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The Evolution of the Word “Otaku”

Note: This is a repost of a series of articles I originally wrote for Crunchyroll (1, 2, 3). Check my writer profile to see my latest articles.


Otaku is a word that seems deceptively straightforward at first glance. Adopted into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2007, it is defined as follows:

(In Japan) a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills.

It is notable that the dictionary definition includes the negative perceptions surrounding the word. According to the OED, the otaku is “obsessed” and lacks “social skills.” This description is essentially no different from the columnist Akio Nakamori’s use of the word “bizarre” (異様) when he defined otaku as a label in 1983. While it has become more socially acceptable to identify as an otaku these days, it still retains an air of eccentricity.

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One could argue that this is very much the point of adopting it as a loan word—otaku captures a nuance that “geek” or “fan” can’t quite muster. But adopting loan words from another culture is not a simple copy-and-paste process. Otaku has transformed significantly on its Journey to the West (ahem), a sure indication that the meaning of the word was contentious to begin with.

And that’s the theme of this week’s Found in Translation column. Translation is not a simple additive or subtractive process. By its very nature it is both transformative and elusive, a constant reminder that words may not always mean what we assume they mean at first glance.

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My Fan Translation Thesis is Finally Complete! + Life/Anime Updates

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The long haul is finally over! After almost a year of research and writing, I’ve finally finished my honours thesis. It’s around 18,000 words in total. (I know!) I still have to format the thesis and get it checked by my supervisor one more time before I submit it, but all the hard work has been done.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I can email the draft to anyone interested. Just let me know via the comments or Twitter. All feedback is welcome!

Here’s the abstract below:

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Froggy’s Top Anime: #9 Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary.Girl.Utena.full.97243Hey guys, remember when I said I was gonna write a list of my favourite anime? Remember how my last post about that was over a year ago? For those of you who have completely forgotten about that, allow me to reintroduce my goal as a blogger: to write a top anime list that doesn’t just justify my choices but reflects me as an individual. Who cares about recommending the best anime? Talking about our favourite anime should be a way of getting to know each other as people.

I say all this because Revolutionary Girl Utena is a very idiosyncratic anime.

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Advertising New Anime Blogs [Liebster Award]

The year is 2014. Japanese cartoons featuring googly-eyed anime girls have taken over the world. What better way to spend your days in this post-apocalyptic world than to start a blog where you can freely complain write about your love of anime?

In all seriousness, I really encourage anime fans to express themselves and to get involved in the community. So here’s a post advertising some up-and-coming blogs under the guise of an award.

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