We Are All Weaboos On The Inside
This is a scientifically proven fact.
Well, perhaps that’s going a bit far. But I recently finished writing an academic report that touches on this subject and I thought it would be interesting to share some of my thoughts with general readers.
(I should stress that I’m not a particularly trained academic – yet. It doesn’t matter how much I know about the subject, though. I’ve always believed that the most educational pieces of writing are made by those who feel as if they are still learning themselves; it’s those kinds of people who take their readers along on a ride. This is all meant to get you thinking, so don’t assume I’m shoving facts down your throat.)
For a long time, you see, I’ve been interested in how English-speaking anime fans approach the “Japanese” part of anime – the language, underlying culture etc. Two questions were burned in my mind:
- Does anime affect how you learn Japanese?
- Does your Japanese proficiency affect how you view anime? (i.e. your taste)
I had a go answering the first question in an earlier post: How Does The Anime Fandom Affect How You Perceive And Learn The Japanese Language? But I think what I wrote there was largely incomplete. In truth, the answer to both these questions are related and so they both affect each other. As you watch anime, you learn more Japanese, and as you learn Japanese, you engage with anime on a deeper level.
The English-speaking anime fandom at large is in a funny position here, because on the Internet, we tend to engage with anime on multiple levels simultaneously. Anime is described by some academics as a “culturally odorless” product, which explains how its appeal is so easily transferable across cultures. It doesn’t “feel” Japanese, in other words. And yet for the most part, non-Japanese anime fans insist on preserving the “Japanese-ness” of their anime. So basically we have a product that on its surface leaves little imprint of its home culture but where the fandom itself brings out the Japanese flavour.
We can explain this through the nature of both the fandom and anime itself. Anime tends to portray a kind of “fantasy Japan”, which draws on both traditional Japanese images and yet distorts them for the sake of… I dunno, fetishising? Case in point: bloomers. Japanese schoolgirls do not wear these anymore, but it’s a standard part of the anime experience.
It’s still Japanese, but you have to read deeper behind the images to find the “true” Japan behind it. So non-Japanese anime fans like you and I are exposed to this pseudo-Japan we see in anime and traditional Japan is probably not the first thing we associate that with. But we know the product is intrinsically foreign and exotic.
So what happens next? Some fans dig deeper. We differentiate between ‘cartoons’ and ‘anime’, and then we become snobbish about it. We emphasise both to ourselves and others the uniqueness of anime, even if we know on an intellectual level that this is not entirely true. (Snobbishness and excluding others outside the niche is something that happens in any subculture; otherwise it would cease to be a subculture.) In order to retain our snobbishness of anime being the One True Way, we emphasise its Japanese roots.
I’m not saying we do this all the time. We don’t. Most of the time, we’re reading our own cultural values into anime. It’s just that at the same time, we are aware that it is Japanese – and this is how anime becomes a global product, where the Japanese language becomes the common factor uniting fans across different countries. It doesn’t matter if you’re Spanish, Indonesian, Syrian, Taiwanese, Arabian or wherever you’re from – you will know what Pikachu is and you will agree with me that Pikachu is one kawaii motherfucker.
What Level of “Japanese-ness” is Acceptable?
It’s interesting that as non-Japanese fans, there are parts of the Japanese culture which you actively embrace, no matter how immersed you are in the culture, and others which never seem to catch on – unless you consider yourself part of the culture.
The notorious Dubs versus Subs debate will always be on the side of the Subs in popular opinion, no matter how much dubbing technology and English voice acting improves. For the most part, fans enjoy the way Japanese voices sound and often they’re simply more fitting of the character. (I personally quite like dubs, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Fans love their honorifics too: ‘-kun’, ‘-chan’, ‘-san’ and that sort of thing. Manga published in English these days tend to keep all the honorifics with a list somewhere explaining what they all mean. Fans are also sensitive to how gender and age-specific language is encoded in personal pronouns and in the end of sentences, so we know that males refer to themselves as ‘ore’ or ‘boku’ and end their sentences with ‘ze’ or ‘zo’ and that females say ‘watashi’ and end their sentences with ‘wa’. Again, this actually doesn’t reflect on how Japanese people really speak – anime characters tend to exaggerate their gender-specific speech for the sake of easy characterisation. This is comparable to the stereotypical depictions of, say, French or Texan accents on television shows and movies.
