreading, or infecting, people’s minds. Think of slogans like Nike’s “Just do it.” Fashion and learned skills are also memes. Over time, genes and memes combined into a single concept because of their shared roles in evolution (Wiggins, 2015).

Dawkins comments on Internet memes (Wiggins, 2015):

[T]he very idea of the meme, has itself mutated and evolved in a new direction. An internet meme is a hijacking of the original idea. Instead of mutating by random chance, before spreading by a form of Darwinian selection, internet memes are altered deliberately by human creativity. In the hijacked version, mutations are designed—not random—with the full knowledge of the person doing the mutating.

Memes come from our ability to participate online. We don’t just consume websites, movies, books, and videos. We also create them. They derive from copying a previous version. Animated gifs copy other, related gifs. The rain gif at the start of this article is as copy of another scene with rain, which was yet another copy. Each differ in small ways, or in other words, mutate, but the basic concept is the same. Fanfiction provides another example. It takes a story and creates different versions that generally keep the same basic idea of the original. Many different fanfiction authors can take the same storyline and characters and create their own mutations. In each case, people mutate the original with the full knowledge of what they are doing. Memes are also defined as an expression that has cultural meaning and spread from person to person (Meme, 2016). The cultural aspect of memes proves important. Otaku subculture has its own set of memes that people outside the culture may not fully understand. Memes capture concerns and spread the otaku subculture’s inside jokes. They spread through imitation. We’ve seen “me too” variations of memes throughout social media. This is a natural result of memes becoming a genre.

A genre is an activity that guides and changes the dynamics of human culture (Wiggins, 2015). It’s silly to say anime photos with funny captions change human culture, but they represent a shift in thinking– interactive creativity. The same photo can have different meaning associated with it over time. They reflect current concerns, insecurities, and humor and reinforces them. Different subcultures may use the same photo for different purposes; sometimes they also poke fun at an antagonizing subculture, such as when people make fun of anime culture by using anime memes.  The messages we consume impact how we view the world as well.  Japanese media has shifted Western fans’ perspective. Westerners became aware of some aspects of Japanese culture (such as the difficulty of translating Japanese) and poke fun. Memes speak about awkward translations and conventions found in anime.

The Dos Equis memes provide another example. The Dos Equis memes make similar comments about modern society. The 0ver-the-top contradictions about the “Most Interesting Man in the World” allows us to laugh at the ridiculousness of experience consumption and Facebook culture. Facebook culture focuses on the appearance of activity and living an adventurous, even glamorous, life. People took this commercial message and played on it using everyday aspects of modern society, such as using Google to spell check, or suggest the prevalence of commercial branding. Of course, this isn’t always intentional. That’s the thing about memes, they grow out of the subconscious’s absorption of cultural messages.

Memes need to have a vehicle, a way to transmit between people. We think of the Internet as the main means, but books, fashion, speech, and even schools transfer memes. The definition of meme extends beyond photos with funny captions to any idea that spreads and shapes culture. Virility of a memes–that is, how fast they spread–depends on their relevancy. After all, obscure ideas don’t spread as fast as ideas that resonate. Silly images reveal ideas that matter to groups of people at a specific time.

Favorite Anime Memes

I couldn’t discuss memes without tossing in some of my favorite anime memes. I’m fond of Star Trek: The Next Generation memes too. Memes may be segmented between mainstream like the Dos Equis memes and fandoms. Whenever I come across research or even speak with people, we have a habit of boxing ourselves into certain labels: liberal, conservative, American, Latino, Dolphin Fan, Browns Fan, teen. The label otaku, for example, boxes people into a certain subculture, but few of us exist in a single box. People belong to many subcultures. Because of this, most people don’t consume only the messages of a simple group. That’s why you’ll see subcultures bleed into each other within memes. In any case, here’s a collection of some of my favorite memes.

References

Holdcroft, D. & Harry Lewis (2000) Memes, Minds, and Evolution. Royal Institute of Philosophy. 75 (292) 161-182

Meme. (2016). Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 1p. 1.

Wiggins, B. & G. Bret Bowers (2015) Memes as a genre: A structurational analysis of the memes2cape. New media and society. 17 (11) 1886-1906.


What does “Please Notice Me, Senpai” Mean?

