Simanaitis Says

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YOU MIGHT think Japanese trends would be ephemeral and, thus, my favorite guide on otaku, published ten years ago, would be hopelessly out of date. No, I’ve given this a bit of study today, and it turns out the world of otaku is evolving to have some sense of permanence.


Cruising the Anime City: An Otaku Guide to Neo Tokyo by Patrick Macias and Tomohiro Machiyama, jaPRESS, 2004.

Let’s start with the word otaku. Taku, 宅, is the Japanese character for home. Otaku adds the honorific used in politely describing the home of another. In a wonderfully perverse way, otaku has also evolved to mean something close to “geek,” a person caught up in one thing or another to the possible detriment of social skills.

I confess to being a GMax otaku through my computer-simulator aircraft building. The clue is in watching others’ eyes glaze over whenever I describe a GMax nuance. (To test your own eye glaze, see “GMax, the Schmid LST—and Set Theory,”

Other more common subcultures of otaku described in Cruising the Anime City include manga (Japanese comics), computer games, idols, anime (virtual animation) and cosplay (costume play).

Manga comics, typically with innovative graphic style, range from kiddy books through fantasy/adventure stories to hard-core porn. Japanese readers spent something like ¥12 billion, around $100 million, on manga in 2012.


A typical manga store in Japan in 2004. U.S book chains now have manga sections too. This and other images from Cruising the Anime City.

It strikes me that with all its wackiness the Wagner Ring Cycle would make an excellent manga. Any takers? (See “Are There Opera Divos?,”

A Cruising the Anime City observation on idols: “They sing! They dance! They like to eat and shop! Be they false or otherwise, Japanese idols sure are cute.”


A street vendor in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district idolizes the Morning Musume (Morning Daughter) girls. Formed in 1997, the group is still hot, though not with the original idoru girls.

The Japanese borrow the concept of idol as idoru, アイドル. The novel Idoru is part of William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy (see “My San Francisco—and William Gibson’s,”

Anime, or Japanese animated production, was originally the product of hand-drawn images. The art got a huge boost with computer-generated imagery and increasing computer power. Another influence was the Star Wars series bringing sci-fi into the realm of popular topics.


The anime industry in Japan has evolved from hand to computer-generated imaging.

Toei Animation is one of the giants of the industry, and Cruising the Anime City devotes a chapter to a company tour. Its Animation Gallery includes a 1963 image of Tetsuwan Atom, aka Astro Boy. (See for more on this popular Japanese robot.)

Another otaku focus is on toys and models. Bandai, a leading Japanese toy company, hit upon a niche with its High Grade Series, 1.5-in. figures of earlier action characters, seen as a nostalgia item for middle-age collectors. The book notes that other modelers sculpted items “that were 75 percent anatomically accurate,” the remaining 25 percent being a “cute touch.”

The reference reminds me of a press trip to Japan accompanied by R&T Art Director Bill Motta. Our host was a PR guy whom women describe as perfect in every way. In particular, he attracted Japanese teenage girls as would an idoru.

At a hobby store, Motta and I found a 5-in. model of a leggy young thing in a miniskirt. We assembled her, painted her (with anatomical accuracy) and secreted her into the PR guy’s hotel room.

I’m told he displayed the model in his office until the company’s HR lady suggested otherwise.

Concerning cosplay Cruising the Anime City advises, “Stop watching anime and BE it. Dress up as your favorite character for fun or profit.” The book offers an interview with Jan Kurataki, the Queen of Cosplay, a young woman who gets paid to dress up and model as an anime or game character.


Jan Kurataki playing cat-maid.

Too bad Motta and I didn’t know Jan back then. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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