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Understanding “Otaku Pandering” in Anime and Light Novel Culture

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One of the most common complaints critics have about anime is that they pander to the otaku. Because fanservice and stock anime characters do nothing to further the plot or the themes of the narrative, this is generally perceived as an example of poor storytelling.

My intention with this post is to challenge this assumption.

I’m not going to discuss differences in Japanese and Western culture here. That’s been done many, many times before. Moreover, I don’t believe that cultural differences can fully describe the anomaly that is otaku pandering and neither can it explain why it gets taken to the degree that it does. (Note how the Japanese themselves marginalise otaku culture – it’s not just a Japanese thing!) What I propose is an alternate theory: otaku writing is postmodern and thus the okatu’s standard of “good writing” is somewhat skewed compared to our worldview!

This isn’t my own theory. It’s largely adapted and (grossly) simplified from Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals by Hiroki Azuma. You can read joshspeagle’s summary and commentary on the book’s main arguments in his series of posts. Since I haven’t read the book myself, you don’t need to read it either to understand this post. I’m only borrowing a few key words and ideas here and there, so I recommend you check out joshspeagle’s blog for a more thorough review and analysis if this kind of argument interests you further.

One of the buzzwords that gets bandied around a lot these days is “postmodern”. It’s a scary, pretentious-sounding word, isn’t it? What does it even mean and how would anime fall into that category? Honestly, it differs depending on the source you ask. I’m defining it here as the breakdown of standard interpretation of media. It challenges what we have come to assume by taking the things we’ve grown up with and turning them inside out. In this case, anime is postmodern because to get the greatest understanding of what it’s about, you can’t just read it as a straightforward story with a beginning and end. A lot of the story we get from it is actually given to us outside the television/OVA series. Supplementary material, spinoffs, adaptations and so on force us to reinterpret the story in every single iteration.

Neon Genesis Evangelion was the first true example of a postmodern anime series. The End of Evangelion film was a reinterpretation of the entire ending of the story itself, and the Rebuild films also attempt this from the ground up. The Girlfriend of Steel video games are based off an alternate universe shown briefly in the last episode of the TV series. Since the setting of Eva was so vague and open-ended, it encouraged a lot of original input from the fans themselves. The TV anime was in itself a flawed work: it fails to connect its ideas together cohesively and suffers from poor production values. And yet it is one of the most important and influential anime series of all time because it’s not a static work of art – it constantly changes and evolves, offering further engagement every time something new comes out. Eva isn’t just the story it told in the original TV series: if you just watched that TV anime and didn’t interact with the franchise as a whole, you would be missing out on a lot of what makes Eva, well, Eva!

aBUki

Good question.

I’m going to take this idea further. If you judge an anime series critically from how well it conveys a succinct and well-structured narrative on its own terms, most anime are literary failures.

However, if you read them as postmodern narratives, then these assumptions get turned upside down. The point isn’t how well the story succeeds in conveying an idea but in how successful it is at inspiring viewer input, which may or may not even be related to the thematic point of the narrative. Seen in that regard, series like Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii wake ga nai and To Love-Ru are high art.

Imagine that.

Otaku anime succeed on a postmodern level because:

a) the setting of the anime is easily transferrable (i.e. every arc in Sword Art Online is set in a different MMORPG); and

b) the characters of the anime are easily objectified and taken out of the setting.

Let’s focus our attention on b) here. The reason why there are so many stock anime characters is because many of them are drawn from a database of easily fetishised archetypes. When a series becomes particularly influential, it is the character type it uses that becomes endlessly copied above any other element. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya popularised pushy girls and snarky guys; Bakemonogatari popularised the forthright, intelligent girl.

Why does this happen? Because if a character is identifiable, it’s just as easy to take the character out of the setting and imagine your own story with them. This is something you can observe in doujinshi and fanfiction, which are very often created out of the fan’s attachment to a particular character and fail to address world-building at all.

And lest we forget the female otaku side of the equation, consider series like Prince of Tennis and Kuroko no Basuke, where in the fan and supplementary material, the characters are seen doing everything except playing sport. Fanfic readers know this as the Alternate Universe (AU), where the characters are written into a different setting altogether but with their personalities and traits still intact.

