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Otaku

Japan’s Database Animals

2009
Author:

Hiroki Azuma
Translated by Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono

Otaku

A publishing event—the highly influential best seller in Japan translated into English

Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku offers a critical, philosophical, and historical inquiry into the characteristics and consequences of this consumer subculture. For Azuma, one of Japan’s leading public intellectuals, otaku culture mirrors the transformations of postwar Japanese society and the nature of human behavior in the postmodern era. A vital non-Western intervention in postmodern culture and theory, Otaku is also a perceptive account of Japanese popular culture.

Abandon every preconception, all ye who enter! In this mind-boggling book on Japan's postmodernity, Hiroki Azuma conjures the ghost of the famous post-Hegelian Kojève, whose theory gets revived and even ‘animated’ here to reinterpret the anime-saturated realism that dominates our global Japanized reality studio. No one has more tactfully intertwined post-Derridean philosophy with Otaku-centric subculture studies than Azuma.

Takayuki Tatsumi, author of Full Metal Apache: Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America

In Japan, obsessive adult fans and collectors of manga and anime are known as otaku. When the underground otaku subculture first emerged in the 1970s, participants were looked down on by mainstream Japanese society as strange, antisocial loners. Today otaku have had a huge impact on popular culture not only in Japan but also throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States.

Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku offers a critical, philosophical, and historical inquiry into the characteristics and consequences of this consumer subculture. For Azuma, one of Japan’s leading public intellectuals, otaku culture mirrors the transformations of postwar Japanese society and the nature of human behavior in the postmodern era. He traces otaku’s ascendancy to the distorted conditions created in Japan by the country’s phenomenal postwar modernization, its inability to come to terms with its defeat in the Second World War, and America’s subsequent cultural invasion. More broadly, Azuma argues that the consumption behavior of otaku is representative of the postmodern consumption of culture in general, which sacrifices the search for greater significance to almost animalistic instant gratification. In this context, culture becomes simply a database of plots and characters and its consumers mere “database animals.”

A vital non-Western intervention in postmodern culture and theory, Otaku is also an appealing and perceptive account of Japanese popular culture.

Otaku

Hiroki Azuma is codirector of the Academy of Humanities in the Center for the Study of World Civilizations at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. A leading cultural critic in Japan, he is the author of seven books, including Ontological, Postal, which won the 2000 Suntory Literary Prize.

Jonathan E. Abel is assistant professor of comparative literature at Pennsylvania State University.

Shion Kono is assistant professor of literature at Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan.

Otaku

Abandon every preconception, all ye who enter! In this mind-boggling book on Japan's postmodernity, Hiroki Azuma conjures the ghost of the famous post-Hegelian Kojève, whose theory gets revived and even ‘animated’ here to reinterpret the anime-saturated realism that dominates our global Japanized reality studio. No one has more tactfully intertwined post-Derridean philosophy with Otaku-centric subculture studies than Azuma.

Takayuki Tatsumi, author of Full Metal Apache: Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America

This is one of a truly seminal set of works attempting to theorize the form of social being that we now call the otaku. One can see in this book a set of conditions (‘postmodern’ really isn’t adequate)—including structures of desire, production, consumption, and a return to animal philosophy—that are specific to Japan, but increasingly relevant to us all.

Thomas Looser, New York University

A vital non-Western intervention in postmodern culture and theory, Otaku is also an appealing and perceptive account of Japanese popular culture. . . . A very insightful and intelligent look at what effect otaku culture has on the world and individuals themselves—as well as looking at where that culture came from, amongst other things.

activeanime.com

Unlike academics who throw up clouds of jargon to disguise the thinness of their arguments, Azuma leads nonspecialist readers into unfamiliar thickets of theory in carefully explained, if densely reasoned, steps.

The Japan Times

Azuma’s broad, innovative, far-reaching theorization of otaku culture and postmodern Japan will no doubt will have a profound influence on American studies of Japanese and American fan cultures.

Choice

Azuma’s analysis of postmodern Japan in the context of otaku culture is a short and easy read. While fans of anime might find differing views with some of his ideas, the overall frameworks of his arguments are sound and intelligently argued. If there is anywhere to start, Otaku would be a great place to start toward understanding the Japanese postmodern anime and manga culture.

Nichi Bei Times

Otaku is a thought-provoking book. . . . Azuma’s prose is lively and meant to reflect the writing more typical of journalists than scholars. The translators have done an excellent job of preserving these qualities of the original.

Comics Worth Reading

Abel and Kono have maintained the relative clarity of Azuma’s prose and allowed his ideas to emerge in a refreshingly open, enjoyable style. The ease with which the text reads is a definite advantage to the persuasiveness of the argument—and a testament to the skill and care with which the translators have worked.

Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies

Though written with a general audience in mind, Azuma’s insightful marriage of philosophy and popular culture has something to offer scholars of postmodernism, psychology, sociology, media theory and fandom studies.

ImageTexT

The appropriately brief and thoughtful book, with its screenshots and theoretical diagrams, is worthy of multiple readings.

Leonardo

This book of the very well known Japanese philosopher and cultural critic Hiroki Azuma ... is an annotated, excellent English translation. A must-read.

Pacific Affairs

Azuma Hiroki has written a fascinating work about otaku, widely read when it was published in Japan in 2001. He elaborates a postmodern theory of otaku cultural production and consumption that is insightful and deeply interesting.

Intersections

Azuma’s ideas are accessible and make a great deal of sense, even to a reader with no prior experience in postmodern philosophy.

Contemporary Japanese Literature

Is it possible to say anything truly new about the postmodern? Is it possible to make any contributions to a discourse on postmodernity that has been so thoroughly explored, theorized,argued over and regurgitated in Anglo-American as well as Japanese public discourse? Azuma Hiroki’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals replies with a resounding “yes.”

Mechademia