Few Japanese words dominate otaku lingo as the word senpai. Senpai, often mispelled as sempai, sometimes appears more as punctuation to speech than a proper honorific. It also has a distinctive submissive flavor. Senpai (せんぱい  or 先輩) is an honorific used to address someone who is superior to you in status. Honorifics are parts of speech used to denote relationship and social status relative to the speaker. English’s closest equivalents include Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Sir/Ma’am. Honorifics attach to the end of the person’s surname (kincaid-sensei). A few stand alone as you see in the famous otaku phrase:

Please notice me, senpai.

The phrase comes in a few variations such as “I hope senpai will notice me.” It refers to the speaker’s desire for a mentor or someone from a higher grade level to admire them or fall in love with them. I can’t point to a specific anime/manga and claim it started the phrase. Rather, the phrase encapsulates a common storyline in romantic anime/manga. In such stories, a character pines after someone in a higher grade (a senpai) who doesn’t show any signs of knowing who the character is or tries to ignore the character. This ranges from romance to seeking friendship.

For many teen otaku, the phrase captures their struggles with relationships and their social awkwardness. The stereotype of the socially backward recluse holds true for some members of the community–unless you count their online socialness. Many of these stereotypical otaku possess great online social abilities and run successful blogs. In any case, the “I hope senpai will notice me” phrase appeals to many who struggle and worry about their social lives.  Many of the struggles found in anime and manga, and the ubiquity of  the high school setting, mirror the same struggles of fans. The awkwardness of awakening sexuality. The struggle of growing into adult responsibilities. The struggle with learning the dos and don’ts of socialness.

Many introverts identify with the fading-into-the-background aspect of the phrase.I think back to my own high school years and see how my own struggles fall into the scope of the phrase. I wasn’t much of a socialite, but then I’m still not. Social ability differs from social proclivity. While I like to fade into the background (and can’t as a library manager), back in high school it was frustrating to be looked over in everything but my grades. My intelligence became my plea of “Please notice me, senpai.” Looking back, I cringe. I value my privacy and solitude now, but back then it often frustrated me that I couldn’t break out of my shell and be noticed. I didn’t have a particular senpai.  I succumbed to the extrovert bias that infects American society. In some ways, introverts in American society struggle. Social America-senpai ignores the need of introverts for recognition and respect for our different nature. “Notice me, senpai” well captures the struggle of many people.

Although honorifics are ancient, the phrase is recent. According to Google Trends, the first blip of searches for the phrase appears in August 2012.

As you can see, interest in the phrase spikes as the otaku community latches onto it. Phrases like this became part of a community’s defining language. Language within a subculture separates those who are in and truly get it from the wannabes. Jargon also expresses sentiments and common experiences efficiently. “Please notice me, senpai.” can be read as a painful plea or as a comedic meme or both, depending on circumstance. But for those not initiated in the otaku culture (I make no claims to being an initiate), the phrase appears alien.  The phrase makes fun of popular culture and lets mainstream culture-senpai notice otaku culture. Perhaps not in a positive way, but mainstream culture still notices.

The phrase also has a sexual component. In some cases, the person seeking to be noticed will flaunt themselves using the tired tropes of fan-service: “accidental” peeks being among the most common. While I doubt this happens often within otaku life, the Internet shows this as a part of the phrase. If you search for senpai you’ll see sexualized fan-service poses. This means people have made the connection between the honorific and sexuality. Within anime, a female character will sometimes use her looks as a means to be noticed, so the association is built into its popular foundation. This sexuality is neutral. You’ll see it in heterosexual and gay and lesbian contexts. Anyone of higher social status relative to you can be a senpai. Some stories play on the idea that a senpai has more experience (read:sexual experience) than the protagonist who is sexually innocent.

As for the honorific itself, senpai is half of a male social relationship. Kohai forms the other half. Strangely, Japanese women are not as aware of this social relationship as men are (Sugihara & Katsurada, 2002). The senpai-kohai relationship is a give and relationship. The senpai dominates the kohai who must follow his orders. The senpai’s opinions are absolute, and the senpai’s social standing improves as he gains more followers. As you can tell, the structure originated in feudal Japan, but to a certain degree this continues in the corporate world as well. As for the kohai, he benefits from his senpai’s mentorship, experience, and social standing. Kohai receive jobs, social positions, and emotional support from his senpai. These relationships form some of the most important and lasting relationships between Japanese men (Sugihara & Katsurada, 2000).