Free-ED-1-3

Notice how the ED of Free! actively encourages putting the characters into an AU.

A successful postmodern narrative is written in such a way that is incredibly easy to imagine the characters doing something unrelated to the plot or living their own lives outside of it. This also somewhat explains the prevalence of slice of life anime. Actual story is becoming less and less important – they make us question whether it’s even relevant at all, as long as the viewer can create their own.

This explains why anime like Legend of the Galactic Heroes and the more recent Shinsekai Yori, both incredibly intelligent series which have a dedicated English-speaking fanbase, do not sell well to the otaku audience. It’s probably not because they think the story is bad or uninteresting. They are good stories in their own right, but they are self-contained and the characters are only fully relatable when approached within their own setting. These series offer no potential beyond what they have already shown and thus, there is no point in investing further in the series.

It’s a question of loyalty to a franchise too. Otaku know just as well as we do that series that sell well will get more merchandise, and when you think a story is complete as it is, there’s arguably less incentive driving you to see more of it. And since fan interaction is arguably one of the most enjoyable parts of having a hobby, it’s just less, well, fun to get into a series when there is not much buzz and fandom around it, except from critics who are generally unwilling to come down to the otaku’s level and express their affections in those terms. (You know, how uguuuuuu~ and kawaii~ it is and all that.)

This brings up a good question, though. Can a series succeed in both a postmodern and a pre-postmodern framework? Of course it can. Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Steins;Gate are hugely successful series that also have strong literary merit. Despite building their stories around their setting, it’s just as easy for otaku to identify with the characters. (Note how they largely fall into common otaku archetypes, particularly the females!) Also, if you read the stories carefully enough, you’ll notice they leave plenty of room for speculations, along with a nod towards alternate universes and possible stories within stories. I can’t go into more detail about this without spoiling both series, but hopefully you understand what I mean.

In the end, there is an endless possibility for stories, both postmodern and elsewhere. There’s no need to get confined within a specific framework to judge anime, nor in creating it. Dismissing the otaku audience as having poor taste or being mindless consumers because the pandering works on them is rather narrow-minded, especially if the only thing you know about their taste in anime is the sales figure of Bluray volumes.

Otaku Can Be Elitists Too

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Without even speaking to a single otaku, I know that in general they are extremely aware of the nature of otaku pandering and that some of them even take an elitist approach to it. That is, they try to see it from the outside looking in, rather than considering themselves one of the mindless masses.

How do I know this? I know this because of light novels.

It’s interesting how Western anime critics tend to look down on light novel adaptations, describing them as “smug”, “self-conscious” and “pretentious”. Bakemonogatari copped the most flak for this but anything with an amusingly long title like My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute! falls into this as well. Western elitists perceive light novels as unintelligent, but in truth, light novels are written by intelligent otaku. 

There is a reason why light novels (e.g. Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru and Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru) are often so obsessed with being meta and how many of them make commentaries on anime tropes and what it means to be an otaku in general. They are written by otaku who understand and have come to the point where they seek to critically examine their own culture.

From a literary perspective, they are quite interesting. Because the Japanese language is rather fluid when it comes to tenses, there’s a stylistic convention that light novels often use that is almost impossible to appreciate in English. They’re often written in past tense, from a first person narrator. At some points, though, the narration slips into present continuous tense, indicating that the writer is making a commentary on the past event. The narrator, despite being a character in the story, regularly positions himself outside of the narrative and sees himself as separate from it. (Haruhi Suzumiya is famous for this, but it’s common for most otaku-geared literature.) Both linguistically and through the plot, light novels are written entirely to convey a sense of disconnect between reality and fantasy.

This is highly indicative of the state of mind of self-aware otaku. They know that what they expose themselves to is a fantasy construct. But they are so immersed in it that it is all that they know. Thus, the fantasy world is their reality in a sense, and no matter how much they strive to examine and deconstruct tropes, they ultimately embrace them for what they are. Note that this is what Sword Art Online did – and this is the precise problem many critics had with it!

