A look into Fandom from the eyes of Lauren Keck
As one explores the world of travel, art and fashion, the impact of cultures and ever growing globalization requires a closer examination as well. Over the past thirty years, we have seen an unparalleled global shift, unlike any before it. Due to the rise of the internet and the subsequent levels of information sharing, alongside an explosion of travel speed and affordability, the world has become a smaller, more intimate place. An ordinary individual may now find themselves immersed in an entirely foreign culture, anywhere in the world, in less than 24 hours – assuming one must travel so far; for many it simply requires walking out the front door.
I personally have experienced firsthand the shift from living deeply rooted along the floor of my monocultural forest, to an ascension to the highest precipice of global identity. By the time I reached college I had been to more countries than states, and to date have spent time in Asia, Europe (Eastern and Western), Africa, and South America – all of which expanding my worldview and shaped my cultural identity.
This expansive cultural exposure has significantly impacted my comprehension of differing communication styles, value systems, complexity of cultural dynamics, and the emergence of subcultures. It is this last item that in recent years has significantly garnered my attention. I have long held a fascination for cultures and cross-cultural communication; as the daughter of a missionary and church planter, an appreciation for analysis and assessment of culture was a part of my upbringing. It was not until university, however, that my interest in less traditional subcultures began to take root.
What initially began as a subscription to the “gaming” subculture, evolved into a far more significant exposure to the anime and manga fandom or “Otaku” subculture. Anime – for those unfamiliar with the media – is the Japanese term for “animation”. While originally used to describe any animated medium globally, it has evolved to specifically indicate animated film and media originating in Japan, marked by specific characteristics. Subsequently, manga – or Japanese comic books – stand universally intertwined with anime, often serving as the foundation for anime storyline and origination.
In layman’s use, the term is almost irrevocably intertwined with the anime and manga fandom community. One self-identifies as an Otaku as a matter of identity and pride in their interests, or unwillingly has the label thrust upon them as others observe the impact their interests have upon their day to day life. Thus the Otaku “subculture” is in itself a tribe of those globally identified as a member of this unique fandom community.
For an more in-depth look at the history of the term, check out this great article on the Japanese language learning blog Tofugu (https://www.tofugu.com/japan/otaku-meaning/).
IDENTIFYING OTAKU CHARACTERISTICS
When it comes to the demographic of who is actually a part of the Otaku community, it is interesting to note that there are few consistent patterns in the most common markers of assessment. Japan aside, the community has come to span the globe, utterly indifferent to the boundaries of race, gender, ethnicity, or age. On every continent and in every country I have personally spent time, I have found fellow Otaku.
The unifying characteristics, it would seem, are significantly more subtle. In the afore mentioned Tofugu article, the author comes to an interesting conclusion that the most unifying characteristic differentiating an ordinary fan and an otaku, is a sense of ownership of the material. Fans carry deep loyalty to the “canon” material and receive the medium as a finished product. Otaku, improve upon, expand, add to, take on, and in all ways absorb the product with a sense of ownership and membership foreign to those of the outer ring fandom communities.
THE INNER WORKINGS
Yet this still negates the question of “Why?”. What is it about this medium that has created a global movement of engagement to the point of identity impact and lifestyle shift? For many – myself included – we find ourselves drawn to the complexity of story and relatable themes explored in anime.
Unlike the average American animated production (Pixar aside) anime is nearly always geared towards adults and include an exploration of life’s tough questions, meaningful elements, and a response to universal felt needs. Most often viewers seek to experience meaningful life moments, relatable hurts, deep-felt questions and the resulting relevant solutions, right alongside the characters within the story. Other times it offers a sweet reprieve from a reality that feels unmanageable or too painful to engage.
It is no wonder that the community is so often comprised of those who feel they do not fit anywhere else. While many members of the community are perfectly adept at engaging their every day life, for many – including myself – we found our solace in a community that sought to connect through shared interest and points of commonality, disregarding points of contention or cultural differences. I personally have experienced over and over again the moment at which I discover the person in front of me is a fellow Otaku and the immediate shift from acquaintance to instant friend, often in spite of geographic and even linguistic barriers.
It is a community unlike any other.
PURPOSE DRIVEN COSPLAY: A Personal Reflection
My own journey as a member of the Otaku community is less conventional than the average participant. Where most encounter anime as children or mid-high school, as a socially awkward home schooler, I was utterly unaware of the medium until my exposure in college. In place of it, I sought out other fantasy worlds such as Hogwarts and Middle Earth as my escape from the bullying and rejection I experienced in the places I sought to belong. Once I discovered anime, however, my loyalties quickly shifted. I had found my people.
It was not until my transition to California five years ago, however, that the Otaku community became central to my career and calling. Shortly after my cross-country transition, I began to attend Saddleback Valley Community Church. My experiences with large churches being less than ideal, I was intensely suspicious of the community, keeping it all at arm’s length. Yet the warmth, acceptance, and open arms so intrinsic to the DNA of Saddleback’s Purpose Driven Church model opened my eyes to a different way of doing church; one that celebrated my unique interests and unconventional pursuits without reservation or judgment.
Not long after, I found myself situated serendipitously about a table at a missions gathering with six others who, unbeknownst to me, not only shared my heart for missions but intensely loved the Otaku community. Within the hours that followed we formed what would become the foundation of Jesus Otaku Anime Outreach; a cosplay group out of Saddleback Church that strives to engage, participate in, and show love to the Otaku community wherever they gather and engage.
As we look back on the years that the Otaku subculture was a balm to our own loneliness, social awkwardness, or unique view on life before we found a church family. we long to contribute positively to those for whom conventions and Otaku gatherings are the only true community that have. Our message is one of love and acceptance and a desire to invite others into the hope and safety we have found in the church.
As Jesus Otaku, our identify is dually based in our love for Jesus, and our love for anime, as reflected in our title. We are “Jesus Otaku” or Otaku for (obsessively interested in) Jesus, and yet also true anime Otaku who happen to be Christians.
And yet that is not enough; in this community we so love, we strive to take it a step further and share that not only are we Otaku for Jesus, but we believe that He is Otaku for you. And like our fellow Otaku, we do this through our own creative contribution to the content, our own art work, our own cosplay, and our own enjoyment of the genre.
We are Otaku.