(D)Evolution to Otaku
By Kellen Scrivens
25 September 2006 — Otaku, it's a word that many anime fans across the continent are split on. Some feel it's too self-absorbed, smarkish if you will. While others find it to be a term of endearment, one that is earned after hours and hours of devoted fandom — including but not limited to using an endless amount of bandwidth and time to download the newest series from Japan in subtitled form, routinely going to local anime clubs, hour-long online chats regarding a small point of a series, planning three months for a three-day convention, designing costumes for said convention, creating illustration after illustration and recording AMVs. Personally I fall into the latter of these two categories. Unlike others who refuse to be classified as such, I feel I have earned the title.
Now it should be noted that there is a difference between otaku and a casual anime fan. As an example, the editor and publisher of this very site, Michael David Sims, is someone who I would classify as a casual anime fan. He watches a few shows and reads the occasional manga, but not to an extreme degree. Contrast Mike against myself, and you have the topic at hand: how does one evolve (or, from some perspectives devolve) from a run-of-the-mill anime fan to an otaku? While I can't speak for fellow otaku and Earth-2.net contributor James D. Deaux IV, I can outline my (d)evolution from casual anime fan to otaku.
For many years during my childhood shows like Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Digimon, Medabots, Monster Rancher, Dragon Ball and its successor Dragonball Z were at one point or another all on my regular viewing schedule. There was a constant stream in and out of my personal lineup, up until about the summer / fall of 2004, but very few caught my interest (some were decent, just not amazing). Thanks to InuYasha — an anime that hadn't been castrated in its trip across the pacific — that all changed. I changed.
Over the next few months, new friends introduced me to more anime, including Escaflowne and Gundam SEED. Now Skyre, a friend and fellow member of the forums, had been touting this series for quite some time, but I was kind of shrugging it off. Gundam and mecha in general, for whatever reason, never really intrigued me... until I found it on right after InuYasha on YTV's weeknight lineup. Despite quite a bit of confusion at, I became intrigued by the plot, the characters and the parallels to real life. It quickly shot to the top of my list of favorite animes — and even into my favorite television shows.
Knowing that this was only the tip of the iceberg, I jumped on the chance to go to a local, minor anime convention: Chibicon 2005. Before that, however, the night was spent at Skyre's house watching the final seven episodes of Gundam SEED. I was floored. The ending brought me to the brink of tears, which hadn't happened in years.
Energized, the two of us awoke the next morning and headed to the convention. Once again, I was floored — there were a few things that really sucked me in. Firstly, the atmosphere: watching the people in their cosplays, seeing all of the vendors, the buzzing comradery. Within the first 10 minutes we had spent a total of $75 between us... and there was plenty more by the end.
Several showings caught my attention. Yu-Gi-Oh, in its original, unaltered state, really put the seed in me that I shouldn't judge an anime by its North American TV counterpart. Secondly, Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien. If you've read my posts over at the forum and / or listen to Earth-2.net: The Show you know what this show means to me. If I thought Gundam SEED touched my soul... I was wrong. By the end, this show brought me to tears several times — as evidenced on my first Anticipation (Earth-2.net: The Show — Episode 15).
Several anime clubs had taken ads out in the program — UMAnime, JAAW (Japanese Animation Association of Winnipeg) and WAC (Winnipeg Anime Club) — and once again I was intrigued. In the following week I looked into the clubs, and found UMAnime and JAAW were both University Clubs (for the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg, respectively). Leaving me with one viable option: WAC.
One boring Manitoba Saturday, I researched the club and, after talking to several people about it, made the snap decision to go that night. I called up my running buddy again, convinced him to pay a share of the gas money and, before I knew it, we drove for nearly two hours to an Internet gaming center called FragMax. Mostly we just sat around watching anime, playing games and mouthing off about anime.
The next step into my (d)evolution was my first real forays into manga. At the WAC's Chubby-Con, a Christmas get together at a buffet, the President of WAC bought me the first volume of Genshiken. Over the holiday I read it and laughed and laughed, and decided to hunt down the other volumes... which led me to other books, such as A.I. Love You. Over the next nine months I spent at least $600 driving all over town, buying up manga and going to the club meetings.
After many months of club meetings, watching anime and reading manga it was time for Manitoba's largest anime convention, Ai-Kon. A year prior to attending, I remarked, "I mean, I'm a big anime fan and all, but $40 to go to a convention... that's nuts!" Well, this year I did something else I once thought was nuts: I dressed as Ken from Street Fighter II. Yes, I cosplayed. And entered an AMV contest. And took part in a 150-person a cappella rendition of the Sailor Moon theme.
Yes. I am otaku.
For those of you who ever wondered exactly what an otaku is or how evolves (or devolves) into one, you now have an example. However, to steal a phrase from Genshiken: "You don't become an otaku by trying, you're just born that way." I think many people I know would agree with that statement. It's just the way we are. There's no real rhyme or reason to it. Everybody has an obsession, ours just happens to be Japanese cartoons.