It’s a curious dichotomy. It’s also difficult to think of a Western equivalent that can explain how and why light novels are written in this way. The best I can think of is this: Imagine a TV Tropes user who has had minimal life experience but is, in his own right, an intelligent person. He understands tropes because tropes are all that he has been exposed to. Light novel authors write like someone whose only exposure to storytelling is through other stories and TV Tropes. They’re often intelligently written and creative but also lacking in human perspective. The stories exist in a vacuum. It’s conflicting with our own idea of good storytelling, because we tend to think of stories as having a personal component: they’re informed by reality, they don’t become it. Light novels challenge this assumption and because of that, they can be difficult to take unless you fully embrace the otaku outlook.

I’m not saying all light novels are like this. It’s an extremely broad and diverse medium. I’m only referring to the specific subset of otaku-centric literature. But for whatever reason, they’re difficult to understand. It’s more than just paperback fiction. It’s not even anything like the teen lit we have in English bookstores. Perhaps it’s something that is easier to appreciate when read in their own language. While there are professional light novel translations out there, none of them are literary translations. The easiest way to understand light novels and the people who write them is to understand the art form in which they take.

But at least know this: they’re not stupid.

Final Thoughts

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So, is otaku pandering good or bad storytelling? Are otaku necessarily bad writers for having a skewed perception of reality itself?

I’ve left this question unanswered throughout this post because I ultimately think that there is no easy answer. I think when taken on its own terms, pandering has real, honest artistic merit. But I also think that truly powerful storytelling has universality – its appeal can cross cultures. As it is, unless you consider yourself an “otaku” in the truest sense of the word, the pandering is something you can only understand as a theory. It is something you can only tolerate and not actively embrace.

At the same time, if we want to appreciate otaku anime in the spirit that it’s made, it’s an interesting intellectual exercise to think about the different standards in storytelling otaku have from us. Because as long as there exist those among us who reject anime on the basis of what it is not trying to do rather than what it is trying to do, there will be people who insist that anime is getting worse, that it sucks now because otaku have “shit” tastes.

You shouldn’t do that, though. You shouldn’t accuse anyone of shit taste – because in doing so, what you’re really doing is rejecting their upbringing, their social background, their entire worldview that makes up what it is that they like. We don’t have to become otaku to like anime, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to look down on them. They get enough of that already from non-otaku Japanese. They really don’t need more of that from someone who even shares their hobby, you know?

We’re all anime fans here, so let’s enjoy anime as best we can.

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Posted on July 20, 2013, in Editorials and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 49 Comments.

  1. This is an absolutely wonderful application of Azuma’s work and postmodern theory that combines almost every point I’d want to see addressed that is simultaneously snarky, concise, and incredibly insightful. orz

  2. As a loose otaku myself, I found the phrase “otaku pandering” a nasty stereotype which assumes that all otaku are into moe, fanservice and the ilk. I might enjoy them at times, these are never my focus when I watch anime. My focus is to review how the episodes go while relating the events to my own current life (The most recent would be Izuru’s personality change in episode 15 of Majestic Prince is having eerily parallels to what happened to me during work today). Hopefully I am not alone on this.

    I disagree on a very personal level with “it’s just less, well, fun to get into a series when there is not much buzz and fandom around it” bit. If this is true, then my anime tastes would be radically different than what I have listed to you back then. I don’t particular care about a series’ fandom or buzz and I ended up enjoying things that has invisible & insignificant fandom anyway.

    As for “Thus, the fantasy world is their reality in a sense, and no matter how much they strive to examine and deconstruct tropes, they ultimately embrace them for what they are” thing, this is what exactly happened to my last web novel ( http://www.wattpad.com/story/2556592-phantalleum-dual-crossage ) and will happen for my upcoming work ( http://xiovias.blogspot.com ), albeit with little of examining and deconstructing tropes bit. In fact, this is also my attitude of watching anime as well because I am very well aware that it is the key for me to learn from anime, be it as simple as “evil never pays’.

    Ultimately, I agree with the second to last paragraph of this blog post. I would want to add something, though. The connection between “their upbringing, their social background, their entire worldview” and “what it is that they like” can be turned upside down from what one initially expected, thus any assumption towards a person’s taste and the reflection of it towards a person must be tempered with caution and preparation to face the fact if it turned out to be completely false.

    Anyway, great post from you. :-)

  3. I’m very sorry that you happen to be the one where I write this, but I have noticed something with people who have read Azuma (I should get around to that at some point): they all say postmodern and modern when instead they mean modern and classical.

