The main reason I obsessively research for meta-humor in anime and manga is because my fascination with the unique perspective it gives on otaku in that given time period. Although subject to the biases of those writing and directing the story, we are able to gain insight into the commonly perceived idea of what it means to be an otaku to those people. Lucky Star is the best representation of what otaku culture was like in 2007, full of references to both representative shows from the era like Haruhi and the now obscure relics of days gone by. Oreimo took this a step further by utilizing the common fetishizations enjoyed by otaku and turning them into an unintentionally interesting pseudo-commentary on the subculture. However, when looking at these handful of shows only two stand above the rest which seriously discuss otaku and the subculture which they reside; NHK ni Youkoso! and Genshiken. The latter more so than the former but both reach poignant takeaways regardless. Unlike the previously mentioned anime, NHK and Genshiken aren’t so much an idealized look into otaku culture as they are an examination of the psychology of the various individuals involved. Yamazaki Kaoru and Harunobu Madarame are from each series respectively and give a fascinating look at how otaku grapple with a problematic coexistence with others and reality, how they cope with these problems, and why they are representative of the “ideological warrior.”
Otaku are obsessed with idealism. We are characterized through our obsessions with very specific areas of interest, oftentimes very niche or fringe interests. Anime otaku (アニオタ), as well as tangentially related groups, are particularly representative of those pursuing idealism more so than other otaku because of moe,. As explained by Honda Toru in his interview in Moe Manifesto (Patrick W. Galbraith), “..[t]he other part of moe is a feeling of calm (癒し- iyashi) You look at a cute character and your heart is at ease. Moe is a warmth and solace that cannot be found in human society.” Moe exists outside the realm of possible or realism and instead represents an abstract concept that anime otaku idolize and pursue. This is seen in the gravitation towards the innocent purity of the shoujo character, the warmth you feel looking at a nekomimi maid, or wanting to protect Ayanami Rei. Each offers insight to the various individual interpretations of moe, but collectively they give a broader understanding of what moe means to otaku. Moe is representative of ideals that cannot be actualized in reality, or perhaps are better suited to the realm of 2D where fantasies are absolute. Distinction between the two realities begin to fade for some of us otaku who realize that they prefer the alternative to the present.
This pursuit of moe is not too dissimilar from the obsession with creating the perfect heroine, as tackled in Saekano to some extent. Developers of eroge, character designers or Pixiv artists create the best representation of a collection of fetishes they deem worthy within a character. These fetishes end up listed as tags under the image on an imageboard site or genres for the game on VNDB. Otaku will actively seek out these products because of the appeal to a specific fetish they enjoy such as “zettai ryouiki” or having an imouto heroine. It is important to note that these “fetishes” are not simply limited to being sexual since, oftentimes, moe is characterized as through completely nonsexual means. This is because some otaku derive a unique pleasure through moe that cannot be found in the hypersexualized media consumed by other otaku. As the years have gone on, more involved fetishes have surfaced in otaku media that further develop this obsession with idealism and indulging in one’s specific interests.
To return to the original focus, Yamazaki Kaoru and Harunobu Madarame are representative of what I like to call the “ideological warrior.” Within these meta-humor anime with otaku characters we will oftentimes see examples of these characters who will uphold their ideals until their last breath. Madarame is both the perfect example of an idealistic otaku as much as he is the most disingenuous otaku. In Genshiken’s first part, he is the person whom Sasahara wants to be. Madarame has seemingly given up on 3DPD and is a raging lolicon who advocates the importance of H-scenes in eroge and openly reads erotic doujinshi. When I first read Genshiken I was a bit like Sasahara, except much more well-versed in otaku culture from the onset, but after seeing Madarame I began to want to be like him. He represented an idealized otaku existence that I longed to become. Madarame represented a larger-than-life existence that a moral man can only try to become but would always exist beyond my reach. However, as the series continues, it is made more apparent that Madarame is just as human as me. He hides behind a facade of this loose-cannon otaku personality to lie to himself about feelings he doesn’t want to acknowledge. He likes Saki but he knows that acknowledging this would break down his entire persona, so he instead opts for a rant about KujiUn or something. In much the same way, Yamazaki Kaoru uses his otaku persona to overcompensate for his own shortcomings and failure to achieve his dream. He infamously goes on misogynist rants about hating women because of Love Capitalism, but within the next minute he is agreeing to a date with a girl. Both characters are constantly trying to uphold this construct of grandeur, an idealistic way of life that they perceive to be the best for them. However, they are simultaneously battling countless doubts within and can easily succumb to either side of themselves at any time.
It’s easy to conclude that this idealistic way of living is disingenuous. The most accurate representations of what I thought otaku to be ended up being delivered through the characters who were lying to themselves more than anyone. Madarame is just a guy who has built himself up to be this idealistic version of an otaku at the expense of being disingenuous with his own feelings. Yamazaki uses otaku culture as an escape from acknowledging his own weaknesses and realizing the life he wanted to live is quickly coming to an end. At the time, both Madarame and Yamazaki are living away from home and are creating a new image of themselves in a new place, so they wanted to try as hard as they could to be the person they idealized the most, much like myself when I first lived on my own. They wanted to be something larger than life just like the people they might once have looked up to. Perhaps at one time they were genuinely interested in these fringe otaku habits, but by going to extreme lengths, it’s hard to judge which version was more authentic. And additionally, are we who looked up to these misbegotten heroes becoming this very thing ourselves?