Anime glosses over this relationship because of its fixation on high school. Parts of the relationship remain in anime, however. Upper classmates are expected to mentor lower classmates, and lower classmates follow the orders of their senpai as if the orders came from a teacher. Sometimes the lower classmate, the kohei, benefit by associating with a certain popular senpai. Some of the popularity rubs off on them, so to speak. But anime likes to show the senpai-kohei relationship as mostly one-directional. The lower classes serve the upper. It makes for a convenient source for tension within a story as unfair senpai stir resentment that needs to be tamped down, lest social norms be violated.

“I hope senpai notices me” acts on many levels within otaku culture but has little to do with the origins of senpai in feudal Japanese society. Like with most online cultures, the word senpai develops its own set of meanings independent from its purpose as an honorific. While some may view this as a negative, it is how language works.

References

Sugihara, Y. & Katsurada, E. (2000). Gender-role Personality Traits in Japanese Culture. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 24. 309-318.

Sugihara, Y. & Katsurada, E. (2002). Gender Role Development in Japanese Culture: Diminishing Gender Role Differences in a Contemporary Society. Sex Roles. 47. 443-452.


Organizing and Presenting Manga and Anime

The best way to get to know someone isn’t in conversation. Instead, look at their bookshelves. Your books and DVDs reveal much about your personality, interests, and tastes. My bookshelves are a little messy and eclectic. You will find everything from history to religion, from science fiction novels to video games on them. As books and movies and games turn toward digital, we lose the pleasure of displaying our favorites. Part of the culture of the book (and of the movie) is displaying them. The sight of classic leather covers, the vibrancy of artistic dust jackets, brings as much pleasure as reading. Books and movies are part of your decor. You can use bookshelves as accents or make them central to the room’s look.

Public libraries have many ways of organizing information. The Dewey Decimal System is used for nonfiction. Manga is organized by title or author in most libraries. Anime is alphabetized by title and by genre in some libraries. Organized manga looks great on the shelf, but what’s the best way to organize it? Do you go the library route or make up your own system? Well, it depends on how much you have. Large collections benefit from the library’s alphabetical author method. The problem with this method comes from the different trim sizes some manga has. Some manga are larger than the standard 5.8 x 8.2 inches, 14.732 x 20.828 centimeters.  This can make your shelf look uneven. So one way around this is to separate the books by trim size and then by author or title. Of course, serials look great when organized by volume.

A manga collection at a public library. Notice the space on the shelves that allows for expansion.

A manga collection at a public library. Notice the space on the shelves that allows for expansion.

Most manga collection I’ve seen online lack breathing space. It’s vital to leave room to expand on each shelf. If you don’t leave breathing space, you will have to shift the entire collection to make space for new series. Breathing space helps the collection avoid feelings of claustrophobia and gives an area to display your figures, plants, or art. I like to use breathing space to display the cover art of books. To do this, you can purchase inexpensive photograph stands at your local dollar store. standing a book without a stand can warp the spine over time, so don’t do it!  Breathing space requires you to have a lot of shelving, but it is worth it because of the ease of expansion and nice presentation.

Speaking of presentation, less is more. I’ve seen book collections (including mine) that look cluttered despite being organized. Some collectors try to show off too much at once. Take a look at this collection:

cluttered-manga-collection

The collection has too many figures. They obscure the spines of the manga and make the shelves look busy. Japanese aesthetics follow the less-is-more philosophy. A single flower in a vase gets more attention and appreciation than two thick bouquets. A single wall hanging grabs the eye better than a dozen pictures on a wall. When you mingle your figurine collection with your manga, use this less-is-more philosophy. If you have breathing space on each self, display one to two figurines on each shelf. You may display three if you have long shelves, but don’t cram them. The open space around the figure will draw attention to the figures. If you have a large collection, store them and rotate what is on display. This lets your collection remain fresh. Whenever possible, use groupings of three. Three and multiples of three please the eye.

anime-manga-collection

This collection could use breathing space and bookends. See how the third shelf on the right leans books? This is hard on their binding. But the books are flush with the edge of the shelf. This is good presentation.