    Let’s take your second reason why otaku anime supposedly succeeds on a postmodern level, for example. Turning a part of a whole into a singular object and taking it out of context for the purpose of doing something unrelated to it has been done in modern art and literature. Probably the easiest example is the collages of modernist artists, where they took bits of pictures and meshed them together into something new. From the literary side, the classical five act structure has been broken down by in medias res beginnings, open endings, non-chronological narration and especially in modernism with absurd storylines. (The oddest I’ve seen was a story by Carl Einstein.)

    So, the divide Azuma’s readers (and possibly Azuma) should look at is between classical and modern, not between modern and postmodern.

    Also, only a small niggle, but it still bothers me: “Light novel authors write like someone whose only exposure to storytelling is through other stories and TV Tropes.” The only difference there to every author ever is the TVTropes bit.

    • they all say postmodern and modern when instead they mean modern and classical.

      I’m going to be the first person to admit that I don’t have familiarity with artistic theory. I also haven’t read Azuma directly, only through a set of notes. So my using the word ‘postmodern’, I admit, could be completely out of context. I did need something to fill the blank in my argument, so I ended up using Azuma’s word rather than delving deeper to find my own. That said, an excellent point, and I’ll be conveying this comment to everyone else I know who has read Azuma.

      The only difference there to every author ever is the TVTropes bit.

      Ah, yeah, poor phrasing. What I meant to say is that light novel authors are boxed in by tropes and find it difficult to write outside of them.

    • I disagree with the idea of the comment, because this is simply a question of definitions. I’ve (whenever I use “I” I’ll be implicitly referring to Azuma as well) defined “postmodern” in such a way that is convenient for anime-centric discussion (although I’ve also found it convenient in other cases), and as long as everyone has an understanding of what that is then we’re fine. So classicism, modernism, and postmodernism sort of like this by my standards:
      Classicism: Normal story, normal structure, normal ideas of what a “narrative” is (literary).
      Modernism: Attempts to subvert normal story by playing around with things. Plays around with the idea of structure, but still believes in the idea of the narrative. Abnormal story, abnormal structure, abnormal narrative.
      Postmodernism: Attempts to subvert modernism by questioning the idea that there needs to be structure or interpretation at all. No story, no structure, no narrative required.

      So let’s take some of the examples you give and apply my (Azuma’s) definitions:

      “Turning a part of a whole into a singular object and taking it out of context for the purpose of doing something unrelated to it has been done in modern art and literature.”

      You call this “modern” instead of “postmodern”, but it could be either both depending on how they do it. By putting the portion in a different (but somehow related) context, that could be modern. By disregarding context entirely and turning parts of this singular object into completely/fundamentally unrelated portions, that’s postmodernism.

      “From the literary side, the classical five act structure has been broken down by in medias res beginnings, open endings, non-chronological narration and especially in modernism with absurd storylines.”

      Again, you call this modern instead of postmodern. I would agree, because I wouldn’t characterize these as postmodern. “Absurd” storylines and playing around with structure are still stories. But anime doesn’t even need to be view as stories (or even as goods centered around consumption and interpretation), and can be seen as structured around a completely different idea (this “database” model, if we want to work within Azuma’s framework) that contains a bunch of unrelated elements who’s only link is some messy relationship between the fanbase and the creators.

      That said, I do believe that LNs (and their adaptations) tend to fall into the modern category. And also that Azuma really is telling us to look at anime in terms of a postmodern framework, but one that still contains many modern elements (as noted in my critiques). Still, the boundary to me between modernism and postmodernism always is quite fuzzy, and your point is well made.

      • A short addendum:
        I think what Froggykun’s doing here is considered “postmodern” because he’s reinterpreting the entire context on which anime should be judged and based, rather than reinterpreting features within said context. So say LN adaptations or other meta shows (e.g. Bakemonogatari) can be seen as modernist since they’re reinterpreting the context in which they are part of within said context. Reinterpreting the context itself in my eyes would be postmodern.

        • Just adding my own two cents to the discussion here, but I’d have to agree that light novels are not postmodern in the context of my own personal definition here because they’re ultimately confined by the tropes they examine and not turning them around.

