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.


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.

How do you make Animated Anime Images?

dandy-punchThey are everywhere online. The humble animated gif from the 90’s Internet has returned with a vengeance. So how do you make them anyway? Well it is actually really easy. First, you need images and an image editor. I like to use Photoshop, but it is an expensive program. Luckily, the excellent open source GIMP is available for free. I will be using GIMP for this post.

First you have to find the images. You can draw them yourself, but for those of us who are less artistically inclined, you can lift them from youtube videos or DVDs. Here’s how:

  1. Queue the scene you want to use for your animation.
  2. Pause the scene and press the Print Screen button on the keyboard.
  3. Paste the image into GIMP or Photoshop. If you are using GIMP, you may have to right click the “floating selection” and select “To New Layer.”
  4. Press the play button on the video and immediately pause it again. If you do it right, it will move the play head only a few frames ahead.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you have all the frames you want.

You can create a decent animation with only 4 images. The Space Dandy animation I will be making for this tutorial only uses 4 images.

Create a new image. It is best if the image size is identical to your screen size. That way, when you paste your screen shots, you won’t have to move the screen shot around.

Now crop all the images. If you have them aligned correctly and the images are on all different layers, you only need to crop once.

gimp-animation-filterIn GIMP, go to Filters > Animation > Optimize (for GIF). Gimp will create a new optimized image. Be sure the layers are in the correct order. Each layer acts as a frame in the animation.

You can preview your animation by going to Filters > Animation > Playback.

gimp-gif-exportClick File > Export…. This opens a save dialog that lets you save your animation. Navigate to where you want to save it, type the file name and “.gif.” In the next window, check the “As an animation” box. You can turn off “Loop forever” if you want the GIF to run only once. The default frame settings should work fine for most GIFs, but feel free to play with them to get some cool effects.

That’s all there is to it! The hardest part of making animated gifs is stopping the video at the right time for the animation sequence you want. It can take a few rewinds to get it right. Windows will not take a screen print unless the video is paused.

Here are the frames I used for the animated GIF I made. Feel free to use them for practice.

There are other ways to make animated GIFs. You can import video files and edit the frames. However, this method can become a headache if you have a large file. This copy and paste method works best for short scenes (which is what animated GIFs are all about!). It lets you control how fast the GIF loads. Most GIFs don’t need much more than 4 – 12 frames to look nice. Importing videos give you dozens of images to contend with. Although my method is annoying with youtube videos. It is easy to miss a frame with print screen. Also, sequencing entire sections of video can cause copyright problems.

Animated GIFs are good ways to spiff up a blog.  They take a little practice but by your third GIF, you will have this technique mastered.

Happy giffing!


Other Tips

GIMP has a single window mode that is rather nice (Windows > Single Window Mode).

If you are using a video player like Windows Media Player, you can move ahead and back a single frame at at time by pressing the right or left arrow keys while the video is paused. This makes screen captures really easy.


GIFs are limited to 256 colors. The file format will also dither an image. Dithering makes the file size smaller, but it creates a dotted or checkered effect. Dithering can make an animation look choppy or like it has artifacts. It is best to keep images simple.

It doesn’t take many frames to make a nice animation. Sometimes just 4 frames are enough. The animated gif below uses only 4 frames.


Be careful of loops. If you want the animation to continue smoothly, the last frame and the first frame must be identical. One way of handling this is to reverse the frame sequence. If you have 4 frames, the third frame becomes the fifth frame, the second frame becomes the 6th frame, and so on. This will reverse the animation back to be beginning. Depending on what you are doing, this may not look very nice. The best animated GIFs are seamless loops. They are not choppy or jerk back to the beginning. This Space Dandy gif doesn’t follow this looping rule. If it did, it would look slower and less like Dandy is pummeling you.


Be careful of the size of the GIF. Because an animated GIF is a series of images, they can get large fast. A large GIF takes a while to load and looks choppy. It is best to keep GIFs small. I wouldn’t make a GIF much more than 500 pixels wide or tall.

 Anime Memes

Memes are easier to make. Take a screen shot, set it against a black background (this is often optional), and a witty sentence or quote. GIMP is a good application for creating your own memes too.  You don’t need to use meme generators when you have GIMP. Memes are another good way to spiff up your anime blog posts. Here are a couple of memes I made.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Memes and animated gifs are good ways to add interest to your blog posts. They are a bit of a fad in many ways, but fads are cyclical. Good memes and animated gifs can draw attention if they are unique and witty. Have fun with them!