Your anime DVD collection can follow the same organization method as manga. Libraries organize DVDs by title. You can organize them by series. If you have the space, you can display the cover art of our favorites. Spine labels on DVDs are much smaller than manga. Alphabetizing anime by title makes them easier to find. Genre is another option, but this can be difficult to determine. Some series can straddle genres. High School of the Dead, for example, straddles ecchi and action genres.

stuffed-manga-collection

Avoid stacking manga on top of shelved books like the above image. This can damage the binding of the books over time. It also looks bad. Avoid direct sunlight. It fades covers. While it is difficult, try to purchase manga that has the same trim size. This helps your presentation and makes shelving easier. I know, I already said this but different book sizes shelved together annoy me. My public library has tiny, thin books shelved with fat hardcover books, and it makes it hard to find the thin books. It’s also ugly.

Invest in bookends. A good bookend reduces wear on your books by preventing shelf sliding. You can also customize bookends if you are crafty. Good bookends are not cheap, but you only need to buy a good bookend once. When shelving books and DVDs, try to keep them close to the opening rather than pushing them against the back. Books neatly lined up and flush with the shelf’s opening looks more inviting than having to reach into the shelf. Just remember to dust behind the books. Dust bunnies like to procreate behind book stacks. The exception to this rule is when your shelving has display lighting. Then you will want to scoot the books back against the back wall.

The image on the left is one of my bookshelves. Please pardon the poor quality of the image. The middle shelf is my Legend of Zelda showcase. I have more Zelda stuff, but I resist placing them all on display at once. See how the three pieces are pleasing? The drawing of Link’s shield is from my younger sister. Absent a bookend, I opted to use my writing notebooks as one. It’s not ideal, but it doesn’t look bad. It’s something you can keep in mind too, but don’t stack the end books too high. Stair-step the book sizes instead. It looks better, and its less of a pain when you want a book from the stack. My organization still needs work, but a book collection is a lifelong work in progress. I wanted to offer my shelf as an imperfect example of everything I’ve discussed. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be pleasing.

The presentation of your library is part of the enjoyment of collecting. A well presented, organized collection spruces up a room and reveals how you value what you own. An organized, neat exterior encourages an organized, calm interior. You can’t be as calm in a cluttered environment as you can be in a neat, organized environment. Your collection is a part of you. Show it well.


What is a Postmodern Anime? What Does Postmodernism Mean, anyway?

Postmodernism is one of those stuffy words you see thrown around the Internet. It’s slapped on architecture, education, movies, and even anime. But what really is postmodernism? How can an anime be postmodern?

Despite it’s name, postmodernism has nothing to do with being modern. I rather dislike the word modern because every age thinks itself modern in respect to a previous age. Modern most often equals current or advancing. Postmodernism deals with viewpoints more than time periods. Postmodernism critiques Enlightenment ideas (the rule of law, the principles of reason, economics, equality, and other ideas). Postmodernism concerns itself with finding truthfulness rather than Truth. That is, a universal unchanging truth. Unchanging truth seeks to see if a commonly held truth is really true instead of being simply useful for right now. Whereas postmodernism asserts some truths are better than others for achieving certain goals (such as the rule of law for creating a stable society), but outside those goals the truths may not be useful (such as using Newtonian mechanics to get a child to eat peas). Postmodernism doesn’t concern itself with a single Truth (Jackson, 2007). Don’t confuse postmodernism with relativism. Relativism is the idea that all interpretations of truth are equally valuable and good. Postmodernism doesn’t hesitate to call out some ideas as wrong.

Postmodernism is characterized by its focus on deconstruction. It seeks to take ideas and views apart to see what makes them up, why they are held, and whether or not they are valuable. For example, postmodernism focuses a lot on the line between culture and society. It sees the two as one and the same rather than two separate things as old views state. Cultural signs and media shape our sense of reality. Media is a lens, not a mirror as Enlightenment ideas assert (Strinati, 1993). In turn, media is shaped by our view of reality. It creates a feedback loop. Ideas and labels distort our view of reality to the point where we become unaware of the distortion. Postmodernism attempts to call attention to how this happens and why.

Postmodernism focuses on what are called meta-narratives. These are the big ideas societies and people tell themselves as true. They end in -ism. Marxism, Capitalism, Stoicism, and Nationalism are a few.  And yes, postmodernism itself is a meta-narrative.

So what does all of this have to do with our anime hobby? Well, as a product of (and influence upon) culture, anime and anime  fandom is subject to postmodernism’s gaze. Without realizing it, most anime bloggers engage in postmodern analysis. We write about the meaning and influences anime has. We take apart anime messages. Doing so takes apart societal and cultural messages such as how men and women should relate to one another. Anime that deconstructs a genre and looks at it–its themes, stereotypes, design, artwork, plots, dialogue–can be considered postmodern. Several spring to my mind: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Kill la Kill, and Ouran High School Host Club.