          I used the word ‘postmodern’ in the first place as a way of describing what was happening with anime and how it inverts one’s expectations for narratives. But the entire argument doesn’t hinge on the word I used, just that the phenomenon I observed is indeed a reality. So if there was a better or more precise word, I would have used it, and I admit I blur the line between modernism and postmodernism in my own writing. The point, though, is that there is a difference between how we perceive narratives and how otaku perceive the narratives in anime.

      • I admit, I don’t know all that much about postmodernism, but your definition seems a bit too wide to me. It seems to me like it would include Dada and maybe even some more modernist nonsense literature.

        “By disregarding context entirely and turning parts of this singular object into completely/fundamentally unrelated portions, that’s postmodernism.”
        Is it really possible to have an object without any context? Even if otakus take e.g. the glasses of a girl as something completely seperate from the rest of her, they certainly make a connection to all the other girls with glasses, or some ideal of a girl with glasses they have in their mind.

        “anime doesn’t even need to be viewed as stories”
        I like the idea of some french literature theorist (forgot his name), who said that there are five archetypal types of text: narrative, argument, explanation, description and dialogue. These normally appear mixed with each other. From what I can tell Azuma sees otakus who see animes as descriptions of characters rather than narratives. However, that is only one way to interpret the text and doesn’t need to be postmodern.

        One point that I forgot to mention previously: I’ve heard that Azuma looks at anime as postmodern because it flattens the cartesian perspective. That is the most clearly where it’s non-classical instead of non-modern.

        P.S.: I’m arguing against you because I want to know more.

      • I admit, I don’t know all that much about postmodernism

        Neither do I! I’m making this up as I go along XD

        your definition seems a bit too wide to me.

        Yea, the definition I’m using probably is too wide. But for anime I think it tends to work well enough for what I end up using it for (which is doing this reinterpreting and whatnot).

        As for modernist nonsense literature, I’m not actually sure where lots of that belongs. In every case, most books/pieces of art belong in a genre because we’ve included it there by definition, and once you change that definition they shift categories. So maybe Dada belongs in postmodernism if he fits in this definition. Or maybe it just goes to show that attempting to put things in groups is ultimately futile (and from this point of view “modernist” or “grand narrative”-leaning), and so we should just give it up! ;)

        Is it really possible to have an object without any context?

        Oh man, so many GitS:SAC vibes from that question. According to that series, arguably yes – or at least one that has lost all relevant context and has been re-appropriated into another without understanding. I actually see much of the drive in the otaku fanbase (and your example with megane is great for this) as trying to get towards this sort of thing in a very paradoxical way – somehow divorcing the object from the context but yet having the context be an integral part of what makes the object valuable. Anyways, in response to the main question, I’d say ultimately no, because we’re human and trapped by context; however, I do think objects can be removed and transplanted from one context to an unrelated one without any understanding of the process in-between. I think you said that might classify as modernism in your previous comment, but I’m ultimately not sure where the distinction lies. Boundaries are always fuzzy…

        However, that is only one way to interpret the text and doesn’t need to be postmodern.

        But ultimately everything – even the decision not to interpret – is a way to interpret the text. I’d say that seeing anime as “descriptions of characters” doesn’t take it far enough though – anime is worlds in which characters interact. It’s not even description, but more like backdrop for a medium who’s ultimate success might – as Froggykun suggests – ultimately be in inspiring simulacra and input. I find this fundamental reversal/destruction of hierarchy – of structure, context, interpretation, etc. – to be the trait I most associate with what I consider postmodern.

        I’ve heard that Azuma looks at anime as postmodern because it flattens the cartesian perspective. That is the most clearly where it’s non-classical instead of non-modern.

        He draws much of this out of the idea of the “superflat” aesthetic/thesis/mission/worldview of Murakami Takashi, who really pushes this “flattening” idea. He does dedicate a decently large stretch talking about how anime (e.g. eroge, databases) “collapse” the perspective both literally and metaphorically. Trying to cogently regurgitate their arguments is a bit of a challenge though, I’m afraid.

        P.S.: I’m arguing against you because I want to know more.
        Same! I take absolutely no offense and hope I don’t come off as standoffish or aggressive – I love conversations like these!

