The Female Otaku: Gender and Identity in Kuragehime

Note: While this post focuses on discussion of the anime Kuragehime, I feel the need to first discuss the definition of “otaku” and consider reactions to the label.

We all know nerds, and most people are nerds about one thing or another.  Some view the term along with visuals of glasses, braces, acne, terrible style, and A+ smarts.  I view the term “nerd” as nothing more or less than someone with extreme tendencies over one or more subjects.  The Japanese have a word for these extremists: “otaku.”  While some non-Japanese anime fans have taken this word and proudly applied it to themselves as anime otaku, video game otaku, and the like, they greatly overlook the implications of the word.  Others understand the insinuation, and use it deliberately.

For the most part, the Japanese use of “otaku” is derisive; it is not simply a term of classification as a nerd to the extreme.  It is a put down.  Otakus are fans of any given topic to the excess and have little control of their obsessions, so say the negative definers.  A good portrayal of the attitude towards otaku in Japan can be seen in the live action show, Densha Otoko.  Taken from a supposedly true story, Densha Otoko follows a shut-in otaku and his interaction with online peers.  Since “normal” people treat him rudely, including his own sister, his social instabilities never have a chance to improve until a chance encounter on a train allows him to grow.  The otaku and most of his online friends are male, a trend that continues into anime representations of otaku.  And like many similar depictions, the lifestyle and attitudes of these people are presented as flawed.  Though Densha Otoko warms the heart with overcome barriers and budding new relationships, it still sets the main character up as someone in need of a “positive” change to his life.

Kuragehime covers the empty bases by giving us what seems mostly missing from shows about otaku: the female population, and the beauty of being yourself, even if you are a “nerd.”

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