Evangelion tears apart the mecha genre to examine its long running themes, tropes, and conventions. It takes these atomized sections and puts them together in a way that changed the genre. It shifted the narrative. Kill la Kill satirizes fan-service and the fashion industry. Ouran High School Host Club tears apart the tropes of shojo stories and satirizes them. It breaks them down to their bare elements and pokes fun at how they are seen as attractive. All three call attention to the labels both genres use. Ouran High School Host Club uses every visual language word available in shojo to reveal the unnaturalness of the genre. But it also points out how it is okay to have fun with fantasy (which is another deconstruction of our preoccupation with hyper-realism). Kill la Kill has its own unique visual style that eschews modern, glossy animation.

Any anime that tears apart a closely held idea or points out how the idea is a product of culture can be considered postmodern. Shin Chan reveals how product advertising targets and shifts children’s perspectives. “Action Bastard” takes innuendo and shows how children eat media messages without fully understanding what those messages are saying. It points out how parents are not concerned about these messages either.

Postmodernism isn’t modern. Tearing apart ideas in an effort to see how truthful they are isn’t isolated to current society. Every society practiced this through arts and satire. Ideas hit points where people take them for granted and mistake them for reality. Whenever this happens, a meta-narrative appears to remind people not to confuse idea for reality. Stoicism, Marxism, Capitalism, and other meta-narratives began as a form of postmodernism. They were a reaction to previously held ideas. They deconstructed the ideas they disagreed with and built a counter idea from the bricks. The only difference is how postmodernism focuses on the demolishing process instead of building a new house afterward. The ideas postmodernism present are valuable. They help us see how anime genres can be presented differently. Postmodern anime change the genre they deconstruct just as Evangelion changed mecha. Postmodern bloggers look to tear about themes and stories in order to understand them. However, postmodernism can’t become a system like capitalism or Stoicism. It is a toolbox.

Postmodernism seeks truthfulness rather than a single Truth. Postmodern anime seek the truthfulness of their genre rather than becoming the defining symbol of their genre. Ironically, they often become the defining symbol of their genre in the process.

References

Jackson, L. (2007). Nietzsche and the Paradox of Postmodern Education. Philosophical Studies In Education, 3851-59.

Strinati, D. (1993). The Big Nothing? Contemporary Culture and the Emergence of Postmodernism. Innovation In Social Sciences Research, 6(3), 359-374.


The History of Cosplay

star_trek_the_original_seriesCosplay sits as the best-known expressions of anime and manga fandom. Each year, fans spend countless hours designing and sewing their costumes and perfecting their impersonations. Many view cosplay, a contraction of costume play, as a Japanese import. However, like anime, cosplay comes from the interplay of American and Japanese culture.

What Exactly is Cosplay?

By RyC - Behind The Lens from San Francisco, United States of America - green mighty morphin power ranger, CC BY 2.0, Link

By RyC – Behind The Lens from San Francisco, United States of America – green mighty morphin power ranger, CC BY 2.0, Link

Cosplay involves more than donning a costume. After all, people don’t consider Halloween costumes a part of cosplay culture. We can define cosplay as a performance art. It involves more than dressing up. It involves people taking on the physical and mental role of a fictional character (Bainbridge, 2013). Cosplay expresses a fan’s adoration of a character. In a study of cosplayers, over 70% of people surveyed became fans of a specific character because the character possessed traits the fans wanted to have as well. The fans expressed a desire to “get inside the skin” of the character. Many of the fans surveyed (79%) stated they learned to draw by copying commercially produced drawings of their favorite characters (Rosenberg, n.d.; Manifold, 2009).

We call people who dress up like this cosplayers. The focus on the word play in both labels emphasizes two points: fun and performance. Cosplay involves 4 points (Winge, 2006; Bainbridge, 2013):

  • Narrative – the personality and story of the fictional character
  • Clothing – the design of the outfits and the community surrounding this design
  • Play – mimicking the mannerisms of the character as accurately as possible
  • Player – the character and identity of the cosplayer

Cosplayers identify wth the personality and story of their favorite characters, and this is the main drive behind cosplay (Rosenberg, n.d.). It’s fun to dress up as someone else! It helps when you admire that character, even if it’s just a cool outfit you like.