      • The Kenosha Kid

        I’m a bit late to the party, I realize, but I figured I’d just drop this off:
        http://filmcrithulk.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/post-modernism-not-a-thing/

        Not sure whether or not I agree with him, and I think it’s especially confusing because the word “postmodern” seems to me to have related but subtly different meanings when applied to art of various sorts and when applied to philosophy.

        But if I had to take a shot at it myself, I’d say that the most helpful distinction wouldn’t be one of era (always a fuzzy thing), or of technique (as a lot of the techniques are in common!), but of purpose: what are the techniques and ideas used for? Of course, the problem here is that one (or both?) of these schools of thought includes thinkers who call into question the entire validity of the notion of “purpose”…

  4. I feel so stupid for having no idea about these classic, modern and postmodern stuffs. Kill me now. Great post though :)

  5. Lots of stuff popped into my head after reading this.

    1) Just to clarify things, I pulled out my copy of Animals and the importance of postmodernism here is especially with regards to the whole incredulity towards metanarratives aspect. For example:

    “Therefore, to consume Di GI Charat is not simply to consume a work (a small narrative) or a worldview behind it (a grand narrative), nor to consume characters and settings (a grand nonnarrative). Rather, it is linked to consuming the database of otaku culture as a whole.”

    2) This then is what generally annoys people with “otaku pandering.” There aren’t stories or characters to consume, just the database (or you could say, just “tropes” in the TVT sense.) And this database gets really incomprehensible to outsiders (“Why are they so obsessed with trying to fuck their sister?”)

    3) So it’s not even that the writing becomes “good” writing in this otaku prism, as the writing really doesn’t matter in the first place! My new go-to example here is Sword Art Online, which is by any standard profoundly terribly written on a level that is hard to comprehend for a professionally-published novel. But none of that matters if only the database is being consumed, and one doesn’t need to write well say “chuunibyou gamer h4x0r” or “mai perfect waifu”.

    4) Back when we did a post a year or two ago about incredibly derivative light novels, one thing that popped out when pulling our sample was how frequently horrid the reviews were (especially as the titles became more groan-worthy). The reviews over and over read like “Even though the title is ‘Mai Kawaii desu Imouto-chan (Zombie) and Violent Childhood Friend (Vampire) Are The Class President???’ this has nothing to do with that is is just the same old anime references, stale internet memes, and Jojo parodies as everyone else uses.”

    5) And then the “looking down upon” aspect comes about because how the database keeps feeding on itself. Going back to Azuma, this is the “animal” aspect. I “need” some cat-eared 10 year old (a need that was created by anime), therefore I will go to anime (as this is the only place where’d be able to get this) to satisfy this need, and then once the need is satisfied I’m okay until it pops back up again. So the fandom snobbery here (and I mean “snobbery” in the popular meaning, not in the way that Kojeve defines it when he contrasts snobbery with animalism) comes about in that the “otaku pandering” stuff is pretty much nothing more than the equivalent of like a bag of chips or something. And not a “bag of chips” in some kind of comparison where a good book or art film or whatever is like a Michelin starred dinner, but in that the anime bag of chips is just something to be consumed because it temporarily fulfills a hunger (for like, black-haired girls with glasses or something).

    6) Finally, the terrible writing of light novels is sort of a concession to publishing. They can’t just publish a chapter in a monthly light novel magazine that just consists of a picture of the titular kawaii desu imouto that is also a demon lord and can read kanji oh and also and whose lip virginity is only for her big brother, someone that crawls around on all fours and says “HOMOO!”, and someone else doing a kamehama. But concise, well-written writing takes too long to produce and doesn’t fill up as many pages as endless run-on sentences.

  6. One last thing that popped into my head to help understand this concept:

    Azuma uses the example of a webpage to illustrate the database concept. The database elements (or the tropes, if one wants to call them those) are the equivalent of post itself, while the story/characters are the equivalent of the HTML and CSS.

    • First off, thanks a lot for taking the time to comment and to shed some valuable perspective on Azuma’s theory. I tried to put a more positive spin to the database and in doing so I know I ignored a lot of the nuance in Azuma’s argument.

      What stood out the most was how your take on light novel culture is much different from mine. Of course, many light novel authors are amateurs – which shows in the juvenile storylines – and since it’s manly otaku writing them, people outside the otaku sphere will look down on them (as shown in the article you linked to). That being said, there are “good” light novels written by naturally clever writers – and even these are bound by the tropes they attempt to examine and come off as pretentious through their writing style. (The Japanese equivalent of purple prose, perhaps?)

