The Social Otaku Deconstructed

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Going to comic-cons is a great experience, especially when you immerse yourself in the events. Being social, exploring the exhibitor floor, taking part in game demos, and even attending a panel is all part of the full comic-con experience.


You’ll make new friends, you’ll get exposed to new genres of entertainment, you’ll even walk away with some treasures you never knew you needed.


What you don’t expect to take from the comic-con is a realization that you’ve been living a life style that you’re in complete denial of, nor the fact that you’ve been denying it all this time.


That was certainly the case for me during the 2015 Phoenix Comicon.


My friends and I arrived at the con early. You know, the way too early attendees. Preview night opens at 6pm. So we got there at 11am. We had the luxury of having a great lunch in downtown Phoenix, checking into our hotel early, and we got to explore the grounds of the convention before other attendees.


After that, we still had 4 hours to burn.


Sitting around the hotel lobby, we started going through the con’s program guide.


I highly recommend this, that way you can get a feel for how the con is laid out, find out every building and facility that’s participating at the con, and a general idea of what panels and events may be taking place.


I digress.


While going through the guide, each one of us started marking down panels we wanted to go to, and coming up with a general schedule. We wanted to see if there were any panels we’d all like to go to.


As we were being very vocal, some solo attendees came upon us, they introduced themselves, and the miracle of socializing in person happened.


This is another thing that I highly recommend. The great thing about comic-cons is that everyone pretty much has similar interests. There’s nothing to be shy about. Making friends especially if you’re attending a con solo is a great thing to do. You’ll have people to run around with, eat with, and someone to watch your stuff when you need that restroom break.


Well then, how do you do the approach?


Just be strait forward about it. Attendees are usually wearing a badge so there’s no reason to ask if they are attending the con, but ask them if they attended before. Ask them what are they looking forward to, what panels they are attending. That alone can easily break the ice.


Follow it up with what you’re into, and sooner rather than later, they’ll treat you like you’re one of their own.


What’s the last question to ask?


How bout: “You guys seem cool, mind if I hang with you during the con?”


I highly doubt anyone will say no to that, in fact…


Sheesh! I digress again. Back to preview night, hotel lobby, and reading off panels in the event guide.


I started reading off panel titles one by one, and when interested, my friends would ask what the description said.


Then I came upon what started a very lively conversation that would continue on for the rest of the con.


“Closet Otaku Confessions… hmmm… what’s an Otaku?”


My friends all in unison started laughing and pointing at me. They one by one proclaimed me to be an Otaku. Their definitions varied, but they all agreed I was an Otaku and that I should be attending that panel.


Ok, but what’s an Otaku?

Otaku in its direct translation means house. After 3 years of college Japanese I knew that well enough. But this can’t be the meaning everyone is referring to.


Digging deeper into the search of the internet, I found that Otaku’s are people that don’t leave the house, are super nerds, and have no physical abilities at all.




First, I leave the house plenty. I’m hardly at the house. Photography as a profession does that to you. Second, I bench press 225 at the gym, and I believe when given the proper motivation, I can eat 225 tacos. That’s physical abilities right there.


As for super nerd?


Uh… I’m into a lot of things. I’m a hardcore sports fan, I’ll go to sports bars with friends, get drinks, flirt with girls that are not interested in me, and I know stats and history of the games that have no value in real life situations.


I’m a photographer, and I know all sorts of thins that make me a professional in the field. I know the new gear coming out, how to light certain situations, contract and copyright obligations, etc.


I’m a video game junkie. I collect every system, I own over 1,000 video games, and I generally don’t have time to play them.


I’m completely into comics. I have a library of trade paper backs, and a very strong collection of commissions.


I’m a car guy. I own 3 different cars. 2 that are customized way beyond their sticker price.


I can go on further, but you get the picture. My point is, in any interest that a person can have, I believe that anyone can be a nerd. I think of a nerd as anyone that is really passionate about whatever he or she is interested in. Which basically describes 95% of the world’s population.


Otaku doesn’t mean nerd though.


According to Wikipedia, Otaku means someone with obsessive interests.


That has me pegged. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which means anything I’m interested in I’m obsessed with, as I definitely carry the motto of Texas of “Go big, or go home” attitude.


But why don’t they just say Otaku’s are people with OCD? Ah, because a person with OCD isn’t necessarily an Otaku. Wikipedia goes further…


“Otaku subculture is a central theme of various anime and manga works, documentaries and academic research. The subculture began in the 1980s as changing social mentalities and the nurturing of otaku traits by Japanese schools combined with the resignation of such individuals to become social outcasts.”


It’s starting to make sense now. An Otaku is anyone who is really passionate about whatever they are into. So being an Otaku is pretty commonplace in Japan right? It should be generally accepted. Well, not really…


“In modern Japanese slang, the term otaku is mostly equivalent to “geek” or “nerd”, but in a more derogatory manner than used in the West.”


It’s more derogatory than the West? An Otaku isn’t really a good thing then, is it?


As you can see, the definition, meaning, and use is skewed especially in our own social culture. Yet probably has the best definition describing our own use of the word.


“In the Western culture, people confuse otaku to be something positive like “Guru”. If you think about it, it’s not really good to be called a guru if it means you are a total loser who can’t socialize with other people except through the Internet.”


That’s my point exactly. It seems to me that Otaku used in our culture is either being misused, or we are modifying it’s meaning to fit our own standards, which is a pretty American thing we do with many other things (Burritos are not traditional Mexican fare).


Through my quest of trying to figure out what an Otaku is, I did realize 2 things. First, I’m not really an Otaku. I do not have an unhealthy obsession with a single thing.


I have an unhealthy obsession with many things.


Second? So what if you do? The best part of how widely accepted our interests are is that we don’t have to classify ourselves into a single category. Embrace what we love, and others will embrace you.


Go to a con. Enjoy yourself. Make friends. And when the opportunity arises, share what interests you are into, while also keeping an open mind to things you may have never thought you’d be interested in.

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About The Author

Award-Winning photographer and closet nerd. I game, I eat, and I suck at golf.

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