By greyloch (Flickr: Superman) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By greyloch (Flickr: Superman) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of outfits, costumes define cosplay culture, and the community surrounding it. Many cosplayers take pride in sewing their own costumes. The cosplay community contains forums and websites dedicated to helping people learn how to sew accurate outfits. Accuracy matters in cosplay. Cosplay competitions judge entries based on the authenticity of the costume and how well the character is portrayed. This is where the “play” element kicks in. Fans fall on a spectrum from those who dress for fun to those who obsess over a character and try to recreate every detail. Detailed oriented people can spend thousands of dollars and spend endless hours tweaking their costumes. They practice poses and memorize dialogue in order to win competitions with prizes rarely worth the cost of the costume. However, fans do this because it is fun, and it wins the praise of the community (Winge, 2006; Caffrey, 2015).

Authenticity can be difficult to achieve which the cosplay values it. Many character designs feature physics defying clothing. Especially busty female characters. Other characters sport details or designs that can be difficult to mimic, such as Samus Aran’s suit. This touches on an important point, cosplay doesn’t limit itself to anime and manga characters. It encompasses American superheroes, Star Wars characters, Star Trek characters, and video game characters. This hearkens back to the origins of cosplays as we shall see.

I have to note that Renaissance fairs and war reenactments are not considered cosplay. These costume events seek to recreate historical reality. Cosplay focuses on fiction, much like a Shakespearian play focuses on fictional characters (Caffrey, 2015).

Cosplay and Self Identity

Essentially, an anime or manga cosplayer can be almost anyone who expresses his or her fandom and passion for a character by dressing and acting similarly to that character (Winge, 2006).

The community aspect of cosplay matters. Making your own outfit ties the cosplayer together with the greater cosplay community. Competitions and donning the character’s mannerisms acts as a way to express yourself and fit into the community. It’s not unusual to see Bleach’s Ichigo square off in mock battles with Final Fantasy VII’s Cloud or other crossovers. These impromptu skits, when done well, earn praise from other cosplayers and create a sense of belonging. Shared interests cement people together. Who you chose to cosplay as–the word acts as both a noun and a verb–creates a statement about yourself: your likes, values, and interests ( Bainbridge, 2013).

The character provides a (protective) identity for the cosplayer, which may allow for more confident and open interactions. Moreover, cosplay dress and environment(s) permit the cosplayer to role-play the character he or she is dressed as and engage in such social activities within a “safe” and “supportive” social structure (Winge, 2006).

Taking on the persona of a manga character allows the cosplayer to express their interests and act in ways they may not normally behave. A normally shy person who admires a boisterous character like Naruto has a reason to explore a different way of behaving in an environment that would encourage Naruto-like behavior. Narratives play an important role in building self-identity. Heroes and villains help us learn different ways of navigating through life (Manifold, 2009). Impersonating them gives us a chance to see what life is like through their eyes.

Of course, with all of this we can’t forget, cosplaying is fun. The age of cosplayers ranges from the usual teens to middle-age adults and even some senior citizens (Caffrey, 2015). Fun transcends age.

The Origin of Cosplay

Karen Schaubelt's historic first cosplay group.

Karen Schaubelt’s historic first cosplay group.

Now that we have cosplay defined and explained, let’s look at how it all started. Japan didn’t develop cosplay in isolation. Although, some elements of cosplay developed before its official birthdate in the 1980s. Fan cultures in the United States developed other elements which eventually merged with the Japanese to form cosplay as we now know. Let’s look at the Japanese side first.

Girls left a prominent mark on anime and manga culture, including cosplay. Shojo, or girls comics, laid the groundwork for cosplay through its full-body fashion illustrations. The post-WWII artist Junichi Nakahara pushed manga character design toward fashion with these full-body illustrations. He continued a trend started by the shojo artist Yumeji Takehisa who designed his own lines of clothing, stationary, and accessories. Shojo manga became a type of fashion magazine in addition to telling stories. Girls could buy clothing that matched their favorite characters. At the same time, girls shifted the types of stories and characters manga had through their fanfiction. Many girls would write, draw, and print their own manga to distribute at fan conventions (Kinsella, 1998; Brainbridge, 2013). This opened the door to fan-driven character identities and alternative story-telling. The combination of fashion and fan-written stories became important creative factors for cosplay.