      • That might also be an artifact of the growth of the medium. Light novels have been around for decades, but up until pretty recently the term really just meant “mass market YA paperbacks” rather than like My Little Imouto-Centric Title Can’t Be This Long-esque stories that they’re seen as today. You can also notice that if you compare the trajectory of light novel popularity polls over the years where 10 years ago it was stuff like Kino’s Journey or Read or Die while current ones are all tropetastic series like Oregairu or Index.

  7. Froggy, you know Japanese/read light novels raw?

    • Yes, I read light novels raw, but since Japanese isn’t my native language and I read it terrible slowly, I only stick to the ones I really like. Not the overtly terrible ones. So I naturally have bias for some light novels that I think take the meta awareness to an interesting level, even though the quality of most light novels is probably piss poor.

      • The self-aware otaku light novels seem like a relatively recent phenomenon. Light novels also have titles like Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora, which easily penetrated into the mainstream.

        Anyway, any favorites/recommendations?

        • Most of the light novels I pick up are the ones that have a popular anime. I only got into light novels this year so there are many I’m interested in reading raw but haven’t gotten around to yet. Lately, I’ve been reading Oregairu and enjoying it quite a lot. I also like OreImo and Haruhi. Oh, and I’m also a fan of Hyouka – but that’s not an otaku novel. I’ve also read Sakurasou and Sword Art Online too, but only the first couple of volumes.

          Yeah, I think there are plenty of non-otaku light novels that still get written, but the light novel industry has definitely changed since a couple of years ago.

          • Hmm. One has to wonder whether the characters in those works being genre-savvy is enough to consider them modernist. Other elements in the titles mentioned tend to play out in mostly classical ways.

  8. Considering that I have been teaching myself Japanese for close to two years, while it’s different, it’s a bit more interesting compared to English as the language uses a number of Chinese Characters (漢字) which dictates the meaning of the word and different variations of words. Therefore, there are many ways to write a word such as 嬉しい and 幸せ both means happy, but of course when it gets translated, the meaning somehow will get lost in translation. This is probably why light novels are hard to appreciate unless you go out and translate the raw text. To me, it doesn’t only apply to light novels, but other forms of media, but other forms like video games and manga. However, they will always have something to fall back on such as the artwork.

    As for pondering to Otakus and intelligent stories, I think the reason why the so called post-modern stories are more relatable compared to something that relies on setting as we can relate to the character’s experience as they aren’t tied to a specific setting as you mentioned. This is probably why most stories are set in a school setting as most viewers and Otakus went to school and have their own experiences. Not only that, Japanese education tends to have more culture compared to the west as they have cultural festivals and places emphasis on school activities and academics. For this reason, there is no wonder why shows like K-ON and Ore no Imouto is popular for this reason… But then again, I think enjoying whatever one likes is more important than complaining as there will always be a cultural difference between the west and the east (something I wrote about a year ago). Since I’m Asian myself, I can understand some of their culture, although all of it because I’m not Japanese and I don’t live in Japan (actually an American Born Chinese). But you get the point.

  9. I have now and always will continue to pick what I want to watch and not the show the majority deems the new mainstream sweetheart…unless its content intrigues me, otherwise it goes into the “leftovers” section to be watched at a later date. Current trends do not interest me because despite my being “late to the party” with some shows, I can fall back on two facts:
    1: I enjoyed watching the show, even after the mainstream’s interest in said show had waned by the time I finished it.
    2: There will always be people out there willing to discuss the show(s) with me. I just need to look.

    As for light novel adaptations. I love Bakemonogatari, though I loathe Nisemonogatari with a passion. Because of Ni, I put off watching Mono 2 until Kizu gets fansubbed. If Kizu does not convince to give the franchise a second chance, I’m done with the Gatari series.

    Despite critics’ disapproval, HotD was a pretty good Zombie Apocalypse show.

    You know, when critics use excessive fanservice as the excuse for a show sucking, I usually ignore these people. Let’s take another light novel based anime I REALLY like and am eagerly awaiting a 3rd season of, Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon. Behind the water balloons, lies a very interesting futuristic universe that has an equally interesting political system, great action scenes and “LEGITIMATELY” intelligent women with water balloons or not inflated measurements.

