I just finished watching 289 episodes of Bleach, one of the most popular anime series in Japan (and now in America too, thanks to Cartoon Network). This is the ninth anime series I’ve finished so far this year, the others being Evangelion, Death Note, Dragonball Z, Arakawa Under the Bridge, FLCL, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Eureka 7 and Katekyo Hit-man Reborn. My anime-obsession is not something I usually admit to the general public. Although I gab freely with my students, I tell adults that my anime viewing is merely a conversation starter, a common interest that I can share with my students so they will practice English with me. In the United States, this would be called a “lie”, but in Japan it’s a small alteration of the truth to keep one person (me) from standing out too much. In America, it’s a venial sin; in Japan, it’s taking one for the team and therefore the right thing to do.
Somewhere between the 100th episode of Reborn and ordering a Haruhi Suzumiya cosplay, I think I may have into an otaku, a Japanese-style geek. Otaku’s literal meaning is “one’s own house”, referring to how people with certain geeky interests prefer to indulge in their nerdiness from the comforts of their own home, rarely venturing into the outside world except to visit other otaku friends. Otaku aren’t necessarily only anime-obsessed; there are also computer otaku, gamer otaku and manga (Japanese comic books) otaku. Whatever their particular interest, otaku’s reclusive lifestyle usually leads to the deterioration of their social skills, if they weren’t already socially-inhibited in the first place. Check out this guy.
Maybe I haven’t quite breached otaku territory yet. While I am a homebody, I leave my house regularly, frequently even, to visit friends who are fully of the non-otaku persuasion. Plus, I consider gorging myself on anime to be an important cultural pursuit. Aside from the insight I gain into Japanese culture though watching anime, my Japanese vocabulary has grown significantly. Granted it’s a specialized vocabulary. I’ve learned how to cast a variety of magic spells in Japanese, as well as how to tell my students they will “die by my sword” if they don’t do their homework. These may not be the most mature or eloquent phrases, but it gets the kids to pay attention during class.
Not only do I understand this, it’s also my Halloween costume…