By greyloch from Washington, DC, area, U.S.A. (Ryuko Matoi 2) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By greyloch from Washington, DC, area, U.S.A. (Ryuko Matoi 2) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On the American side of the equation, cosplay owes a debt to Star Trek. In the 1960s, the budget television show about explorers who “boldly go where no one has gone before” sparked an interest in science fiction. The first cosplayers dressed up as crew members and aliens from the Star Trek series at science fiction conventions. Comics book heroes like Batman and Robin mixed with science fiction at these conventions, which provided a medium for fans to don costumes outside of Halloween. American science fiction merged with shojo fashion to create cosplay in 1984.

American science fiction merged with shojo fashion to create cosplay in 1984. When Takahashi Nobuyuki, founder of an anime study called Studio Hard, attended the scifi WorldCon in Los Angeles, the costumes of trekkies impressed him. When he returned to Japan, he wrote about the costumes and the convention’s masquerade. In his articles, he encouraged his Japanese readers to add costumes to their anime and manga conventions. He coined the term kosupure, or costume-play, for these events because the Japanese word for masquerade means “an aristocratic costume party” which was far different from the costume competitions he saw at WorldCon (Winge, 2006;Caffrey, 2015). And so Western science fiction costume competitions merged with manga fashion designs to create cosplay as we know it.

Actually, the first known costume of a manga character appeared in the US a few years before Nobuyuki’s visit. In 1979 at San Diego ComicCon International, 6 fans led by Karen Schaubelt appeared in full manga costume. Schaubelt dressed as Captain Harlock and her friends dressed as other Star Blazer characters (Bainbridge, 2013). However, manga and anime characters didn’t become popular until after Nobyuki’s visit to WorldCon.

Reception to Cosplay

Despite anime fans viewing Japan as a wonderland of cosplay and cosplay shops, the practice isn’t acceptable. While Akihbara and Harajuku districts of Tokyo are famous for their daily cosplay and shops, the United States accepts the practice more readily. In fact, Winge (2006) writes: “In Japan, cosplayers are not welcome in certain areas beyond the convention, and some conventions request that cosplayers not wear their dress outside the convention.” Whereas here in the United States costumes are perfectly acceptable. I remember a few years ago I saw a pair of Klingons walk into a Burger King, and the restaurant erupted into smiles and oos and aahs.

In Japan, otaku suffer from negative stereotyping. Otaku culture lacks the same negativity in the US. It helps that the US has a long tradition of Halloween and masquerades like Mardi Gras. The popularity of Star Trek also helps with this. By the time cosplay began, Americans have been dressing up as superheroes and Star Trek heroes for over 20 years (Bainbridge, 2013). Japan hadn’t adopted Halloween until recently while the US has enjoyed it in some form since the nation’s founding.

American and Japanese cosplayers differ in a few areas. For example, American cosplayers perform onstage skits as part of cosplay competitions. Japanese cosplayers strike a signature pose or recite the motto of the character. American cosplayers wear their costumes outside of conventions and put on impromptu skits. Japanese cosplayers are not welcome outside of conventions because they are seen as individualists in a culture that focuses on community values (Caffrey, 2015).

Like anime, cosplay comes from a merging of American and Japanese media culture. The emphasis on fashion found in shojo mixed with American Trekkie and superhero costumes. While Nobuyuki encouraged cosplay in Japan, Americans were pulling manga into their science fiction conventions with Karen Schaubelt and her friends’ debut in 1979. Cosplay soon became a part of anime and manga fandom and a staple in conventioms across the world.

References

Bainbridge, J., & Norris, C. (2013). Posthuman Drag: Understanding Cosplay as Social Networking in a Material Culture. Intersections: Gender & Sexuality In Asia & The Pacific, (32), 6.

Caffrey, C. (2015). Cosplay. Salem Press Encyclopedia,

Kinsella, S. (1998) Japanese Subculture in the 1990s: Otaku and Amateur Manga Movement. The Journal of Japanaese Studies. Vol 24, 2. 289-316.

Manifold, Marjorie C. (2009) Fanart as craft and the creation of culture. International Journal of Education through Art Volume 5 Number 1 doi: 10.1386/eta.5.1.7/1

Rosenberg, R. & Letamendi, A. (n.d.) Expressions of Fandom: Findings from a Psychological Survey of Cosplay and Costume Wear. Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media.

Winge, T. (2006) Costuming the Imagination: Origins of Anime and Manga Cosplay. Mechademia 1, Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga. Pp. 65-76.