    Hmm, I wonder if I’ve lost you or you successfully understood what I said.

    • So I opened up my emails and saw a bunch of comments by you. I don’t have time to respond personally to each and every one, but thanks a lot, man. It’s great to hear your thoughts on a bunch of different topics.

      As for this particular comment, I think I get you ;) It’s always rankling to see a show get unfairly criticised, which is what I feel is the fate that befalls a lot of anime that happens to have “fanservice” in it. I thought HotD was a pretty good zombie show, too. Haven’t seen Horizon myself.

      About mainstream shows… well, I think of my tastes as pretty broad, so I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with critics’ tastes. So I don’t avoid shows while they’re airing just because they’re popular with people who tend to underestimate ecchi/moe/etc. to a narrow-minded degree.

      But anyway, I take this to mean that you’ve stayed clear from Shingeki this season, huh? ;)

      • Take your time answering my comments. Real life calls and all that.

        Exactly. That’s why I like Queen’s Blade series so much. Sure, it’s a fanservice bonanza but it’s good (for the most part. Some of its fanservice irks me a bit) but the ladies themselves are pretty interesting characters who are more than just raging otaku boner fuel imo. Even Nyx, as much as I detest that Saigon wench.

        Like I said. If a mainstream show happens to catch my eye, I’ll check it out regardless of my stance against the mainstream. Also yes, Shingeki is on hold until it ends. Besides, I need to see for myself what the big deal is between Ymir and Christa.

  10. I’ve read Azuma’s book…in fact I own the book, I have to because I studied him academically. He was useful for a lot of essays I’ve written in college.

    Just a few brief points, I think you misunderstood the whole postmodern bit. The consumption of characters and database isn’t postmodern. The postmodern and modern comparison where the modern/classical argument was about how people were more interested in the grand narrative vs. the postmodern where the grand narrative didn’t matter anymore, was made by another Japanese author (sorry, I forgot his name), and Azuma was building on that argument. Rather than focusing on anime being postmodern, he was arguing that the consumption patterns of consumers have changed a lot. Before Evangelion, or the whole postmodern becoming mainstream thing, people used to focus on grand narratives. However, they slowly moved away from the narratives and into character archetypes, tropes, settings and stuff. That’s where you got the database for otaku – they use the database to create new iterations of said characters, or whoever becomes popular.

    Azuma uses Ayanami Rei from Evangelion as an example, and raises how future heroines share similar features with her, such as being moe, etc, and how these characteristics would find themselves repeated in new heroines. That’s how Tsundere became popular, as with cat ears and maid outfits a la Digichara. The otaku are consuming these characteristics rather than any semblance of plot.

    Of course there will be arguments for and against this, Azuma did raise examples of how visual novels changed throughout the period, evolving from eroges that fulfilled otaku’s sexual fantasies into nakige by Key and other stuff. So it’s not just the characteristics that are being consumed, but genres as well.

    Um, better not write too much here. Sorry.

  11. Talk about late to the party, this is the first time I’ve encountered anything close to formal discourse of postmodern readings I’ve only felt I could recognize since reading DeLillo’s White Noise and trying to read Baudrillard’s Simularca and Simulation. Since that was during spring semester, and since I’ve pretty much resorted to contemplating my naval this past summer. I throw up a similar disclaimer that I argue to know more.

    Generally, I think that postmodern techniques, like deconstruction and meta-narrative, can be employed within anime and LNs whether or not the objective is subverting the otaku context and structure. Series that come to my mind are Un-Go, Paranoia Agent, Spice and Wolf, and Hyouka, where characters become self aware, or at least skeptical, of their employment and construction by the text and context (though I would agree that Spice and Wolf and Hyouka lean modern in “believing” in their context). What led me to google “steins gate postmodern” was that, though I haven’t seen the anime, I should see if my thesis holds up with playing a visual novel, which hasn’t disappointed so far, in my opinion.

    Anyway, are there other active blogs like this one? Or a forum or something?
    Thanks.

  12. who is the girl with brown hair, im tryin to watch every anime possible but i dont know who that is

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