There is an inherent intrigue with this type of characterization, but I cannot help myself from loathing its existence. Otaku are often and expectedly misrepresented within the meta, and almost always in the same fashion as outlined with Madarame and Yamazaki. There seems to be an importance placed on wanting to deconstruct the importance of relying on idealism for these characters and place an importance on the “real” or whatever is deemed tangible. This is quite apparent in Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai which becomes increasingly more apparent that it is a thinly veiled attempt to convince otaku to reject everything they’ve learned in dating sims. To me, this has always come off as very holier than thou where it feels as if the writer(s) consider themselves “reformed otaku” who look back upon these youthful mistakes as something to be embarrassed about, and instead want to offer lessons they perceive as important because their current self understands them as such. They want to slap otaku in the face to make them wake up from their dream, but this is just like telling a child that their daydreams are pointless. The simplest explanation as to why this is so prevalent is because the most effective way to deliver a critique of the otaku lifestyle is through otaku media, which would garner the biggest demographic of otaku viewers compared to mainstream media. However, the problem is that this cookie-cutter riajuu-level criticism manages to permeate into otaku oriented media much too often.
Who are they to stand upon their recently gained platform and forcibly feed their moral judgements down to the throats of the otaku who are supporting them? This is no better portrayed through Densha Otoko, a detestable piece of media, but is the best example of how the subculture is often misrepresented. It depicts an otaku who throws away his hobbies for a single woman, progressively stripping down his entire persona to be someone that he is told would be acceptable and he believed these anonymous 2ch users. The author probably thought it was cute and didn’t have bad intentions per say, but I cannot stand this existing since it only reinforces the common thought that otaku are simply playing the part to overcompensate for their own shortcomings and would be happier if we were like everyone else. Rejecting Real Love doesn’t inherently mean that we are running away. Alternative paths are not regressive except to those who are unable to accept that their path isn’t the only righteous one. But let’s say that all otaku are hiding from their problems, naturally, but is the lifestyle deemed wrong because it offers an easy escape from one’s shortcomings, or because society at large can’t accept the means which otaku use to reject reality. But I must ask, is reality simply glorified because it’s possibly “real” so it means it’s intrinsically better? But that is another topic for another time, so I digress. Trying to be the best version of yourself has never been looked down upon, except when you aren’t the version people want. Accepting these shortcomings you might have or reconciling with failure because you learned of alternative paths to reach self-fulfilment is not wrong after all. Yet, otaku are consistently given tongue-in-cheek judgement through the media we love so much. We are commonly depicted as the larger-than-life archetypical clown that everyone can laugh at, or as the person we are supposed to empathize with because their problems reflect our own.
I began to question if otaku were influenced by seeing other otaku, by the rampant capitalism in the industry, or by perceptions of otaku they see in media or online. But ultimately I decided to consider this as a “chicken or the egg” conundrum. Perhaps striving to become an otaku was the wrong path from the beginning. But I must quickly discard doubts to instead ask myself more difficult questions. Otaku have always been obsessed with idealism, it's the nature of an otaku, so becoming and embodiment of said idealism, or an “ideological warrior,” is the only path in the end.
Becoming self-aware is the greatest fault of my existence and it’s because of this that it’s difficult to be genuine anymore. At some point I reached the conclusion that I was self-identifying more as an otaku than anything else, so I began to indulge more in the hobby as a result of this realization. So, inherently, is there anything wrong with becoming an ideological warrior? Yes and no. Those who value being genuine will argue the latter but will eventually realize they are the heretics because of the inherent paradox that comes with seeking genuinity. Those who argued the former will instead overlook their faults for the sake of becoming someone they wish to be. Everyday riajuu are bettering themselves through education or physical training to achieve an ideal version of themselves. Be it working on studying a language to become proficient enough to hold a conversation or exercising to improve one’s health. Both are examples of changing yourself and would result in separating yourself from the present, which is disingenuous right? Probably, but those who have such a weak self-identity are the only ones who would doubt themselves then. Each day we are different from the past so if we only live our lives picking up the pieces we will never put anything together. Becoming the ideological warrior is the ultimate path of the otaku. Complete acknowledgment of one’s faults and forgoing the ability to ever look back and be a riajuu again, all for the sake of the idealism they believe in so much. Burn all bridges. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain, and rejecting idealism for the sake of avoiding humility is the cowardly approach. That path will only lead to rejecting yourself even more and clinging to the life you want to present instead of presenting the life you wish to live. In short, if we are conscious of our identity, we are already disingenuous, so be the person you would be most proud of. Madarame, Yamazki and I might be pitiful existences who cling to tired ideals and lie to ourselves for the sake of being something larger-than-life, but even so, we live our lives trying to be the unattainable image of the kimoi-ota that only exist within the pages of manga. To become the “ideological warrior.”