Getting outside of the actual language, depictions of traditional or historical Japan – shrine maidens, priests, samurais, ninjas and so on – are also very popular with non-Japanese fans, regardless of their knowledge of Japanese. Anime series such as Natsume Yuujinchou and Hyouka, which employ a slower-paced feel and tend to exclude viewers who don’t understand certain aspects of Japanese culture or the language, are also well-regarded for precisely this reason. I think that this is a reflection of a general Western fascination with Orientalism and the romanticising of these exotic aspects of Asian culture. This is the kind of exotic that is easy to appreciate from an outsider’s view. You don’t need to become part of it to understand it.
Otaku anime, though? Ecchi? Hentai? Not so much.
This is where I think you can see a difference in the outlook of fans who enjoy otaku-focused anime compared to those who merely appreciate Japanese culture. English-speaking fans of otaku anime, I’ve noticed, are often more attuned to the Japanese fandom and tend to mirror the Japanese otaku’s consumerist habits: buying character products, reading doujinshis, etc. I also think that one’s level of Japanese proficiency plays a part in this. These fans are more immersed in the language itself. There’s no strong relationship, but I think you could argue for a correlation between one’s identity as an otaku and their immersion in the language.
(By the way, if you haven’t noticed, I am an otaku pig myself.)
The Role of the Internet
In the English-speaking corners of the Internet, fans of differing competency in the Japanese language come together and talk about anime. Given that we are all interested in the Japanese culture in some way, the result is that our own English-speaking fandom has strong parallels with the Japanese-speaking fandom, even if we are never quite the same. Japanese anime-related words also come into our own English lexicon and we use them in regular conversation. Think of words like ‘moe’, ‘hentai’ and ‘otaku’.
These words become adapted to the needs of our language, but we never lose sight of their original meaning. For example, we needed a word to refer to Japanese animated pornography and ‘hentai’ became that word, even though it really means just ‘pervert’. BUT – since we know of anime titles like Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko (lit. ‘The Perverted Prince and the Stony Cat’), not to mention that every second anime girl yells “HENTAI!” when she gets accidentally groped by the hapless male lead, we are constantly exposed to their Japanese context.
Fans also tend to define and redefine Japanese words in English, pointing out both their English and Japanese usages. Whenever the word ‘otaku’ comes up in a conversation, someone usually points out that it has a more negative connotation in Japanese. (Anyone remember the Otaku Elimination Game?) Since communication on the Internet is very circular and the same information gets repeated over and over on public forums, fans tend to reinforce their understanding whenever they interact and use the language.
So by being anime fans, we’re creating our own subculture that engages with the Japanese language and culture on multiple different levels, plus our own engagement with anime affects how we learn Japanese, and vice versa. It’s all very complex but also very exciting, if you ask me!
Naturally, what I’ve written here only scratches the surface on how the global English anime fandom works, but it’s a start. As far as I can see, there hasn’t been much research done on the English fandom, and so it’s something I really want to get into and investigate more thoroughly at some stage. This kind of study is important to me as an anime fan.
Before we can understand anime more properly, I think it is vital that we understand ourselves.
See, there are some fans (and you may be one of them) who dislike the idea of weaboos and who resists the overly “Japanese-y” aspects of anime, while there are others who actively embrace their inner weaboo. These attitudes form a framework through which we view anime. If you approach anime like a movie buff and simply critique each anime as it stands on its own terms, your outlook and tastes are probably fundamentally different from someone who spends a lot of time looking at fanart and writing fanfiction.
But make no mistake: it is that same idea of foreign exotica which pulls us into anime. We like those Japanese cartoons because they present a world we can never be fully part of but which we will constantly strive to understand in our own way.
We are all weaboos on the inside.
Posted on October 20, 2013, in Editorials and tagged a weaboo is you, believe it!, fate stay night, gatchaman crowds, hentai ouji to warawanai neko, how to nihongo, hyouka, naruto, natsume yuujinchou, pokemon. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.